Astros 2015 Difference Makers: In Praise of the ‘Pen


Yes, the 2015 Houston Astros fielding is better. They were tied for the fourth most errors in the AL in 2014 and they are currently tied for the fourth least errors. Yes, despite terrible BA and OBP numbers, the 2015 Astros are doing a better job scoring runs. They were 14th in runs/game with 3.88 last season and are currently a middle of the road eighth at 4.31 runs/game this season. Yes, the starting pitching, even with the fifth starter hole has been decent again in 2015. Pitchers in that spot finished 2014 tied for eighth with a 3.82 ERA and are eighth again in 2015, but at a higher 4.18.

So, what is left? What is left is the group that has made the most progress from last season and has had a profound direct statistical impact on the team and frankly, an equally as big psychological impact on the team’s performance: The bullpen.

The statistics are mind blowing when considered in context:

  • The bullpen’s ERA has improved from a last in the AL 4.80 to a second in the AL 2.13. Consider that only Matt Albers in his eight appearances had an ERA better than that 2.13 mark at 0.90 and that the next best ERA in the bullpen was Jose Veras at 3.03 in 2014.
  • The bullpen’s WHIP was 1.39 and 13th in the league in 2014 and is now first at an unworldly 0.85. Only Tony Sipp at 0.888 was close to that WHIP number last year.
  • The bullpen has an 11-2 record and is on pace for 51 wins, whereas in 2014 they ended up 20-26.
  • They are 13 of 17 in save situations (76%) compared to a 55 percent save percentage last season.
  • They have given up an AL best 1.88 walks/9 IP after a pedestrian 3.46 last season and their 5.08 K’s per walk is also an AL best.

Both Will Harris and Tony Sipp have given up a single earned run in 13 appearances apiece. First time closer Luke Gregerson is 8-of-9 in save situations and veteran Chad Qualls has tossed in 4 saves on top of that. Josh Fields has given up one run in the seven games he has appeared in since he returned from injury. Pat Neshek is on a run of eight scoreless appearances and has not walked a batter all season. Situational lefty Joe Thatcher has been OK in his LOOGY type role and Kevin Chapman was OK for the short time he was up. Sam Deduno has been a bit sketchy, but he has also had to sacrifice for the team, bouncing around from a long relief to a spot starter role on a dime.

In one area the relievers have been average and that is they have let a league average 34 percent of inherited runners score. A lot of that can be left at the feet of Thatcher who had a couple real bad outings early on this season. If you drop him out of the equation,the rest of the pen has allowed only 25 percent of inherited runners to score – a very good number.

Just as important as the actual improved performance by the bullpen is what the better performance by the ‘pen means to the team.

  1. There is nothing so crushing as giving away games that are won. On the opposite side, the team builds up a lot of confidence when it knows the bullpen is going to hold the fort, when it is almost a sure thing that a lead will be held in the late innings. (Remember the Brad Lidge, Octavio Dotel, Billy Wagner days or the Dan Wheeler, Qualls, Lidge days).
  2. It also helps the offense a bit to know that if the team is behind that they are not chasing a moving target. Last season if the team was behind a couple runs and had turned to the bullpen, the offense felt like they would have to score four or five runs just to keep up with what the bullpen was going to give up. This season a couple runs down has been overcome a number of times by the offense already. They believe they are in every game.
  3. It also helps the starting pitching if they have confidence in the bullpen. They are not as likely to press or to perhaps lie about how they are feeling when they know there are professional arms behind them ready to help out.

So…..

  1. How is the bullpen performing vs. your expectations?
  2. Can it keep this up?
  3. Where do you see the bullpen ending the season as far as ERA, save percentage, and wins go?
  4. Will Luke Gregerson hold onto the closer role?
  5. Do you think they might deal away someone from the ‘pen in a package for a starter? If so, who?
Advertisements

69 comments on “Astros 2015 Difference Makers: In Praise of the ‘Pen

  1. First of all, I see the Veras signing as an opportunity to get a major league reliever to Fresno at a minor league price as insurance in case of injury.
    The bullpen is an entity in itself and has been terrific. Gregerson has been better than I expected as a closer, but I am just amazed that I honestly could put my trust in 4 or 5 of the guys out there to close out a game. I love that Fields is pitching well and even when he doesn’t have his best stuff(like last night when both his fastball was not moving and his curve was flat) he has the poise to get batters out by moving the ball around.
    I’d be surprised if they trade one of their bullpen pieces in a package for a starter because messing with the bullpen after the disaster of the last three years seems terribly risky. With one of the deepest minor leagues, surely we have the prospects to swing a deal without messing with the bullpen.
    I predicted Harris would make the team out of spring training but am pleasantly surprised at his performance. He has better command of his fastball than was reported and his breaking stuff has life and fools batters. I didn’t scout him but the Astros knew what they were getting and I am proud of their front office for finding him.
    I see the bullpen ending the year as one of the top 25% in MLB and I attribute it to their maturity and age. They are one of the oldest average age bullpens, but that is because none of them is real young or real old, so basically they are all at the perfect prime age for relief pitchers: early thirties, where their stuff is at it’s peak, they don’t have the jitters of youth or the yips of someone past his prime.

