Believe it or not, but a certain Astros’ reliever has looked relatively decent in 2018.
Outside of politics, I am not sure if there is a more divisive issue in Houston than the Astros‘ bullpen. Seriously, have you seen the Twitter debates?
In a way, I am somewhat hesitant in writing this post. After all, Tony Sipp along with Ken Giles have been the poster boys of the Astros’ shortcomings in relief. Some of it is deserved. Other times, it is not. But let me put it on record now: Sipp has looked decent this season when you examine in the appropriate context.
How could that be?
Well, for one, Sipp has actually done a good job against left-handed batters. Out of the 23 left-handed batters he has faced in 2018, only two have reached a base. He has held these hitters to a .077 wOBA. Overall, he has allowed just one run and no walks. That’s pretty good. In fact, this is the third-lowest wOBA against left-handed batters from any relief pitcher who has faced at least 20 hitters.
Secondly, the overall results are much more appealing to the eyes.
Sipp, entering Monday’s off-day, currently has a 2.84 ERA, 2.56 FIP, and 3.97 xFIP. He has posted a 0.2 fWAR in 12.2 innings. In comparison, Sipp posted a -0.2 fWAR in 37.1 innings last season and a -0.7 fWAR in 43.2 innings in 2016. Sure, his 0.2 fWAR in early June isn’t all that impressive, but it is a step in the right direction.
That said, there are still causes of concern from Sipp.
While the age-34 pitcher has done well against left-handed batters, right-handed batters have been an issue. Out of the 27 right-handed batters Sipp has faced in 2018, he has allowed seven hits, five of which were for extra-bases, while walking five batters. Overall, he has allowed three earned runs to right-handed batters with a .424 wOBA. That’s not good. Right-handed batters are still a troublesome spot for Sipp.
Strikeouts and walks should also be a concern, albeit the sample size is still relatively small. Currently, Sipp has posted a 22% strikeout rate with a 10% walk rate. When Sipp was at his best for Houston, the walk rate hovered around the 6.9% to 8.6% range. But his walk rate has steadily climbed since his 6.9% walk rate in 2015. In Sipp’s previous two seasons, he has posted walk rates of 9.2% and 9.7%. The strikeout rate has continued to be low when compared to his 31.8% mark in 2014 and 28.7% in 2015. While the strikeout rate did jump by 3.1% from 2016 to 2017, the inconsistency has to be a concern.
Then you have to consider the leverage of a situation.
Over on Sipp’s FanGraphs page, you can find how he performed in the following leverage situations: low, medium, and high. But Sipp has been used mainly in low leverage situations. Not good as the team’s only left-handed reliever despite the results. In fact, he has been used in a low leverage situation in all but three batters he has faced this season. And the three batters he has faced were in medium leverage situations. Not one batter faced in a high leverage spot.
Sipp’s season in a nutshell: good against left-handed batters and bad against right-handed batters. Strikeout and walk rates have climbed while pitch velocity has shown a little improvement. Results are currently positive, but the sample size is still quite small. The lack of high leverage situations makes it a little tricky to properly gauge Sipp’s numbers. The Astros might trust him in more spots over time. I have a feeling the month of June and July will be viewed intently within Houston’s front office to see if his performance merits more high leverage assignments. If not, we may already know the reason why.
**Statistics courtesy of FanGraphs**