St. Louis Cardinals: Debating Alex Colome or Wade Davis

ARLINGTON, TX - MAY 29: Alex Colome
ARLINGTON, TX - MAY 29: Alex Colome /

As the St. Louis Cardinals continue their off-season acquisitions, let’s debate who the better acquisition would be at the closer spot between Wade Davis and Alex Colome.

The St. Louis Cardinals’ search for a closer is no secret to the rest of the baseball word, but the question is who will man the ninth inning for the Redbirds come 2018? Among the plethora of names suggested, the two stand out candidates for the role are Wade Davis and Alex Colome. While any team would be glad to have either pitcher, should the Cardinals trade for Colome or sign Davis?

I am going to take into account two factors: overall performance and cost of acquisition. There are some other underlying factors, but I chose to focus on these two factors because of the immediate impact they present to the St. Louis Cardinals.

Alex Colome, current closer for the Tampa Bay Rays, had another stellar year in 2017. Most of his critics will note slight regression he experienced from 2016, but his overall numbers, including advanced metrics, show Colome is one of the top closers in the game.

Wade Davis, on the other hand, also had another great year with the Chicago Cubs. After some concern with injury, Davis was healthy most of the year and racked up the saves for the NL Central champions.

Is there a clear favorite, though?

Overall Performance

According to Fan Graphs, Colome threw 66.2 innings in sixty-five games for the Tampa Bay Rays, while recording a 3.24 ERA. He managed fifty-eight strike outs and thirty total walks, including seven intentional walks. More importantly, Colome led the American League in saves last season with forty-seven. Just a reminder, the St. Louis Cardinals have blown thirty-eight saves in the last two season.

Davis threw 58.2 innings for the Cubs last season in fifty-nine games, amassing a 2.30 ERA. In the fifty-nine games, Davis struck out seventy-nine batters with twenty-eight walks, including one intentional walk. Davis recorded thirty-two saves last season, with plenty of them coming against the Cardinals.

On paper, they both look good. However, it is the advanced metrics that scare some of the fans away from Colome. Let’s take a closer look at those metrics to see if there really is anything to this.

Alex Colome:


Wade Davis:


There is a lot to take in from these charts. From an advanced metric stand point, the key factors I will hone on will be K/9 ratio, BB/9 ratio, FIP, and WAR.

The biggest knock on Colome will be his regressing K/9 ratio. Based on the charts provided by Fan Graphs, Colome suffered a 30% decrease in K/9 in 2017.  In 2016, Colome had thirteen more strike outs in ten less innings than the fifty-eight strike outs in 2017. Earlier this off-season, I attributed his decline in strike outs as a result of him throwing less off-speed pitches than he used to. In 2016, Colome used a variety of pitches to work his way through the ninth inning.

More from Redbird Rants

In 2017, Colome became more of a fastball pitcher, sticking to a cutter (67.3% of the time) after not really throwing one in 2016. His other pitch was his fastball at 32.7% of the time.

It is my belief this change in style affected Colome’s ability to strike batters out. By moving away from off-speed pitches, batters were able to adjust to the fastball.

Davis, however, saw a 24% increase in his K/9 ratio. Davis did not change his style of pitching though. I believe Davis’ numbers could have seen some boost due to the new league he was in.

He more than likely benefitted from being unfamiliar to hitters in the National League, but let’s not take away from the fact that he is a good pitcher. His fastball/change-up combo is nasty.

If we switch over to BB/9, neither Davis or Colome outperformed the other. Both Davis and Colome saw a 30% increase in their walk ratio over the last two seasons, which doesn’t particularly bode well for either. However, I would say Colome is in a better spot. He has the lower ratio between the two pitchers. This could also help explain Davis’ higher LOB% compared to Colome’s.

Fortunately, Davis can rely on his ability to strike out players to escape any jam. That will separate the two by a wide margin in the eyes of many, but it’s clear Colome has the ability to post similar K/9 numbers based off his 2016 season.

Here is where it gets interesting. Both Davis and Colome have similar FIP and WAR ratings. If you look at the younger Colome, his FIP across two years only increases by about 15%. Even at 3.37 in 2017, Colome rated in between great and excellent according to Fan Graphs calculations. Davis, on the other hand, saw a 48% increase in FIP rating.

While Davis ranks similarly to Colome, an increase that large is just as big a warning as a regressing K/9 ratio. The older Davis, while not THAT old, is seeing some regression as well.

Even more interesting is the fact that Davis only provides 0.1 more WAR than Colome based on the last two years. Consider also the fact Colome’s “bad year” produced more WAR than his outstanding 2016 season. At the same time, Davis’ WAR decreased from 2016 to 2017.

I don’t believe 0.1 WAR is significantly different in the grand scheme of things, so to suggest Davis is much better than Colome wouldn’t be necessarily true. Personally, I do think Davis is the better closer. His strikeout ability is what makes him one of the most dominant closers in the game. However, based on the last two years, I think either would be welcomed in St. Louis.

Cost of acquisition

I’ll start with Wade Davis because his acquisition is simpler than Colome’s. As we all know, Davis is the top free agent closer this off-season. If the St. Louis Cardinals are to compete for his services, they will also have to fend off their arch rivals and other teams as well. Considering Davis was in Chicago last year, it’s possible he still lands there. But, let’s take a look at what it would cost to get him.

