What is different with the Astros’ Tony Sipp?
After the 2015 breakout season for Tony Sipp with the Houston Astros, he was the most highly sought after left-hander on the market this past offseason. A former waiver claim by Jeff Luhnow before the 2014 season, it seemed like he found a home with the Astros as he signed a three-year deal worth about $18 million to remain with the squad. Like many Astros’ players, he probably felt like this team had unfinished business.
The thing with left-handed relievers or relievers in general, it’s hard to repeat seasons like he had in 2015. In 2015, he had an ERA of 1.99 in 54 1/3 innings while striking out 62 batters. His confidence last year was at an all-time high, but his struggles this year has lingered. He is the only left-handed pitcher on a team competing for the playoffs, but fans have recently started calling for a trade for a left-handed specialist before the trade deadline.
The 32-year-old Sipp has struggled for most of the 2016 season but had a good May. He pitched in 10 1/3 innings in May, with a 1.74 ERA and ten strikeouts. The other three months, he has struggled with an ERA of 5.40, 12.46, and 13.50 in the other months. He is not going anywhere, and he is still owed about $15 million for the next 2.5 years.
So what is wrong with Sipp this season? Looking at what he throws, you really can’t see why he is struggling. There has not been a noticeable dip in velocity of his pitches.
There was a slight drop in his changeup, but that could be due to the lack of confidence that Sipp has this season. He has struggled with pitch selection as well and finishing the batter. Last season, hitters struggled versus Sipp with a .205 batting average, and he stranded 88% of the runners on base. This year, Sipp is allowing an alarming batting average of .317 while only stranding 76% of the runners on base.
He is allowing more balls in play, more specifically, more fly balls. These fly balls are turning into home runs as his home runs per nine innings rate has increased from 0.83 to 2.28. Strikeouts are down, and he is allowing more hard-hit balls, but he is the token lefty in the bullpen, for now. The Astros could trade for a second lefty, but the Astros have too much invested in Sipp just to cut him.
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Hopefully, Sipp uses the break as a chance for a restart. One thing Astros fans have to look forward to is that last season, he was lights out in the second half. In the first half last season, Sipp had a 3.06 ERA. In the second half, he became A.J. Hinch‘s ‘number one guy,’ (in my best Joker’s voices) with a 0.41 ERA. At least he can get left-handers out.
Wait, he’s allowing a .314 batting average with a .935 slugging percentage versus left-handed hitters. If you think that’s crazy, he is allowing a batting average of .320 with a slugging percentage of 1.006. So basically, these numbers tell you that everyone that Sipp faces is a Josh Donaldson or Mike Trout type of player.
Whatever is really wrong, as Astros fans, we have to hope that somehow he straightens up. We have two and a half more seasons with Sipp. To go deep in the playoffs, we need the dominating presence on the mound that he was during the stretch run and playoffs last year.
***Stats from Fangraphs***