Sunday, December 23, 2018

From Where Will the Innings Come?

Note: I pitched this to The Athletic, they passed, and so it's here. 

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The 2018 Astros’ rotation was charmed. In addition to enjoying a rotation of Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole, Dallas Keuchel, Charlie Morton, and Lance McCullers, Jr., they were all, for the most part, healthy. A.J. Hinch didn’t have to pencil in a sixth starter until the 126th game of the season, when Brad Peacock got the start against Seattle on August 21.

Houston needed 499.2 innings out of their bullpen in 2018, and if that sounds low to you, you’re absolutely right. Here are 2018’s bullpens, organized by the number of innings pitched:

Team

Bullpen Innings, 2018

Bullpen fWAR

Cleveland
463.2
0.4

Houston

499.2
8.1
Colorado
520.1
3.9
Washington
528.2
0.4
Arizona
541.1
2.0
Kansas City
542.2
-2.2
Chicago White Sox
545.1
4.3
New York Mets
546.1
-0.6
Pittsburgh
546.2
3.5
Atlanta
557.0
3.0
Seattle
557.1
5.1
St. Louis
565.2
0.5
Philadelphia
569.1
4.1
San Francisco
570.2
5.0
Detroit
579.2
2.1
Los Angeles Dodgers
581.1
3.1
Texas
585.0
3.9
Boston
587.1
4.9
Chicago Cubs
588.1
4.0
Toronto
594.1
2.3
New York Yankees
594.2
9.7
Baltimore
597.1
2.1
Cincinnati
602.1
1.7
Miami
606.1
-2.1
Minnesota
610.1
3.0
Milwaukee
614.0
7.0
Anaheim
632.0
2.2
San Diego
635.0
8.7
Oakland
641.1
5.7
Tampa Bay
824.1
5.6

You read that right: Tampa Bay’s bullpen got 549 more outs than the 2nd-most used bullpen in the Majors. And it’s not as though more innings from your bullpen disqualifies you from the postseason: three of the ten most-used bullpens in 2018 made the playoffs: Oakland, Milwaukee, and New York, while the Rays won 90 games in a division with two 100-game winners.

That said, given the departures and injuries among the Astros’ pitching staff this offseason, there are some holes to fill, or at least some fingers to place firmly in the dam for a while. The Astros will not have Charlie Morton in the rotation, as CFM officially signed his 2yr/$30m deal with Tampa this week. Dallas Keuchel is on the market and, though a return to Houston is certainly within the realm of possibility, the most-wise course of action may be to consider him gone. Lance McCullers is in the process of recovering from Tommy John surgery and will be out until 2019.

Those three pitchers threw exactly 500 innings in 2018. It is very easy to see a scenario in which Collin McHugh rejoins the rotation after getting squeezed out by Gerrit Cole in 2018. McHugh threw 72.1IP in 2018 in the bullpen after being held by injuries to 63.1IP in 2017. From 2014-2016, however, McHugh threw 543IP – including a 203.2IP campaign in a breakout 2015 season.
IF (All Caps intended) McHugh can throw 200IP, that still leaves 300IP unaccounted for in the rotation. Assuming that the Astros’ rotation retreats from throwing the 2nd-most innings in MLB in 2018, that leaves more innings for the bullpen.

Jake Kaplan projected the Astros’ bullpen last week following Joe Smith’s injury and says the bullpen, as currently constructed, looks as follows: Roberto Osuna, Ryan Pressly, Hector Rondon, Chris Devenski, Brad Peacock, Josh James or Framber Valdez, and the ever-popular Player To Be Named Later.

The above list’s relievers threw a combined 280.1IP. Granted, there are some caveats   Roberto Osuna’s 38IP were impacted by his 75-game suspension for assaulting his girlfriend. Chris Devenski threw 2IP between July 27 and September 4, missing 33 games with a hamstring injury.

It’s conceivable that both could add 30IP to their workload in 2018 – injuries and future crimes notwithstanding. Let’s do a theoretical exercise and assume they do exactly that, bringing the above list’s workload to 340.1IP. That leaves 159 best-case scenario innings to whoever loses between Josh James and Framber Valdez, and two other options should, as Kaplan previously noted, A.J. Hinch goes with his customary eight-man bullpen.

Will it be Cionel Perez? With Tony Sipp’s presumed departure, Perez would – under this thought exercise – be the only lefty in the Astros’ entire 13-man pitching staff. Someone else could provide some internal bullpen help: Dean Deetz, for instance, who tested positive for a substance with a lot of vowels that doesn’t sound like it’s terribly helpful. Could he step in? What about a free agent?

MLBTradeRumors dot com projects the Astros to sign LHP Zach Britton to a 3yr/$33m deal. Britton has long been rumored as an Astrostarget, so might the Astros actually get their man? Britton, who threw 65+ IP in each of his 2014-16 campaigns has been held to a total of 78 innings (with 39 walks) over the last two years. Want to go full-circle? Zach Britton underwent surgery for a ruptured Achilles about this time last year (the same as Joe Smith) and made his season debut on June 12, and he had scoreless outings in 14 of his 16 games before getting traded to the Yankees.

Joe Smith’s recovery could go well enough to follow Britton’s timeline. Britton was in his Age 30 season in 2018, while Smith was in his Age 34 season. Things hurt more when you’re 34 as opposed to 30. But maybe not for, like, professional athletes.

A timeline that involves Smith throwing 30 innings as opposed to 50-60 would leave 120-ish innings to two relievers. Maybe that’s a low enough number for the Astros to introduce Triple-A starters Rogelio Armenteros (added to the 40-Man Roster in November specifically to avoid him being selected in the Rule 5 draft), or even newly-recovered-from-Tommy John surgery Brady Rodgers, the Astros’ 2012 3rd Round pick.

Ultimately, how the Astros determine who takes the innings they’ve lost could determine if they make it back to the ALCS for a third straight season. And with the last contracted year of Verlander and Cole beginning in a few months, they may decide to strike.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Actually, McCullers will be out until 2020.

Anonymous said...

Valdez is a lefty.