MLB Trade Rumors predicts Davis will sign a four-year deal worth $60 million ($15 million AAV). There is some precedence to work from on this deal as well. Mark Melancon signed a four-year deal worth $62 million in 2016. Now Melancon is no Davis, so I don’t think it would be much of a stretch to see Davis command this type of deal.

If the Cardinals do go down this route, it won’t break the bank. There is some caution I think the Cardinals are considering though. Their most recent free agent reliever, Brett Cecil, signed a high-dollar contract. We all saw how 2017 shook out for him. Part of me thinks the Cardinals would only get involved if the market around Davis thinned out.

Fortunately for the Cardinals, the market has thinned out somewhat. However, most of the names have been middle innings guys. If the market trend continues in that direction, then expect the price tag to go down somewhat. But for the sake of this debate, let’s say the Cardinals sign him to a four-year, $60 million dollar deal.

Now let’s turn to the acquisition of Alex Colome, and only Colome.

The St. Louis Cardinals will need to trade for Colome, so the value of the deal can be a little tricky. The difficult part for the Cardinals is weighing the years of control and value of the prospect(s) in a trade for a single player. There is no question the Cardinals will move a pitching prospect, but who?

We can safely assume Alex Reyes and Luke Weaver will not be traded, so that leaves us with a handful of Cardinal pitching prospects to work from.

Let’s consider the high-end of the spectrum in Jack Flaherty and the low-end in in Austin Gomber. According to Fan Graphs, Flaherty’s future value (FV) of 50, while Gomber ranks at 40. Fan Graph’s calculations show a FV of 50 is approximately worth $14 million. A FV of 45 is worth right around $13 million, so we can safely assume Gomber’s value is close to the $10-11 million mark.

Flaherty’s value, in my opinion, far outweighs value in a deal for Colome. The St. Louis Cardinals would probably look to move someone like Gomber, less value and less projected return, in this deal. You give up six years of control in Gomber, but that doesn’t mean he will pan out for the Rays.

Which outfielder would the Cardinals be willing to part with in this deal? Well, my short answer would be Randal Grichuk. The Rays, however, would probably look to help their outfield situation with a prospect. The likeliest may be Harrison Bader. Fan Graphs rates his future value around 45, which for a hitter is roughly $11 million.

Related Story: Colome trade close

If we add everything up, a pitching prospect and outfielder would be close to a total of $20 million future value. I just don’t see the Cardinals sending one of their top arms for a reliever, even if it is a reliever as a good as Colome. So, how does the future value of the deal compare to what Colome will make in arbitration?

In Colome’s case, he is entering his fist season of arbitration. According to MLBTR, Colome is predicted to receive around $5.5 million in his first year. In his second year of arbitration, Colome will be somewhere around the $7 million range. By his third and final year of arbitration, Colome would probably be somewhere in the $9-10 million range. Of course those arbitration years could be bought by his team if they were to agree to a new deal.

However, at the very least, we are looking at Colome’s total value in his remaining arbitration years to be somewhere around $21-23 million. Theoretically, the prospect and outfielder the Cardinals would be willing to give up for Colome would have close to the same value. Meaning the deal’s total value would roughly be around $45 million or the total for the first three years in Davis’ deal.

However, the depth the Cardinals have in both pitching and outfield shouldn’t dissuade the Cardinals from making a potential deal.

What would I do?

Honestly, there is no right or wrong answer to this. However, I do believe there is a clearer path than the other. I believe trading for Colome makes the most sense for the organization in terms of production and overall value.

I keep looking at the production from both players, and still come to the conclusion of a toss-up between the two pitchers. Do I think Davis is a better pitcher? Absolutely. But, even the cost acquisition does not lend itself to either pitcher. The first three years of Davis’ deal would cost the Cardinals $45 million, the same as the total over all deal for Colome.

If you assume you can sign Colome to a one year deal to even out the total years, his price is more than likely going to be close to $15 million. So, theoretically even the cost of acquisition is a complete wash in the grand scheme. Of course the down side to Colome’s deal is the loss of prospects.

Now I understand the Cardinals lose value in prospects, but that is all relative to how they actually perform over the years. The names I suggested equally the value the trade is worth, and neither prospect is rated high enough to have serious implications in WAR. If the names were top tier prospects, then of course the answer is pay for Davis. But, I don’t think the Cardinals will go to such lengths to acquire Colome.

What it comes down to for me at this point then is age. Colome offers me the same production at a younger age. It may not be the best tool to measure someone’s success, but Davis is regressing at 32. What will it be like at 36 paying him $15 million versus a one year/$15 million deal of Colome at 32?

One thing I didn’t mention in the cost of acquisition is the flexibility the Cardinals would have with Colome’s contract versus Davis’. The Cardinals will assuredly have more options to improve the team with Colome’s deal. Consider the on going rumors surrounding third baseman and the Cardinals. Do you really think it is possible to land someone like Manny Machado or Josh Donaldson while taking on Davis’ $15 million a season? Not likely.

As my good friend, Scott, said to me yesterday, “I’ll take the younger player every time if their on field value is even close to the same.”

Next: Machado or Donaldson

I honestly do not think the St. Louis Cardinals will just trade for Colome. If the off-season has been any indication, the Cardinals are still looking for lineup help. With Evan Longoria now a Giant, it makes trading for Colome a little harder. What do you guys think, pay for Davis or trade for Colome?