Astros sign veteran reliever Jared Hughes to minor league deal

The Astros added another arm to the bullpen mix in veteran Jared Hughes.

As of now, the only three players who have guaranteed bullpen spots for the Astros are Roberto Osuna, Ryan Pressly and Joe Smith. Beyond that, it’s largely an open competition for the remaining spots in the team’s relief corps. The club added one more candidate to the mix by inking veteran right-hander Jared Hughes to a minor league deal and inviting him to big league Spring Training.

Hughes, 34, has a career 2.88 ERA in 524 relief appearances across nine major league seasons. He split 2019 between the Reds and Phillies, totaling a 4.04 ERA in 72 appearances. He had a sterling 2018 season for Cincinnati, working to a 1.94 ERA in 72 games and notching seven saves.

He will immediately look to earn a spot in middle relief, which right now is a pretty muddy situation for this team. Guys like Joe Biagini, Chris Devenski, Bryan Abreu, Blake Taylor and others will all be competing for these spots. With his recent and generally sustained success in the big leagues, Hughes seems to have a good chance of making the team.

What the Numbers Say

He’s not at all your typical Astros pitcher. Hughes is a sinkerballer who throws with a sidearm delivery. He threw his sinker nearly 75 percent of the time, which is consistent with his career average, mixing in a changeup, curve, slider and four-seam fastball. His fastball and curveball spin rates are among the worst in the league, and the average velocity on his sinker in 2019 (91.1 mph) was a career low.

But this is not a guy who relies on velocity to be effective — think of him as another Joe Smith. He doesn’t post big strikeout totals, but he’s generally been effective at limiting hard contact. The main thing that hurt him in 2019 was a vastly inflated home run rate, which was the case with many pitchers across the league. We’ll see if those return to normal this year.

Hughes is an extreme groundball pitcher, regularly putting up groundball rates north of 60 percent. This means when a batter puts the ball in play against him, it’s on the ground nearly two-thirds of the time. By contrast, the league average is 45.4 percent.

So if an Astros starter gets into trouble in the middle innings and has to be pulled with runners on base, Hughes would be the guy Dusty Baker goes to when he needs a double play. With some regression to the mean in his home run rate, Hughes could end up being invaluable in that role, if his career numbers are any indication.

Next: Josh James given another shot at rotation

The fact that he was still a free agent at this point is a little shocking, but kudos to new GM James Click for making his first transaction and getting a veteran on a no-risk deal. This could very well turn out to be an excellent first move for this new baseball operations regime.