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Appreciating the rookie season of Chris Devenski

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A sabermetric appreciation of the rookie right-hander.

Steven Bisig-USA TODAY Sports

Watching Chris Devenski pitch out of the bullpen for the second day in a row against the Texas Rangers, something occurred to me: Devenski is a seriously good pitcher. Of course, most of us know that by now, but I was extremely impressed by two of his pitches: his changeup, and his fastball. In particular, I was extremely impressed by how the two pitches work together. It's time to dedicate an article to appreciating Chris Devenski.

Devenski was drafted in the 25th round of the 2011 draft by the Chicago White Sox, painting a picture of a prospect drafted merely to fill out numbers on the minor league roster. He was traded to the Astros in 2012 as a player to be named later in the trade that sent Brett Myers to the White Sox. Despite, for the entirety of his minor league career, being a 'non-prospect', seldomly featuring on any top prospect lists, he made the major league roster this season, even though he was yet to log an inning at Triple-A.

The rest, as they say, is history. Devenski has been a revelation in the both the bullpen and rotation for the Astros. He seems to have settled into the bullpen in the long-relief role, providing the occasional spot-start in the rotation. In the penultimate game of the series against the Rangers he played his usual long-man role, however, he also came into the final game of the series. Unfortunately, despite having pitched very well all series, he surrendered the game winning runs against the Rangers. Yet, his ability was still clear to see. Just over a week ago, he pitched four and a third innings against the Blue Jays, striking out seven straight batters.

Now, before we get onto the primary point of this article, examining his lethal fastball/changeup combination, let's have a brief look at how Devenski has been doing in his rookie campaign. Last season, in Double-A Ball, he logged 119 innings, striking out 7.88 batters per nine, walking just 2.48. He finished the season with a 3.01 ERA, and a 3.74 FIP. Now, in the major leagues, over 75.1 innings, he has a K/9 of 7.88, and a BB/9 of 2.03, good enough for an ERA of 2.51, and a FIP of 2.69 (collating a WAR of 1.7, already). To cut a long story short, he has been very effective.

How has Devenski managed to be so effective?

Whilst I'm no expert at pitcher evaluation, Devenski's fastball/changeup combination is particularly impressive. In the aforementioned appearance in the series finale against the Rangers, against Nomar Mazara with the bases loaded, in extra innings, he overwhelmed him with the combination. Keeping the changeup down and away to work ahead to a two-strike count. Then, he blew a 93 miles-per-hour fastball past him at the top of the zone. The difference in velocity was incredible. The following chart, courtesy of Brooks Baseball, catalogs exactly that.

Yes, that's the fastball in the very, very top corner of the chart. According to Fangraphs, Devenski's changeup, which averages 80 miles-per-hour on the gun, is the 13th slowest changeup in baseball this season (interestingly, both Doug Fister's, and Dallas Keuchel's are both slower). On the other hand, Devenski's fastball's, which averaged 92.2 miles-per-hour on the gun, velocity is the 29th highest in the American League. Granted, his fastball isn't one of the quickest in the game, but the difference between the two pitches is still pretty significant.

Pitch Type Average Velocity (mph) Difference (mph)
Changeup 80 -12.2
Fastball 92.2 +12.2

Another rookie, Sean Manaea of the Oakland A's, uses the same combination of pitches to get batters out. His fastball clocks in at, around about, the same velocity as Devenski's. On the other hand, his changeup is just under five miles-per-hour quicker. Two rookies, two similar arsenals, two very different velocities. Naturally, the huge difference in velocity makes the two pitches great when used together, and Fangraphs' Pitchf/x supports just that.

Pitch Type Pitchf/x Rating Major League Rank
Fastball 8.5 18th
Changeup 4.3 20th

Both a plus-fastball, and a plus-changeup, both of which rank within the top twenty (of all pitchers who have pitched 70 innings on the year) of the same pitch in all of baseball. To put it into context, Devenski's changeup has been better, this season, than Johnny Cueto's, and Zack Greinke's. His fastball, has been better than Jose Fernandez's, Justin Verlander's, and Jake Arrieta's. To, once more, cut a long story short, both his fastball and changeup have been among the best pitches in baseball this season.

Pitcher wFA
Chris Devenski 8.5
Justin Verlander 7.6
Jose Fernandez 6.8
Jake Arrieta 8.1
Jon Lester 8.0

Hitters are swinging at his pitches (mainly his changeup, and his fastball, but also his much lesser thrown slider, and curveball) a whopping 49.7% of the time (ranking 12th in all of baseball), and pitches outside of the zone 34.9% of the time (ranking 12th in all of baseball, again). Finally, his swinging strike percentage of 12.2% ranks 10th in all of baseball. All of the said statistics are extremely impressive, especially for a rookie.

The only thing limiting Devenski from becoming a really prolific reliever are his strikeout totals. His K/9 of 7.88 is strong, especially when compared to his BB/9 of 2.03, but given just how often batters are swinging at his pitches, and swinging through them, you'd expect him to be striking out a few more. Of the top ten pitchers in SwStr%, Devenski is the only pitcher with a K/9 under 8.3 (it would be 9, but Matt Shoemaker is the exception, who, interestingly, is a strong comparison to Devenski).

That's not to say Devenski hasn't been great, he seriously has. However, it does imply that, given his stuff, he could potentially be even better. Imagine a Chris Devenski who was striking out 9 batters per nine innings, and walking nobody. His already impressive ERA of 2.51 could fall yet more. To conclude, I'm really not sure if there's much value in the information I have presented. Rather, it should be taken as a few reasons to seriously love Devenski. He has great 'stuff', and more importantly, has been getting great results, with the potential to improve yet more.

We should all appreciate the rising star that is Chris Devenski.