Major leaguers lacking in either draft or minor league pedigree can be hard to gauge from a fantasy perspective. When these types of players pop up, they are often widely ignored or disregarded as fluky. They are also not discussed as often in analytical circles. Today we will look at a September stalwart and an unlikely top-5 Rookie of the Year finisher to see if they can make the leap into fantasy relevance.
The owner of one of the best September and October lines of the season, “The Outlaw” Kevin Kiermaier was huge down the stretch. His triple slash during that time was an impressive .286/.384/.490, allowing him to rack up five home runs, 17 runs, eight stolen bases, and a .379 wOBA during that time frame. This was not just a BABIP fueled hot streak, as that number checked it at a mere .329. Up to this point, Kiermaier has been thought of as a glove first player that can chip in a few steals here and there, but perhaps there is more to this fantasy afterthought than a career of waiver fodder.
In 2016, Kiermaier made giant improvements in his approach versus his 2015 season. Those strides led to him more than doubling his walk rate from 4.5% to 9.7%. This newly found on-base ability resulted in a jump in OBP from .298 to .331. While .331 is not an impressive number by any means, it is important to note that his BABIP simultaneously dropped from .306 to .278. If he can maintain the walk rate and encounter better luck in 2017, there could be yet another bump to his on-base mark. The additional times on-base meant more opportunities to run, and in that department Kiermaier did not disappoint. He stole 21 bases, up from 18, and with a better success rate: 78% to 88% in 121 fewer plate appearances.
This season, The Outlaw also got on base more often, hit for more power, and walked more frequently versus southpaws than against right hand pitchers. In 2015, his wRC+ vs lefties was a putrid 71, and he slashed .243/.273/.352 in 142 PA’s against them. In 2016, he upped those marks to .262/.364/.452 with a 125wRC+ in 99 plate appearances. A small sample size caveat may apply here, but in 2014 his wRC+ vs LH was a whopping 42 so this jump may represent massive progress. What interests me about his splits is the advancement in his walk rate – 2.5%, 4.0%, 10.1% – over the last 3 years. Coincidentally, his BABIP vs RH was .268, down from .305 in 2015, and .317 in 2014. That dip in production vs RH seems to have suppressed what could have been a breakout statistical line.
His all out style of play may never allow for a full season of at-bats, supported by the fact he broke his hand this year on a diving play in the outfield. 2017 however, will be Kiermaier’s proverbial age-27 season and it’s easy to forget 2014 was his first year in the league. He has come a long way in 3 short years, especially against LH. Health permitting, he could be on the verge of a breakout. When extrapolated over 600 plate appearances using his 2016 pace, Kiermaier would have ended up with 17 homers and 30 stolen bases, even with the seemingly poor luck against RH. Had he reached those heights, we would be talking about him much differently today. His injury risk and poor reverse splits last year may have masked the progress he has made in his skill set.
The 26-year old features a four pitch mix consisting of a fastball, changeup, slider, and curveball used in that order of frequency (45.7%, 31.4%, 12.7%, 10.2%). He has made a living on the strength of what has become a plus change-up. Devenski learned his bread and butter pitch in high school, so he has been regularly throwing the pitch longer than most hurlers his age, giving him a natural feel for the pitch. Opposing batters hit a paltry .193 versus his change, and his K rate with this offering was 31.0%. What makes the pitch even more effective is the differential between the change and his fastball. His average FB velocity this year was 92.3 mph, which was significantly more than his 80.9 CH average. This difference ranked among the highest in the majors. The top speed on his FB clocked in at 96.8mph, quite a difference from the below average grade listed in his minor league scouting reports. One pitch that did not appear on the majority of his reports was his newly refined slider, which garnered a SwStr% of 23.0% and absurd K rate of 50%. For reference, the SwStr% on his CH was 21.0%. Both marks approach elite levels. Devenski also did not have any worrying split differences against righties or lefties. His slash line against LHH was .226/.277/.362, and .185/.225/.241 against RHH.
Houston has stated that Devenski will have the opportunity to win a rotation spot in the spring. Take that with a grain of salt, since of course what else would they say? In the event he could secure a spot, I feel he could run with the opportunity. The consolation prize will still be a pivotal role in the Astros bullpen, a role in which he was extremely successful in this year. He pitched 2 or more innings in 20 of his 43 non starting appearances. Overall his numbers checked in at a 2.16 ERA, 0.91 WHIP, 8.64 K/9, 25.5% K rate, and .205 average against. His FIP was 2.34, which matches those figures, but his xFIP on the other hand was 3.60. This along with his .271 BABIP against combined with the total of homers he allowed all year (four) point to regression on the horizon. His K rate would still make him a valuable asset however, even if his ERA jumps into the mid 3’s.
The 6’3″ Devenski has a legitimate shot to become more than the bullpen arm his early minor league repertoire displayed. His command and pitchability have allowed his pitches to tick up and in turn, his profile has done the same. I feel his new possible outcomes range from above average MLB reliever to low end 3rd starter. Houston may very well deal for a Quintana, Duffy, or the like and put Devenski’s rotation dreams on hold. If they don’t, his chances of making several starts in the upcoming season are good, given the Astros less-than-durable arms filling the rotation. If they do pull the trigger on a trade, a role similar to 2016 leaves Devenski with a strong K-rate and the potential to vulture wins behind what should be an excellent offense. Not bad for the player to be named later in what was once known as the Brett Myers deal.