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2017 Astros April Review: Pitching

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Dallas Keuchel has returned to Cy Young form and the bullpen has been shutting the door in 2017

MLB: Texas Rangers at Houston Astros
Chris Devenski has sent shockwaves through MLB in 2017 by carving out a unique role in the bullpen
Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

The baseball season is full of peaks and valleys. A walk-off win can make you feel like your team is unstoppable. A blown save can lead to despair. Hopefully this monthly series (one post each on pitching and hitting) can help us keep things in perspective as we ride the roller coaster that is MLB baseball.

The Houston Astros came into the 2017 season with lofty expectations and through one month, they have not disappointed.

April Pitching Stats.csv

April Record 16-9
April Record 16-9
Against AL West 12-4
ERA/FIP/xFIP 3.38/3.83/3.50
WHIP 1.18
K/9 9.35
BB/9 2.99

Starting Pitching

With some savvy roster additions in the off-season, it was easy to be optimistic heading into 2017. However, the one off-season acquisition that didn’t happen was a top-of-the-rotation (TOR) starting pitcher. Some fans didn’t think this was necessary (especially with the price teams were paying for TOR pitchers), while others felt the Astros couldn’t count on Keuchel and McCullers to stay healthy and effective all season.

MLB: Oakland Athletics at Houston Astros Thomas B. Shea-USA TODAY Sports

There is still no guarantee that Keuchel and McCullers won’t visit the DL in 2017, but Keuchel returned to his 2015 form with a perfect 5-0 record in April. In 6 starts, Keuchel only allowed more than 1 ER once, and that was a complete game against Cleveland in which he allowed only 2 ER. Not bad, right?

The rest of the starters didn’t show the same consistency, but were good enough given the team’s offense. McCullers had a couple brilliant starts, but also two rough outings where he gave up 5 ER in 5 IP or less (SPOILER ALERT: He will get off to a good start in May).

Morton, Musgrove, and Fiers also survived largely due to an offense that never gave up and a lock-down bullpen. The Astros 3-5 pitchers only went more than 6 innings twice in 14 starts.

Collin McHugh’s stint on the DL has given both Joe Musgrove and Mike Fiers an opportunity to prove that they belong in the rotation. Musgrove had the better numbers in April, but not by much (4.88 ERA for Musgrove compared to 5.12 ERA for Fiers).

The Bullpen

Astros relievers had the highest strikeout per 9-inning rate in baseball last month (11.20 K/9). That was largely due to Chris Devenski (Devo) who had racked up 17.28 K/9, more than any MLB pitcher (starters and relievers) who threw more than 10 innings in April.

For comparison, Cody Allen of the Indians had 18.00 K/9 but only threw 10 innings (Devenski pitched 16.2). Craig Kimbrel of the Red Sox had 15.88 K/9 in 11.1 innings, and Aroldis Chapman had 14.46 K/9 in 9.1 IP. When it comes to high strikeout rates and a hefty workload, no one in MLB came close to Devenski in April.

Raise your hand if you thought Brad Peacock would begin 2017 by throwing 10.2 scoreless innings in relief. Yep, that’s what I thought. Peacock’s stuff has seemed to play up in the bullpen as he put up great strikeout numbers of his own (14.29 K/9).

The impressive part about this bullpen is that I haven’t even mentioned the main 3 high leverage guys (though Devenski has quickly become one of the Astros high-leverage relievers). Luke Gregerson, Will Harris, and Ken Giles were as good as advertised.

MLB: Seattle Mariners at Houston Astros
Ken Giles celebrates after securing an Opening Day 3-0 victory against Seattle.
Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Gregerson had a rather ugly 5.06 ERA in April, but don’t let that deceive you. 11 of his 12 appearances were scoreless outings. He got rocked for 6 ER in only 0.1 IP on April 8th, but those were the only runs he gave up all month.

Will Harris had the best month of the Astros big 3, giving up just 2 ER over 10.1 IP with a strikeout/walk ratio of 7.00. Ken Giles had a couple hiccups early in the month, but was a perfect 6/6 in save opportunities. In 10.1 IP, Giles didn’t allow a home run- a huge improvement over last April when he served up 4 long balls in 10 innings.

Next up, we’ll be reviewing how the Astros bats helped out (and bailed out in some cases) Astros pitching in the first month of 2017.

Go ‘Stros!!