When Monday night’s game in Seattle was at a critical juncture, Ryne Stanek was called upon to pitch the eighth inning and protect a one-run lead. The Astros’ hulking hurler responded by doing something he hadn’t done all season: He struck out all three batters he faced. Closer Ryan Pressly was then able to shut the door in the ninth.
2021 has been a rocky season for Stanek. Following an impressive April, he struggled mightily in May and June. The first-year Astro nearly walked as many batters as he struck out during that stretch. But since July, the Astros have seen their enigmatic righty become a consistently effective reliever.
Both Stanek’s ERA and Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) have been under 3.00 the past two months. This is due to several notable improvements.
In terms of fastball velocity, Stanek’s has steadily increased throughout the season and is now sitting around 98 mph on average. It’s certainly quelled any concerns about his average fastball velocity in 2020, which was just below 96.
Throwing hard is what the former first-round pick has always been known for, but erratic control has prevented him from living up to his prodigious stuff on a regular basis. That hasn’t been the case in August.
Stanek’s 8.5 percent walk rate this past month is the low mark for him on the season. Considering he’s 92nd percentile in Whiff rate and 86th percentile in K rate, it’s unsurprising that limiting the amount of free passes has yielded high-quality results.
Additionally, Stanek has shored up another facet of his game which might be equally as important.
Despite possessing electric stuff, the 30-year-old veteran has consistently been barreled up throughout his career. In 2021, his Barrel rate is again below average. But since July 1, he’s been barreled just once. Over that time — in which he’s logged 22.2 innings — he’s allowed just one home run, and it came via that lone barrel.
It appears everything could be coming together for Stanek. Granted, he still walked a good number of batters in July, but it could be telling that his FIP for the month was a stellar 2.34 in spite of the abundance of base on balls.
Stanek is missing bats, racking up strikeouts, limiting hard contact in the air and seems to have a handle on his control. This is a potent mixture for any pitcher.
Given the volatile nature of relievers, particularly one like Stanek, it’s difficult to know if he’ll be able to sustain this kind of quality into September and, more importantly, October. But for the time being, the 6-foot-4-inch, bandana-wearing, trucker-looking flamethrower is pitching splendidly, and it could be a key development for the Astros as they strive to secure their division in the coming weeks.
The data in this article was compiled via Baseball Savant