Earlier this month, I had a short post discussing FanGraphs’ team projections for starting pitching, explicitly highlighting where the Astros were ranked at the time (13th). For the record, Houston is now ranked 12th as February approaches. Even accounting for the loss of Justin Verlander, it does feel like the projections do not fully appreciate this year’s presumed rotation (see: infield flies for Cristian Javier as an example).
That said, I think the projections and subsequent comments (shoutout to Exile and Clack) highlighted the disconnect in my mind between what actually occurred last year and what the computer models are expressing for 2023. For example, the Astros had one of the best defensive teams in baseball, both in the infield and outfield. While the shift will undoubtedly still exist in some fashion, it is worth noting that the incoming rule change could negatively impact how well some pitchers on the staff perform. It is also quite possible, if not likely, we’ll see some regression the other way overall, regardless of defensive performance in light of the new shift restrictions. If anything else, this one projection and various comments did help recalibrate my expectations to some degree, which was probably a good thing.
This leads me to the current projection ranking for the bullpen, which, like the rotation, was among the best in baseball last season. But, according to FanGraphs, it expects regression in overall performance in 2023, down to the 11th overall.
Unlike the rotation, however, I do think there is more of a reason for pause when it comes to the bullpen. For example, while Montero’s numbers last year were undoubtedly impressive (2.37 ERA, 2.64 FIP in 68 1⁄3 innings), there is risk involved in his profile, considering how he has yet to put together back-to-back above-average seasons in his career. Already 32 years old, the potential feels high that Montero will regress at some point during the term of his three-year, $34.5 million contract. The projected figures above from FanGraphs for him don’t feel outlandish to me. Héctor Neris and Ryne Stanek are two other relievers who carry some volatility in their respective profiles, especially if the walks surge. I think Ryan Pressly will outperform his projection above again, although those figures aren’t exactly unbelievable. Bryan Abreu, to me, has the most potential to outperform his projections by a wide margin, especially if he can keep his walk rate manageable.
Like the rotation, I think we will see some regression from the relief corps, in both directions. It wouldn’t shock me at this point if Abreu turns in a better season than even Pressly while someone like Montero or Neris experiences a bit more turbulence. Will the overall unit remain among the best in baseball? Perhaps. Could they also fall back to the pack a bit? Sure. But when push comes to shove, as currently constructed, this bullpen remains a viable one, especially for a club looking to win back-to-back titles.