The Houston Astros flexed their organizational depth in 2020 by using 13 rookie pitchers, the majority pitching out of the bullpen. The bullpen had its inconsistencies that you would expect from a group so young, but it exceeded expectations considering the fact that it lost veterans, Joe Smith and Roberto Osuna. The bullpen figures to look similar to 2020, but with a few more veteran guys. Here is a look at the 2021 Astros bullpen options, as well as some free agents who could shore up the pen.
Current Bullpen Options
The Astros bullpen looks pretty similar to its 2020 iteration, but with a few more veteran anchors. Ryan Pressly, who stepped into the closer role after Osuna’s injury, figures to be the closer once again. Joe Smith missed the entire 2020 season, but he is returning in 2021. He is first among active players in career appearances with 782 games pitched, pitching to a 2.98 ERA. He is the definition of experience and exactly what this bullpen needs.
Houston signed a pair of veteran relievers to help this young bullpen in Pedro Baez and Ryne Stanek. Baez has put up a 3.03 ERA in 355 career appearances across seven seasons. Entering his age 33 season, Baez has plenty of regular season experience. He also has plenty of postseason experience, pitching to a serviceable 3.99 ERA in 31 appearances across six postseasons. Stanek has less experience but a lot of upside. In 173 innings, Stanek has a 4.00 ERA. The ERA is largely driven by a high walk rate of four and a half batters per nine innings. However, he misses bats, striking out 10.9 batters per nine. Stanek can be a fantastic arm if his control can improve. Speaking of control issues, the young arms from 2020 showed some serious potential, but they all had one flaw.
The Astros had a big three of sorts in terms of rookie bullpen arms they could trust. These three were Andre Scrubb, Blake Taylor, and Enoli Paredes. The trio combined for 65 innings and an ERA at about 2.38. They were very effective and extremely integral to Houston’s success in 2020. However, they all had one major flaw, and that was control. While the trio had success, they walked batters at a rate of about 5.86 free passes per nine innings. It is hard to consistently have success with a walk rate like they had. They have big-time upside, but just like the aforementioned Stanek, they must improve their control to maintain consistency.
Free Agent Options
Additions may not be needed, but if the Astros feel the desire to make another move, there are a few relievers on the free agent market who could impact their bullpen. The first option is Tyler Clippard, who is among the oldest free agents available. Despite his advanced age, he is as effective as he has ever been. The 36-year-old has posted a sub-3.00 ERA in each of the past two seasons and is walking less than two batters per nine innings. His control could be valuable for a wild bullpen like Houston’s.
Another option is Jeremy Jeffress, who could come at a higher price than Clippard but could be even more effective. Jeffress has been a bit up and down, but his ups are fantastic. His 2019 was less than ideal, posting a 5.02 ERA, but his 2018 and 2020 seasons were elite. He pitched to a 1.29 and 1.54 ERA in those two seasons. Overall, he is 32-12 with a 3.08 ERA in 424 innings across 11 MLB seasons.
There are a lot of question marks among the 2021 Astros bullpen options, but the potential is enormous. It is a solid bullpen, but it is completely possible it can be among the league’s best. Additions aren’t necessary but could make it even more dependable.
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