Prior to joining the Houston Astros, reliever Ryan Pressly was no slouch. But since Pressly’s trade from the Minnesota Twins on July 27, the native Texan has been one of the most dominant relief pitchers in the game. Take a look at the numbers below:
Pre-trade with Twins (March 31 – July 27): 47.2 IP, 3.40 ERA, 2.95 FIP, 2.87 xFIP, 24.0% K-BB Rate, 0.90 HR/9, 13.5% HR/FB, 5 HR allowed, .363 BABIP
Post-trade with Astros (July 28 – September 26): 22.1 IP, 0.81 ERA, 1.46 FIP, 1.91 xFIP, 35.0% K-BB Rate, 0.40 HR/9, 7.1% HR/FB, 1 HR allowed, .217 BABIP
In 22.1 innings with the Astros, Pressly has allowed only 14 baserunners and notched 30 strikeouts. That one homer allowed was to the first batter he faced as an Astro. For the season, Pressly has a weighted on-base average—a metric used to proportionally weigh the different aspects of hitting—of .268, which is swell enough. But since joining Houston, that figure has dipped all the way down to .171, which, if extrapolated over the course of the full season, would be better than the top two pitchers in wOBA this year—Blake Treinen (.187) and Edwin Diaz (.213), per Baseball Savant.
I found this amusing because bilbos recently texted me that Pressly has been putting up “Blake Treinen numbers” since joining the Astros. That text was really the impetus for this inspection of Pressly’s performance, and from the looks of it, bilbos wasn’t too far off in his assessment. Since the trade, Pressly ranks top five in MLB across many pitching categories, including WHIP (0.58), OBP (.175), K/BB (15.0), FIP (1.46), xFIP (1.91), wOBA (.171), and K-BB% (35.0%).
It comes as no surprise the Astros targeted Pressly near the trade deadline; they are enamored with pitchers capable of high spin rates, which was written about on The Crawfish Boxes not too long ago and even lamented by Trevor “Tyler” Bauer.
If only there was just a really quick way to increase spin rate. Like what if you could trade for a player knowing that you could bump his spin rate a couple hundred rpm overnight...imagine the steals you could get on the trade market! If only that existed...— Trevor Bauer (@BauerOutage) May 1, 2018
At the time of his trade to Houston, Pressly’s curveball had the second-highest average spin rate (3,199 rpm) in the Majors this year and his four-seam fastball had the fifth-highest average spin rate (2,580 rpm; thanks, Tags). For context, the highest spin rate Lance McCullers, Jr. has had on any knuckle curveball he’s thrown this year was 3,173 rpm. I repeat, McCullers, Jr.’s highest spin rate on any curveball this year is lower than Pressly’s average spin rate on the curve. Wow.
Another strength of Pressly’s is that he uses three pitches. He has thrown each of his four-seam fastball (41.3%), curveball (28.0%), and slider (27.2%) more than a quarter of the time in 2018, which allows Pressly to keep hitters off-balance. Pressly’s pitch selection has transformed somewhat since joining the Astros, however. He has thrown the fastball a lot less and his curveball a lot more, as shown below.
That has been a good thing for the Astros. Pressly has gotten a much higher percentage of groundballs on his breaking pitches than he did with the Twins (61.7 GB% on balls in play since joining Houston, 10th highest in MLB during that time) and has allowed very few line drives since the trade (8.5 LD% on balls in play since joining Houston, 2nd lowest in MLB during that time).
Basically, opponents just aren’t doing damage to his breaking stuff, which has resulted in Pressly leading the Majors in Soft Contact percentage (31.9%) since being dealt to Houston.
Pitch values can provide insight regarding the impact of a pitcher’s offerings. However, they can be a bit complicated to understand, so I will try to provide a concise definition. Essentially, pitch values act as a gauge for the success of different pitches over the course of a season. There are raw pitch values (e.g., wFB, wSL, wCB) and standardized pitch values (e.g., wFB/C, wSL/C, wCB/C). Raw values simply represent the total number of runs saved by a pitcher using a specific pitch. Of course, pitchers are likely to use a certain pitch a different number of times (e.g., simply because he is a starter, McCullers Jr. will throw the curveball at a greater frequency than Pressly), so a standardized value was created on a “per 100 pitch” basis to correct for inflated differences. A score of zero is average, whereas positive values indicate above average performance for the pitcher and negative values indicate below average performance.
Although pitch values have limited predictive power, they can be useful as descriptive statistics of past performance. Since joining the Astros, Pressly has above average pitch values for both his fastball (1.87 wFB/C) and slider (1.83 wSL/C), but his curveball has been flat-out dominant (5.16 wCB/C). Surprisingly, Pressly actually had a negative pitch value on his curveball this season (-1.64 wCB/C) prior to the trade, so something has changed since Pressly came to Houston. Regardless, I think it’s safe to say the Astros saw the potential of Pressly’s curveball based on his spin rates and that has been his best pitch since joining the club.
Pressly’s outstanding numbers with the Astros have also earned him the trust of manager A.J. Hinch. Earlier this week, Hinch summoned Pressly after Collin McHugh got himself into a bases-loaded jam and pinch-hitter Justin Smoak at the plate. Pressly struck out Smoak on three offspeed pitches to thwart the Toronto threat. I’m not overly worried about Rondon’s September struggles (of course, I’d rather he didn’t have them, but every pitcher goes through struggles at some point in a season), but I do think Pressly’s performance has earned him the privilege to be used in high-leverage situations. He’s unlikely to close out games (because Osuna), but outside of that, I think any role is fair game for Pressly.
All that’s left to do now is give this dude a nickname. An easy option is “Elvis,” but I’m more partial to something along the lines of “Big Tex,” as an ode to his Texas roots. Any other ideas?