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Houston Astros First Half Report Card: Bullpen

Despite some controversy, the Astros bullpen overall has been one of the best in the MLB. Let’s take a look at the individual performances.

Houston Astros v Tampa Bay Rays Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

Overall: B+

This number may surprise some, but the Houston Astros bullpen’s collective ERA is 2.75. The group that resides beyond the right field wall in Minute Maid Park has allowed 86 earned runs in 281 innings of work. These numbers are really solid, but we all know the struggles the Astros have had closing out a few games. There has been some talk about whether or not the Astros will make a deal for a premier closer at the deadline or if they will stick with who we have, but for now let’s grade the main 8 guys that we’ve seen jog in from right field this year.

Colin McHugh: A+

Colin McHugh has been absolutely filthy this year and his numbers reflect it. The veteran righty has a 0.96 ERA with 60 strikeouts in 46.2 innings of work. The only knock on McHugh is that especially early in the season, he did not pitch in high level situations.

His transition from back of the rotation starter to bullpen arm is the main reason manager AJ Hinch used him in low leverage situations. McHugh is holding opposing hitters to a miniscule .145 average against him and striking out a ridiculous 11.59 hitters per nine innings. Clearly, McHugh has adjusted well to life in the bullpen.

Héctor Rondon: A

The Astros took a small risk this offseason signing Rondon after a rocky year with the Chicago Cubs in 2017. Clearly, this move has paid off for Jeff Luhnow so far. The Venezuelan has a 1.57 ERA with 44 strikeouts in 34.1 innings of work. Rondon is striking out a career best 11.53 batters per nine innings and only allowing 0.26 home runs per nine. The main factor keeping Rondon from a perfect A+ is his blown saves. Rondon is 8/11 in save opportunities and has not been completely reliable in that role. He has recovered from blowing his first two opportunities and seems to have adjusted well since then. If Rondon can turn into a shutdown closer, the Astros will be set for a late post season run again.

Tony Sipp: A-

This one surprised us all. Who would’ve thought, after being totally irrelevant in the 2017 postseason, that Sipp would come back to where he is right now? Coming off of a poor 2017, Tony Sipp has rebounded in a big way. The crafty lefty has a 1.93 ERA with 26 strikeouts in 23.1 innings of work. Sipp is our lefty specialist and has been nearly unhittable against them. Lefties are currently hitting .105 against him and are striking out 34% of the time. From presumably being the last man to make the roster in 2018 to one of our most reliable arms out of the pen, Sipp has earned his high grade.

Chris Devenski: B+

Devo has been a very solid performer for the Astros in 2018. He currently sits at a 2.33 ERA with 44 strikeouts in 38.2 innings of work. Devo’s deceptive delivery and nasty changeup have been on full display this year in high leverage situations for the Astros. Although he has had a few opportunities to close out games this year he hasn’t been successful in that role. He currently has a 40% successful save rate. Devo has been good for the Astros his whole career and should continue to be a productive producer in the second half.

Brad Peacock: B

Brad Peacock was a hero in 2017, seamlessly transitioning from bullpen to rotation and back to bullpen. 2018 has not been quite as sharp for the righty but it has still been a productive first half. He currently holds a 3.05 ERA with 57 strikeouts in 41.1 innings of work. The biggest issue with Peacock this year has been the long ball. He currently is giving up 1.96 home runs per nine innings. That is up from just 0.68 home runs per nine last year. If Peacock can find a way to limit the long ball, he should have a really productive second half and postseason.

Will Harris: C+

Will Harris has had very up and down year. He started off hot holding a 1.80 ERA in April, but then fell to a 5.49 ERA in May and June. However, he seems to have fixed his struggles bouncing back with a 1.69 ERA in July. On the whole, he has a 3.79 ERA with 43 strikeouts in 35.2 innings of work. Harris’s struggles have been amplified late in close games. According to’s late/close stat, Harris has an 8.03 ERA in those situations. Hopefully his strong July is a sign for good things to come in the second half.

Joe Smith: C

The Astros signed Smith this offseason in hopes of bringing a veteran reliever who has been solid for a long time. Unfortunately, his time with the club has not been overly successful so far. He currently has a 4.26 ERA with 25 strikeouts in 25.1 innings of work. Although those numbers are not great, Smith really got off to a bad start in April and really has bounced back, posting a 1.13 ERA since. He has only thrown 16 innings during that time and very few high leverage situations but he has been reliable. Hopefully Smith can work his back into AJ Hinch’s good graces and start pitching in big moments.

Ken Giles: F

This has been the hot topic for the Astros this year. Some point out that Giles has been better than his stats say, others look at the ERA and cringe. Giles currently has a 4.99 ERA with 31 strikeouts in 30.2 innings of work. The defenders of Giles point to his 100% successful save rate in his 12 chances.

The critics say he’s playing with fire and it won’t last. The truth is Giles has been really good in strictly save situations, but has also blown games that were not save situations. What doesn’t cut it is his inability to keep his cool.

He presumably told AJ Hinch to F off after his meltdown against Oakland on July 11th, and we all remember him infamously punching himself in the face against the Yankees earlier this year. Hopefully his stint with the Fresno Grizzlies in AAA will be a wakeup call and be the start to a productive second half. Whether you love him or hate him, the bottom line is that the Astros are a better baseball team when Ken Giles is right and playing to his capability.