We have seen it first hand.
The other case study is a very interesting one. 2019 Washington Nationals ended up winning the World Series despite having historically bad bullpen. The Nationals had the worst ERA (30th) in the late innings of games and were 26th in WHIP for the 2019 regular season. Neither their four primary bullpen guys (Sean Doolittle, Joe Ross, Daniel Hudson, Wander Seuro) had an ERA under 4.10. At one point of the season their team ERA was almost 8.00.
How did the squad do it? Again, it was offense. The Nats were an elite offensive team that season – finishing 5th in OPS, and 6th in team batting average. The combination of Anthony Rendon, Juan Soto, Trea Turner and Howie Kendrick (along with other solid batters) was a fearsome batting lineup to get through for all pitchers. This potent offense kicked into high gear during the second half of the season and really carried their team through the postseason as they beat the Dodgers, the Cards, and eventually the Astros.
More from Climbing Tal's Hill
- 2 Teams Are Holding Fire Sales. Who Should the Astros Take?
- Houston Astros: 3 Reasons Josh Bell Should Be Top Trade Target
- 3 Outfielders to Target if Andrew Benintendi Goes Elsewhere
- Series Recap: Astros Show Up in Biggest Matchup Yet
- 3 Astros Trade Targets on Teams Falling Out of Playoff Race
But it wasn’t just their offense. If you investigate their numbers deeper, you’ll see that their historic bad pitching was weighed down more during the early part of the season, where their pitching staff was mired with injuries and poor play. They picked up their performance more and more as the season waged on, finishing 10th in late inning ERA and 11th in WHIP for the month of September.
The other half of this story was the elite starting pitching with Stephen Strasburg and Max Scherzer, both perhaps playing their best baseball of their career in those final months of the season through the playoffs. Strasburg finished 5-0 and World Series MVP, whereas Scherzer was 3-0 and just dominant in key games throughout the playoffs. And again, with a shortened rotation, Washington was able to use Patrick Corbin as a starter and a relief pitcher which took pressure off their weak bullpen.
So, what does this tell us?
If you want to win a World Series, you generally must have elite late inning pitching – unless you have the best offense in baseball and a top-heavy starting pitching rotation.
Houston certainly has the offense for the task – this year’s Astros is again the best offense in baseball, ranking 1st in OPS, 1st in batting average, 11th in walks, 6th in slugging, and have the fewest strikeouts of any team in baseball. What might be lacking is the elite Cy Young-level top rotation starters. Yes – Zach Greinke is a Hall-of-Famer, and we think the world of Framber Valdez and Lance McCullers, but the top of the rotation just doesn’t have the sheer dominance compared to the 2019 Nats or even the 2017 Astros.
Better depth in the bullpen will be needed if Houston plans to make a deep run at a title. The return of a both Pedro Baez and Josh James, along with potential trade deadline moves for another arm might be enough to shift this Astros bullpen from being subpar to… just par.
And with this amazing offensive lineup, perhaps that will be enough.