Since 1920, just two major league pitchers have thrown 45 or more innings in a season with an ERA 0.60 or lower. The most recent is fresh in our minds- Fernando Rodney, coming off a remarkable season for the Rays this past season. The previous one? Right-hander Joey Devine for the Oakland A’s back in 2008. Devine is a free agent this offseason and will be looking for a minor league contract after missing all of 2012 following Tommy John Surgery. Could the Rays sign Devine hoping and turn him into their next reliever reclamation project?
Devine, who turned 29 in September, turned in his outstanding 2008 in his first full season in the big leagues for the Oakland Athletics. He went 6-1 with a 0.59 ERA, a 9.7 K/9, a 3.0 BB/9, and a 0.0 HR/9 in 42 relief appearances and 45.2 innings pitched. But even that fabulous season had its concerning signs- Devine missed from May until August with inflammation in his right pitching elbow. He was incredible after returning, not allowing a single run in 24 relief appearances, but his elbow flared up again in spring training of 2009, and this time he underwent Tommy John Surgery. Devine’s rehab was especially tough as he missed all of 2009 and 2010.
In 2011, Devine finally got healthy, but he struggled with control in spring treaing and started the season in the minor leagues. However, after coming up to the A’s in late May, Devine returned to retiring hitter after hitter, tossing scoreless ball in his first 7 appearances across 6.2 innings. But then Devine fell apart over his next 19 appearances, allowing 4.96 ERA with just a 17-10 strikeout to walk ratio, prompting a return to the minor leagues in late July, where he spent the rest of the minor league season, and he was not called back to the big leagues in September. Then as Devine tried to make the A’s roster in 2012, he experienced shoulder inflammation, and he had to undergo a second Tommy John Surgery in early April.
Devine is healthy again and is hoping for a chance to reestablish himself as a big league reliever. His injury problems are a major concern, but the risk will be negligible on a minor league contract and the reward could be tremendous. In 2011 after his first surgery, Devine was still throwing a mid-90’s fastball to go along with a devastating slider. After another surgery, Devine’s stuff may not be at the same level as it once was. But if Devine can stay healthy, the ability that helped him be so dominant in 2008 will not have completely evaporated and he still has the ability to be an effective reliever. Between Devine’s low cost and impressive arm, Joey Devine looks like a great fit for the Rays, and if all goes well, he could be revitalized pitching in a Rays uniform in 2013.