Astros’ bullpen gambit has been an unmitigated disaster, but is Joe Espada to blame?

Houston's bullpen has been truly horrid in 2024 with no shortage of blame to go around.
Atlanta Braves v Houston Astros
Atlanta Braves v Houston Astros / Tim Warner/GettyImages

Anyone that has been following the Houston Astros this season knows that a big reason that they find themselves in last place in the AL West right now is because of the team's bullpen. Astros relievers currently rank 17th in baseball in fWAR (-0.2), 28th in ERA (5.36), and 23rd in FIP (4.45). When you combine their ineptitude with the fact that they have pitched the seventh most innings almost all big league bullpens in 2024, you have a recipe for trouble.

There are a lot of fundamental roster problems that the Astros carried into the season here. Houston made the choice to let Hector Neris, Phil Maton, and Ryne Stanek leave in free agency which is a lot of innings to cover. Stanek is pitching well for the Mariners and Neris has been average in Chicago, while Maton has struggled in his short tenure with the Rays. The hope was originally that the Astros going out and adding Josh Hader would solve the problem, but so far Hader's been a disaster.

With all of their roster losses and guys regressing into the earth, it is fair to start wondering if there is a fundamental coaching problem in play here with Joe Espada being at the top of that pyramid.

Houston's coaching staff hasn't helped, but they shouldn't shoulder all the Astros bullpen blame

It didn't take long for fans and the media alike to start questioning Espada's bullpen management because that is an easy scapegoat when there is a late-inning collapse. However, it is probably fair to question how Espada has handled things behind the scenes after Houston signed Hader.

It was widely reported that Ryan Pressly was surprised by the decision to just hand the ninth to Hader even if he put on a brave face. Since the start of the season, Pressly has an 8.31 ERA to go along with Hader's struggles. The late innings were supposed to be a strength of this bullpen and it has been anything but that, and there is a realistic chance that they wouldn't be in this position if the whole situation had been handled differently.

However, Espada isn't the one throwing these horrid innings and, arguably more importantly, he isn't handling the everyday coaching duties of the bullpen. With all of the Astros' pitching issues in general, perhaps a change needs to be made with one or both of the Astros' pitching coaches: Josh Miller and Bill Murphy. Maybe there just needs to be an overhaul in the coaching hierarchy and gameplanning responsibilities for the bullpen. Or maybe, just maybe, this is just a short stretch that the team has to weather and everything will work out just fine.

Fans shouldn't expect any wholesale changes immediately as April just isn't when coaching changes or big roster moves happen. However, if we approach the trade deadline and the Astros are in seller mode because they are completely out of it, you can expect heads to roll, with Espada potentially being the easiest guy to blame.

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