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Sam Hentges’ incredible 2022 season is a good sign for the future

The Cleveland Pitching Factory is alive and well

Cleveland Guardians v Minnesota Twins Photo by Matt Krohn/Getty Images

Sam Hentges had a tremendous 2022 season. On most teams, he would have been at worst the second-best bullpen arm, and some lower-rung clubs might have even tried to slot him in as a closer. With a 2.32 ERA backed up by a 2.48 FIP, his striking out 29.8% of batters with a 60.4% grounder rate, the list of superlatives for Hentges just keeps going.

Several outlets wrote about Hentges’ growth several times this year. In fact, I even wrote about how he did it. So we don’t need to recap that, or his tremendous leap from challenging for Worst Reliever in Baseball. More than anything else, Hentges’ ascendence speaks to the Cleveland Pitching Factory, still alive and well.

I don’t know a lot about what actual, modern pitching development looks like behind closed doors. There are articles from groups like Driveline, there are pieces about pitch design and “throwing with intent” to get your velocity, and all the weighted ball training. There’s likely more in the great black box that pro development locks away from us, but whatever it was it seemed to have worked for Hentges. He threw harder this year — velocity was up nearly two mph on average — and he was, again, lightyears more effective.

It’s good to see and great for him in his career prospects, but it’s also important for what we saw this year with the rest of the pitching staff. The Guardians cycled through a seemingly unending list of near-faceless pitchers, both relievers and starters, to fill the holes left by injury and ineffectiveness throughout the year. Twenty-five different actual pitchers took the ball at least once this year (along with Ernie Clement and Sandy León) with a wide range of results. From Hentges or Clase being absolute killers to Hunter Gaddis throwing batting practice, we got a taste of everything. And it’s that last guy, and those like him, that we should be excited for.

Between Gaddis, Xzavion Curry, Kirk McCarty, and Konnor Pilkington, Cleveland got 112.2 innings of 4.55 ERA pitching from the bullpen. Not every pitcher or inning was created equal in this — Gaddis averaged more than two runs allowed per inning, while Pilkinton gave up 25 in 58 innings — but suffice to say, it’s not what you want out of your relief corps.

As we saw just the last couple of weeks with the Astros, having a mighty bullpen that can go six and seven guys deep can paper over any issues that you might have. It’s rare, but not impossible. The Astros are about as flawless as you can get, but again, part of that is their pitching development. Notably, famously, that’s where Cleveland succeeds, too. So when we saw pitchers like Curry or McCarty, or any of those other dudes that just seemed to wander in, and marvel at the raw stuff or physical skills, you have to think that there’s something in the offing. At least from some of these guys.

This, again, is why what Hentges did is both remarkable and encouraging. We should have grown to expect it, especially with a guy like that who just looks the part even if the 2021 results were trash. That’s why I’m still such a Gaddis fan. He’s massive already, and his perceived velocity is going to be much more than the 94 or so that he was hitting this year because he’s in the 88th percentile in pitch extension. In effect, he’s pitching off a mound 50 feet from the plate, or thereabouts. Or Curry with a solid fastball and a couple of secondary pitches in his slider and change with great velo and some solid movement (his change for instance has 18% better vertical break than an average and 24% better horizontal break) that make you think there’s something to build off. The list goes on like this. These guys all showed something, and that’s why the future is so bright for this team.

This is obviously a lot of wish-casting and blind hope. But again, Hentges stunk last year. So did Trevor Stephan for that matter, and he was if anything better than Hentges. Nick Sandlin wasn’t terrible, but he was nigh unhittable this year even with his walk issues. Is Cody Morris even real? He evidently logged a 2.28 ERA over 23.2 innings this year. This is what I’m talking about, this is what Hentges and these other guys represent with this tremendous year they had. It feels like it took a few years to get things fully cranking with the relief arms, but Hentges and some other pitchers aren’t just weird Jeff Manship or Dan Otero-style outliers.

They’re the vanguard of what’s going to be trouble for hitters for the foreseeable future. Hentges was wonderful this year and is a beautiful vision of the future. Plus, who doesn’t love this whole “huge dude” bullpen plan they have a chance for? If Gaddis can iron some things out we’re entering a wonderful new world, one that we just saw nearly work for the Phillies with their lineup. What I’m saying is — let’s go himbo bullpen!

Sam Hentges’ 2022 Stats

62 29.4% 7.8% 2.32 60 1.1

We’re reviewing (almost) all the Guardians players from 2022 now through November, starting with the top-10 MVPs as voted on by eight Covering the Corner staff members. Players were awarded points based on their one through 10 individual rankings and were ranked as such. You can find all the Year in Review posts here.