Monday, June 2, 2014

In Praise of the Astros Bullpen

We have spent a lot of space on this site lamenting the state of the Astros bullpen in recent years. We even adopted the Goatpen moniker to describe their collective performance. Well, it might be time to retire that name.

In April, it was more of the same. Despite Luhnow making the bullpen a priority in the offseason, the Astros ended April with a league worst 5.85 bullpen era, a -.9 WAR and 6 Blown Saves. Jerome Williams led the way with 16 IP and 6.75 ERA, with Bass and Clemens taking the second and third most IP, and put up a 4.61 and and 4.73 collectively. Fields imploded at the end of the month and ended up with a 9.58 ERA, and the designated lefties in the pen, Chapman and Valdes, only pitched 7 innings, but still managed to walk 10 batters.

But May has been a new day. Jerome Williams still leads the way in IP, but has performed better with a 3.86 ERA. And with the rest of the bullpen pitching like they have, he hasn't been asked to preserve many leads in high leverage situations. Tony Sipp has been a revelation, pitching 9.2 innings, and allowing only two singles and an intentional walk, with 13 K's and 0 runs. Qualls has cemented himself in the closer spot, and has also not allowed a run in May. And between Darin Downs (2.16 ERA) and Sipp, they have two lefties who can actually be trusted to pitch to the occasional right handed batter, and who won't walk the lefties they are asked to face. Fields has been down to the farm, and since his return has been phenomenal, with 13 K's, 2 walks and 2 hits in 8.2 innings. His ERA is still struggling from the implosion, which carried over into May, but his FIP is a microscopic  .69 for the month. As a group, for the month, the ERA is 3.33, with a 3.03 FIP. Over the last 14 days, its an incredible 1.53, best in the majors.

All of this has been done without two of the three major offseason acquisitions, as neither Albers or Crain have pitched an inning this month. If this pitching continues, there will be some tough choices to make about who gets the boot when they come back, something I never dreamed of saying in April of this year.

In April, a horrid BABIP and an even worse bullpen were masking the real improvements made to this team. In May, both have been fixed, and it lead to the Astros best month since 2010.