Image: USA Today
2021 season age: 30
Contract: Pre-arb 2
Height: 6’2; Weight: 216
2020 stats: 23.2IP, 28K/6BB – 3.42 ERA/4.42 FIP – 1.01 WHIP – 0.1 fWAR
2020 in review: For the second straight season in Cleveland, Wittgren proved reliable in the back end of the bullpen and pitching in a variety of situations. He recorded 10 holds, lowered his WHIP, upped his strikeout rate, slightly lowered his walk rate, though both his ERA and FIP were wose in 2020. Cleveland brought Wittgren into close games with an entrance Leverage Index of 1.58 (above 1 is considered above average for a leverage situation). He formed a good duo with James Karinchak as Brad Hand’s setup man.
On the mound: In 2019, Wittgren was a fastball/slider/changeup pitcher. In 2020, he flipped that. He was still primarily a fastball pitcher, but he reduced his usage of it (66% down to 60% – 92.9 mph) and then made his changeup his primary secondary offering (24.1% usage rate – 86.1 mph) and then his slider, 15.1% – 85 mph. Despite its below average velocity Wittgren’s fastball had a whiff rate of 27% and held hitters to a .130/304 (slugging) mark. Wittgren’s changeup had a .545 slugging percentage on it in 2019, but in 2020 he found something and it had a 25.6% whiff rate, and a .167/.208 line against it. His slider however, tumbled in success. It got hit to the tune of a .500/1.000 mark. It still had a 36% whiff rate, but when it got hit, it got hit hard.
Beyond the stats: It looks like what might have helped Wittgren’s changeup was a further reduction in spin, but also better horizontal movement. He had nearly identical vertical drop on his changeup in 2019 and 2020, but in 2020 it had 1.4 inches of horizontal movement, up from -0.2 in 2019. It seems like a small change, but perhaps that allowed him to miss more bats and gave him more confidence to lean on it.
2021 role: Depending on if Cleveland adds any of its non-roster relief options to the bullpen (Bryan Shaw/Oliver Perez/Blake Parker) Wittgren may serve as something of the veteran of the bullpen. With five years in the league now, he has the most service time in the Cleveland bullpen aside from those three non-roster invitees listed. He could serve in a variety of roles. Terry Francona could opt to use him as a setup man to James Karinchak or Emmanuel Clase, but Wittgren very much could be closing games himself depending on the roles in this bullpen. Francona may opt to have Karinchak and Clase available in firemen type roles, saving Wittgren as a reliable late game, but perhaps lower leverage option.
Fantasy impact: As states, Wittgren’s role is up in the air as of now. The whole bullpen doesn’t really have a lot of roles assigned. Wittgren figures to pitch with the lead nonetheless. He earned plenty of holds the last two seasons, in 2021 he should be available to earn holds and saves. He doesn’t miss a lot of bat, but it’s about a batter per inning. If you’re looking for late, cheap options for holds or saves, if your league counts holds, bet on Wittgren to continue some of both in 2021. If your league doesn’t count holds, you could take a low flier on him to see if he gets save chances, otherwise there’s no guarantees in his role and you might just want to keep an eye on him in the waiver wire.