(Photo: Jeffrey Becker, USA TODAY Sports)
2020 season age: 29 – Throws: Right- Bats: Right- Contract: $1.125 million (Arb-1)
2019 in review: The Indians claimed Wittgren off waivers in the offseason from the Miami Marlins. He made two appearances in Triple-A Columbus before he was needed in Cleveland and he stayed up for the duration of 2019. He threw 57.2IP and struck out 60 batters while walking 15, putting up an ERA of 2.81 and a FIP of 4.17.
Beyond the stats: There are a lot of things about Wittgren’s data that make it hard to believe the kind of success he had in 2019. His 4.17 FIP reflects an solid, but average 26 K% but he did have a tidy 6.5 BB%. When you dig in further, Wittgren only tops out at 93 with his fastball, which is below average, especially for a reliever and his spin ranked in the 33rd percentile. His curve spin sat in the 14th percentile, while his exit velocity and hard hit rate all ranked at the bottom of the barrel. Somehow his fastball and slider managed to hold average marks in xWOBA. Perhaps the only thing to look at is that he held hitters to a 38 GB% and even 38 FB%, so perhaps keeping some of that hard contact on the ground is something of an underlying skill for Wittgren.
On the mound: Wittgren works with a fastball, slider and changeup. He heavily favors his fastball against lefties and righties and managed to get a 23.2% whiff rate with it in 2019. His slider missed bats at a 30.9% whiff rate. He only used the changeup 14% of the time and a .545 SLG% (and a .577 xSLG%) suggests that’s a good thing, even if he does need a third pitch.
2020 role: After his 2019 success, it looks like Wittgren is probably in line to be the 7th or 8th inning arm in front closer Brad Hand. He locked down 12 holds and four saves with just two blown saves. He averaged more than a strikeout per inning and limited his walks, so that will likely give Indians manager Terry Francona faith that he can handle handing the ball off to Hand. (Say that 10 times fast).
Fantasy impact: If your league counts holds, Wittgren is in line to vie for them in the Indians bullpen, but there’s a good amount of setup men around the league with better stuff, misses more bats and has more of a track record in the back end of the bullpen. But if you want cheap holds, he should get some given the Indians should be in close games and he’ll likely have the role all but secured. Still, he shouldn’t be more than a cheap, late add. If your leagues don’t count holds then he holds no value.