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The Astros Bullpen Is A Work In Progress

Remember back in December, when we thought the Astros bullpen could be one of the team's strengths heading into the 2010 season? Well, how's that working out right about now?

Clack checked in on the bullpen's leverage indexes earlier this season. I took a somewhat tongue-in-cheek look for SB Nation Houston on Monday, but the core of what I was saying there is what I wanted to bring up here. Of the main members of the bullpen heading into spring training, all but two have either been moved out of there or been injured. That's a pretty big number.

As i showed in the other post, this is what the bullpen looked like heading into March:

Matt Lindstrom - Possibly injured

Chris Sampson - Injured

Sammy Gervacio - Injured and in minors

Jeff Fulchino - Probably injured

Brian Moehler - In the rotation

Alberto Arias - Out for season

Tim Byrdak - Has been injured

Add in Lyon and that's eight guys who should have made up the reliever cast. Of those, only Lyon and Lindstrom have escaped regular season injury troubles, but Lyon had his scare in spring training. That leaves LIndstrom as the only non-injured one. The reason I listed him as possibly hurt is that Brad Mills said something very similar after Sunday's game. When the manager is openly speculating to the media, things are not good.

Houston has used 12 different relievers this season, but one of those was Kevin Cash. Of the other four who made appearances in the big leagues, Casey Daigle and Wesley Wright were not unexpected. Wilton Lopez and Gustavo Chacin, though? Those were surprises. No to mention how we would have rather not have Brian Moehler out of the bullpen and in the rotation. But, that's for another post.

The big winners here have clearly been Lopez and Chacin. The former took over the seventh inning role from Jeff Fulchino a while back and the latter could easily take Byrdak's job as the LOOGY.  Lopez still has one of the lowest average Leverage Indexes on the team at .521, according to Baseball Reference. Chacin, Daigle, Moehler and even Byrdak all have higher aLIs than Lopez. Still, he has entered nine different games with runners on base, tied for the most times on the team. He also hasn't allowed a single inherited runner to score this season. That's pretty impressive.

While Lopez has been used later and later in games, he was clearly being used in a long-relief role before that. He has the most multi-inning appearances on the staff, but has also entered many of his games with the team trailing. His most common inning to enter the game has been the seventh, which is one inning later than Brian Moehler's bullpen stint.

Like many one-out lefties, Chacin can be somewhat of a paper lion. While his ERA is sterling, he has allowed 40 percent of his inherited runners to score. All those runs would make his ERA look much worse. He's okay at the job he's doing and seems to be interchangeable with Tim Byrdak at this point. His familiarity with Arnsberg may keep him on the roster a little longer, though.

What happens if/when Jeff Fulchino goes on the disabled list? Why haven't you talked more about all those relief prospects? Let's answer those questions in reverse. One of the more curious things about this bullpen situation is that the Astros are doing it without any of their advanced, highly-touted relievers. Guys like Danny Meszaros and Chia-Jen Lo haven't even been considered for promotion.

That's because both have been out with injuries. Meszaros just recently missed a week of time and got absolutely bombed in his first game back. He's been good besides that, though, and if he moves up to Round Rock, he could be a September promotion candidate. Another Corpus reliever, Matt Nevarez, who the Astros acquired in the Pudge Rodriguez deal last August, has also battled injuries and ineffectiveness in 2010. Lo is out with some sort of elbow issue, I believe, and there is no timetable on his recovery.

In fact, the most likely minor league reliever to make a jump to the pros may be Henry Villar. We've talked about him in the past, but he's smoking hitters in the Texas League. His availability will be dictated by whether the Astros see im as a starter or reliever long-term. 

Okay, enough about the prospects, what else is going on? What if Fulchino gets DLed? Conveniently, the team will be bringing Chris Sampson off the DL on Tuesday. They had not announced a corresponding roster move that I had seen tonight, though that could be in the works. If Fulchino is put on the DL at that time, it would avoid another ugly decision on who gets cut. 

Relievers don't throw a ton of innings, but the Astros sure have been hit with a lot of them this summer. Let's only hope that the 5 million dollar man stays healthy and that Ed Wade remains talented at finding the late-inning pitchers.