Chris Devenski has been phenomenal this far in the 2017 season. He owns a 1.96 ERA, strikes out an unbelievable 16.43 batters per nine while only walking 1.11, and leads all relievers in the American League with 1.0 WAR. He has done such a great job as a reliever that some have started speculating if his talents are being wasted in the bullpen.
Wasted is probably too strong of a word. Devenski and the rest of the Astros bullpen is a huge reason the Astros are off to a franchise best record through 36 games. Yet Devenski is unlike many flame-throwing relievers who put everything they have into one short inning of baseball. Devenski has the stamina and arsenal to go late into games, and has experience in both the Minors and Majors starting games. So why isn't he starting?
The simple answer is don't fix whats not broken. Devenski is playing unbelievable baseball out of the bullpen, and his versatility has helped the Astros win numerous games.
Manager AJ Hinch can drop Devo into a high-leverage situation to strikeout the side, or put him in the seventh inning and let him close out the game. Fiers getting shelled early? Let Devenski come in and take over the reigns.
Whichever way they use him, Jeff Luhnow and A.J. Hinch have found their Andrew Miller; a dynamic and dominant reliever who helps you win in far more ways than simply closing out the game. In the playoffs we saw just how big of an X-Factor Miller was for the Indians, and it looks like Devenski has found a similar niche with the Astros.
On the other side of the argument, relievers just don't end up pitching as much as starters, and thus have a smaller overall impact on the game. On the year Devenski has pitched just 21 innings, despite probably being the best player on the team this far into the season.
For comparison, Mike Fiers has logged over 30 innings. As nice as it is to have Devo as a bullpen weapon, there's something to be said for having your best players face the maximum amount of batters.
I'm not saying Devenski needs to make the jump this season; in his five starts last year, Devenski had a 4.01 ERA with 21 strikeouts and 8 walks with an opponent batting average of .242 (though he had yet to really develop his slider, and 5 starts is still a really small sample size). In 104 career innings as a reliever, Devo has maintained a 1.72 ERA, has struck out 121 batters while walking just 15, and has held opposing batters to a .181 batting average.
For this season, I think the right play is to keep Devenski where he's been comfortable and dominant. Yet long-term, if the Astros want to maximize the talent of one of the best young pitchers in baseball, they'll need to think about moving him to starter.
At the very least, we need a somewhat competent fifth starting pitcher to jump in so I do not have to deal with the fact that Mike Fiers has almost 50% more playing time on the season then Devo.