Former Philadelphia Phillies reliever Hector Neris and the Houston Astros are reportedly in agreement on a two-year deal worth $17 million and a team option for 2024, Chandler Rome of the Houston Chronicle reported.
This news comes on the heels of the news that Kendall Graveman reportedly signed a three-year, $24 million deal with the Chicago White Sox.
After the strong 2021 season and postseason Graveman put together, he was going to have many suitors knocking on his door this winter. It’s not clear on whether or not the Astros were really in-play to bring him back.
But, as indicated by the Carlos Correa negotiations, the Astros organization has proven to be stalwart in holding their position of not offering more years than they are comfortable giving. Based on this elementary analysis, the Neris deal would seem to better align with those goals.
Neris, a 32-year-old righty, was called up by the Phillies in 2014 and became a full-time member of the bullpen in 2015. During his eight seasons in the big leagues, Neris has a 3.79 ERA and 520 strikeouts through 407.2 innings pitched.
He has been in and out of the primary closer role throughout his career, posting two seasons with over 25 saves in 2017 (26) and 2019 (28).
The natural reaction to the Astros signing Hector Neris: can he replace Kendall Graveman?
Well, Graveman was definitely a welcomed boost to a much depleted and defeated Astros bullpen this last season. Prior to joining the Astros via trade with the Seattle Mariners, the 30-year-old, right-handed reliever posted a 1.77 ERA through 53 appearances in the regular season.
Specifically during his time with the Astros last season, he sported a more realistic 3.13 ERA through 23 appearances. It was a solid performance, but not quite as untouchable (or perhaps lucky) as he was during his time with the Mariners.
Neris can be that same type of pitcher for the Astros. In 2021, Neris didn’t fair so well in the closer role for the Phillies, a position on the Astros firmly belonging to Ryan Pressly.
After being moved to the setup position in July, Neris posted a 2.51 ERA and 59 strikeouts through 43 innings, all while holding batters to a measly .171 batting average against. He finished third among National League relievers with 74 games and 98 strikeouts. He also ranked 10th in strikeout percentage at 31.6%
If you’re basing comparison solely on results, Neris is certainly on par with Graveman. However, taking a slight detour into some advance analytics, you’d notice that Neris was an extremely effective reliever in 2021. He doesn’t have the physics-defying two-seam fastball that Graveman throws, but Neris has no problem striking out batters with his own set of tools.
Neris’ strikeout pitch is a nasty splitter that had a -6 run value in 2021. Neris also relies on a four-seam fastball, two-seam fastball and to a lesser extent a slider.
He ranks amongst the top of Major League Baseball with a strikeout percent in the 91st percentile, whiff percentage in the 93rd percentile and chase rate also in the 93rd percentile. This is on average 29 percentile higher per category than Graveman in 2021.
The biggest area of concern with Neris, in general, was the 10.3% walk rate he accumulated in 2021. While it’s down from 12.3% in 2020, it’s still a 2.4% higher than his career average prior to 2020.
Neris doesn’t limit himself solely to the strikeout to get batters out, which really differs from Graveman. In 2021, Neris allowed more batted balls than Graveman overall. That’s not always a good thing, right?
Well, if you’re Neris in the 88th percentile in average exit velocity and 50% of your batted balls are on the ground, you’re just the pitcher to put in front of the best defense in the American League.
Whether you believe the Neris is better or worse than Graveman, the Astros spared no expense or time in bringing in one of the top relievers in this offseason’s free agent market.
While he is known for being beloved in the clubhouse for his upbeat nature and team-first attitude, according to NBC Sports Philadelphia insider Jim Salisbury, it should be a lot of fun watching Neris join Ryne Stanek and Pressly at the back of the Astros’ bullpen next season.
After Neris’ signing, the Astros lost two more free agents in Brooks Raley, who signed with the Tampa Bay Rays, and Yimi Garcia, who signed with the Toronto Blue Jays. Neris can help pick up production lost in these two as well.