Ryan Pressly has been the one constant in the Astros’ volatile bullpen. It’s been that way since 2020 when injuries decimated the relief staff and forced the veteran righty to carry a unit comprised almost exclusively of rookies. Little has changed in 2021.
Although the Astros signed experienced, proven relievers such as Ryne Stanek and the yet-to-pitch Pedro Báez last offseason, the struggles in the middle and late innings have persisted throughout much of the season. Even 37-year-old Joe Smith, a key cog during the club’s World Series run in 2019, has been ineffective when on the mound after returning to the team following his opt-out in 2020.
In February, I detailed Pressly’s remarkably consistent performance of the past few years. He’s quietly been one of baseball’s best relief pitchers for some time. Now as a full-time closer in a normal, non-pandemic season, the 32-year-old is as good as he’s ever been.
In terms of saves, Pressly merely ranks 14th, but he’s blown just one, and the lone occurrence came in May when first baseman Taylor Jones failed to catch a foul pop-up to end the game, allowing Padres superstar Fernando Tatis Jr. to launch a home run on the next pitch.
On the season, Pressly has a superb 1.54 ERA. His 1.7 fWAR is tied for second among all relievers. He’s excelling in nearly every facet of pitching, as evidenced by his Statcast profile. He’s racking up strikeouts, rarely issuing walks, and the only home run he’s served up all year occurred because a defensive miscue gave the most talented young hitter in baseball another chance.
Given the Astros’ lack of reliable late-inning options, Pressly’s steadfastness this year has been invaluable. It was on full display over the weekend against the Indians, as Dusty Baker had to go to his ninth inning man three times in three days. Cleveland hitters had no answer.
What’s encouraging for Pressly going forward is his velocity. A year after elbow soreness lowered his fastball velo, the former 11th-round pick is effectively throwing as hard as he ever has. This development makes his devastating curveball and exploding low-90s slider virtually impossible to square up.
Former general manager Jeff Luhnow did the organization a solid when he extended Pressly right before the 2019 season, which at the time was scheduled to be the hurler’s last in Houston before hitting free agency. The newly-minted 2021 All-Star is the complete package out of the bullpen and is vital to the Astros’ success.
Lefty Blake Taylor said it best following Friday’s win: “This is a big spot, so just get the ball to Pressly.”