The Houston Astros‘ season has been marked by numerous woes, but the highlight of their struggles has been the bullpen.
Statistically, the Astros’ relief corps are last in ERA, home runs, walks, BAA and WHIP, and yet they are second in innings pitched. Coupling the most innings pitched with the worst statistical results is not a recipe for success, and with the departure of veteran closer Jose Veras, it would initially appear that worse times are ahead.
This is not necessarily true. As a team that struggles to hold a lead, Veras’ usage was very limited. Since June 22, the closer has only pitched 11 innings in 10 outings, putting him at around an inning every three days. Veras’ value as a closer is undeniable, especially on such a young team where a blown lead can severely harm morale.
However, the gains of the trade with the Detroit Tigers far outweighs the losses.
In return, not only did the Astros receive 19-year old outfielder Danry Vasquez and a player to be named later, they also acquired the ability to bring up fresh young faces from their prominent minor league system. GM Jeff Luhnow has made it clear that the Astros aim to build from within, and this approach can only be utilized if room is made for these prospects to try their luck at the major league level.
Following the trade, the Astros also optioned Hector Ambriz, allowing them to call up the highly-touted Triple-A closer Josh Zeid and AA closer Chia-Jen Lo.
Zeid has given up a minuscule three home runs in 43.2 innings of work and has a 2:1 K/BB ratio. At only 26-years-old, Zeid fits into Luhnow’s scheme just as well as he fits into the club’s bullpen void. Similarly, Lo has given up just two home runs and two walks in 16.2 innings of minor league ball between the Class-A and Double-A levels. The Taiwanese product also has a penchant for strikeouts, fanning 20 over the same span.
Clearly, these products look to fill the void in the Houston pen while lowering the glaring home run and walk totals. Though the loss of such a seasoned and reliable closer would seem like a huge loss to a team that sorely needs such reliability, the result of the trade is almost entirely positive on paper.
While the Astros’ season has been a struggle as was expected, the future seems to be imminent as the minor league system begins to populate the major league roster.