Despite Saturday's Blown Save Ryan Pressly's Impact On The Astros Is A Huge Necessity

Although the Houston Astros have struggled this season, closer Ryan Pressly has been the rock that generally shuts the door on any given night when on the mound.
Houston Astros v Texas Rangers
Houston Astros v Texas Rangers / Tim Heitman/GettyImages

The first half of the 2023 season hasn't been pretty for the Houston Astros. With multiple injuries to their offense and pitching rotation, and a three game deficit in the AL West, this year has been the most challenging one yet for Houston in the midst of solidifying their dynasty. That being said, Houston has been resilient. One key piece that has kept them afloat even with their backs against the wall is none other than Ryan Pressly.

Quiet Dominance

Pressly is quietly having another solid season in the Houston Astros closer role. In 40 games, Pressly has a 170 ERA+ along with a 2.96 FIP and a 0.81 WHIP in 41.1 innings. He's also converted 21 out of 25 save opportunities. Even with these numbers, Pressly did not receive an All-Star selection. Arguably, his numbers are better than relief pitchers Kenley Jansen of the Boston Red Sox and Cleveland Guardians' Emmanuel Clase, players who both received 2023 All-Star nods.

While It's certainly a relief to see Pressly dominate given the Astros' struggles, fans will remember that this is nothing new. Aside from a few shaky appearances, Pressly tends to increase the intensity during the dog days of summer into October baseball. Last season, Pressly's performance in the summer consisted of a relief pitchers version of a "perfect game," retiring 27 batters across eight straight appearances.

Even going back to 2019, Pressly set the MLB record for 40 straight scoreless appearances in relief, passing Craig Kimbrel's 39 in 201.

Will This Be His Best Season?

It's certainly debatable that this summer is even better. Since his blown save on June 15th, Pressly went on another consecutive scoreless streak, including not allowing a hit in 10 consecutive appearances, totaling 11 innings. One of these appearances consisted of a clutch six-out save in extra innings against the Astros nemesis, the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Unfortunately, his streak ended Saturday against the Los Angeles Angels. After striking out the side in Friday night's game, Pressly was given the ball again to close out the 9th. Leading 12-9, Pressly gave up a leadoff home run to the MLB's best hitter Shohei Ohtani, ending his scoreless streak. To add insult to injury, Pressly wasn't able to recover, allowing his fourth blown save as the Angels tallied two more runs to tie the game. The Angels eventually went on to win the game 13-12 in extra innings.

Adjusted Pitch Selection

So what is the secret to his overall success? Although his strikeouts per nine took a dip compared to previous seasons, Pressly's inducing more soft contact this year. His ground ball percentage increased by 18% and his BABIP compared to previous seasons (.298 in 2021 and a .268 in 2022.) is a huge improvement, dipping to .227 this year.

At the ripe age of 34, Pressly may be using more of his breaking pitches to increase his longevity in the league. Most effective closers these years rely heavily on their high velocity fastball, but not Pressly. His slider usage is now twice more than his fastball compared to previous seasons. This may be the result of his uptick in more groundballs.

Despite Saturday, Ryan Pressly's continued dominance as the closer for the Houston Astros has been a vital asset throughout the first half of the season. Coming into the second half, it's imperative that this Texas native maintains his stellar performance on the mound. While the Astros' bullpen still grapples with the struggles of former setup man Rafael Montero, the effective collaboration of Bryan Abreu, Phil Maton, and Hector Neris has provided solid support for Pressly in the back end of the bullpen. His impressive stats inspire confidence in fans, even as they eagerly anticipate General Manager Dana Brown's strategic moves to fill the gaps before the trade deadline. The capability of closing out games heavily relies on the performance of Ryan Pressly and the decisions made by the management in the coming weeks.