After nearly falling off the face of the baseball world, Ross Detwiler has reinvented himself into a formidable asset for the Miami Marlins bullpen.
In a crowded Miami Marlins bullpen headlined by the likes of Dylan Floro and Yimi García, Ross Detwiler is a name that sometimes gets lost in the conversation. Detwiler isn’t quite matching Floro or Garcia in terms of ERA, but the 35-year-old left-hander is nevertheless having a career resurgence.
Detwiler spent his first seven seasons with the Washington Nationals, where he oscillated between the starter and long reliever roles. The southpaw was traded to the Texas Rangers after the 2014 season before bouncing around the league for the next few years, spending all of 2017 in the minors and even playing some independent ball for the York Revolution in 2019 prior to being acquired by the Chicago White Sox.
The south side of Chicago was where Detwiler would begin his comeback, but it wasn’t a smooth start by any means. 2019 saw him put up a 6.59 ERA in 69.2 IP, but despite a hectic 2020 season thrown off by the COVID-19 pandemic, Detwiler posted a 3.20 ERA in 2020, his first sub-4.00 ERA since 2012.
The Marlins saw Detwiler’s 2020 as an opportunity to bolster their bullpen and signed him as a free agent in January, and he has not disappointed. The lefty has hurled 16 strikeouts over 13.0 innings while only allowing four earned runs for a 2.77 ERA.
How has Detwiler been able to stage this comeback with the Miami Marlins?
A big reason for Detwiler’s success with Miami is a revamped arsenal of pitches. A sinkerballer for much of his career, Detwiler relies on ground balls and soft contact to get outs. But if you look at his pitch distribution for 2021, you’ll find that Detwiler’s primary pitch is actually a cutter that he throws 37.1% of the time. The sinker ranks as his third-most frequent pitch at 18.8% in a toolbox that also includes a four-seam fastball, a changeup, and a curveball.
Detwiler seemed to cut ties with that cutter in 2020, instead relying mostly on his four-seamer and sinker, but the cutter has served him well in 2021. Despite clocking in at an average of 84.6 MPH and sporting a horizontal break that is 4.4 inches less than the league-average, Detwiler’s cutter gets the job done, resulting in a hit only thrice in 18 at-bats.
His curveball has also seen a resurgence, returning to its usual usage of around 13% after almost disappearing entirely in 2020. At an average velocity of 77.1 MPH, the curve is the slowest pitch in Detwiler’s arsenal, but it is working so far, inducing two strikeouts in four at-bats.
Excluding a changeup that he has only thrown 6.1% of the time, none of Detwiler’s pitches average an exit velocity over 90 MPH, staying true to his soft-contact approach. In fact, the veteran is in the 94th percentile of average exit velocity so far this season. That emphasis on soft-contact has also earned Detwiler a place in the 78th percentile in hard-hit percentage.
The main things Detwiler must be wary of however is allowing fly balls and walks. A 12.3% walk rate places him in the bottom 20% of the league, and the southpaw has seen his ground ball rate drop by almost 20% compared to last season. However, if he can get ahead in more counts, and produce more of his trademark ground balls, Detwiler will further establish himself as a key cog in the Miami Marlins bullpen.