Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Devine inspiration

I remember watching Joey Devine's first Major League appearance, a Fox Saturday Baseball game that was played two short months after the Braves drafted him 27th overall out of N.C. State in 2005. Devine entered a game against the Padres that was tied at two in the 12th inning and pretty easily retired the side. Then Bobby Cox allowed Devine to start the 13th, and the scalding waters of Hell broke loose and drowned poor Joey right there on the Turner Field mound. He gave up four runs, capitulating on a monster grand slam to Xavier Nady. I thought I may have seen the last of Joey Devine. I hadn't.

The second time I saw Joey Devine pitch was two months later, when Bobby Cox again brought him into an extra-innings game, this time in the NLDS against the Astros. Devine, whose entrance literally emptied the bullpen in the 17th inning, quickly retired the Astros but gave up the NLCS-winning home run to Chris Burke with one out in the 18th. Though I've read about his travails, I haven't seen him pitch since.

Which is why I guffawed when I saw his 2008 line as a member of the A's -- he was traded in the Mark Kotsay deal in January 2008. In 45 innings, Devine struck out 49, while allowing 38 baserunners (15 walks, 23 hits). His ERA was a nifty 0.59 and his ERA + was a staggering 685. I had no idea ERA + could get that high. In fact, it doesn't very often.

Thanks to the life-changing Baseball-Reference Play-Index, I now know that among pitchers with at least 25 innings pitched, Joey Devine posted the second-highest single-season ERA + total since 1901. He trailed only Buck O'Brien, who posted a ludicrous 866 ERA + in 47.2 innings of the 1911 season. Moreover, only nine players have ever posted an ERA + over 500 in more than 25 innings of work since 1911, including Jon Papelbon (515) and Dennys Reyes (504) in the 2006 season.

I'll eschew the obvious descriptor and say that Joey Devine's 2008 season was the apotheosis of great relief pitching and is a feat that may not be equaled for some time. But damn, way to rebound, young man.

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