Astros: As the pitching staff takes shape, what else is missing?
What’s happening with the Astros’ pitching staff is something magical.
After a week of rumors and a roller coaster ride of emotions, the Astros finally grabbed starting pitcher Gerrit Cole. If the rotation wasn’t already deep enough before this acquisition, the rest of the AL has officially been put on notice now.
Pitchers and catchers report in 28 days. The Astros will be marching out with, Justin Verlander, Dallas Keuchel, Gerrit Cole, Lance McCullers and Charlie Morton, presumably as the starting five. We already know how deep our lineup is. And everyone is coming back this season. Also, don’t forget the Astros depth chart is deep. Mainly for the fact that our two top prospects remain here in Kyle Tucker and Forrest Whitley. This Cole trade was a steal.
The Astros did have to part ways with Joe Musgrove, Colin Moran, Michael Feliz and Jason Martin. But this seems like a pitching rotation that may be the best in baseball in many years.
A glance at the bullpen in its current state.
The bullpen, as it stands now employ; Ken Giles at closer. Chris Devenski, Will Harris, Hector Rondon, Joe Smith and Brad Peacock as relievers. Also out there, Anthony Gose, Tony Sipp, Jandel Gustave, Francis Martes and James Hoyt available to find relieving duties this season.
The Astros did what they had to and signed depth to what could arguably be the weaker part of this championship team in adding Rondon and Smith. The loss of Musgrove hurts a little, but this bullpen could bridge the gap between innings just fine.
So, what’s missing?
Musgrove’s departure is undoubtedly the one that hurts the most. By adding Cole to the mix, this leaves question marks on Collin McHugh and his role in 2018.
Sure he could play a role in the bullpen and become a long reliever, but something is still missing in that bullpen. The Astros need a true closer. Most of all, they need a real dependable guy to hand the ball over in the ninth with a one- or two-run lead.
Coffee is for closers, only.
As potent as this offense was, is and will be, the Astros will find themselves in tight games late and who will they count on?
Ken Giles was 1-3 in 2017 with 34 saves and an ERA of 2.30 in 63 appearances. Not a bad year for a closer ranking 8th in total saves and 16th in ERA according to Fangraphs. Giles finished the season 34 of 38 saves while carrying a conversion rate of roughly 89%, which is what you can only ask for in a closer.
Ken Giles gets the whole pot of coffee…in the regular season, that is.
So what ‘s the problem?
We all remember the postseason. He allowed ten runs on 12 hits and had five walks in 7.2 innings. That was all in the first four games of that seven-game series. He never saw the field in games five, six and seven. It could have been the big stage, big moment and just being nervous. But managers don’t have the luxury to allow a funk to come and go. They believe in Giles. Furthermore, we as fans want to see him overcome this forgettable outing. He’s on the roster for 2018 and actually projected to go 3-3 with an ERA of 3.43 saving 16 games in 2018 according to Baseball-Reference. I hope he doubles his save count and cuts his projected ERA in half. But we can’t hope. With a team built to go back-to-back, you can’t just hope.
They truly need a solid closer.
Of the Astros 61 losses, 30 of them were by two runs or less. Talk about close games. I am not blaming the bullpen or Giles for all of these and to be clear, losing only 61 games isn’t something to be ashamed of. But if we are nit-picking at what the Astros need to improve, it’s surely their bullpen.
As of today these four closers who are available. We’ll take a look at them and their stat lines from the previous season.
Greg Holland – 3-6 with a 3.61 ERA and saved 41 games for the Colorado Rockies
Trevor Rosenthal – 3-4 with a 3.40 ERA and 11 saves for the St. Louis Cardinals. Note: Rosenthal is out for likely the entire of the 2018 season due to his recovery from Tommy John surgery
Matt Belisle – 2-2 with a 4.03 ERA and nine saves for the Minnesota Twins
Francisco Rodriguez – 2-5 with a 7.82 ERA and seven saves for the Detroit Tigers
I know a guy…
Let’s throw Tony Watson in this mix. Not your traditional closer, he’s more of an ordinary relief pitcher, but he posted a 7-4 record with a 3.38 ERA in 71 games with ten saves last season. He landed with the Dodgers after a trade and lowered his ERA to 2.70 in his run in Los Angeles. All in all, Watson has a career 2.68 ERA with 30 saves in seven seasons in the majors. Not too shabby.
Additionally, I know the guys here at Climbing Tal’s Hill have also been pushing for him.
But I see Watson as a great fit here. I see him as a solid reliever that could turn closer towards the end of the season should Ken Giles not overcome the rocky postseason he had.
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Finally, If not Watson, and no closer at all this off-season, I would put all my chips in for the Astros to trade for a closer at the next trade deadline because this upcoming season could be something special. The Astros have everything they need to go back to back and make history, and they won’t let the closer position be the Achilles heel.
**Statistics courtesy of Fangraphs, Baseball-Reference and ESPN.com**