Joe Espada’s bullpen usage is working now, but could cost the Astros down the stretch

Despite the Astros' recent success, they cannot keep using their bullpen the way they are right now.
Baltimore Orioles v Houston Astros
Baltimore Orioles v Houston Astros / Tim Warner/GettyImages

The Houston Astros are on a roll right now and no one with working brain cells should argue otherwise. They were MLB's best team in June, have won five straight series, and are well on their way to their sixth straight series win after Hunter Brown shut down the Blue Jays on Monday.

While any criticism during a hot streak can be considered nit-picky, it is fair to wonder about the long-term impacts of certain decisions, especially when it comes to bullpen usage.

For the 2024 season, the Astros are surprisingly in the middle of the pack when it comes to bullpen innings pitched. While Houston's rotation has been through some real trials in 2024, they have still have put up enough innings to keep the bullpen from being run into the ground during the first half. However, questions about the Astros bullpen management and usage have persisted all season long.

While Houston's relievers as a whole haven't been used any more than the league's average, The Athletic's Chandler Rome correctly pointed out that select Astros arms are getting used a lot more than they should be in less-than-optimal situations, and that could be very problematic if Houston wants to stay hot throughout the second half.

The Astros need to find bullpen arms they can trust in medium-leverage situations

As of July 2, the Astros have six relievers who have made more than 30 appearances this season. That is a lot through the beginning of July. Desperate for wins last month, it feels like manager Joe Espada was using guys like Josh Hader, Ryan Pressly, and Bryan Abreu in games where he should have had lesser arms that were safe to throw in those situations. Ignoring for the moment that Pressly is also having a rough/unlucky season, all three of those guys are on pace to be among the league leaders in appearances in 2024.

Seth Martinez's emergence has been a big help, but he has never made more than 35 appearances in a big league season before and he already has 33. Combine that with a very low strikeout rate and fans should probably expect him to regress in the second half. Tayler Scott is in a similar boat as he doesn't have a track record of maintaining his current workload and has a walk rate that portends bad things on the horizon.

Then, of course, is Rafael Montero. Montero has the experience pitching a lot in a given season, but he may also have the worst contract given to a reliever in all of baseball and has been fortunate to maintain his 4.31 ERA this season given his troubling peripherals.

At some point, the Astros are going to have to find bullpen arms they can trust when Houston has a relatively comfortable lead instead of instantly going to their Big Three. The trade deadline is a prime opportunity to do just that as bullpen arms are going to be readily available. However, the front office can't afford to get those moves wrong or let this opportunity pass them by, or else things could start to get ugly down the stretch as these core guys start to wear down.

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