The Astros signed free agent reliever Hector Neris to theoretically take the place of Kendall Graveman in the back of their bullpen. The former Philly fireman was a bit shaky as a closer in the first part of 2021 but excellent as the set-up man in the second half of the season. With the Astros losing relievers Graveman, Yimi Garcia and Brooks Raley, it may sound foolish to say the Astros will not further bolster the bullpen, but let’s talk about that a bit.
The magic number here is eight …… probably. The Astros have typically gone with an eight-man bullpen during the regular season based on recent roster construction. Extra points if you can name the eight pitchers who comprised the bullpen to start the 2021 season.
Ryan Pressly, Ryne Stanek, Joe Smith, Brooks Raley, Blake Taylor, Bryan Abreu, Enoli Paredes and Brandon Bielak. In the rotation, Bielak was the long reliever with Cristian Javier, Smith was later sent off to Seattle with Abraham Toro for Kendall Graveman and Rafael Montero, and Paredes and Abreu fell out of favor.
So, looking at eight as THE number for the bullpen, what does that look like today?
- Ryan Pressly. Pressly has grabbed onto the closer role and should be holding on to it in 2022. (5-3, 26 saves, 2.25 ERA, 0.969 WHIP in 2021)
- Hector Neris. After his closing struggles in the first half of the season, he settled in with a 2.70 ERA after the All Star break and a high strikeout rate. He may be slotted for that 8th inning set-up spot. (4-7, 12 saves, 3.63 ERA, 1.170 WHIP)
- Ryne Stanek. Stanek did a solid job in the eighth inning slot but gave the bullpen depth when he slid into the seventh inning spot after the Graveman trade. (3-5, 2 saves, 3.42 ERA, 1.215 WHIP)
- Pedro Baez. Baez missed almost the whole 2021 season due to injury, appearing in four games in August before going down again. His return could be a massive boost to the back end of this bullpen. (In 7 years with the Dodgers – 21-15, 3 saves, 3.03 ERA, 1.096 WHIP)
- Phil Maton. Maton’s 4.97 ERA in his couple of months with Houston was a little ugly, but…. If you drop one mop-up crash and burn where he allowed 5 runs in 0.1 innings (where three runs scored after he was replaced by Graveman), he was 4-0 with a 3.24 ERA in his other 26 appearances. On top of that – he was absolute nails in the playoffs, allowing 1 run in 12.1 innings with 14 Ks. He gives the Astros another quality arm out of the bullpen. (6-0, 4.73 ERA, 1.455 WHIP with Clev/Hous)
- Blake Taylor. Taylor followed up a great but short rookie season in 2020 with a solid 2021 season as the better of the two lefty relievers in the Astros’ bullpen. (4-4, 3.16 ERA, 1.406 WHIP)
- Rafael Montero. Montero was very good in 2019, decent in 2020 and awful in 2021 before being traded to the Astros. He had four scoreless appearances with the Astros before being injured and missing the end of the season. (5-4, 7 saves, 6.39 ERA, 1.541 WHIP).
- Cristian Javier or Jake Odorizzi. Unless there is a trade – one of these guys would likely be in the rotation, and one would be in the bullpen. It seems ridiculous to think they would keep Javier in AAA as a starter. This gives the Astros options for long relief and for the rotation that many teams would love. Odorizzi (6-7, 4.21 ERA, 1.252 WHIP) Javier (4-1, 2 saves, 3.55 ERA, 1.184 WHIP)
If anyone falls by the wayside, there are other options.
- Peter Solomon. The 24-year-old pitched very well in a six-game call-up with the team and certainly deserves another shot at the big time, especially if Montero is really a frog instead of a prince.
- Josh James. Since his breakout rookie season, James has been bad or hurt or both. He has always shown some good flashes, but one wonders whether this is his last chance with the Astros before moving on.
- Brandon Bielak. Bielak burst forth early in 2020 before plummeting in the same season. He was decent in 2021 in primarily long relief. He certainly could be brought up when the other arms are being over-used.
- Shawn Dubin. Dubin’s performance in 2021 forced him onto the 40 man roster, and they may be aiming to keep him as a starter, but he better be on speed dial if the team needs help anywhere.
The Astros may go out and pick up more bullpen help, perhaps another left-hander, but in reality, it could be argued that they don’t need additional help.