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Astros May Statistical Month in Review: Pitching

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Hold your breath. Help is on the way.

Boston Red Sox v Houston Astros Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images

In the April installment of this monthly statistical series, we noted above-average pitching results and then asked: is it sustainable?

Once again we find that overall the Astros still have an above-average team ERA, but that peripheral stats again predict negative regression. And in agreement with what anyone who watches the games would have noticed, there has been improvement in the starting pitching, but a steep decline in the quality of the bullpen in May.

The following is a chart of key result-oriented and more advanced performance and future-oriented stats and how the Astros compare to the American League.

May and Overall Astros Pitching Staff Stats + League Rank

Month ERA/rank SIERA/rank xFIP/rank K%/rank BB%/rank BA/rank WHIP/rank BABIP/rank
Month ERA/rank SIERA/rank xFIP/rank K%/rank BB%/rank BA/rank WHIP/rank BABIP/rank
April 3.69/4th 3.86/8th 4.17/10th 24.1%/6th 8.0%/7th .220/4th 1.15/2nd .266/13th
May 3.98/6th 4.15/10th 4.27/11th 23.8%/9th 10.0%/12th .218/3rd 1.24/5th .255/14th
Overall 3.89/4th 4.01/8th 4.21/10th 24.0%/8th 9.1% 11th .220/4th 1.20/4th .262/15th

The Astros maintained fourth rank in ERA for the season, but their ranking in May dropped to sixth. For the season the Astros staff has allowed 206 earned runs. sixth in the league, and for May they allowed 109 runs, 5th in the league.

Last month we noted that the Astros appeared to have luck preventing home runs despite allowing a high percentage of fly balls. This situation has equalized, with the staff allowing 39 homers in May, compared to only 30 in April.

Just like last month, the Astros staff’s peripheral numbers are worse than the actual ERA, thus predicting negative regression. The BABIP was low in April, and dropped to a ridiculous .255 in May, again indicating that the Astros staff has been pitching in to some good luck, unfortunately.

The Astros staff is among the league leaders at preventing hits, but besides susceptibility to the long ball, they also allow more than the average number of walks.

Let’s break down the staff by starters and relievers for May and overall.

Starters

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Month ERA/rank SIERA/rank xFIP/rank K%/rank BB%/rank BA/rank WHIP/rank BABIP/rank
Month ERA/rank SIERA/rank xFIP/rank K%/rank BB%/rank BA/rank WHIP/rank BABIP/rank
April 3.47/2nd 4.06/8th 4.28/11th 23.6%/7th 7.6%/7th .217/2nd 1.11/3rd .264/12th
May 3.28/4th 3.94/5th 3.95/5th 25.4%/6th 8.5%/9th .198/2nd 1.06/3rd .229/14th
Overall 3.45/3rd 3.99/6th 4.09/9th 24.6%/6th 8.1%/8th .208/3rd 1.09/2nd .247/15th

The Astros starters’ ERA dropped in May, but their league rank went up. Peripherals dropped slightly as well, but are still well above ERA, and the BABIP was the 2nd lowest in the league for May, and lowest in the league for the season.

Does this low BABIP indicate that pitching to soft contact is a strategy for the Astros? Actually, the Astros entire staff was dead last in soft contact at 14.1% in May, but overall their 17.3% rate is fourth-best in the AL. Per Fangraphs, the Astros are the 5th best in avoiding hard contact, and per Statcast they are #2. (36.6%) The Astros also have the 5th lowest EV in the AL (88.7). So not just inducing soft contact, but avoiding hard contact appears to be the key.

Relievers:

Astros May Bullpen

Month ERA/rank SIERA/rank xFIP/rank K%/rank BB%/rank BA/rank WHIP/rank BABIP/rank
Month ERA/rank SIERA/rank xFIP/rank K%/rank BB%/rank BA/rank WHIP/rank BABIP/rank
April 4.00/8th 3.58/7th 4.00/9th 24.9%/6th 8.6%/9th .225/7th 1.21/10th .271/10th
May 5.13/13th 4.46/15th 4.79/14th 21.5%/14th 12.3%/11th .249/9th 1.54/14th .292/8th
Overall 4.55/12th 4.02/11th 4.39/13th 23.2%/13th 10.4%/9th .237/10th 1.37/11th .282/10th

Every Astros fan already knows what this graph says: the Astros bullpen was terrible in May.

They rated in the bottom three in ERA, xFIP, SIERA, K%, and WHIP. The BB% went up almost four percentage points. BABIP was average so you can’t blame luck.

As Earl Weaver once said to an umpire: “are you going to get any better or is this it?”

Hopefully, with players returning from IL the answer regarding the bullpen is better. If there are any championship aspirations it needs to be.

Individual Starter Statistics: (25 IP min)

Individual Starters Stats, May

Pitcher ERA May/overall xFIP May/Overall WHIP May/Overall BABIP
Pitcher ERA May/overall xFIP May/Overall WHIP May/Overall BABIP
Cristian Javier 4.82/3.14 4.88/4.19 1.18/1.03 .210
Luis Garcia 3.12/3.15 3.57/4.06 1.00/1.05 .220
Lance Mccullers Jr. 2.52/2.96 3.54/3.84 1.28/1.16 .242
Zack Greinke 3.89/3.67 3.85/3.99 1.11/1.13 .278
Jose Urquidy 1.14/3.02 3.55/4.32 0.68/0.99 .243

Imagine a rotation in which every pitcher was a second in the rotation kind of guy. That’s the Astros rotation so far. No true ace, but all #2’s. At least so far, going by ERA.

For pitchers with more than 20 innings, McCullers is rated #14 league-wide, Urquidy #16, Javier #21, Garcia #22, and Greinke #32.

Of course, we see Javier trending down in May, and with Framber Valdez and Jake Odorizzi back from IL, he will be a welcome addition to the bullpen. But in May we see Urquidy trending up, and in his last two starts, Luis Garcia has pitched 13 innings and allowed only 2 runs. When Lance McCullers returns from IL it will be tough to send either Garcia or Urquidy to the pen.

Beginning the season who would have thought the Astros would have this kind of depth or overall performance at starting pitching, especially without Valdez or Odorizzi up to now.

Individual Performances: Bullpen

Individual Reliever Performances, May

Pitcher (10+ IP) ERA May/Overall xFIP May/Overall WHIP May/Overall BABIP Overall
Pitcher (10+ IP) ERA May/Overall xFIP May/Overall WHIP May/Overall BABIP Overall
Ryan Pressly 3.75/2.35 3.07/2.52 0.83/1.00 .300
Kent Emanuel 3.38/2.55 5.05/4.15 1.25/0.91 .174
Ryne Stanek 5.06/3.52 7.07/4.99 2.06/1.26 .196
Brandon Bielak 4.66/3.97 5.38/4.63 1.55/1.24 .268
Ryan Abreu 3.75/4.21 4.43/4.55 1.42/1.32 .269
Brooks Raley 7.20/7.29 2,78/3.03 1.70/1.43 .364
Joe Smith 4.70/7.04 3.88/4.14 1.83/1.96 .426
Andre Scrubb 6.75/7.62 6.00/6.35 1.67/1.85 .257

Even Ryan Pressly didn’t look so great in May. You know you’re in trouble when Bryan Abreu and Kent Emanuel have the lowest ERA’s in your bullpen for the entire month.

The confounding discrepancy between the ERA of Brooks Raley and his peripheral stats continues to...well... confound. The BABIP gives a clue. His xERA for the season is 3.63. Only Pressly and Emanuel are better.

This won’t do, but barring new injuries, help is on the way.

See ya next month.