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Bryan Abreu: Astros Rising Star?

Reliever Bryan Abreu has been a shutdown pitcher in the World Series, reflecting break out performance this season

MLB: World Series-Houston Astros at Philadelphia Phillies
Houston Astros relief pitcher Bryan Abreu (52) pitches against the Philadelphia Phillies during the seventh inning in game four of the 2022 World Series at Citizens Bank Park.
Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Bryan Abreu was the first pitcher in relief of Cristian Javier in the Astros’ World Series no

MLB: World Series-Houston Astros at Philadelphia Phillies
(L-R) Houston Astros relief pitcher Rafael Montero (47) relief pitcher Bryan Abreu (52) starting pitcher Cristian Javier (53) catcher Christian Vazquez (9) and relief pitcher Ryan Pressly (55) pose for a photo after throwing a combined no-hitter in a victory over the Philadelphia Phillies in game four of the 2022 World Series at Citizens Bank Park.
Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

hitter. And Bryan Abreu was masterful. He looked unhittable, striking out the side. But it’s not just that game which impresses this post season. In 9 innings pitched in the playoffs this year, Abreu has allowed no runs, 4 hits, and 16 K/9. At times fans have asked, “Where’s Stanek?” during the post season. Although Ryne Stanek had a great season out of the bullpen, Abreu’s emergence as a shut down force this post season is probably a factor in the somewhat diminished usage of Stanek.

Abreu’s Evolution

Abreu’s 2022 season can be rightfully viewed as a break out for the 25 year old relief pitcher. But the interesting story is the evolution of Abreu’s performance over his career. Abreu arrived in the major leagues at the age of 22 in 2019. He was a hard throwing prospect who some viewed as a potential future starting pitcher. By 2021, Abreu was seen as a pitcher with top tier stuff but poor control. Abreu spent most of 2021 moving back and forth between AAA and the major league club.

At times Abreu tantalized fans with an impressive relief performance, only to be followed by terrible clunkers in which he had trouble putting the ball in the strike zone. By the end of 2021, Abreu’s standing among fans (not the team) seemed to at a low point. Astros’ pitching guru Brent Strom had always been high on Abreu’s potential, and the team didn’t give up on Bryan. In 2022, Abreu made the 26 man roster out of spring training, and his early performance was encouraging. Abreu continued to exhibit his terrific stuff—a high velocity fastball and a sharp breaking slider—but his command was much better.

Another amazing aspect to Abreu’s rise in 2022 is the continued improvement in control and command over the course of the season. His production out of the bullpen advanced from good to elite by the end of the season. The improvement over the course of 2022 is apparent in stats below.

(First Half) / (Second Half)

BB/9 4.36 / 3.29

K/BB 3.06 / 3.90

K% 34% / 37.5%

FIP 2.26 / 1.94

WHIP 1.39 / .89

Batting Average .242 / .161

ERA 3.00/ 0.55

The comparison below shows the dramatic improvement between 2021 and 2022.

2021 Season Vs. 2022

(2021) / (2022)

BB% 11.2% / 10.5%

K% 22.4% / 35.5%

Velocity 95.8 / 97.3

WHIP 1.47 / 1.17

Batting Average .242 / .161

ERA 5.75/ 1.94

Some other characteristics of Abreu’s break out season:

  • Abreu has been more effective against LHBs than RHBs. His FIP against LHBs is 1.81 and against RHBs is 2.42. Abreu has not allowed a HR from the LH side. Undoubtedly this has made Abreu particularly useful against the Phillies, who have lefthanded power in the lineup.
  • Abreu’s spin rates for 2022 is higher than 2021 across the board for fastballs, curveballs and sliders.
  • Abreu’s suppression of melt down innings has been dramatic between 2021 and 2022. In 2021 he had 12 melt downs compared to 6 in 2022 (with all six in the first half of the season).

The Future

If Abreu continues his improvement—or even just stays at the performance level of 2022—the future looks very bright. And that would mean good news for the Astros. Abreu has just over a year of service time, and will not be a free agent until 2027. Is Abreu a future set up man? A future closer? I also think he could be very valuable as a flexible high leverage reliever who is inserted into any high leverage inning as needed. Furthermore, Abreu’s ability to pitch multiple innings could allow the Astros to fashion other unique roles for him—from spare starting pitcher to multiple inning fireman.