Brad Ziegler had a historic beginning to his career, but he wasn’t the only Athletics reliever to post gaudy numbers and set a record during the 2008 season. Joey Devine, a former 1st-round selection by the Atlanta Braves out of North Carolina State, finally made good use of his closer-worthy stuff after a change of scenery. Devine posted huge strikeout rates in the minors (13.18 K/9), but his control (4.03 BB/9) held him back and he never really got much of an opportunity in several cups of coffee with the Braves from 2005 to 2007. In fact, most Braves fans will probably remember Devine for being the first pitcher in major league history to give up grand slams in his first two appearances.
With the Braves looking for an everyday centerfielder, Devine was shipped to the A’s in exchange for Mark Kotsay last winter. Given his first extended big-league opportunity, Devine would go on to stake his claim to the late innings in Oakland:
45.2 IP, 0.59 ERA, 9.66 K/9, 2.96 BB/9
Devine’s 0.59 ERA was the lowest ever for a pitcher tossing at least 40 innings. While his peripherals were very good and his Fielding Independent ERA was also excellent (1.97), Devine obviously had some bounces go his way. He did not surrender a single home run, something that will assuredly change in 2009 given his fly ball tendencies (38.8 GB%). Using Expected Fielding Independent ERA(XFIP), which uses an average HR/FB rate, we find that Devine’s ERA “should” have been 3.28 once we account for the fluky home run luck.
Devine’s stuff is plenty good, as he utilizes a 93.1 MPH fastball and a biting 81 MPH slider. As Josh Kalk’s pitch F/X blog shows, Devine’s heater has a solid combination of horizontal (5.29 inches) and vertical (9.3 inches) movement. His slider also gets a ton of horizontal break (5.53 inches) away from righties.
If there’s a long-term concern regarding Devine, it’s his possible susceptibility to southpaw batters. During his minor league career, he allowed a .308 average to lefties, walking 6.80 batters per nine innings. As this photo nicely shows, Devine has a low, almost side-arm delivery that gives left-handers a good long look at the ball. However, in 109 career PA versus lefties in the majors, Devine has posted a .661 OPS.
Devine also missed nearly two months with a strained elbow, which could be related to a timing problem in his delivery. As this photo shows, Devine’s arm is in a horizontal position at “foot strike” (the point at which his front foot lands). Ideally, you’d like the arm to be in a high-cocked/ready (vertical) position when that foot lands. Devine’s timing issue likely puts more stress on his elbow than need be.
Joey Devine is an intriguing talent, possessing a nasty fastball/slider combo that could lead to closing opportunities if Huston Street departs via trade. Keep an eye on the Oakland rumor mill this offseason. If Street leaves, you might want to target Devine as an efficient alternative to bigger-name relievers who will be selected earlier on draft day.