Zach Davies on Velocity-Challenged Effectiveness

Zach Davies logged 17 wins and a 3.90 ERA in 33 starts for the Milwaukee Brewers last season. He did so — as my colleague Travis Sawchik detailed in September — as a major-league outlier. Compared to the bulk of his contemporaries, the svelte right-hander is both undersized and velocity-challenged.

Neither of those things is about to change, at least not in a stand-up-and-take-notice way. Genetics are what genetics are. Not that he would mind adding a little meat to his six-foot frame and an extra inch or two to his not-so-fastball. The 25-year-old finesse specialist believes that each would be an asset to his already effective game.

Davies discussed that very game, including his velocity and his approach to sequencing and speed differential, earlier this spring.


Davies on adding weight and (hopefully) velocity: “I went into the offseason trying to get stronger and put on some weight — that’s always a goal for me — and I’m up to 170 now. I was 160 last year. I think the extra weight has multiple benefits for me. Adding a little velo — I hovered right around 90 last year — would definitely be a positive, and the weight should at least help keep me healthy throughout the year.

“At the end of day, [velocity] doesn’t mean a lot. At the same time, it does give you a little more room for error. I’m never going to be a max-effort guy — my style isn’t going to change — but if I can add a little bit to each pitch, that could make a difference. It would change the reaction time a little. If I can keep the same movement and command, with more velo… personally, I would like that.

“I’m not [trying to become a power pitcher]. That isn’t the case at all. Power pitchers are guys who rely heavily on the fastball, and that’s not my style. My style is a great mix of everything — throwing everything in every count — and utilizing movement and command. That’s what guys like me and Kyle Hendricks, who are kind of right there in that just-below-average fastball range, rely a lot on. That’s what makes our stuff plays up.”

On Kyle Hendricks and his box changeup: “I watch video of him. He’s a guy in our division, so he faces a lot of the same teams I do. It’s good to see how hitters react to him — how they see certain pitches against him — especially in recent [at-bats]. But while we have similar styles, we also have different styles, so I’m not looking to mold myself after him.

“[Hendricks] is a heavy changeup guy. I would say my best pitch is my changeup, too, but I mix a little bit more. I throw a few more curveballs and a lot more cutters. He’s also got two different changeups in his repertoire — he’s got two different pitches in that sense — and I have one movement to my changeup. He can both cut it and sink his, and mine is strictly sink.

“My changeup grip is just all fingers on the ball. When I was in the Baltimore organization, I worked with Alan Mills a little bit, and he called it a ‘box changeup.’ You’re holding the ball in your whole hand, with light pressure. When I grip it too hard, I tend to choke it and spike the ball into the ground. When I grip it with light pressure, and have the same motion and arm speed, is when I throw it the best. The pitch is all about feel.”

On speed differential: “I want to keep it in a certain range below my fastball. My goal for my changeup is right around 8-9 mph, sometimes 10. My curveball is usually somewhere around 12-15 off my fastball. As long as I can stay within those ranges, I’m good.

“For me, certain curveballs that are a little bit sharper, at a little higher velo, play a lot better than slower, loppier curveballs. There’s a time and place for each, but the sharper curveball is what I’m usually looking for. Same thing goes with my changeup, for the most part.”

On sequencing and adapting: “You’re going to have certain guys who will always have the same approach to an at-bat, so you can kind of always have that same sequence. Other guys adjust really well, so you have to go pitch to pitch. You’re going to have to read each swing. You’re going to have to read the counts and the situations.

“That’s a lot of what we do in between starts — our catchers, D.J. [Derek Johnson] our pitching coach — when we’re [game-planning]. We study each lineup, looking at when you can stick to a strict sequence and when you have to adjust.

“As a command-type pitcher, it all goes back to homework and studying. And sequencing. If you get better at that, and if you disguise pitches well — if every pitch looks the same — I don’t think you need to change your approach. When guys start to lose command and lose sight of their stuff, then they do need to figure out new ways to get guys out. Right now, I just need to keep doing what I’ve been doing, but again, a little more velo could only help.”

David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.

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