Chris Devenski Is the Best Relief Pitcher You Haven't Heard Nearly Enough About Yet

Luke Gregerson and Ken Giles are both popular names in the Houston Astros bullpen, but it's Chris Devenski who you should really be paying attention to.

It is not uncommon for relievers, even good ones, to be completely off the radar before making it to the big leagues. Chris Devenski, a 26-year-old right-handed reliever for the Houston Astros, is no exception.

Selected by the Chicago White Sox in the 25th round of the 2011 MLB Draft, he was quickly dealt to Houston as the player to be named later in the Brett Myers trade in 2012.

Luckily for the Astros, Devenski has turned into a crucial part of their bullpen and is a hurler every baseball fan should know about.

Path to the Majors

Outside of being exclusively a starter in A-ball for Houston in 2012 (eight starts) and 2013 (five starts), he consistently mixed in both starting and relieving at every level. That's the kind of versatility that every manager loves, but it will also prove to be valuable in the big leagues.

After posting a 4.36 ERA and 3.45 FIP in 43.1 Short-Season Single-A innings for the Astros, he struggled in High-A to the tune of a 7.88 ERA and 5.80 FIP in 75.1 innings of work. These tough times ended up being a turning point for Devenski, though -- he steadily improved from there on out, culminating in a 3.01 ERA and 3.74 FIP in 24 games (17 starts) at Triple-A in 2015.

While he proved to be valuable in various ways, his endurance and ability to take on a large workload had to be the best -- between 2012 and 2015, he never threw less than 90.3 innings a season, including at least 118 from 2013-15.

The steady improvements and his durability were clear, but he saved his best for his rookie season as a big leaguer.

A Great First Impression

His reputation of having a rubber arm in the minors stayed with him in Houston last year, throwing 108.1 innings for the Astros over 48 games -- five of which were starts. And not only did he take the mound more often than your typical relief pitcher, he was incredibly effective when he did.

The right-hander posted a 2.16 ERA, 2.34 FIP and 3.60 xFIP in his first taste of big-league action with a save and five holds. There is such a difference between his xFIP and the other two numbers because this particular ERA estimator likes it when pitchers keep the ball on the ground. Devenski is a fly-ball pitcher, evidenced by a 40.6% fly-ball rate and 33.5% ground-ball rate.

While he did post a 20.6% K-BB rate (the difference between strikeout and walk rates), he didn't strikeout people at the typical level of an elite closer. What he did do, though, was show an uncanny ability to keep hitters guessing by changing speeds.

The below table shows his types of pitches, along with the average velocity and the frequency at which they're thrown, according to PITCHf/x.

Pitch Type Velocity (MPH) Pitch %
4-Seam FB 92.3 45.90%
Slider 81.8 12.90%
Changeup 80.9 31.70%
Knuckle-Curve 75.9 7.40%

Devenski has the ability to change speeds at a rather extreme rate, and his three most-used pitches -- fastball, slider and changeup -- are pretty darn good.

According to PITCHf/x, his fastball is 10.2 runs above average, his slider is 5.7 runs above average, and his changeup is 13.3 runs above average (the average is zero). So, even if his stuff doesn't look like that of your prototypical shutdown reliever, he's moved himself into that category.

How Does He Compare to Other Relievers?

Devenski's rookie campaign was great, but how valuable was he out of the bullpen? And how does it stack up against other relievers?

Here are his numbers in various statistical categories and how he ranks against all qualified relievers last season.

Category Result Rank
FIP 2.13 10th
xFIP 3.32 33rd
SIERA 2.85 24th
HR/FB 3.60% 5th
K-BB% 23.40% 18th
fWAR 2.2 9th

He was a member of the same relief corps as Ken Giles and Luke Gregerson, but it was Devenski who emerged as the most valuable asset.

He gives the Astros a unique set of skills, as he can run out there and throw multiple scoreless innings -- evidenced by the four scoreless he tossed on April 5th -- while also performing well in high-leverage situations and spot starts.

After watching Andrew Miller's postseason performance last October, a lot of teams are searching for the next Andrew Miller to put in their bullpen. Based on what we've seen in 2016 and how he's begun his sophomore campaign (1.13 ERA and 1.50 FIP through 8 innings), it looks like the Astros already have their own version.