Astros should take flier on left-handed reliever Jake McGee

The Houston Astros should take a chance on the recently-released Jake McGee.

The Rockies, seemingly always in need of good pitching, recently released a pair of high-priced veteran relievers in Bryan Shaw and Jake McGee. Both had a track record of success before their time in Colorado but saw their numbers drastically inflate after arriving, so the team cut them loose. The Houston Astros would do well to pounce on one of them.

Shaw is reportedly set to sign with the Mariners, but McGee still appears to be out there. The Astros bullpen is, to put it mildly, a mess right now. Joe Smith may not pitch this year, Roberto Osuna may not be ready for Opening Day, and Ryan Pressly is the only known reliable guy they have. Rookie Blake Taylor is the sole left-handed option, so why not take a flier on McGee?

The soon-to-be-34-year-old McGee was an excellent reliever with the Rays in the first half of the 2010s, pitching to a 2.77 ERA in 297 appearances over six seasons. He struck out 11.1 batters per nine in that span and posted a nice 1.017 WHIP. Then he was traded to Colorado.

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In four seasons with the Rockies, McGee compiled a 4.78 ERA in 225 appearances as he saw his strikeout rate plummet and his hit and home run rates jump. There’s a long history of successful pitchers who hit the skids in Colorado before righting the ship elsewhere, such as former Astros Darryl Kile and Mike Hampton. It’s worth a shot to see if McGee will follow suit.

Encouraging Signs

Looking at his splits will paint a pretty nice picture. Last season, McGee pitched to a 5.95 ERA and 1.831 WHIP at Coors Field but just a 2.91 ERA and 1.015 WHIP on the road. He was torched by right-handed hitters but held lefties to a reasonable .693 OPS, so he could very well serve as something of a lefty specialist, even with the three-batter minimum rule going into effect.

McGee relies on just two pitches — a four-seam fastball and a slider. He threw the fastball about 80 percent of the time in 2019, but batters teed off on it to the tune of a .321 average and .657 slugging. His average fastball velocity sat at 93.4 mph, but the spin rate is only in the 37th percentile. One would think pitching coach Brent Strom could help him refine that pitch.

His slider, on the other hand, worked quite well, holding hitters to a .138 average without a single extra-base hit. Some improvement on his fastball usage and a move away from Coors Field could turn him back into a solid relief option, and the Astros don’t really have any reason not to give him a shot.

They’ll only have to pay McGee’s the prorated portion of the league minimum if they sign him, as the Rockies will still be on the hook for the prorated portion of his $9.5 million salary this year. With their beleaguered relief corps and the fact that there’s basically no risk, why not take a chance and see if he bounces back?