Torey Lovullo says Stefan Crichton has decided to retire and wished him well in his next chapter. #Dbacks— Jody Jackson (@Jody_Jackson) February 27, 2023
“He came in and just explained to me that it was time for him to turn the page and take the next part of his journey away from baseball. It was something he had felt in his heart for a long time,” Lovullo told reporters of Crichton’s decision. - quote taken from MLBTR on February 27
Gotta say, that was a bit of a shocker.
On the AZSnakePit no one is forgotten. We celebrate the good, the bad and the ugly, but above all, we celebrate those who have worn the Sedona red (or the purple and teal) and gave their best for the team that represents Arizona and Phoenix and all of those around the world who cheer for the Diamondbacks.
And so, we also celebrate Stefan Crichton.
Cinco Christian Crichton
Stefan Crichton started his baseball career on the Cinco Ranch High School, a high school in the area Cinco Ranch, part of the district of Katy, a town to the west of Houston. Never been there, but sounds like a good name: Cinco Ranch. And if I look at some pictures, looks like a nice and wealthy area to grow up. Hard to get something better than that.
Obviously Stefan was talented, certainly the best of his high school, as he lettered 4 times there. Topping out at 89 mph with his fastball, his good pitching earned him a commitment to Texas Christian University, a college that has delivered quite the amount of MLB draft picks and players, although the teams he played on weren’t really known for having future superstars.
In 2011 he enjoyed his best year at Fort Worth, as a freshman, when he pitched to a 1.98 ERA and 0.96 WHIP over 50 innings of relief. He was one of the team’s leaders in saves (5) and held opponents scoreless in 17 of his 24 relief appearances. In 2012, with future Diamondback Kevin Cron as a teammate, he started the season as a starter with success, but after a couple of games towards the end of the season, shuffled a bit between bullpen and starts, achieving a 3.41 ERA and 1.27 WHIP along the way.
But in 2013, now also with future Diamondback Alex Young on the team, things went sour in his junior year. A bad start would be followed up by regular relief appearances, another bad start, relief appearances again, and so on until the season ended with a 6.59 ERA and a 1.46 WHIP. Some control and location issues might have surfaced, considering a huge spike in H9 and walks allowed.
Struggling in the season when you are draft-eligible is definitely not a great way to start your professional baseball career. The Baltimore Orioles though, looked a bit further than just his final season and were prepared to try their luck, although you can’t say they took a gamble being Stefan a 23rd round draft pick in 2013. He signed, reportedly, for $50,000.
Being a bird...
After an impressive debut in his 2013 rookie season, Stefan gets an assignment at Low A. The Orioles see more in him as a reliever, that decision motivated by better results in relief than as a starter in his 2013 professional debut. Crichton does well in 2014 and 2015 at the A levels, limiting the hard contact and with excellent walk percentages, although maybe too hittable from time to time.
In 2016 he pitches an inning in Spring Training, without success, and he isn’t that impressive in AA either, rather average, although probably not helped by a bad Bowie BaySox team that finishes dead last in the Eastern League. He impresses enough to get another invitation to Spring Training in 2017 and leaves quite the impression this time, tossing 8 innings and giving up no runs at all. Without any experience at Triple A it isn’t enough to crack the 40-man roster, but he makes sure the Orioles put him on a shortlist for possible call-ups.
That call-up comes sooner than later when Stefan Crichton is called up to the big leagues on April 13, 2017 after the Orioles designate Oliver Drake for assignment. Crichton makes his debut against the Toronto Blue Jays in a blow-out win, but his debut certainly isn’t one for the books, allowing 2 runs on 5 hits in 1.2 innings.
Crichton is moved up and down several times and while bad luck seems to be in place, his last appearance for the Orioles in 2017 is end June and he hits the IL a couple of days later with a right shoulder strain, ending his MLB season that way with a 8.03 ERA. His 4.94 FIP isn’t good either. The StS of 4% and 19.0 H/9 tell the Orioles all they want to know: Crichton leaves way too many sinkers in the middle of the plate.
In 2018 Crichton doesn’t survive Spring Training in Baltimore. He gets cut by the end of March and is dealt to the Arizona Diamondbacks.
...becoming a Snake.
De facto Stefan Crichton becomes the man who replaces Yasmany Tomás on the 40-man roster, and as such his name will be forever in the memories of the Diamondbacks’ community. Jim McLennan introduces him on here with a Minor league ball quote of “typical middle reliever”.
