There can be little argument that the Astros’ improvement this season is riding on three factors:
- Better fielding.
- More runs scored per game; and,
- A light-years better bullpen.
There should also be little argument that the bullpen is responsible for the biggest chunk of that improvement. Perhaps nothing points to the importance of the bullpen more than the current six-game losing skid. The bullpen earlier in the season would have most likely had a big hand in stopping this skid almost before it started. The blown save in the fourth loss on Sunday would not have happened.
In Tuesday night’s game the suddenly ineffective Chad Qualls let a 2-0 lead go to 4-0. Earlier in the season the bullpen was holding the line and the Astros two run rally behind Carlos Correa‘s first major league home run would have tied the game. So, there should be little argument about how crucial the bullpen is to the ultimate success of this team.
Now there can be argument and discussion about how the 2015 Houston Astros’ denizens rank when compared against each other. Who is best? Who is worst? And how big a gap are we talking about here?
All arguments end here as this post tells you exactly who ranks where and what grade they are given at the 1/3 pole of the season. (OK – you can argue a little if you wish.)
- Will Harris. Think of the movie Christmas Story and how Ralphie dreams of the grade his teacher will give him for his essay on why a Red Rider BB gun would be the perfect gift for him. That grade is the same as Mr. Harris has earned: A+ + + + + + +. ERA: 0.65, WHIP: 0.506 (Use your microscope so you don’t strain your eyes). He has allowed 15 runners in 27.2 innings and only the two who hit HRs have scored. He has inherited 12 runners and only one scored and that was in a bases loaded and no out situation (and to make it more interesting he gave up a hit and then got three outs without another runner scoring). He has been the best out of the bullpen.
- Pat Neshek. Grade A. The 2014 Astros bullpen gave up the fifth most walks in the league. This season they are stingy as they have given up the second least walks. The Ebenezer Scrooge of the bunch is Neshek, who has given up one walk this season in over 21.2 innings to go with his sparkling 2.08 ERA and .600 WHIP. After struggling the first three weeks of the season he has not given up a run in 16 appearances and for the season has not let any of the seven runners he inherited score. Right handed hitters have a 0.540 OPS against him, while lefties have a .367 OPS. He is nails.
- Luke Gregerson. Grade B+. Gregerson was made the closer for the first time in his life and he has delivered. He has saved 15 of 17 chances to date. The Astros are 23-2 in games where he has appeared. He gets marked down for an ERA that has recently ballooned to 4.50 and a propensity to give up runs when given too big a lead. He has been good until now.
- Josh Fields. Grade B. Only complaint about Fields to date is that he missed the first three weeks of the season. Since then he has shown consistency that he only previously showed in flashes. 2.25 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, 28 Ks in 16 IP. His control has recently been spotty with four walks in his last four games after giving up only three walks in his first 13 appearances. His control is critical to his overall and long term ability to contribute to the team.
- Tony Sipp. Grade B. T-Sipp (the Longhorns should adopt him) continues to be a bargain for the Astros posting a 2.18 ERA and a .823 WHIP. He gets a B, because after an absolutely excellent April with a 2-0 record, 0.79 ERA and 0.706 WHIP, he was a poor pitcher in May with an 0-2 record, 4.91 ERA and a 1.227 WHIP. So far in June he has bounced back to the pitcher he was in April.
- Joe Thatcher. Grade B-. Thatcher has been decent as a LOOGY out of the bullpen. His 2.38 ERA is good and his 1.147 WHIP has been on a descending arc . He has let 7-of-15 inherited runners score. Nothing great or terrible here, though it should be noted that after 2+ months he has only 11.1 innings pitched under the belt.
- Qualls. Grade C-. Qualls, who was one of the few reliable relievers last season, is now considered by the fans (if not the manager) the least reliable man in the bullpen. He started off well this season with one clinker against the Angels in the first 11 games, and 10 games where he gave up nothing. In his last 12 games he has been scored on in six of them including a blown save and two losses. And he did give up the two runs last night that put the game out of reach of a late two-run rally. Is this just a lull or is the 36-year-old in decline? It feels like Qualls and his 5.31 ERA should be watching Harris and Neshek get more of the late inning opportunities until and unless he turns it around. He gets a C- because he does have four saves and 11 holds on the season.
The questions for you are:
- Do you agree with the rankings?
- Do you agree with the grades?
- How would you change it up?
- If you were A.J. Hinch, would you change the utilization of relievers such as Fields, Harris, Neshek and Qualls?
- Do you think the Astros should consider using Lance McCullers Jr. out of the pen to extend his season?
- Do you think the Astros need a more traditional hard throwing closer at the back of the pen?