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The Astros Pitching Staff is a House of Cards

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Walks kill.

MLB: Houston Astros at Oakland Athletics Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

There is no point in beating around the bush any longer. To be perfectly honest, the Astros pitching staff, as currently presented, is far away from championship caliber. Yes, it doesn’t help that Justin Verlander remains sidelined until further notice, although a bullpen session is a step in the right direction. Lance McCullers Jr. is on the IL along with most of the established bullpen. The actual bullpen is in shambles, even if some of the rookies have shown promise at times. And as the game in Oakland last night indicated, the veteran relievers have been just as bad, if not worst, than the rookies. Not all the time, but still way too often to be comfortable with any lead in the single digits.

Seriously, how does a staff walk Sean Murphy three times in a single game?

To be abundantly clear, the drastic roster turnover has been the key issue for the Astros in 2020. For a club that was heavily reliant — arguably more than what was comfortable — on internal depth heading into the season, the ongoing pandemic and its subsequent implications on the sport were a tough blow to absorb. That said, you have to work with what you have. For the Astros, that reality has translated into a pitching staff gradually worsening as the season progresses.

Some (Depressing) 2020 Numbers

Month IP ERA FIP K% BB%
Month IP ERA FIP K% BB%
July 67 3.49 4.27 23.2% 12.5%
Aug 228.1 4.41 4.49 22.6% 10.3%
Sept 90.1 5.68 5.08 20.0% 12.1%

If there is one issue to truly focus on, it is this staff’s propensity to issue walks. Lots and lots of walks. In fact, there is only one staff right now that has a higher walk rate than the Astros at 11.1 percent — the 14-27 Pirates at 11.2 percent. In the last seven days, no other pitching staff has issued more walks than the Astros (43). A stark contrast from a staff that averaged a 7.8 percent walk rate from 2017 through 2019.

Houston’s bullpen, in particular, with a 13.8 percent walk rate is impossible to ignore, which is the highest mark in baseball today. Of the six relievers who have thrown at least ten innings this season, only Ryan Pressly (8.8 percent) and Brooks Raley (6.8 percent) have walk rate lower than ten percent. Andre Scrubb currently leads the pack with an incredible 22.7 percent walk rate with Blake Taylor at 15.3 percent and Enoli Paredes at 13.2 percent. Cy Sneed also fits into the equation with a 12.2 percent mark. Eliminate the ten inning threshold, the number of relievers with high rates only goes higher. Take Josh James at 16.7 percent, for example. Anytime a staff has a lot of mostly rookie relievers posting high walk rates, it is only a matter of time before the runs start coming.

Rookies and Walks Don’t Mix in Relief

Month IP ERA FIP K% BB%
Month IP ERA FIP K% BB%
July 34.2 2.08 3.47 21.9% 12.6%
Aug 91 5.14 4.84 23.5% 13.3%
Sept 37.1 5.54 5.48 20.6% 16.0%

The Astros pitching staff before Verlander and Roberto Osuna went down due to injuries were going to be operating on a thin margin. That margin was razor thin for a while and doesn’t even exist now. For this club to make a run into the postseason, they need to regain some of those lost arms. Hopefully that happens, but we don’t know for sure. Either way, this pitching staff has to overcome its walk issues soon or else. At least Zack Greinke has continued to be a delight to watch in a Houston uniform, which has to count for something in this calamity of a season.