The Astros signed Pat Neshek for two years and $12.5 million before the 2015 season, hoping to shore up a bullpen that struggled in 2014. Neshek performed well to begin the year, but struggled along with the rest of the Astros bullpen in September. He enters this season looking to re-establish his position as a top setup man.
Neshek began his career with the Minnesota Twins, and bounced around between three other clubs before joining the Astros last season. His best season came in 2014 with the St. Louis Cardinals, when he went 7-2 with a 1.87 ERA and was named a National League All Star.
Wherever he’s gone, he’s handled right-handed batters extremely well, limiting them to a 184/.260/.304 line over his career. This dominance over right-handed batters makes him a valuable contributor in the bullpen. Astros manager A.J. Hinch used Neshek as his primary right-handed setup man to Luke Gregerson last season until his struggles at the end of the season led to a reduced role.
He’s been a bit worse statistically in the second half of the season throughout his career, but last year his performance dropped drastically. He seemed to hit a wall in September, posting a 7.36 ERA. After the season, Neshek had surgery to repair a fracture in his foot, an injury that likely explains his struggles at the end of the year.
He’s expected to be fully healthy for spring training this year. With the off-season acquisition of Ken Giles, Neshek’s role should change to more of a righty specialist. Any stretch of tough right-handed batters in the late innings would be an opportunity that fits Neshek’s skills.
A healthy Neshek should be a valuable member of an Astros bullpen that looks to improve over last season. The bullpen was one of the best in baseball for most of 2015, and Neshek should be a key contributor again this year.