Since 2017, Devenski’s groundball rate has gone down every year while his flyball rate has increased. His line drive rate the past two years was also higher than 2017. Hitters were generally doing a better job of getting underneath the ball, which makes sense given the shifting flyball/groundball splits.
Batters definitely barreled up the ball more frequently against him in 2019, and they whiffed on his pitches at a career-low rate as well. It’s interesting because he actually had a career-best first pitch strike percentage. But hitters made contact on pitches both in the zone and outside the zone more frequently than in any other season in his career.
It makes sense when you think about how his pitches changed. When your fastball is a little straighter and your changeup doesn’t dive quite as much, hitters aren’t going to miss them as often. The changes to the pitches aren’t huge, but there’s not much margin for error in this game. The smallest thing can make the difference between a home run and a flyout.
If you’re thinking he’s leaving more pitches over the plate, you might be surprised. The percentage of his pitches that would be described as a “meatball” pitch (i.e. right over the middle of the plate) actually peaked in 2017 and was lower in 2018 and 2019. So Devenski’s problem doesn’t appear to be control-related, at least not to a large extent.
You also have to look at the context. The 2019 season was an outlier for the league in terms of home runs, with an abnormally large number of them hit, at least partially due to a change in the baseballs. At times, it seemed like all a hitter had to do was get the barrel to the ball and get it in the air and he’d have a home run. That surely couldn’t have helped Devenski either.