Time for a bit of Astros offseason speculation and how it could impact the bullpen.
Yes, the Astros will likely attempt to upgrade the bullpen. While the core relievers such as Ken Giles, Will Harris, Chris Devenski and Joe Musgrove will likely be back in the same roles next season, you can never rule out a chance to improve.
Then there is the ever-changing usage of the bullpen. Starting pitchers are not throwing as deep in games as seasons past, which has required more relief innings. For example, starting pitchers threw 27,412.2 innings in 2016. This innings pitched figure decreased to 26,787.1 in 2017. Here is a helpful tidbit to put into context: starting pitchers threw 28,134.2 innings back in 2007, which was ten years ago. It was as high as 29,299.1 innings in 2011. This innings total has steadily decreased for starting pitchers since then.
Relief pitchers in return threw 16,469.2 innings in 2017. This 2017 total is actually the highest relief inning total in baseball history. And each of the top ten season totals for relievers have taken place in the 2000’s and 2010’s.
Essentially, teams are moving towards are a high usage bullpen model. Starting pitchers are not expected to pitch past the second time in the order in today’s game as much. This makes bullpen construction arguably much more vital to a team’s success than any other time in baseball history.
This leads into the actual topic, which is speculation if Dellin Betances of the Yankees would make sense in the Astros’ bullpen?
Per Anthony Castrovince of MLB.com, he listed the Astros as a trade possibility for two New York relievers: Betances and Adam Warren. Well, today, I would like to concentrate on Betances.
In theory, Betances would be a welcomed addition in Houston. While he had his struggles at various points in 2017, the right-hander had a solid season – 2.87 ERA in 59.2 innings – for the Bronx Bombers. His strikeout numbers in general have remained in the upper 30% range. However, the 16.9% walk rate is definitely troublesome. Out of all qualified relievers in 2017, Betances finished last in walk rate. Betances also finished with a 9.4% and 12.1% walk rate the two prior seasons, so there is a basis for concern. By the way, his career walk rate now stands at 11.3%. It is fair to wonder what a pitching coach like Brent Strom can do with Betances. Remember that Strom has been credited by numerous Astros’ pitchers, including Dallas Keuchel, for turning around their baseball careers.
Castrovince mentions in his article that the Yankees would not want to pay the luxury tax as their payroll approachs $197 million. Both Betances and Warren are arbitration-eligible pitchers so parting ways with one or both could help the Yankees meet their financial goal. Despite his troubles in recent seasons, Betances is likely to see a pay increase over his $3 million salary for this past season courtesy of arbitration.
Adding a pitcher of Betances ilk does make sense for the Astros. For example, Luke Gregerson is coming off the books. Tony Sipp is only under contract for one more season. There is payroll flexibility there. Combine this with the revenue boost that a World Series championship should provide and Houston’s ownership may open up the pocket books to acquire talented players once again.
Another draw to Betances is the fact that he isn’t a free agent till after the 2019 season. He also fits the profile of a change of scenery player. And two seasons of Betances combined with Giles and Devenski is too tempting. The Astros could also utilize him in a variety of roles. The flexibility in the bullpen is another understated part of the equation. High leverage can happen at any point in a game. The ninth inning isn’t as important in many games as important as you are led to believe.
Honestly, I do not expect the Yankees to move Betances unless the financial impact is sufficient. Their front office knows as well as anyone the value of a affordable, solid reliever holds in today’s baseball. New York may also not be ready to give up on Betances. I wouldn’t blame them if they held on to him. But the Astros have the prospect base to at least, in theory, get the Yankees’ attention.
**Statistics and information courtesy of Fangraphs and Spotrac**