For most Astros fans, the forgotten man of 2016 was Chris Devenski. No, he did not hit 30 home runs, he did not strike out 300 hitters, he did not steal 40 bases, but he was one of the best in the league in long relief, and even many set up roles for the Astros. Although Devenski actually started the 2016 season with the team and never was sent down to the minors due to poor performance, it seems that he simply never received the recognition that he deserved.
The baseball writers certainly did not look past Devenski's stellar 2016 campaign, giving him enough votes to finish fourth place in American League Rookie of the Year voting behind some rising young stars like Gary Sanchez, Tyler Naquin, and Michael Fulmer. Yet, if Devenski was such a great player in 2016, why do Astros fans and others around the team seem to brush over his great season?
Unfortunately, the answer is that throughout the 2016 season, Devenski pitched in a lot of "mop-up" roles either early or late in the game when the Astros were losing by a lot or crushing their opponent. This is not discounting Devenski's production, but it explains why he may not be at the forefront in the memory of a casual Astros supporter.
For example, out of 49 total games in which Devenski pitched last season, 22 of those games were decided by four runs or more. As a result, almost 45% of Devenski's appearances last season came in games where the score may not have already been decided, but one of the two teams certainly would have to make up a lot of ground to force a close contest.
But, that's enough about 2016, let's talk about this upcoming season. In 2017, Devenski will most likely be rewarded with an increased role by A.J. Hinch and his staff due to the fact that he was so effective last year. When the Astros faced a severe lack of pitching depth towards the end of last season, Devenski had to increase his innings a bit and saw a significant increase in his number of games pitched in August and September compared to April, May, and June.
If Devenski is able to improve upon or even maintain his 2.16 ERA from 2016, he could potentially be promoted to a spot in the starting rotation this season. I believe all Houston Astros fans are not immune to the fact that the Astros back end of the starting rotation is a weak spot for the team, as we just do not know how Charlie Morton, Joe Musgrove, and Mike Fiers will perform this year.
Another aspect of Devenski's game that makes him so valuable is that he is able to maintain a strong strikeout-to-walk ratio. Last season, he only gave free passes to 20 opposing hitters while compiling 104 strikeouts in 108 and 1/3 innings. Devenski's changeup sits at around 80 mph and generates a lot of whiffs when coupled with a fastball that can hit anywhere from 91 to 93 mph on a regular basis.
The other two pitches in Devenski's arsenal at the moment, his slider and curveball, still need development. This could be the one major factor separating him from becoming a great starting pitcher in the major leagues, as it can be difficult to have success as a starter with only two main pitches.
If Devenski can hone in on improving a slider that sits around 80 mph, then it would not shock me if he was replacing either Fiers or Morton in the Astros starting rotation by late May or early June. If not, then Astros fans will just have to enjoy watching Devenski go to work as one of the top bullpen arms in the American League.