For anyone in baseball, it would have been difficult to see what was coming for Ryne Stanek when he signed to play for the Astros. At the end of the day, it was a low-profile, one-year deal for a reliever that registered an ugly 7.20 ERA over 10 innings in 2020 for the Marlins. But for both Houston and Stanek, it has been a pleasant and even surprising link.
Stanek’s first deal with the Astros wasn’t a headline. He profiled as a reliever that could pile up lots of strikeouts, but he had struggled with control (a career 4.5 BB/9 ratio) and to keep runners off base (1.321 lifetime WHIP). As a result of those two factors, his ERA as a major-leaguer through 152 appearances was 4.00.
“Obviously, the Astros have shown a really good track record of helping guys get better, and that’s the whole plan – to come out here and play better and win,” Stanek said when the team made his signing official in January 2021. And, certainly, he has gotten better.
Since joining the ‘Stros, Stanek’s pitched for a 2.60 ERA, a 1.175 WHIP, and even though he’s still giving up lots of walks, Stanek lowered his H/9 ratio from 7.4 (2017-2020) to 5.8 (2021-2022).
Stanek, a three-pitch pitcher, is throwing his fastball harder than ever (averaging 98.8 miles per hour) and enjoys an elite combination between his four-seamer and his split-finger pitch, a delivery he’s using more consistently since getting to Houston and is ranked among baseball’s best splitters this season. In fact, his fastball velocity ranks fourth in the American League, behind only Jhoan Durán (100.6 MPH), Emmanuel Clasé (100.1 MPH), and Andrés Muñoz (99.9 MPH).
The 30-year-old righty has developed a great ability to fool hitters. According to FanGraphs, Stanek owns the second-lowest percentage of pitches in the strike zone among all MLB relievers (32.4%). Considering that 44% of his pitches were in the zone during his season debut (2017), Stanek has diminished that mark by more than 10 percent. Despite having that number, Stanek is getting swings at 47.7% of his total pitches. That’s partially the reason for his high 35.7 whiff percentage (Baseball Savant).
This season, Stanek should’ve been selected to the All-Star Game for his great numbers. Currently, his ERA sits at 0.63 after 31 appearances and 28 2/3 innings pitched, with only 16 hits allowed and 31 strikeouts. In addition, the veteran righty has a 2.97 FIP, a 1.081 WHIP, and a 9.7 SO/9.
In Houston, Ryne Stanek went from being just another reliever to being a key man for the late innings. A man that has not allowed a run since April 27 and carries the longest active streak of scoreless appearances in the Majors (25 games). A man of success.