In the second biggest piece of Houston sports news today, Jorge Castillo of the LA Times has reported that the Astros came to an agreement with free agent reliever Pedro Báez on a two year contract. The value of the contract is not yet known.
Báez made his professional debut all the way back in 2007 as a third baseman in the LA organization, and after showing some early promise as a potential power hitter, he stagnated offensively and looked to be approaching the end of the line. Rather than letting him go, the Dodgers decided to see how his big arm strength would translate to the mound, and subsequently sent him out as a relief pitcher for the 2013 season.
He showed immediate promise on the mound, and ended up making his big league debut the following year, appearing in 20 games for the 2014 Dodgers in which he recorded a 2.63 ERA. Báez really came into his own the following season, seizing a role as one of the team’s primary setup men by upping his strikeout rate to 28.8% and walking just 5.3% of opposing batters en route to a 3.35 ERA in 52 frames.
While 2015 was his most efficient campaign to date, he’s been remarkably consistent in terms of run avoidance, never seeing his ERA leave the low 3 range. He was more strikeout oriented when he broke into the league, but has learned to excel by inducing weak contact as well, and was one of the league’s best pitchers at doing so in 2019, allowing an expected slash line of just .184/.304/.239 on the season per Statcast. His performance was less solid during the abbreviated 2020 regular season, but given the circumstances and sample size, it’s probably best not to draw many conclusions from that.
In terms of aesthetics, Báez is something of a rarity as a true three-pitch reliever. He primarily works off of his fastball, which averaged as high when he was younger 97.7 MPH before settling into the 96 MPH range for most of his career. He generally throws the heater with four seam life, and can get swings and misses on it up in the zone. His most reliable offspeed offering is his change, which represents roughly a third of his pitches thrown, and can be a swing and miss offering when set up effectively. Báez will also employ a slider, which has similar velocity to the changeup but moves to the other side of the plate, helping him to keep hitters off balance.
It also must be pointed out that Báez has one of the slowest paces of any pitcher currently in the majors, typically ranking as one of the ten slowest based on time between pitches, averaging roughly 30 seconds. He joins Ryne Stanek as a new acquisition in the Astros bullpen, and it remains to be seen if James Click will make any further moves to bolster the unit after the team missed out on Liam Hendriks. The signing will bring the Astros 40-man roster to 39 players, and with several holes on the big league roster still to fill, moves of some kind are surely on the horizon, so stay tuned.