For Guardians’ Trevor Stephan, April and May were like day and nightmare

CLEVELAND, Ohio — The difference between April and May for Guardians reliever Trevor Stephan was like night and day, and it’s a trend Cleveland’s eighth-inning setup man needs to quickly reverse.

As the series opens Friday in Baltimore, Stephan has a 4.00 ERA in 19 appearances, which isn’t bad for a 26-year-old former Rule 5 draft pick just two months into his second full season in the major leagues.

The problem is that Stephan’s ERA was a flawless 0.00 at the end of April. In the May 10 games, he gave up eight earned runs and a whopping .921 opponent OPS. His saved base-outs of -1.98 are more meaningful.

Saved base outs runs, according to the baseball reference, represent the runs saved by a pitcher given the bases occupied and based on the resulting play. It is a league average, with zero representing average and negative representing below average performance. In April, Stephan’s saved baseouts were a brilliant 3.45, but he dropped to -5.43 on his May bets.

This tells us that not only did Stephan give up more runs in May than in April (obviously), but he couldn’t avoid runs when entering games at crucial times.

Trevor Stephen April Can
games 9 10
innings 10 8th
hit 4 12
Earned Runs 0 8th
walks 0 5
deletions 10 8th
EPOCH 0.00 9.00
opp avg .118 .364
OPS .235 .921

Stephan’s May featured a game against San Diego where he walked three and allowed two earned runs in a game the Guardians won despite failing to finish the eighth inning. On May 30, Stephan suffered a botched save when he failed to post an out in eighth place, allowing two runs and forcing Nick Sandlin to finish the frame.

Manager Terry Francona said there are a few factors that go into Stephan’s recent struggles.

Firstly, Stephan was unable to use his position effectively on a number of occasions. In a May 19 loss to Cincinnati, Stephan’s erroneous throw at the first baseline allowed Matt Reynolds to score what turned out to be the game-winning run from second base to an Albert Almora grounder.

But more telling is the way his splitter has performed over its last 10 engagements. The pitch that was dominant for him earlier in the season has flattened out, despite Stephan’s eagerness to use it in a variety of counts.

“Generally, that breakup became such a weapon and he kind of fell in love with her,” Francona said. “Instead of going down, it’s now starting to work its way (sideways).”

The chart below shows that Stephan’s Splitter has steadily lost some of the devastating vertical break he had in April, using it up to 29% of the time in his May performances.

Trevor Stephan vertical break April-May.

Francona said Stephan also came off throwing his slider, which was a bread-and-butter pitch during his rookie season before developing his splitter.

“We just have to get him back to three pitches and find his fastball,” Francona said. “He’s gotten himself to where he has to throw a fastball in fastball counts and that’s getting him in trouble.”

In April, Stephan’s splitter had 2.4 outs above average, according to FanGraphs. That number fell to 0.3 after May. This resulted in a .387 slugging percentage against his fastball, a pitch that now has a 39.3 hard hit percentage.

But Francona pointed out that such fluctuations are to be expected when a young helper regularly gets their first real experience of pitching into leverage situations. And it doesn’t look like the club will be running away from Stephan, who has the game at stake, any time soon.

“We gave him a lot,” Francona said. “This is a Rule 5 kid from last year suddenly pitching in the eighth inning. To think it will be seamless is probably not fair.”

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