Astros: Ryan Pressly and his slider have dominated batters

HOUSTON, TEXAS - JULY 19: Ryan Pressly #55 of the Houston Astros pitches in the ninth inning against the Cleveland Indians at Minute Maid Park on July 19, 2021 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)
HOUSTON, TEXAS - JULY 19: Ryan Pressly #55 of the Houston Astros pitches in the ninth inning against the Cleveland Indians at Minute Maid Park on July 19, 2021 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images) /

Ryan Pressly gave up an earned run last night and that in itself is newsworthy to Houston Astros fans.

It doesn’t take a baseball savant to figure out Ryan Pressly is having a great season, whether the measuring stick is standard or advanced baseball statistics, your eyeballs or good old common sense.

The Houston Astros closer has converted 17 of his 18 save opportunities (94.4%), with the one failure coming after an opportunity to end the game was missed on a foul pop up against the San Diego Padres that Fernando Tatis, Jr. followed with the only home run Pressly has allowed all season.

It was the first time Pressly had been scored on since May 29th, covering 18 appearances.  That run came on a home run, only the second Pressly has allowed this season (both on fastballs). After that came a walk, the seventh Pressly has given up in 2021 but have no fear, Pressly’s season to date is still incredible, even if he proved human against the light hitting Rangers.

The standard metrics show Pressly has given up only 26 hits in 41 innings of work, while allowing only seven walks and striking out 53. That equates to a WHIP of 0.805 and along with an ERA+ of 284 (yes, 284) and FIP of 1.72  just how phenomenal Pressly’s been begins to come into focus.

The more traditional numbers show Pressly with a 4-1 record and an ERA of 1.54.  Those are good in and of themselves, but hardly tell the complete picture of his 2021 season to date. The name Pressly appears in the 90th percentile or better in these advanced stats: xwOBA, xERA, K%, BB%, Chase Rate, Fastball Spin and Curve Spin.

Pressly’s percentile numbers for xBA (87), xSLG (83) and Fastball Velocity (83) aren’t bad either. While batters are hitting Pressly’s  95.6 MPH fastball that spins in the 96th percentile for a .242 average, it’s Pressly’s slider that comes in at 90.6 MPH with the top spin rate in the league (2684) that’s been deadly.

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Opponents are batting .105 and slugging .123 on the slider which Pressly throws 35% of the time.  The metrics do show some expected regression with the xBA of .176 and xSLG of .236 on the pitch, which should not be unexpected.  There’s likely some luck involved in the current numbers and it’s difficult to envision a season of batters batting .105 on any pitch, so there’s a chance for at least some regression over the final two months.

The last two games against the Rangers have been an anomaly for the Astros bullpen, as relievers not named Pressly have combined for 6.1 innings of shutout ball. For the most part this season, when the Astros go to the bullpen you never know what you might get from a 1-2-3 inning to a walk fest, inconsistency being the only consistent thing with the notable exception of Pressly.

Two good games does not a bullpen make though and watching games for me involves counting pitches from the first inning in an effort to estimate how long the starter might go and how many outs the bullpen will need to piece together until it’s Pressly time.

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In a season in which the Astros bullpen is the biggest question mark for the AL West leaders and their World Series hopes, Pressly has been the one consistent and calming force.

After taking a combined no-hitter into the eighth for the second time this season, the Astros ended up beating the Texas Rangers, 4-1. They are back in action to close out the series on Sunday at 1:10 p.m. with Zack Greinke countering left-hander Taylor Hearn.

On the farm, Aledmys Diaz is continuing his rehab assignment in Triple-A, as Alex Bregman could be heading to Triple-A fairly soon. The Astros also signed Yoan Castillo.