Four years ago, Joey Devine was a sensation with the Oakland Athletics. The 24-year-old rookie torched the American League for 45.2 innings, allowing just three earned runs to cross the plate in his 42 appearances.
In professional baseball history, there have been 24,553 pitcher seasons with at least 40 innings thrown. In 1911, Buck O’Brien of the Boston Red Sox set an ERA- record that has never been broken. He allowed two earned runs in five complete game starts (covering 47.2 innings, even), enough for an 11 ERA-. Many have come close, but none closer than Devine in 2008 — his 0.59 ERA translates to a 14 ERA-, the second-best mark in history.
But that season was ended in August as Devine was forced to go under the knife for his first Tommy John surgery. Earlier this week, only 23 MLB innings and another Tommy John surgery later, the Athletics outrighted Devine. The 29-year-old elected free agency.
Devine might not quite be ready for the season — his most recent surgery was performed in early April 2012 — but he should manage to find work. He’s young enough to still offer promise, and he did pitch well in his return in 2011 before re-injuring his elbow. He allowed a 3.52 ERA with a 2.98 FIP in 26 appearances, and he extended his stretch of not allowing a major league home run to 60 consecutive innings.
Devine didn’t prove to be the havoc-wreaking force we saw in 2008 when he returned in 2011. Unsurprising, most issues came against left-handed batters, as Devine threw from a roughly three-quarters arm slot and employed a fastball-slider-curveball mix — no changeups for the left-handed batters. Lefties hit .268/.380/.439 off Devine in 2011 after hitting just .191/.286/.230 against him in 2008.
But the dominance against right-handed batters remained. Devine held hitters to an absurd .120/.182/.130 line in 2008; they still couldn’t hit him in 2011, slashing just .156/.245/.163 off him. Against 212 right-handed hitters for his career, Devine has allowed a .224 wOBA — he turned them into Emmanuel Burress.
There’s no guarantee this Joey Devine still exists, and even if it does, there’s no guarantee he can give a sustained effort without his elbow disintegrating again, but the chance is there. With an opportunity, perhaps he can add to what is for now just one of baseball’s brightest flashes in the pan.