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Growing A Bit More Optimistic About The Astros’ Bullpen

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Smoother sailing in June has this unit looking less dreadful.

MLB: Houston Astros at Baltimore Orioles Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

It isn’t a secret that the Astros’ bullpen has been a sensitive subject around these parts. Only seven teams have accumulated less value from their relief corps than Houston’s 0.4 fWAR thus far this season. And an eighth is tied with the same fWAR value entering Tuesday. Not exactly a surprising development if you recall that this bullpen was seemingly imploding on a daily basis in May.

  • Fifth-highest ERA (5.13)
  • Third-highest FIP (5.18)
  • Second-lowest fWAR (-0.8)
  • Sixth-lowest K% (21.5%)
  • Seventh-highest HR/FB (15.8%)
  • Sixth-highest BB% (12.3%)

But the month of June is looking different for this bullpen in a positive way, albeit nine games remain for that progress to possibly derail. And while the unit’s overall 4.08 ERA places them firmly in the middle of the relief pack on the season, these more recent performances do spark long-term hope.

  • Fourth-best ERA (2.53)
  • Fifth-best FIP (3.48)
  • Sixth-best fWAR (0.8)
  • Sixth-best K% (27.6%)
  • Third-lowest HR/FB (8.5%)
  • Tenth-lowest BB% (9.1%)

Quite a stark improvement when looking at these figures on June 22 compared to what transpired in the month of May. Those figures are even more impressive once you consider who the Astros have played thus far in June: the Red Sox (6 games), Blue Jays (3 games), Twins (3 games), Rangers (2 games), White Sox (4 games), and Orioles (1 game). Out of those six teams, Boston, Toronto, Minnesota, and Chicago (AL) are all in the top ten in wRC+ across the league.

There are a handful of factors in play as it pertains to this upswing in performance. For one, it helps when a couple of key relievers from last season (Blake Taylor, Cristian Javier) returned to the roles where they can thrive. That is one benefit of multiple starters (Framber Valdez, Lance McCullers Jr., and Jake Odorizzi) returning from injury in short order as they push some of that depth back into relief. That was the case in Javier’s role going forward, who we have seen post a 2.45 ERA in 11 innings of relief. Taylor’s absence from an ankle injury has also beefed up a bullpen that was starting to thin out in May. The southpaw has struck out 35.5 percent of all batters faced in June while allowing only one earned run. Plus, Brooks Raley’s ERA is finally closer to his FIP/xFIP figures than what we’ve seen. So, things are breaking right for this relief staff — for the most part.

The question is whether the Astros can maintain this level of production as we head into July. I do possess some doubt as the depth does drop off relatively quickly once you’re past Javier, Taylor, Raley, and Ryan Pressly on the depth chart. If Ryne Stanek and Joe Smith can return to something even loosely resembling their peak forms, well, that would be lovely. And who knows when at this point when Pedro Báez will this season? But with only five or so weeks until the trade deadline, James Click doesn’t have much time left if he wants to act. But this recent performance in June may brighten this staff’s outlook just a bit as we head into the dog days of summer.