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Ryne Stanek: Effectively wild

Unconventional success is still success.

Houston Astros v Cleveland Guardians Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images

2022 has been a banner year for Ryne Stanek.

Once a highly volatile reliever, Stanek has turned into a reliable late-inning option on one of the league’s best teams. He remains a wild hurler, but an effective one.

The Astros’ hulking righty not only owns the lowest ERA on the club’s pitching staff, but the sixth-lowest among all qualified relievers. He’s become one of Dusty Baker’s most trusted high-leverage arms and is the bullpen’s fireman, which befits his long hair and epic mustache.

Registering a 1.28 ERA through 40-plus innings is quite the feat. But with it often comes sustainability concerns, and Stanek’s case is no exception.

Entering Friday, the 31-year-old Stanek has a 92.3 percent left-on-base percentage. If that seems high, it’s because it is. Only three relievers in baseball own a higher percentage.

Stanek has stranded so many runners this year because he’s frequently put them on base via the walk. At 15.2 percent, his walk rate is in the bottom 1 percent of baseball. Only five other relievers have a double-digit walk rate and an ERA under 2.00.

A former first-round pick, Stanek possesses what is perhaps the most explosive arsenal in the Astros bullpen, which leads to a healthy amount of swings and misses. A four-seam fastball that routinely touches triple digits is what garners the most attention, but Stanek’s high-80s splitter is among the game’s best in terms of whiff rate.

He possesses premium stuff, but Stanek’s 73rd percentile strikeout rate is somewhat underwhelming, especially when coupled with an extremely high walk rate.

What’s compensated for a lackluster strikeout-to-walk percentage is elite batted-ball data, headlined by a 2.9 Barrel rate, which is 98th percentile.

It’s an unexpected development given Stanek’s career mark of 8.9 percent, but it’s greatly enhanced his ability to minimize runs. Combined with a .199 batting average against (.197 xBA), it’s easy to see why opposing hitters have largely failed to drive in base runners.

Overall, Stanek’s profile appears to mostly be that of a “effectively wild” reliever, not one that has merely skated by on excessive luck. It’s not without its potential pitfalls, but for the time being, Stanek seems to have formulated an approach that optimizes his results.