Astros: Brooks Raley is in top percentile of these two categories
While the bullpen dilemma has been a reoccurring subject since March, the Houston Astros‘ front office retooled without taking blows to the farm system. For most teams, left-handers are at disposal, but the case is different for Houston.
Only three left-handers stand on the 40-man roster: Brooks Raley, Blake Taylor and Framber Valdez. While Valdez is a starter, Raley and Taylor make up the late-game hands to choose from, but with Pedro Baez returning, chatter has started on who will be designated for assignment to add him to the roster.
Some fans believe Raley has the strongest case based solely on the eye test and ERA stalking, but there is much more to the left-hander’s repertoire that goes unreported. Without many high-leverage arms at disposal, manager Dusty Baker looked to Raley at a higher rate, while in part to his durability and some pitchers being injured down stretch.
With a pitcher likely to be DFA’d, Brooks Raley should be a name out of the conversation.
There is a case that a struggling left-handed pitcher is not much better than a right-handed one, and for the case of the Astros, there are only two left-handers to look to. Raley came back to the major leagues at a difficult time with the three batter minimum put in play, which made his role as a lefty specialist less valuable.
For his 2021 campaign, Raley has posted a 6.39 ERA over 31 innings with 41 punch outs. The left-hander isn’t accustomed to many walks (12 this season), but with an 11.9 strikeout per nine, what is leading to his inflated ERA?
Raley has inherited a high percentage (17% greater the next closest pitcher: Bryan Abreu) of runners this season, and while these don’t affect his ERA, allowing hits and runs scored look worse to the fans criticizing him. In retrospect, the left-hander has been one of unluckiest pitchers in baseball, as he is in the top one percentile in opposing exit velocity and hard hit percentage.
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Soft contact has been a killer for Raley (leads team), whose job is to get out of high-leverage jams in response to a weakened bullpen. While also in top percentiles for spin rate, Raley is above the league average in whiff and chase rate as well.
For some top left-handed relievers, a high-velocity fastball is what they live and die off of, but for Raley, it is one of his underused pitches. While in the bottom seven percentile in the category, the 33-year-old relies more on his slider and cutter.
Comparing that to other relief hands, Raley leads the bullpen in hard hit percentage and exit velocity, as his ERA shouldn’t be his only defiance. The left-hander’s FIP sits at 3.54, as the league average is 4.20 and 3.50 is “great,” according to FanGraphs. In regards to Kendall Graveman and Ryan Pressly, Raley is third in xFIP, as the two closers are the only two to pitch in more high-leverage situations this season.
With Pressly, Graveman and Yimi Garcia making up the backend of the bullpen, Raley could find himself excelling in less high-leverage situations from now on. The left-hander is just an unlucky pitcher; it is as simple as that. With heavy left-handed lineups coming out of the AL East, the Astros would most likely need to use Raley and Taylor for matchups at a higher rate come October.