The Astros relief pitching has been lackluster at times in the early going of the 2016 season.
Whether that has been Ken Giles, Josh Fields, Tony Sipp, or someone else not named Will Harris or Luke Gregerson, one of the perceived strengths of the Astros heading into this season has been a weakness. Sometimes a glaring one. However, the season is only ten games young, and there is still plenty of baseball left to play. Successful seasons aren’t achieved in the first two weeks of the season.
But the lack of quality pitching from the ‘pen has to be a cause of concern to some extent or another. This is where the recent play of Chris Devenski, one of the Astros top pitching prospects, on the major league level makes his future usage a compelling subject to discuss.
Devenski, the Astros 24th overall ranked prospect by MLBPipeline.com, has managed to impress in his very short time with the major league club. Or as much as a prospect essentially could that has thrown eight strikeouts in a little over five relief innings while allowing just two hits and zero runs. But the former Cal State Fullerton pitcher isn’t exactly known for his overwhelming stuff. Basically, he gets by on a four-seam fastball that seems to average out around 88-91 MPH and a slider, or depending on the site a curveball, and that is fringe at best. However, the primary, and best, weapon out of his pitch arsenal is his circle change. Out of the 70 pitches, he has thrown at the major league level (yes, that is a small sample size), 29 have been classified as a change up by Brooks Baseball. For comparison sake, he has thrown his four-seam fastball 34 times. But it is clear from the data that it is his change that is delivering the best results.
Again, this is a small sample size, and I admit I may be grasping at straws. But it is still interesting to discuss whether the Astros should give Devenski more chances to prove if he can truly help the bullpen in the short-term. Early or not, Devenski is tied for the highest WAR currently out of all the team’s relievers at 0.1. His xFIP is 2.45 in 5.1 innings of work. In fact, the bullpen could wind up to be his future destination considering the lack of openings in the rotation even with Lance McCullers out of action. And if he stays respectable coming out of the ‘pen, then-manager A.J. Hinch may need to use Devenski in more high leverage situations especially if Giles and Fields continue to struggle.
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Of course, you just can’t simply ignore that the 25-year old right-hander has not pitched more than just five major league innings, so you have to remain somewhat skeptical until proven otherwise. After all, there have been some pitchers who have impressed in their first few innings then disappear after struggling just a little bit. And there is no guarantee how long he will remain with the parent club with McCullers scheduled to return in the coming weeks. The Astros decision makers may decide he needs to go to Fresno to continue his improvement.
Regardless, it is very well possible that the Astros may need to pitch Devenski more as he continues to prove his worth. And who knows, once the bullpen as a whole improves as the season goes along then the addition of the young right-hander could make the relief staff that much more formidable. This situation just proves that it is nice to have extra depth in the minor league system. Like the old saying goes, “You can never have enough pitching”.
**Statistics provided by Fangraphs & Baseball-Reference**
**Pitch data provided by Brooks Baseball**