Should the Astros be worried about the bullpen?
By Cody Poage
Much has been made of the Astros’ bullpen and its usage since the end of May. Should we actually be concern?
Before you get the wrong idea, I am leaning towards the notion that the Astros bullpen will be fine. This “if”, though, will need certain criteria to take place before coming to pass. Some of you may panic by reading this statement, but I can’t help you at this point. You have already made up your mind.
Anyway, as we all know by now, the Astros bread-and-butter this season have been the offense and the bullpen. While the starting rotation, when healthy, has been a main contributor to the team’s success in 2017, the continued health issues are a concern. Until this changes, the bullpen will continued to be counted on to pick up the slack.
For example, the Astros starting rotation in the last thirty days has thrown 136 innings, which is ranked 26th out of all MLB teams. The bullpen has thrown 103.1 innings in the last thirty days, which is fourth out of all MLB teams. This could be an issue if the Astros aren’t careful.
Big picture context is needed, though, before I delve further. The Astros starting rotation on the season has thrown 458 innings this season entering today. Out of all MLB teams, this the 18th-highest pitch total for a starting staff. The Astros bullpen has thrown 290 innings this entire season, which is the sixth-highest in baseball.
Here is a breakdown by month through June.
There is no denying the Astros bullpen has been used more because of the starting rotation’s injury issues. While Brad Peacock, Francis Martes and David Paulino has filled in with relatively passable results in the rotation, you can’t simply replace the pitchers Houston lost to the disabled list. One silver lining as of late has been the return of Lance McCullers, so there’s that.
In terms of individual bullpen usage, the Astros have relied heavily upon the likes of Chris Devenski (50 IP) and Michael Feliz (38 IP) this season. In fact, the Astros already have six relievers who have pitched more than 30 innings. The one fine detail I would be neglectful not to include would be the Astros have utilized an eight-man bullpen most of the season. This has taken some of the burden off the main relievers.
Going forward, the bullpen, like the starting rotation, should receive some reinforcements following the All-Star break. For example, Peacock will likely transition back into the bullpen once Dallas Keuchel and Charlie Morton return to the active roster. A ‘pen with Ken Giles, Will Harris, Devenski, Feliz, Luke Gregerson, Tony Sipp, Peacock and an eighth reliever will be the likely group.
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Thus far, the Astros have yet to feel much in terms of negative ramifications from their bullpen’s usage. Sure, a loss here or there was courtesy of a reliever(s) giving up multiple runs. But every team runs into these issues. If the starting rotation fails to regain their collective health, then the usage of the bullpen in the second half should concern you.
**Statistics courtesy of Fangraphs**