    Like

    • Yes, Veras has been very comfortable and a solid contributor here. Nice no-risk cheap pick-up for them.
      The number of good options in the pen for any role is a luxury they did not have the last few seasons. Back then all they had a lot of were inexperienced guys who could not get the job done.
      It is weird that no one noticed but our front office noticed that Harris put it together at the end of last season and did not give up a run after mid-August. A very smart pickup.

      Like

      • A lot of people were surprised when Arizona put Harris on waivers. Houston had the third shot to get him on waivers. It’s the two teams who had the two shots in front of Houston that missed out. I’ll bet that he had at least a half dozen teams claim him but our record last season paid off in that respect.

        Like

      • Interesting story oldpro – our front office has been very good at picking up Sipp, McHugh and Harris (am I forgetting someone else))?

        Like

      • DanP: I think part of waiver selection improvement has to be given the coaching staff. If we go back and look (not all were waiver wire) but Cedeno, Crowe,
        Elmore, Maxwell, Greene, Laird, Pena, FMartintez, Harrell, LeBlanc, Bixler, etc. etc. – JL’s track record was terrible. Now they fit in and improve. Not taking anything away from the GM, but the results from these selections have been a 180 turnaround.

        Like

      • Astrocolt – it probably also helps when you don’t have to keep what you pick up – a few years ago they had to keep and try to use them all.

        Like

  2. 2. Probably not at the current rate, but they can blow a few games and still be much better than last year. If they maintain the 1.13 team WHIP – they will still give up some inherited runners. But will not have many blowouts. 1. & 3. Yes, but the key is having starters (Like RH this week) come in and hold the fort into the late innings. If they are not overworked, they should be fine all year. 4. His to lose. 5. I see no reason to move anyone (except to Fresno) until we have a 10 game lead and the magic number is down to 9. I think there has been a lot of improvement in Castro’s pitch calling (or perhaps the bench) that does not attempt to get an 88 MPH heater past any good hitters. I wish they would show the pitch track for every batter because from memory, the pitchers are doing an excellent job of hitting the corners and taking what the umpires will give them.

    Like

    • One thing that may keep them from getting over-worked is if they continue to have so many relievers performing well. Harris, Qualls and Fields worked last night, but we still have Neshek, Sipp, Thatcher and Gregerson (if he is with the team) getting a day of rest. A complete game or two would not hurt, but those are few and far between in the majors these days.

      Like

      • Dan, don’t forget, they have nine relievers and 4 starters on the 25-man, so they have Deduno and Buchanan also ready to relieve today and tomorrow with rest. So that is actually six relievers w/ rest for tonight.
        I believe that was the plan, based on the Blue Jay lineup they are facing this weekend. After the weekend series against these bombers, one of those relievers will be sent down to make a roster spot for McCullers on Sunday evening. LMJ may not be on the roster, yet, but he may already be in Houston to get him settled in for his Monday night start. Pretty sure all this was orchestrated to get his friends and family plenty of time to gather here.
        Springer, Tucker, LMJ, and soon Correa, Kemp and Singleton. Dominoes starting to fall in place.

        Like

      • Tucker has 2 doubles in the last two games and each game he sliced one in the left field corner and pulled one into the right field corner – I don’t know how you defense that.

        Like

    • Last season, we could well have lost last night (not that we would have had a 7-1 lead). But Harris came in after Keuchel gave up the 3 runs to make it 7-4, two guys on and nobody out and he stopped them right there. Last year the pen would have walked somebody and then someone gets a double and pretty soon it is over.
      The starters have to feel good that the relievers usually hold the opposition and the offense actually can come back some times.

      Like

      • Harris came up huge last night, but there was something else even more telling about the Astros’ win. After Toronto made it 3-1, Springer took the momentum back with a bomb in the Astros’ next half inning. After Toronto made it 7-4 and Harris saved the day, Valbuena took the momentum back with a bomb in the Astros’ next half inning. Both of those homers were terrific responses to Blue Jay attempts to get back in the game. After that, it was lights out.

        Like

      • Great point old pro – there is something very demoralizing to a team that is trying to rally to get back in the game and then have the lead immediately extended.

        Like

  3. Off topic, but I just read where Carlos Correa, age 20, came up to bat last night in the ninth inning against 42 year-old Latroy Hawkins, who is on rehab assignment in Albawhatever, NM. Correa punched a 3-2 offering to RF for a single. He has gotten a hit in all of his AAA games, so far. That had to be a fun matchup for those teams to watch.

