Last night, Kyle Davies hit near rock bottom when he was pulled from the game without recording an out. He faced five men, issuing three walks and two singles.
Davies now has a career ERA of 6.15 (70 ERA+) with 6.53 K9, 4.78 BB9, and 1.29 HR9—not good. But he’s only 23 years old—younger than many of the top Braves prospects. Davies has pitched 237 innings in the majors since he was called up in 2005 at the age of 21. Kyle pitched exceptionally well early in his minor league career, but was merely good at Double-A and Triple-A. He made it all the way from Myrtle Beach to Richmond in 2004, the year before he received his call to the big leagues. He would be sent back to Richmond in 2005, but he began 2006 in Atlanta (I think this is right). His woeful 2006 campaign was interrupted by a groin tear. I suspect that he will be sent back to the minors today.
Was Davies rushed? If so, how can we know if he was rushed? These are difficult questions to answer, but they are important. While some favor letting the kids play as soon as possible, I wonder what is lost when a player is forced to play when he is not ready. And there is also the possibility that playing above your true talent level early on can harm development.
If Davies had stayed in the minors, he would be working on getting to the majors. The downside of playing in the minors playing baseball against inferior talent, but the upside is working on potential problems to aid is future performance. In the minors, a pitcher can work on developing new pitches, painting corners, and experiment with new mechanics in game conditions without risking damage to the major league club. At 23 Davies is far too young to give up on, but I wonder where he would be if he hadn’t been called into duty so early. We can never know, but I don’t see he’s gained much from pitching at the big league level. I also wonder if his excellent start in 2005 gave him a false sense of his ability.
This leads me to Jeff Francoeur. Frenchy was called up unexpectedly in the 2005 season after the Mondesi-Jordan experiment failed. At the time, he was posting an .809 OPS in Double-A with a walk rate less than six percent. This is not bad for a 21-year-old prospect, but not dominant. Brian McCann, on the other hand, had been called into emergency duty with an injury to Johnny Estrada and Brayan Pena’s inability to call a game. His OPS in Mississippi wasn’t much higher than Francoeur’s, but his walk rate was nearly 13 percent, which he had improved over the previous season. McCann showed all the signs of a player who had used the minors to improve, while Francoeur was still developing. I’m not surprised that McCann has become the better player.
Francoeur surprised me by posting a .885 OPS in 2005. He batted .300 and hit 14 homers in 70 games (a pace that would have given him 32 over 162 games) while swinging at everything. McCann posted a respectable .745 OPS in 50 games, but he maintained his excellent walk rate. I have speculated before that Francoeur’s fast start was a combination of good play, excellent luck, and poor advance scouting. It’s a formula that is great for the present, but not so good for the long term. Frenchy became an Atlanta hero. Even when he’s in a slump, no other player gets as many cheers at Braves games. He admitted that his fast start lulled him to sleep, and it may have stunted his development. He hit .300 and was on the cover of Sports Illustrated, what more did he have to learn? In 2006 and 2007 his OPS has been more than 100 points below his 2005. He continues his free swinging ways, and I have to wonder if he is going to develop into anything more than an passable right fielder.
But did rushing him to the big leagues have anything to do with his development? We can’t know. He might have become a better player or it may have just prolonged his minor league career. It’s something we should study and think about more. It is a question that ought to be of great importance to teams.