Examining the Astros overtaxed bullpen situation

DENVER, COLORADO - JULY 03: Pitcher Roberto Osuna #54 of the Houston Astros throws in the ninth inning against the Colorado Rockies at Coors Field on July 03, 2019 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)
DENVER, COLORADO - JULY 03: Pitcher Roberto Osuna #54 of the Houston Astros throws in the ninth inning against the Colorado Rockies at Coors Field on July 03, 2019 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images) /
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CLEVELAND, OH – OCTOBER 08: Will Harris #36 of the Houston Astros pitches in the ninth inning against the Cleveland Indians during Game Three of the American League Division Series at Progressive Field on October 8, 2018 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images) /

Middle Relief

This group has been somewhat hit-or-miss lately, but there’s enough talent here to be sure. For the purposes of this exercise, I’m including Hector Rondon, Will Harris and Collin McHugh in this category.

Rondon’s been the least effective of this bunch, especially lately. He’s been taken deep in each of his last two appearances, and his ERA has slowly climbed throughout May and June. It’s jumped up to 3.44 thanks to his latest outings.

There’s further cause for concern when looking at his overall numbers. His ERA is respectable, but his FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching) sits at 4.88, suggesting he’s greatly benefited from some good luck in the field. His WHIP is nearly identical to last year’s mark, but there’s an even more worrisome stat.

Rondon’s home run rate has doubled from last year’s, and his walk rate has also spiked. What’s worse, his strikeout rate has declined precipitously, down to just 7.4 per nine innings after being north of 10 in each of the past three seasons. This has resulted in a poor strikeout-to-walk ratio that is much worse than his career average.

On the other hand, Harris has enjoyed a bit of a renaissance this season, although he’s taken a hit lately. He allowed five runs (three earned) across his first three July appearances before striking out the only batter he faced on Saturday. Still, his season ERA sits at 1.91, which would be his best since 2015.

McHugh actually has yet to pitch since the All-Star break, which seems borderline criminal. He’s clearly in no position to move back into the rotation, so he should be utilized out of the bullpen as best as he can. This can only be good for the bullpen as a whole.

McHugh allowed just one run in seven relief appearances since coming off the IL, and he did post a sterling 1.99 ERA in relief in 2018. With Rondon in particular struggling lately, McHugh should get more of those seventh-inning and high-leverage situation assignments. He’s shown he can do it, and Rondon could use a rest.

Still, this is a solid group overall. Perhaps the Astros could add a lefthander to the mix, but they would be in fine shape going into the postseason with these guys forming the bridge to Pressly and Osuna.

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