    Like

    • Wow Hawkins was ancient when he pitched for us 6 or 7 years ago. He did a good job for the Astros back then and I guess proves you don’t have to be a lefty reliever to hold onto a job forever.
      Man – Correa must be our most anticipated farm hand ever.

      Like

  4. Keeping with the bullpen theme, the losing pitcher for Frisco last night against Corpus Christi was 27 year-old RH reliever, David Martinez. Martinez is having a lot of problems with bases on balls this year in the Rangers upper minor leagues and is now in the bullpen after being sent down from Round Rock.

    Like

    • Yeah, sometimes we get caught up in the things “wrong” with the Astros and we forget or don’t notice how bad things are in Texas or Seattle. All those teams (LAA ia a game over .500) are looking up at the break even point for a reason.

      Like

  5. LHP Brian Holmes has been promoted from Lancaster to CC to replace LMJ in the rotation. Holmes has 45 Ks in 30 innings, so it appears he has developed an effective out pitch. He also appears to have solved the other problem he showed last season in Lancaster, that of the HR. He allowed 13 last season there and has given up only 1 this season. Go get ’em, Lefty!

    Like

  6. MLB Trade rumors has someone saying the Astros might be bringing LMJ up to showcase him as possible trade bait, (hamels) I would be pissed off if that’s even a remote possibility!

    Like

    • I’d rather package Appel than McCullers – but I’m sick if trading young pitching – need to hold on and develop some of it.

      Like

    • OR, they are checking to see if LMJ has the goods before they trade Appel for Hamels. I think a trade I proposed months ago had Appel , Ober and an OF for Hamels and some money to offset his contract. I had Ober in there because Philly would need a young rotation guy right now and the ‘Stros would probably not want to go with three Lefty starters in Keuchel, Ober and Hamels.
      I’m not necessarily proposing this deal, but I think this is what it might look like if it happened.

      Like

      • I’m not sold on Hamels. He looks iffy this season. Maybe that’s just him languishing in Philly. But maybe it’s hom getting old and less effective.

        Like

      • He has had an up and down season. 5 starts giving up 2 or less runs and the other 3 he gave up 4,5 and 6 runs.

        Like

  7. hamels is owed 23 million 500 thousand a year thru 2018 in 2019 it drops to 20 million even. too much money for what you get. there are other pitchers around with better value. just say no to outrageous contracts for players in their 30’s. he is 31 now, 35 when contract ends.

    Like

  8. I’m just not not big $$$ older pitchers “Risky Business” I would still, for a 2015-16 deal ,look Lohse or Kazmir give up AA or A dudes

    Like

  9. hamels is 31. he is owed 23million 500 thousand bucks thru 2018, in 2019 it drops to 20 million even. too much money for what you get.

    Like

  10. Last year if the Astros were ahead by 2 runs in the 9th. inning, I would take my ear piece out, because it was a blown save nearly every time. Qualls STILL makes me squirm when he comes in……..like last night! Haven’t seen Sipp in a long time, is he ok?? LORD…….I hope Feldman has his good stuff tonight!

    Like

    • Becky, look at the Blue Jays. They are a predominantly RH power team. If you are going to go after them with relievers, you go after that lineup w/ RH pitchers. your Ace being a lefty is the exception to the LH rule. In a critical situation we might see LOOGYs against a LH batter, but I think we will see mostly righties against the likes of Donaldson, Bautista and Encarnation and Company. Last night we saw Qualls in the ninth because it was not a save situation.

      Like

  11. *Hamels is not getting old. He is an Ace who has pitched like an ace and is paid like an ace and his contract would completely expire in his year 35 season.
    *The only Astros pitcher with as much accumulated WAR this season is Keuchel with 1.4 WAR vs Hamels with 1.1.
    * The Phils have scored a total of 16 runs in Hamels’s 8 starts and yet he is 3-3 and his team is 4-4 in those 8 starts.
    * His last two starts have been terrific w/ 7 innings pitched in each and his walks are back to normal and his Ks are high again.
    *He has pitched w/ trade rumors openly floated all around him and yet he keeps getting better.
    * He has a beautiful delivery which is why he doesn’t get injured but has held up for 200+ innings plus playoff innings in the last 8 years.
    *With the guys coming up in our system in the next four years almost all being minimum salary studs thru 2019. Hamels salary added to guys like Correa, 2 Tuckers, Reed, Moran, Altuve, Springer, Kemp, Davis, Fisher, Phillips, Heineman, Stassi, Nottingham, LMJ, Velasquez, Feliz, Singleton, Swanson, Marisnick, McHugh and even Keuchel and any other pitchers who blossom in our system, would still be the lowest payroll in the majors. You can still afford expensive extensions to young stars that you want to tie up for years because Hamels’s deal only goes thru 2018(or 2019 if you want to exercise that option). If you have five stud young stud pitchers by the end of 2017 and Hamels has pitched well, he is still a valuable commodity that you could trade to a team desparate for a veteran starter, because they have the money and he will still be able to give them two years. That would leave you $23 mil a year extra to start tying up your own guys.
    * Please remember that the deal I mentioned included Philly money to help w/ Hamels’s salary.

