Crichton went from fringe roster candidate to closer in the span of 3 months.
Name: Stefan Crichton
Position: RHP (Reliever)
2020 Age: 28
Acquired: 2016-17 Offseason Waiver Claim
Stefan Crichton was originally acquired by the Diamondbacks via waiver claim in Mike Hazen’s first offseason with the team. He didn’t stick in 2017 or 2018 due to the team shuffling around bullpen arms, but found his stride in late in 2019. That season he posted a 3.56 ERA and 1.02 WHIP in 30 1⁄3 innings. Despite being 27 at the time, Fangraphs listed Crichton as a flier prospect with a lethal sinker and curveball combination. That has allowed him to find a niche as a ground ball heavy pitcher in the majors a la Brad Ziegler.
Crichton entered the season as one of the few players that was going to have to earn a roster spot. However due to the 3-batter minimum rule implemented by MLB, Crichton’s job became a lot harder due to his best stuff matching up better against right-handed hitters. Due to having a larger roster at the beginning of the season, the team was able to keep Crichton around. As the season went along and relievers higher on the totem pole at the start of the season continued to flop, Crichton saw his role go from middle reliever to setup man, then closer after Archie Bradley was traded to Cincinnati at the trade deadline.
His final season numbers ended up being a 2.42 ERA over 23 innings with 5 saves and a .279 wOBA against. You can chalk that up to both keeping the ball out of the air, with only a 17.8% fly ball rate according to Statcast, the ability to conjure up timely double plays, and a bit of luck due to overall solid team defense. Crichton only allowed 1 barrel (Alex Bregman HR) out of 73 batted balls on the season, which placed him amongst the best relievers in that regard.
Going into 2021, the question for Crichton is not if he’ll make the team but rather what his role will be. As the only reliever who was consistent in 2020, it’s tempting to put him in the 9th inning and let the rest of the game unfold. However that is not the best role for him, as sometimes you need his ground ball wizardry earlier in the game. The best role for Crichton is a fireman role where he comes in with traffic on the bases where a double play ball cleans up everything. Barring significant reliever volatility, we can expect Crichton to be amongst the NL leaders in appearances.
I do expect some regression on batted ball data vs. left-handed hitters due to the lack of an effective counter. He threw 4 change-ups in 2020, which may be the answer towards being more effective against lefties in the future. I don’t expect him to post anywhere close to a 2.42 ERA again in 2021 due to having more outings and the lack of elite stuff. Best case scenario he’s probably looking close to a 3.50 ERA pitcher barring significant improvements to his arsenal. That’s still an effective pitcher nonetheless, but the team will still need more arms as good, if not better, to go anywhere next season.