Pitching didn't do Houston any solids in the past week. But, we're giving out awards in spite of the bullpen mess and some shaky starting pitching. Who gets it? Come for the winner, stay for 500 words on Tony Sipp's season.
As always, these selections are entirely subjective and based on my own judgment. No single statistic formed the basis for the choices, so the blame falls entirely on my shoulders.
It was not a good week for Astros pitching. Very little of the arms in Houston performed well, but Sipp continues to dazzle. In 4 innings last week, he didn't allow a run while striking out five and walking no one. In fact, Sipp only allowed three hits in those 4 innings of work.
On the season, Sipp now has an ERA of 2.04 with an FIP of 2.19 and 24 strikeouts in 17 2/3 innings. Those are career bests for Sipp by a long shot. Even in his effective Cleveland seasons, Sipp has never been this good. So, what's going on? Is this for real? What has changed?
For one thing, Sipp is using his changeup much more than he ever has in his career. Before this season, he was mainly a fastball/slider pitcher who used a four-seam and a two-seam fastball to give himself a third pitch. He threw 91 mph from the left side with that four-seamer and it was reasonably effective, but his change was always just a "show-me pitch" thrown less than fiver percent of the time.
This year? It's jumped up to 14 percent of his total pitches. What's more, he's getting whiffs on over 30 percent of his changeups this season, up nearly 10 percent from previous seasons.
When Sipp came to the Astros, we (wrongly) assumed he'd be a LOOGY, filling the role that Raul Valdes was supposed to occupy. But, Sipp has never really been a platoon split guy. In his career, he's held right-handers down just as much as lefties. This year is no different. He's been death to left-handers, thanks to his use of out of the strike zone.
But, the biggest change has been using that change to right-handers. Look at this chart of where he's been throwing that change to rightys and where he's getting whiffs:
He's hammering right-handers down and in with that change and they just can't hit it. In that lower left-hand quadrant (inside the plate to right-handers), hitters have only managed two line drives all season against Sipp's change.
What's interesting is that the change hasn't been very effective by linear weights overall. It's about as effective as it's been for all of Sipp's career. His slider has always been effective and both fastballs have been just as good as in 2011, when he posted a 3.03 ERA in over 60 innings for Cleveland.
I doubt Sipp will be able to remain at career lows in walk rate nor do I bet he keeps up his insanely high strikeout rate (15th in all of baseball for relievers). But, it's not as much of a sample size issue as you might think. What Sipp is doing right now is almost exactly what he did for the Padres' Triple-A team, meaning he's got nearly 30 innings this season of a 35 percent strikeout rate and a 3 percent walk rate.
Tony Sipp was quite the find.
Since I wrote a book on Sipp, I'm keeping it brief with Cosart. The right-hander gets third place, but there's a huge gap between second and third here. Cosart had one decent start in the past week, but he didn't strike anyone out. That's not what gets him on the list. His control does that.
In eight of Cosart's 14 starts this season, he's walked two or fewer batters. Against Tampa Bay last weekend, he only walked one. For his career, he's only allowed two or fewer walks in 10 of his 24 career starts and has done it in each of his last four starts.
One of the biggest questions about Cosart as a prospect was whether he'd be able to show enough control to stay in the rotation. He's already cut his walk rate from last season by 4 percent and is down to 4.8 percent in the month of June.
Cosart's got good enough stuff that I don't worry about the strikeouts. They'll either come or he'll become a ground ball machine, like Derek Lowe. But, to get there, he needs to keep control of his control. It seems Brent Strom is helping him with this.
In 11 innings over two starts, Feldman looked like a pitcher capable of earning $12 million this season. He struck out 11, or 29 percent of the batters he faced, and only allowed 10 hits and three walks. Unlike some of Feldman's season, his 3.18 ERA in the last week seems entirely sustainable with those peripheral statistics.
I spent some time defending Feldman in Wednesday's game preview, but he really doesn't need it. He's not an ace, but he's a perfectly fine middle of the rotation pitcher who only gets less expensive in the next two seasons. If he posts an ERA around 4.00, it'll be a win for Houston in free agency.
Now, if only he could help fix the bullpen that imploded in Washington.