Much has been made of the Houston Astros recently improved bullpen.
From the addition of Ken Giles to the return of Tony Sipp, the Houston Astros seem determined as ever to ensure that another eighth-inning meltdown in the playoffs doesn’t happen again. Or at least trying to lower the odds by a significant margin.
And for the first time in years, the bullpen from the previous campaign projects to remain largely intact. Josh Fields, Luke Gregerson, Pat Neshek, Will Harris, and Sipp will be familiar sights in the orange-and-blue. Of course, there is the Giles addition. Chad Qualls will be the only notable subtraction as he moved on to the Colorado Rockies in the offseason.
Going forward it is only natural to assume that Giles will be named as the club’s closer, or as I fancy to call the role, a “high-leverage” reliever. Gregerson will likely be transitioned back to his familiar set-up role with a combination of the remaining relievers being used for the earlier innings when the need calls for it.
This could be an impressive one-two punch in the Astros bullpen during high-leverage situations. Giles provides the Astros the “flamethrower” that the team desired heading into the offseason. Courtesy of his mid-to-upper 90’s four-seam fastball and slider combination, the 25-year old reliever brings an 11.19 K/9 in 2015 that adds another dimension to the ‘pen. His exit velocity tends to show a pitcher that relies on his high heat, which wasn’t a strength for the Astros last season.
Courtesy of Baseball Savant
Gregerson on the other hand, with his ground ball tendencies, will give manager A.J. Hinch a different type of option in late-inning situations. And when comparing his exit velocity graph to Giles, you can see where the veteran reliever tends to get punished high up in the zone based on his repertoire.
Courtesy of Baseball Savant
It makes sense that Gregerson, the ground ball specialist, would have a lower exit velocity in the middle to lower portion of the strike zone while Giles, the flamethrower, would see his lowest exit velocity in the upper portion of the zone. But the possibility of an effective one-two in the bullpen is very real.
Take into account how the two relievers could be utilized in conjunction with better counter an opponent’s lineup. If a certain portion of that lineup is vulnerable to producing ground ball outs, then pitching Gregerson may be a wise choice. The same goes for Giles for any hitters that have a tendency to strike out. And this could be the case no matter the inning. However, that won’t always be the case depending on the how the opponent’s lineup is constructed and game flow. At the end of the day, this is just my observation, but I think it could be an interesting thought on potential bullpen usage, especially if the Astros truly want to buck the trend of traditional closer use.
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Besides Giles and Gregerson, it remains to be seen how the remaining arms in the bullpen will be used. Will Harris, based on his outstanding 2015 season, will probably be the favorite for the seventh inning role. Sipp will be the lefty specialist, and will occasionally pitch against right-handed foes. Neshek and Fields will also be in the mix depending on the game situation. The Astros will probably add another reliever to the mix to help provide depth at various points in the season. But there is no telling if they will give the job to a young pitcher from the minors or take a shot on another veteran arm. Another left-hander isn’t out of the question.
Honestly, this is the most promising bullpen the Astros have assembled under Jeff Luhnow’s watch. While the Giles-Gregerson-Harris trifecta may not remind anyone of the Billy Wagner–Octavio Dotel–Brad Lidge version from 2003, they just may end up being the best thing since then. But for once, this is a bullpen that we can all be proud of.
**Statistics provided by Fangraphs**
**Exit velocity provided by Baseball Savant**