We’ve all known for a while manager Dusty Baker has consistently preferred having a left-handed reliever on his pitching staff. Under then-general manager James Click, the Astros had several attempts to fill that role to various effects, namely Blake Taylor, Brooks Raley, Parker Mushinski, and Will Smith, in addition to a handful of minor league signings that ultimately didn’t produce the desired results. Before Click’s departure following the World Series, I was curious to see how this dynamic would be addressed again in 2023 between him and Baker. Alas, we won’t see it unfold, for better or worse.
But I predict we could see an increase in lefty relief usage next season compared to past campaigns, depending on the personnel. For example, the Astros’ collective left-handed relievers had faced the fewest batters (194) in 2022 and the fourth-lowest in 2021 (471). Available personnel significantly dictated the usage pattern in 2022, but the overall trend isn’t surprising. That said, it is worth pointing out that Houston had stretches throughout the season, especially before the trade deadline, when they didn’t have a left-handed reliever on their staff. Various right-handers, namely Phil Maton and Héctor Neris, were the primary options against left-handed hitters, thanks to their respective splits. I don’t expect the same development to occur in 2023 if Baker has more sway with roster construction going forward.
The question now is a matter of personnel and what the front office decides to do next. The next general manager will obviously have a say in the matter. Still, the minor league signing of Austin Davis last week indicates that the remaining executives are at least searching for an answer. Various free agents are available, namely Smith, Andrew Chafin, Taylor Rogers, and Matthew Strahm, but I don’t expect the Astros to spend too much money on the bullpen following Rafael Montero’s new contract. Hence, someone like Davis or another minor league signing could have the inside track to a major league role if they perform well enough in Spring Training. Taylor and Mushinski are already on the 40-man roster, so they’ll likely compete for the job as well.
Considering the current state of the bullpen, which was an incredible run-prevention unit in the postseason, I don’t think the Astros will tinker too much with that success, even if Baker has his designated lefty all of next season. But that doesn’t mean Houston won’t look for an adequate answer, whether in-house or from outside of the organization.