FanPost

A Not Entirely Unrealistic, Internal Option for Improving the Back End of the Astros' Bullpen in What Remains of 2014 and Beyond


The most elite bat misser in the Astros organization just happens to also require 40-man rostering this November to shelter him from the Rule 5 draft. That brings him into play for the 2014 season, though very few are thinking along these lines at present.

As the graph below attempts to show, this mystery man has outperformed 96% of his minor leagues' pitching peers on strikeouts since the beginning of the 2011 campaign. He rates roughly average by his leagues' standards at control over that interval. On the negative side of the ledger, his batted balls profile has bettered only 30% of his peers' profiles (the general batted ball types against the pitcher sorted based on the 2-dimensional direction relative to the playing field and batter handedness). So in short we have a hurler who has been roughly "2 plus" (exceptionally good) at the strikeout and roughly "1 minus" (poor) at avoiding the batted balls that are most likely to generate runs.

Bpsavior2011-apr2014_zps29dee608_large

So who is this potential bullpen savior? Well, he has mostly started but does throw relatively hard. Slotting a harder-throwing starting-biased pitcher who sports that classic plus-strikeouts/minus-batted balls profile into short relief makes loads of sense. The new gig allows them to dial their fastball velocity up a notch reducing both the percentage of plate appearances that result in a ball put into (or over) fair play and the percentage of those that are pulled aerially, which was the typical sort of danger they flirted with in their former role (they can also throw offspeed offerings as chase pitches a bit more further limiting the trauma on contact). This amounts maximizing a clear future strength while minimizing a probable future weakness.

The could-be savior is already touching the mid-90s with his fastball and has two presently-average-or-better offspeed pitches to stymie batters of either handedness. The conventional (a bit passé, I'd argue) wisdom is that 3-pitch prospects are future starters, but this particular one just strikes me as being at his best relative to peers prospectively in short bursts and what we hear secondhand of his competitive demeanor suggests that he could thrive in high-leverage, late-inning situations.

So how would such a rapid-fire transition transpire? The first step would be to promote Vince Velasquez from Lancaster to Corpus Christi and toss him into the fire as the AA bullpen stopper. The Hooks' tandem setup is on life support now but even with a resuscitation of it there would be plenty of two- to one-inning high-leverage relief opportunities at the end of those Texas League tilts. It is not entirely unthinkable that if something like this were to go down we could see Velasquez in Houston near the July All-Star break, provided that he continues to perform favorably and his arm responds well to more frequent, shorter-duration work.

{Within an hour of publishing this, I saw that Velasquez was added to Lancaster's 7-day Disabled List, retroactive to May 11. That the move was dated retroactively may be a good sign, relatively speaking.}

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