It is hard to tell in 2018 if that is the case. Crichton is first assigned to some days of extended Spring Training, and then moved to the Aces where he struggles with throwing strikes (5.62 BB/9), pitches to a 10.12 ERA in 16 innings, and soon hits the injured list (again): right shoulder inflammation. He doesn’t return from that injury and is released (to make room on the 40-man roster for Shelby Miller) and signed again by the Diamondbacks along the way.
Crichton is still with the Diamondbacks in 2019, but starts the season in Reno again. He does well in Reno, until the end of May pitching to a 4.18 ERA, but keeping opposing batters limited in the PCL to a good .214/.296/.350. In his MLB debut for the Snakes he puts up four scoreless appearances before being optioned again to Reno. It is the first of many trips for Crichton between Nevada and Arizona, but in both Reno and Phoenix he does rather well. He adds a curveball to his arsenal that fools opposing batters completely. The sinker has lost both velocity and spin rate but has better quality than in years before while his change-up is revamped to, what Makakilo calls, a splitter. In his 2019 end-of-season player review Makakilo points out that Crichton is one of the better relievers on the Diamondbacks team and that his season ERA of 3.56 was skewed by a bad outing against the Nationals where he gave up 5 runs. Makakilo notes that for the 2020 Diamondbacks’ bullpen: “While it’s way too early to decide the bullpen, my view is that adding Stefan Crichton to the bullpen would improve the bullpen’s ability to challenge hitters with different types of pitches. In addition, his stats show he is a high quality pitcher.”
But 2020 isn’t what it is supposed to be for no one. COVID wrecks the world, the baseball season and the Diamondbacks along the way. In what is a terrible season in the desert, there is one player that rises to new heights: Stefan Crichton.
Player after player falters, but the right-handed sinker thrower is one of few that is able to keep up pace and by the end of the shortened 2020-season Stefan becomes the new closer for the Diamondbacks, racking up 5 saves. With his 2020 stats he is finally able to repeat his minor league success and numbers.
He is ground ball heavy, excels with his curve, limits hard contact with the sinker, but statcast is sceptical.
Another sceptic is AZSnakePit’s Michael McDermott in his 2020 player review:
“I do expect some regression on batted ball data vs. left-handed hitters due to the lack of an effective counter. [...] 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.” - Michael McDermott in the 2020 player review of Stefan Crichton on AZSnakePit
Crichton isn’t the typical closer prototype for the Diamondbacks in 2021, but without a clear candidate for that closer role, he is certainly in the mix of splitting closing duties with new acquisition Joakim Soria.
Crichton struggles straight out of the gate in 2021. The sinker has once again lost in velocity and the pitcher more or less gives up a hit per inning. But Soria almost immediately hits the injured list at the beginning of the season and with Chris Devenski absent as well, the only real alternative for notching the saves is Stefan Crichton. Early in the season he allows traffic on the bases, but is able to mask the results with 3 holds and 2 saves until he gets struck on the hand by a comebacker in an extra inning loss against the Reds on April 22. Things soon start to go downhill after that and just two months later he is bumped off the 40-man roster with a 6.04 ERA, 1.84 WHIP and 2.8 K-BB%. It is a bit of a shock, considering the high-leverage situation he was pitching in at the beginning of the season, but a result of his disappointing performance in what is already a terrible Diamondbacks’ baseball season. In Reno the performance doesn’t improve either and he eventually finishes his AAA trip in 2021 with a 9.00 ERA, but not before ending the season on the Injured List, with a trip to the Development List during the season as well: 2021 couldn’t have gone much more worse for Stefan Crichton.
Crichton’s status for the 2022 season is unclear. He is no longer a member of the 40-man roster, finished the 2021 season on the injured list and with young prospects coming up, is there a need for the right-handed reliever? The question doesn’t really need an answer: Crichton isn’t in Spring Training camp and soon we know why: assigned to the Amarillo Sod Poodles, the AA team puts him on the injured list at the beginning of April with an undisclosed injury. A physical or psychological one? Crichton doesn’t reappear until the end of the season, when he pitches 3.1 innings and gives up 4 hits and runs.
Come 2023 he is invited to Spring Training, but is no longer one of the names that make a real shot at the bullpen. Before baseball might tell him it is better to go, Crichton prefers him to tell baseball it is better go.
It is eventually a sad end of his pitching career. An end to forget to a career that surely should not to be forgotten, for he was one of the few bright spots in a disastrous 2020 baseball season.
Thank you, Stefan Crichton!