    Like

  12. Man, did anyone see where Gattis’s home run landed? I couldn’t pick it up on tv, but it actually looked like it was headed for the light bank way up above the train.

    Like

  13. If we were down 3 runs In the 1st. inning last year……we would have lost that game.
    These guys are NEVER out of it this year. I’m sooo glad Feldman settled down and gave you nearly seven very good innings.

    Like

  14. The best part of tonight’s game was the attendance. It was great to see a large crowd at the game tonight. It appears the city is starting to believe in this team. Also, even though he struck out thrice, it was very nice to see Carter hit that big HR. I am starting to see signs Chris is turning it around. If Carter and Gattis start hitting bombs regularly this team could really take off in the division.

    Like

      • That’s a good point. I think the city is still caught up in Rockets fever also. I hope, whenever the Rockets season ends (and I hope it’s not today), and school gets out we will see the city get behind this team.

        Like

      • I sure hope that becomes the case Tim. The guys out on the field sure deserve it. In the meantime, it’s nice to see the Rockets doing something too.

        Like

  15. Carlos Correa had two doubles and a single tonight w/ 1 rbi. He stole 3rd base once and got thrown out trying to steal 3rd base. He is batting .348 in AAA.

    Like

  16. Finally broke my jinx by going to the game with an old Astros NL hat. The first inning for Feldman was pretty brutal but he just kept striking people out. It was good to see a pitcher hit Carter’s bat once tonight.

    Springer really concerns me. His approach is completely screwed up. He was guessing off speed a lot and as a result Jays pitchers were throwing 88 mph fastballs by him. He struck out twice and made weak contact the other two ABs. OTOH you can see Tucker has a clue. Alas he also struck out twice but never had a swing that made me cringe. I see a young Bagwell in him. Bagwell had pop in his first few seasons but the real power didn’t come until later. He did however make a lot of contact. Loved the sixth inning when the Jays brought in a lefty who was immediately hammered by Tucker and Rasmus. Its probably not that much of a stretch but it would not surprise me in the least if Tucker put up MUCH better numbers than Springer by the end of the year.

    Like

  17. Correct me if I’m wrong, but didn’t Hamels have the Astros on his no trade list???
    I’d be worried that if he got traded to Houston, he might be as miserable as Happ was. Singelton is gonna be back here sooner rather than later, and Correa will be too….so who goes besides Villar to Fresno? Carter and Singelton can share time at 1st. You almost have to keep Marwin, he can play all three infield positions.
    If Luhnow is serious about winning this year, he’s got to make a move to get another
    pitcher………SOON.

    Like

    • Hamels has indicated he is willing to negotiate on the trade list.
      The difference between Hamels and Happ is like the difference between walking to Hawaii and flying to Hawaii.
      Hamels- 41.4 Career WAR
      Happ- 7.5 career WAR.
      50 total career WAR starts the Hall of Fame talk. These guys have one similarity: they are left handed. So am I. I have no Accumulated WAR. I’m a lot more similar to Happ.

      Like

    • OP,

      Now knowing you are left-handed helps clear up a lot of questions I had about you. 🙂 Hey, we have to poke fun at each other once in awhile to add some light-hearted humor to our day.

      Liked by 1 person

  18. Two thoughts on last night’s game. Conger is a poor defensive catcher on a good day. Chicks, guys, and the family dog love the long ball. And the national media continues to write about the Astros, BUT to borrow from Dandy Don Meredith – the ink is changing color.

    Like

  19. Don’t look now, but a Cardinals loss today coupled with an Astros win gives our favorite team the best record in all of baseball. Would anyone, and I mean ANYONE, have predicted that after 38 games?

    Like

  20. So here is a perfect example of how the tandem system can screw an entire team. Last night Bryan Radziewski and Even Grills had combined for eight innings of shutout ball and Lancaster had a 2-0 lead going into the bottom of the ninth. Grills loads the bases with one out and the entire Lancaster bullpen, including Tyler Brunneman, twiddles their thumbs, while the manager does nothing to save the win. Grills stays in and a double into the right field corner clears the bases and loses the game for Lancaster.
    Is it any wonder why this organization has problems developing bullpen arms? Jake Buchanan is the only guy in our bullpen that came up through our organization and he’s really not a reliever.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s