Heading into the season, few people would have batted an eye if you referred to Chris Devenski as a 'non-prospect,' or an 'org guy.' The 25-year-old righty spent the first three seasons of his professional career in the low minors after being a 25th round pick, and his numbers never quite jumped off the page - he posted a 4.37 ERA and 1.36 WHIP in 455.1 IP in the minors, having never pitched above Double-A. The scouting reports for Devenski were not much better, focusing on his pitchability, control, and above-average change-up, which suggested a best-case scenario of middle reliever or swing man. It is perhaps fitting, then, that he was a mere player to be named later when the Astros sent Brett Myers to the White Sox back in 2012.
This Spring, however, Devenski was in the Astros camp, and his performance turned some heads. In four appearances (including one start), he posted the following line - 10.1 IP, 10 H, 0 BB, 15 K, 0.97 WHIP, 0.87 ERA. He did not break camp with the team, but he may as well have, as he earned a promotion on April 8, prior to throwing a single pitch at Triple-A. And it is from that point forward that most fans learned about him.
As of this writing, Devenski has made eight appearances with the Astros, including two starts (his last two outings). He has pitched to a 1.46 ERA (2.42 FIP) in 24.2 IP, striking out 8.0 per nine, and walking only 1.8. Despite sitting in the upper 80s in the minors, Devenski has averaged 92.2 MPH with his fastball this year. He throw his fastball just under 50% of the time, and mixes in a low-80s change-up, a low-80s slider, and a mid-70s curve.
What, aside from small sample size noise, can explain his excellence so far? To start, nearly half of his pitches have been located in either the bottom third of the zone, or just under the strike zone:
It is difficult for most batters to get under pitches that low in the zone, and to drive the ball with authority. There is some natural regression to come, to be sure, as Devenski is not inducing many ground balls (33.8%), which will ultimately lead to more home runs. However, he is limiting hard contact (29.4%, which is right around league-average), and pairing that with an above-average amount of soft contact (20.6%). That's a positive sign - as are his league-average strikeout rate (8.0 K/9 and 23.2 K%) and above-average swinging strike rate (11.5%, versus a league-average of 10.0%).
How is he picking up so many whiffs without outstanding stuff? It comes down to two factors - good location, and good movement. His fastball has tremendous drop, and his change-up serves as something of a cutter; the 10-plus MPH separation between the two helps Devenski keep batters off-balance, as well. And, as Warren Spahn said, hitting is timing, and pitching is upsetting timing.
What does all of this mean going forward? It may be too early to call, but there are certainly reasons to be optimistic. And while an 89.8% LOB% and 3.8% HR/FB scream 'regression,' Devenski's 3.54 xFIP and 3.37 SIERA are still above-average, suggesting that there's still a good pitcher here, to say the least. He isn't a sub-1.50 ERA pitcher going forward, but he might just be a sub-3.50 ERA type - particularly if he continues to be deployed as a swingman (not unlike Adam Warren in his time with the Yankees, to whom he is more than a little similar).
Devenski is only owned in 10% of Yahoo! leagues, and he appears to be locked into the Astros rotation for the moment (he's starting against the Indians on Tuesday, 5/11). He is certainly worth the pick-up as a streaming option and, regardless of where he ends up in the pecking order, I think he is a worthwhile addition in deeper leagues.