Relief Pitchers Poised to Leap Forward: Chris Withrow
While the Los Angeles Dodgers have personalities and brand names like Yasiel Puig and Clayton Kershaw, some players go under the radar. Though Brian Wilson's entrancing beard may help to make him one of the better setup men in the game, Chris Withrow is also a name worth watching.
Withrow, 24, was drafted in 2007 as a starting pitcher, and he remained a starting pitcher until 2012. His conversion to relief pitcher improved his numbers, eventually leading to his first major league call-up during the 2012 season. In 2013, Chris Withrow made 26 appearances and pitched in 34.2 innings.
Since he converted to a relief pitcher so recently, his repertoire is a little deeper than that of most relievers. He uses four pitches: a fastball, slider, curveball and changeup. Based on data available at FanGraphs, we can see that Withrow focuses on using the fastball, slider and curveball, throwing the fastball about 61% and generally averaging around 96 mph. He uses his slider, in the upper-80s, around 27% of the time.
|Chris Withrow||MLB Average|
|Outside the zone swings||32.3%||31.0%|
|Outside the zone contact||64.0%||66.6%|
|Inside the zone swings||67.2%||65.5%|
|Inside the zone contact||82.4%||87.0%|
Based on the chart above, Withrow relies on being in the zone and he doesn’t have the stuff to induce poor swings out of the zone. That said, opposing batters have had some struggles making contact on his pitches in the zone, hitting just .165 against Withrow. He starts at-bats with a strike about 55% of the time, and he also averages almost 12% swinging strikes, slightly better than the league average.
The Dodgers have frequently used Withrow in the sixth inning, typically in higher leverage game situations. As long as health doesn’t become a concern, pitcher Kenley Jansen is set in the closer’s role. Brian Wilson will have a full season with the Dodgers, and his experience likely puts him solidly in the setup role. Chris Withrow could see himself pitching in the seventh inning next season, and they might ask him to take on bigger and more critical pitching tasks as the season progresses.
The young righthander may have benefited some from mystery. Many major leaguers don't know what kind of stuff Withrow has or how he approaches opposing batters. It will be well worth seeing how he handles his sophomore year in the majors, and he will big sleeper to target in deep fantasy baseball leagues with Holds.