In case you missed it, the Astros signed a free-agent last week. You’ll be forgiven if this news didn’t capture your undivided attention as the signing involved a nearly 30-year-old reliever on a minor league contract with an invite to Spring Training. Not exactly earth shattering stuff for the casual to even the most ardent fans, especially with a recent pair of high profile hires on the Houston sports scene (Dana Brown, DeMeco Ryans). But Ty Buttrey isn’t without intrigue.
First, a bit of backstory. Buttrey, about to turn 30 in late March, pitched last season for the Angels Triple-A affiliate in Salt Lake City. The results weren’t exactly praiseworthy considering his 5.94 ERA/4.90 FIP in 36.1 innings with a unremarkable 17.9% strikeout rate and 13.7% walk rate. To be fair, Buttrey was working himself back into form following a year away from professional baseball in 2021 due to a diminished desire to play baseball. But the results haven’t been great for a while, dating back to the shortened 2020 season (5.81 ERA in 26.1 innings) when he last appeared in the majors with the Angels.
But the promise shown from those two seasons (3.15 FIP, 27.4% strikeout rate), particularly a four-seam fastball that reached up to 98 to 99 miles per hour, were beginning to become a more distant memory in 2022. Although his velocity began to improve as the summer ramped up, it eventually faded again as Buttrey didn’t fully recapture the same zip that enamored Los Angeles during his best seasons.
However, considering Buttrey’s year-long break from baseball — check out his story with the important details — it isn’t necessarily a surprise that his velocity has yet to fully recover. The hope with further conditioning, especially considering Houston’s reputation in regards about optimizing pitcher performance, is for Buttrey to regain more of his past form or perhaps alter his current approach to compensate for diminished velocity. Concerning? Yes. But hopeless? Not yet.
The allure of Buttrey still lies within how well he operated at the beginning of his major league career, even if removed by multiple seasons now. When his velocity was at his best, Buttrey generated a more than respectable strikeout rate at more than 27% with a manageable walk rate of 7.4%. When his fastball lost some of that zip, however, it led to trouble as opposing hitters slugged .515 against four-seamers in 2020 compared to .378 in 2019. These struggles weren’t limited to his fastball as the results with his slider along with an occasional changeup — his go-to secondary offering against left-handed hitters — also suffered. But his bread-and-butter against right-handed hitters are the fastball and slider, which the latter generated some encouraging results at his best form with noticeable break away.
Again, the primary issue with Buttrey is the decline with his velocity dating back to 2020, with a year off in 2021 also contributing heavily in this regard. Pitching is naturally difficult, even more so following a year off, so it isn’t necessarily a surprise he remains a work in progress. Although the bullpen is arguably set for the Astros, it is a no-risk signing to potentially provide some depth in the near future. In turn, Buttrey has opted for a change of scenery with the hopes of reestablishing his major league career with an organization well-known for reclamation projects on the pitcher’s mound. While this signing may not gather too much attention when it occurred, it could be one everyone looks back upon fondly if the stars align.