Chicago Cubs still don’t know what they have in Zach Davies

(Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images)
(Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images) /

A dozen starts into his Chicago Cubs career, there’s been some positives and some not-so-great aspects when it comes to right-hander Zach Davies.

One one hand, prior to Thursday’s 7-2 loss, he’d allowed three or fewer earned runs in six consecutive starts.  But on the other, he’s pitched past the fifth inning in just one-quarter of his outings this season, which, over time, adds a lot of innings to the workloads of the guys in the bullpen.

In the series opener against the NL West-leading Giants, Davies lasted just 4 1/3 innings – with the big blemish on his resume coming via a three-run blast off the bat of Brandon Crawford against Rex Brothers, who came on in hopes of getting out of a jam in the fifth. Instead, the San Francisco shortstop popped his 12th long ball of the year and the home team opened it up from there.

"“It’s a very professional team,” Cubs starter Zach Davies told “When things are going bad, you try and get out of it as quick as possible, but you don’t stress about it. You don’t panic.”"

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As the only big leaguer coming back in the highly-critiqued Yu Darvish trade, it’s safe to say there were probably some unrealistic expectations attached to Davies. Last year, he pitched for the Padres, making 12 starts and working to a career-best 2.73 ERA. FIP indicates he definitely benefitted from the defense behind him, plotting his work at a much more pedestrian 3.88 mark.

Still, a lot of folks don’t use FIP, saw a sub-3.00 ERA and went to work penciling Davies in behind Kyle Hendricks atop the starting rotation. He’s not that guy, though. He’s never been that guy. As I see it, Hendricks is your number one guy – despite his ups and downs this season.

From there, it’s a crap shoot. Personally, I’m going with Adbert Alzolay as my number two at this point in the year, followed by a combination of Davies, Jake Arrieta and Trevor Williams (likely in that order).

Chicago Cubs need Zach Davies to work deeper, be more efficient

This is a pretty perfect time to compare Davies’ work last year to what he’s done this season, given he’s made as many starts in 2021 as he did during the pandemic-shortened 2020 campaign.

His strikeouts are down and walks are up. Right off the top, that’s an issue – especially given he’s walking guys at nearly twice a rate (4.8 BB/9 compared to 2.5 BB/9) of last year. He’s kept the ball in the yard effectively, a key for a guy who relies on hitting his spots and keeping the ball on the ground.

For me, though, the issue is his inability to work deep into games. Davies is averaging just under 4 2/3 innings per start this year – a far cry from what he did last season, when he pitched just under six frames each time out. Until he starts eating more innings, there’s going to be something left to be desired here.

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The Chicago Cubs need every arm in this rotation to step up. Without a Yu Darvish in the mix, they’re counting on the sum of its parts leading to success this season and Davies will be a critical part of that plan. To this point, he’s fallen short of what is needed from him for this team to be successful.