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Astros April Statistical Month in Review: Pitching

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Considering the injury situation, surprisingly good results. Can it be sustained?

Seattle Mariners v Houston Astros Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images

Despite the staff having to deal without the presumed ace, Framber Valdez, and other cogs lost to injury such as Jake Odorizzi, Andre Scrubb, Enoli Paredes, Blake Taylor, Pedro Baez (oh yeah, the $30 million man Justin Verlander), and others, Astros pitching got above average results in April.

When looking at more advanced performance-oriented stats you have to conclude that the Astros staff benefited from some good fortune and looks more middle of the pack.

Here’s a chart of key result-oriented and more advanced performance and future-oriented stats and how the Astros compare to the American League.

Astros overall staff April statistics and league ranking

ERA/rank SIERA/rank xFIP/rank K%/rank BB%/rank BA/rank WHIP/rank BABIP/rank
ERA/rank SIERA/rank xFIP/rank K%/rank BB%/rank BA/rank WHIP/rank BABIP/rank
3.69/4th 3.86/8th 4.17/10th 24.1%/6th 8.0%/7th .220/4th 1.15/2nd .266/13th

Though the Astros were fourth in league ERA and second in WHIP, predictive stats like SIERA and xFIP rank the Astros at 8th and 10th respectively. The BABIP is a very low .266; only two other teams have a lower batting average on balls in play.

The Astros are 3rd in runs allowed at 101, and 8th in home runs, allowing 30. And herein may lie the luck factor.

The Astros’ HR/Fly % is 11.8, 10th in the league, lower than all but four other teams. And yet their FB% is 39.4%, 2nd highest in the league. The GB% is 39.9%, the lowest in the AL.

In general, the Astros staff gets a lot of outs on fly balls, and so far those flies have been staying in the park at a fortunate rate. In particular, the 10th rated xFIP anticipates this regression of increasing rates of home runs allowed.

Let’s break down the team stats for starters and relief pitchers,

First, the starters.

Astros Starter, April 2021

ERA/rank SIERA/rank xFIP/rank K%/rank BB%/rank BA/rank WHIP/rank BABIP/rank
ERA/rank SIERA/rank xFIP/rank K%/rank BB%/rank BA/rank WHIP/rank BABIP/rank
3.47/2nd 4.06/8th 4.28/11th 23.6%/7th 7.6%/7th .217/2nd 1.11/3rd .264/12th

So, with a staff full of guys with names that few outside Houston have heard of, names like Cristian Javier, Luis Garcia, Jose Urquidy, the Astros starters are second in the league in ERA. But as we noted about the staff in general, advanced stats predict negative regression.

The bullpen.

Astros relievers, April 2021

ERA/rank SIERA/rank xFIP/rank K%/rank BB%/rank BA/rank WHIP/rank BABIP/rank
ERA/rank SIERA/rank xFIP/rank K%/rank BB%/rank BA/rank WHIP/rank BABIP/rank
4.00/8th 3.58/7th 4.00/9th 24.9%/6th 8.6%/9th .225/7th 1.21/10th .271/10th

Given the injury situation with the Astros staff in general, and the youth factor in the bullpen, it’s hard to complain about the merely average performance of the bullpen, and it looks sustainable based on the advanced stats.

There’s a lot of help on the way from players currently on IL, so we can hope for some improvement in the pen.

Individual performances: starters.

Untitled

Pitcher ERA SIERA xERA xFIP BA WHIP BABIP
Pitcher ERA SIERA xERA xFIP BA WHIP BABIP
Cristian Javier 0.87 3.08 3.26 3.35 .155 0.82 .244
Luis Garcia 3.21 4.55 N/A 4.99 .200 1.14 .229
Lance Mccullers Jr. 3.38 4.14 3.52 4.12 .152 1.05 .213
Zack Greinke 3.44 4.25 3.33 4.15 .257 1.15 .287
Jose Urquidy 3.71 4.59 3.65 4.88 .238 1.15 .273

The Astros actually have five starters in the top 30 in ERA for pitchers with more than 20 innings. (if you count Luis Garcia, who has split time with the bullpen).

Cristian Javier........3rd

Luis Garcia.............14th (overall as starter, reliever)

Lance McCullers....24th

Zack Greinke..........25th

Jose Urquidy..........29th

But as we have already noted, all of these pitchers have benefited from BABIP luck to some degree, and xFIP and SIERA predict significant negative regression. The Statcast based statistic, xERA, is much kinder, however.

Individual performances: bullpen.

Untitled

Pitcher (5+ IP) ERA SIERA xERA xFIP BA WHIP BABIP
Pitcher (5+ IP) ERA SIERA xERA xFIP BA WHIP BABIP
Ryan Pressly 1.50 2.25 2.11 2.26 .255 1.25 .353
Kent Emanuel 1.86 2.82 2.86 3.41 .182 0.62 .167
Ryne Stanek 2.19 2.17 2.65 3.20 0.77 0.57 0.53
Brandon Bielak 3.46 3.94 3.57 4.08 .188 1.00 .222
Ryan Abreu 4.61 4.25 4.07 4.67 ,220 1.24 .250
Brooks Raley 6.75 2.55 4.07 2.93 .217 1.08 .286
Blake Taylor 6.75 4.84 3.78 6.01 .320 1.88 .316
Joe Smith 9.39 3.77 5.41 4.40 .389 2.09 .462

Ryan Pressly has appeared to re-capture his 2019 mojo, and of course, recent addition Ryne Stanek has proven reliable.

Two surprises, Brandon Bielak, but especially Kent Emanuel, both of whom have been successful and appear to have the advanced stats to say they could sustain that success.

Looking only at ERA Brooks Raley has looked bad so far, but underlying stats are more positive in every category. This was a pattern for Raley last year as well, as his ERA was one to two points higher than his advanced stats.

And of course, Joe Smith, who can only get better...or else. He should, but will it be good enough to be considered reliable?

Obviously, it’s only one month. Lots can change, and will. But I will try to bring you these statistical snapshots every month.

Editor’s note: The pitching stats include performances up to and including May 1, 2021.