2013 Dodgers in Review #35: RP Chris Withrow

December 18, 2013 at 7:31 am | Posted in 2013 in Review, Chris Withrow | Leave a comment

90topps_chriswithrow2.60 ERA / 3.57 FIP 34.2 IP 11.16 K/9 3.38 BB/9 (A)

2013 in brief: Called up mid-season and was surprisingly effective in relief.

2014 status: Will compete for a spot in the bullpen during spring training, and will likely get it.


Today’s review comes from the talented mind of D.Brim, who is now doing some great work of his own at Blog to the Score.

It would have been tough for a player to start out the 2013 season with lower major league expectations than Chris Withrow. He was the Dodgers’ first round draft pick in 2007 (a compensation pick for losing Julio Lugo), and was considered one of the top prospects in the McCourt-weakened system for several years.

However, he stalled out in AA, playing four consecutive seasons there, struggling with health and control problems. He was transitioned relief in 2012 with limited success, walking 5.4 batters per nine innings. Prospect evaluators either did not rank him at all (Baseball America) or had him anywhere between 8th (Fangraphs, Baseball Prospectus) and 21st (FKB) in a relatively weak farm system.

Despite Withrow’s lack of effectiveness in 2012, he started the season with a promotion to the Albuquerque bullpen. While walks were still a problem (4.44 BB/9), his strikeout rate increased dramatically (11.28 K/9). In the offense-prone PCL, he allowed 10 runs (5 earned) in 26-1/3 innings, and did not surrender a home run (these stats include a couple of brief stints in AAA after the initial call-up).

Withrow was initially called up on June 11th, the day that Brandon League was mercifully relieved of his duties as closer (a day better known for other reasons). He made his debut against the Diamondbacks the next day, allowing one run and a walk in 2/3 of an inning. His results in his first five appearances were rocky, allowing four runs (and three walks) in his first six innings of work.

However, after his rough start, Withrow began to lower his walk rate and became trusted in higher leverage situations. This was especially important after Paco Rodriguez began to falter. His background as a starter helped him go multiple innings when needed, greatly improving his flexibility. He was a huge asset during the team’s 42-8 run. He pitched 18-2/3 innings during that stretch, striking out 24 and walking 5 with an ERA of 1.93.

While there’s some obvious caveats while breaking down small samples into even smaller samples, some of the month-by-month breakdowns on Withrow’s pitches are interesting and show some evidence supporting why he improved after his initial rough start. Here are his pitch usage and velocity, courtesy of BrooksBaseball:


Withrow began to lean on his slider much more heavily as the season progressed, using it in 17.27% of his pitches in July and 38.75% in September. The usage declined in October, but that only includes four appearances. As Withrow began leaning more heavily on his slider, his fastball velocity declined a bit, from 98.17 MPH in June to 95.95 MPH in September. However, his slider velocity increased sharply at the same time.

The reason why he leaned on his slider more as the season went along is because it worked. Over the season, he generated swings and misses on 18.5% of his sliders, the highest percentage of any of his pitches. As the velocity on his slider increased, he generated more swings and misses:


When a batter did swing at his slider and make contact, they didn’t hit it very hard. According to brooks, 20 of Withrow’s sliders were put into play in 2013. Here’s the batted ball breakdown:

Hit type












Line drive



Amazingly, Withrow allowed only one line drive on his slider all year. The line drive was during his first appearance of the year, and it was recorded as an out. He only allowed two hits on his slider all season, allowing a line of .063/.143/.156 against his slider overall.

The success of Withrow’s slider was something of a pleasant surprise. While some scouting reports cited it as a potential plus pitch, it tends to get lost with his aesthetically pleasing curveball and high fastball velocity. Given the success of his slider and his move to the bullpen, it’s not difficult to imagine him phasing out some of his curveball and changeup usage to throw it even more.

Chris Withrow had a strong campaign in 2013. But there are still some questions about his effectiveness going forward. Even with his improving slider, he struggled off-and-on with control. He also had an extremely high strand rate of 88.5%, and an unsustainably low BABIP allowed of .205. These can be indicators of sequencing and batted ball luck, although we cannot make a better judgment of this until after Withrow throws more innings in the big leagues. These luck factors are somewhat offset by a potentially unlucky HR/FB rate of 14.7%.

Ultimately, Withrow had an adjusted ERA- of 73 (ERA 27% better than an average pitcher, adjusted for park), but a FIP- of 99 (FIP 1% better). The ERA- is 71st among relievers with at least 30 innings pitched, but the FIP- is 143rd. Withrow’s potential for regression is something that the Dodgers will be watching very carefully next season.

Even with the questions about his peripherals, given MSTI’s expectations-based grading policy, it seems impossible to give Withrow anything other than an A.


Next! I’m so sorry that we need to talk about Matt Guerrier!


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