It’s amazing to think how long Brad Peacock has been a member of the Astros compared to his contributions to the team - and I don’t mean that harshly. Brad has been with the organization since 2013, but has only pitched 257 innings across five seasons. He’s posted an ERA around 4.40 for his career, and a FIP a little higher. If he was any worse, he would’ve gone the way of Paul Clemens or Lucas Harrell. But he hasn’t been that bad in his limited time with the major league club. He’s mostly been on the Fresno-to-Houston roundtrip flights instead of holding down a steady MLB role.
Last season, Peacock provided some emergency starts in the second-half for a rotation that experienced major health issues. Again, Peacock didn’t pitch great, but wasn’t terrible: 3.69 ERA/5.17 FIP in 31 innings, which wasn’t enough of a sample for those peripherals to fully catch up to a cleaner ERA. Again, Peacock didn’t do anything to inspire much confidence, but they were solid innings for a team that just needed guys to go five innings and not have the bullpen pitch half of a nine inning game every night.
Peacock had that ticket to Fresno in hand by the end of the spring until Colin McHugh went on the disabled list at the last minute. So instead of headlining a Triple-A rotation yet again, the 29-year-old Peacock found himself as the long man in the Astros bullpen (another role he’s held many times).
And then something changed - Peacock started throwing harder than he has since 2014, and he’s doing that in important bullpen innings for the major league club instead of Fresno.
Some caveats - though Peacock’s recent fastball velocity is over 93 mph from this March and April, it isn’t a massive uptick from where it was in the second-half of 2016, and we should expect velocity to play up in limited innings out of the bullpen.
Peacock’s outing last Wednesday against Seattle in extra innings was a tale of Peacock’s extremes - he walked in a runner to give the Mariners the lead (something he’s always had issues with), then induced a flyout (another Peacock staple) and blew some fastballs by Mike Zunino and Jarrod Dyson to escape the inning. What looked like an impending Seattle blowout turned into a one-run inning thanks to Peacock’s fastball, which Houston won in the bottom of the 13th.
But all those caveats applied (as well as an extremely small sample of innings), Peacock is currently missing bats at a way better rate than he has in his career - eight strikeouts (against just two walks) in 5.2 innings for a current K rate of 40%.
A relief role is nothing new for Peacock, who has spent plenty of time pitching out of the bullpen in his career - which could make the early, incremental improvement in his stuff all the more interesting. Did he figure something out over the offseason? Is his arm a little more fresh now in the early stages of the season? Why didn’t Peacock’s bullpen appearances in previous years inspire better results from his stuff?
Peacock’s numbers will stabilize and those questions can be answered more precisely if and when Peacock gets more opportunities - which remain unclear. He’s out of minor league options and would have to be DFA’d to be sent down, exposing him to other teams who want him. On the flip side, Mike Fiers’ present lack of effectiveness could even make Peacock a rotation candidate again.
Though Peacock’s strikeout numbers were always above MLB average, we could be seeing his role expand soon to “trusted later-inning relief guy” (especially on nights with some combination of Harris/Gregerson/Giles/Devenski unavailable) instead of “long relief mop-up guy” if these early velocity trends continue.