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2021 Arizona Diamondbacks Reviews, #14: Taylor Widener

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An up and down season further clouded what long term value Widener brings to Arizona.

MLB: Arizona Diamondbacks at San Francisco Giants D. Ross Cameron-USA TODAY Sports
  • Rating: 4.89
  • Age: 26
  • 2021 Stats: 23 G, 13 GS, 2-1, 4.35 ERA (98 ERA+), 70 13 IP, 73 K, 37 BB, 0.8 bWAR
  • 2021 Earnings: League Minimum
  • 2022 Status: 40-Man Roster, Pre-Arb 3

Taylor Widener was originally picked up by Arizona in the ill-fated 3-team trade with the Yankees and Rays. Based on how the trade has turned out, Widener still has a chance to wind up being the most valuable player by default as he and Nick Solak each have put together 0.8 bWAR. After pitching out of the bullpen in 2020, injuries forced Widener into the rotation.

Widener’s 2021 season opened up with a quality start against the San Diego Padres, but he struggled with consistency and spent two separate stints on the IL with a groin strain due to being rushed back. His overall run prevention number was pretty close to league average with a 102 ERA-, but Widener’s numbers come with very troubling peripherals with a 5.56 FIP, 5.59 xERA, and 5.28 xFIP. Widener benefitted from a lot of batted ball luck (i.e. hard hit balls finding gloves) and was able to limit the damage on home runs he allowed (only 2 of 13 were with men in scoring position). At the same time, his walk rate was 11.6% vs. a strikeout rate of 22.9% and a hard hit rate (95+ MPH EV) of 45%, which definitely brings regression concerns for 2022.

Unsurprisingly, Widener’s raw stuff took a drop from when moved to the rotation. That also meant his fastball became much more hittable, yielding a .372 wOBA vs. a .319 mark the season before. Considering his fastball usage was close to 70%, a pitch that was in the 37th percentile in velocity and 27th in spin rate, it proved to be a problematic for him. With a below average fastball in every metric and offspeed deliveries that aren’t particularly dominant, I don’t see someone who will be a starter for very long.

It will be interesting to see what the team does with him in 2022. The present day rotation depth isn’t very strong although Zac Gallen and Merrill Kelly have been close to reliable on a consistent basis during their time in AZ. Madison Bumgarner will likely carry a rotation spot based on his contract status and his ability to be able to put together some good starts for the team. That just leaves two rotation spots open between Widener, Humberto Castellanos, Luke Weaver, and Tyler Gilbert. If I were to pick from that group, I would take Weaver and Gilbert as the #4 and 5 starters while putting Castellanos and Widener in the bullpen. 2022 could likely be Widener’s last opportunity to stick as a starter, with the team’s best starting pitcher prospects making their way up to the majors over the next two seasons.

A potential bullpen bounce combined with less fastball usage could yield better results for Widener if he plays there. Right now, I would start him in long/middle relief to eat up innings for the bullpen then see if he can handle medium leverage (setup) situations and then the back-end of the pen. Given the lack of consistent arms in the pen last year, it shouldn’t be too difficult for Widener to earn a role there. Keeping him in Reno does absolutely nothing for the team right now. If his stuff returns to 2020 levels out of the pen, I think they can salvage some value out of him.