The Bullpen Just Got Better


Jesse Crain (Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports)

Watching the Houston Astros all of last season, everyone knew the bullpen was a glaring weakness. Honestly, you didn’t even have to watch the games, and most fans couldn’t, to know that.

Entering this off-season Jeff Luhnow made it known that he was looking to improve the much maligned bullpen for 2014. Luhnow also cleared out a spot on the 40-man roster two weeks ago by out righting Rhiner Cruz to AAA Oklahoma City.

Today, Luhnow made good use of the open roster spot by signing Jesse Crain to a one-year contract. The 32-year old reliever, who played his college ball for the Houston Cougars, had a minuscule 0.74 ERA over 38 games last season prior to being shut down with a strain to his pitching shoulder. Crain also had surgery after the season to deal with his biceps inflammation. All indications are that Crain is healthy, and he should slide right into the late innings bullpen mix.

In his 10 year career, Crain has appeared in 532 games and has a 3.07 ERA and 1.24 WHIP. The right-hander only has four saves, but he does have 125 career holds.

Over the last four seasons, Crain has come into his own as a reliable set up man recording ERA’s of 3.04, 2.62, 2.44, and 0.78 respectively to go with WHIP’s of 1.24, 1.08, 1.24, and 1.15. He also struck out 238 batters in 218 innings.

Crain has done a very good job of keeping baserunners stranded over the last three seasons, averaging about an 85% LOB rate. The advanced ERA stats also support Crain’s performance over the last few seasons as he will prove to be a valuable addition to the late inning collection of arms for the Astros.

The difference between Crain and the other two bullpen arms added so far this off-season, Chad Qualls and Matt Albers, is that Crain relies much more on the strikeout than his new bullpen mates who are ground ball pitchers. It is important to have a variety of pitchers to call upon in the bullpen as Luhnow closed out 2013 well with this move. There are now some proven options for Bo Porter to call upon in relief.