1. Wade Davis
When the Tampa Bay Rays signed Wade Davis to a six year deal before the 2011 season, it was thought the low-budget Rays were locking down a middle of the rotation starter for years to come after a ho-hum, yet durable 2010 in which he posted a 12-10 record in 29 starts with a 4.07 ERA. After another year in the rotation, and a 4.45 ERA, the Rays converted Davis to the bullpen where he flourished. In 2012, he posted a 2.43 ERA in 70.1 innings striking out 87 (11.1 per nine innings). In a franchise-changing deal, the Royals acquired Davis, along with centerpiece James Shields (whose winning attitude transformed their clubhouse) for uber-prospect Wil Myers and future rotation stalwart Jake Odorizzi.
The Royals tried putting Davis back in the rotation with disastrous results in 2013, a 5.67 ERA in 24 starts. Davis’ return to the bullpen was a revelation in September of that season, as he posted a 0.90 ERA over 10 dominant innings in which he allowed just three hits. Of course 10 innings isn’t a season but he continued his success spectacularly the next season posting a 1.00 ERA in 72 innings, allowing an unthinkable .151 batting average and no homers on the season. He wasn’t even the closer yet, but his unhittable repertoire screamed closer material.
In 2015, Davis would get his chance, filling in for incumbent closer Greg Holland started to falter but retained his job (save for a three week DL stint early in the season, when Davis took the job for the first time) into September despite a 6.48 ERA in August. A mediocre September was a worrisome development leading to a medical exam which showed Holland needed elbow damage requiring Tommy John surgery. Wade Davis, time to move that 8th inning success into the 9th inning.
Davis’ eight saves in August and September prepared him for his postseason dominance. 10.2 innings, four saves, 18 strikeouts and one World Championship. Holland’s recovery will take this entire season, so the job is firmly Davis’s. His 0.84 career postseason ERA has a long way to go before getting to Rivera’s number of postseason innings with 0.70 ERA, but his one earned run on 15 hits in 27.1 career postseason innings (0.33 ERA) is phenomenal.
Perhaps it is premature to anoint him the best closer in the league when he hasn’t had a full season under his belt in the role, but his two years of toying with American League hitters to the tune of 0.97 ERA over his last 139.1 innings leads me to believe he will live up to these high expectations. Considering what people pay closers (Jonathan Papelbon, four years, $50 million), that contract Davis signed is a bargain for Kansas City, paying him $8 million. Let’s see if he earns that $10 million option for next season. Greg Holland, take your time coming back from that injury.
Next: 2. Craig Kimbrel