Cubs

How Wade Davis transformed into an elite pitcher by simply not caring

How Wade Davis transformed into an elite pitcher by simply not caring

MESA, Ariz. - Wade Davis doesn't listen to Beethoven before games anymore.

Not because his musical tastes have changed, but because he's one of the few baseball players who has moved away from rituals as he's grown in his career.

He used to listen to Beethoven as a way to chill out before pitching after coaches told him he needed to slow down and stop getting so amped up.

Now in a role as a closer, he doesn't do anything before games because he never knows for sure when he'll pitch.

"I try to stay away from rituals that I might be relying on," Davis said. "In the bullpen, you don't have as much time. There's that big gap of time where you're not going to be able to have that type of safety net.

"So I stopped doing that in general. I used to rely on, 'Oh, I'm listening to this music to get me in the right mindset.' I should already be in the right mindset.

"The preparation should be the ritual. Everything you've done the whole season, the winter, whatever gets you there."

In a game often dictated by superstitions and tradition, Davis has transformed into one of the best pitchers in the league — regardless of role — by unconventional means.

Among pitchers who have tossed at least 20 innings since the start of the 2014 season, Davis leads Major League Baseball in ERA (1.18), ahead of guys like Zach Britton, Aroldis Chapman, Andrew Miller and Clayton Kershaw.

Not bad for a guy who struggled with inconsistency as a starting pitcher and posted a 4.26 ERA through the first five seasons of his career.

So how did he do it?

For starters, he just stopped giving a damn.

Like when he could record only one out in his Cubs debut Sunday while giving up three runs on three hits and a walk against the Texas Rangers.

No matter.

When manager Joe Maddon went out to retrieve Davis from the mound, the new Cubs closer was smiling. 

"[I've stopped] caring about a lot of things," Davis said. "For example, that game [Sunday]. If I had a bad spring training outing then, people asking me questions like, 'What happened out there?' and I'm thinking there's something wrong, I should've done better. Instead of having the mindset of what it actually is. It is a training month, training for the season. 

"So I don't worry about little things anymore like that. Just trying to move it on to the next day and that type of stuff."

Clearly that mindset is serving him well.

Davis moved to the Kansas City bullpen in 2014 after struggling as a starter in his first year with the Royals (5.32 ERA) and wound up posting ridiculous numbers: 0.97 ERA, 0.82 WHIP, 12.1 K/9 and only 3 homers allowed. He actually went all of 2014 (72 innings) without surrendering a longball.

He also allowed only one run and 19 baserunners across 25 postseason innings as he formed a dynamic back end of the bullpen (along with Kelvin Herrera and Greg Holland) that lifted the Royals to back-to-back World Series appearances, including a 2015 title.

It's not like Davis had a poor season last year (1.87 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, 0 HRs allowed), but 2016 was marred by a forearm issue that persisted throughout the season, limiting him to just 45 games and 43.1 innings.

The Cubs took a chance on Davis this winter, sending Jorge Soler and his enormous potential to Kansas City for the 31-year-old right-hander's final season before free agency.

It's also a reunion for Davis and Maddon, who worked together for four years with the Tampa Bay Rays from 2009-12 before Davis was sent to Kansas City in a trade that involved James Shields, Jake Odorizzi, Wil Myers and Davis' now-teammate Mike Montgomery.

Despite recording 1,376 outs for Maddon's Rays, Davis can still surprise his manager.

In Davis' appearance Sunday, Maddon was surprised to see the new closer throwing so hard.

"I'm used to seeing him throw 86, 87, 88 mph the first time he pitches," Maddon said. "He was at 92-94 mph and he hit 95 mph. That's quite a leap for me watching him."

But that was just the first step in Davis' 2017 season, a year in which his only goals are to stay healthy and help the Cubs win as much as possible.

He's not content with the elite level he's reached in his career.

When asked what lessons he can pass along to young Cubs relievers like Carl Edwards Jr., Davis balked at the notion that he is a teacher and not still a pupil:

"Maybe I'll learn something from them."

Cubs add reliever Daniel Winkler in another low-risk, high-reward move

daniel_winkler.jpg
USA TODAY

Cubs add reliever Daniel Winkler in another low-risk, high-reward move

The Cubs have reportedly made another low-risk gamble on a bullpen arm.

According to MLB Insider Robert Murray, the Cubs have reached an agreement with right-hander Daniel Winkler on a one-year deal.

Winkler, an Effingham, Ill. native holds a career 3.68 ERA, 3.65 FIP, 1.176 WHIP and 10.3 K/9 in 117 games (100 1/3 innings). He spent 2015-19 with the Atlanta Braves, undergoing Tommy John surgery in June 2014 and another elbow surgery in April 2017. The Braves dealt him to the San Francisco Giants at the 2019 trade deadline for closer Mark Melancon.

Winkler posted a 4.98 ERA in 27 big league games last season and a 2.93 ERA in 30 minor league games. His best MLB season came with the Braves in 2018, as he made a career-high 69 appearances and posted a 3.43 ERA, striking out 69 batters in 60 1/3 innings.

The Cubs entered the offseason in search of bullpen upgrades following a rough 2019. That search includes finding pitchers who may not have long track records, but qualities demonstrating their ability to make an impact at the big-league level. In this case, Winkler possesses solid spin rates on his cutter, four-seamer and curveball, meaning he induces soft contact and swings and misses.

“We need to keep unearthing pitchers who we acquire for the right reasons, we work well with and have the physical and mental wherewithal to go out and miss a lot of bats,” Cubs president Theo Epstein said at his end-of-season press conference, “which is something we didn’t do a lot of — although we did increasingly in the second half with this pitching group — and find more guys who can go out and pitch in high-leverage spots."

The Cubs were successful in unearthing arms last season, acquiring Rowan Wick and Brad Wieck from the Padres in separate deals. They recently acquired Jharel Cotton from the Oakland A’s in a similar buy low move.

Not every pitcher will be as successful as the Wi(e)cks were last season, but the Cubs must continue making low-risk bullpen moves. At the best, they find a legitimate relief arms; at the worst, they move on from a low-cost investments.

Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of the Cubs and your teams on your device.

Cubs Talk Podcast: NL contenders making moves

castellanos.jpg
USA TODAY

Cubs Talk Podcast: NL contenders making moves

On this edition of the podcast, Tony Andracki, Nate Poppen and Tim Stebbins wonder: What are the Brewers doing this winter? The trio also discuss the latest moves by the Braves and Phillies and how the Cubs fit into the National League playoff race at the moment. Plus, they react to rumors regarding Willson Contreras and Nicholas Castellanos and weigh in on whether or not Nico Hoerner should be the Opening Day second baseman.

01:00 - What are the Milwaukee Brewers doing so far this winter? What does the Omar Narváez trade haul say for the market for Willson Contreras?

06:30 - Get ready for every Cubs trade rumor this winter to be linked to the Angels and Joe Maddon.

08:00 - Are the Brewers the 4th best team in the N.L. Central right now?

10:30 - After the Cole Hamels and Zack Wheeler signings, where do the Cubs stack up against the rest of the contenders in the National League?

13:00 - How will Cole Hamels be viewed by Cubs fans after spending just a season and a half at Wrigley Field.

14:40 - The Cubs are rumored to still be "interested" in Nicholas Castellanos. How would he fit in the outfield long term? What would signing Castellanos allow the Cubs to do with the rest of their roster?

18:45 - Should Nico Hoerner be on the Cubs roster out of Spring Training? What would Hoerner making the team mean for the construction of the roster and infield depth?

Listen to the full podcast here or via the embedded player below: