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The Astros Have A Month To Figure Out The Bullpen

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The roller-coaster ride named “Relief Volatility” was on full display in Houston during the past week.

MLB: Baltimore Orioles at Houston Astros Erik Williams-USA TODAY Sports

On June 22, I wrote about growing a bit more optimistic about the Astros’ bullpen considering their performance throughout the month. Here were some numbers for the month up to that date and where this unit was ranked across baseball. It was actually encouraging stuff considering the rough start to the season. Plus, these numbers were generated against some of the better offenses in baseball at the time. The overall trend was positive as we inched closer to July.

  • 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%)

Alas, the last seven days occurred, and the bottom has fallen out again. A 7.01 ERA and a walk rate of 12 percent against the Tigers and the Orioles don’t strengthen this group’s case. Eliminate infielder Robel Garcia’s relief appearance, and the bullpen’s ERA in the last seven days improves to 5.84. Also, this bullpen had some less than ideal circumstances to deal with during the last week with Jose Urquidy’s injury early in his last start, in addition to some arms being unavailable due to workloads. So, it wasn’t quite as dreadful as one might assume, but still mightily bad.

As we already know, a bullpen is rather volatile in terms of performance. Relievers can look great one week and terrible in the next. Or just meh most of the time. It is one reason why clubs will sometimes overpay for a proven reliever in free agency or through a trade. Teams want reliability from an inherently unreliable group of players. There are exceptions, of course, but the class of relievers who can lock opposing lineups down consistently are tough to find. Outside of Ryan Pressly, the Astros honestly possess little to what constitutes a reliable staff. Too many hits in quick succession or too many walks are a common theme with this unit, especially in the past week.

It is becoming more apparent that general manager James Click needs to address the bullpen in some fashion by the trade deadline by the end of this month. Yes, this plan might hinge a bit on the trio of Pedro Báez, Josh James, and Austin Pruitt and their return to the active roster. But with little room under the tax threshold, the front office probably views those internal reinforcements as their main trade deadline acquisitions.

That said, the pressing question in July is how proactive the Astros will be as we approach the trade deadline. I hope they’re scouring the market to find some way to improve, even if it is on the margins. In other words, the overall depth situation needs to be addressed. They have a month to figure it out, and which route they take may determine their ultimate fate in 2021.