As shocking as it may sound, the Houston Astros have the worst bullpen in the MLB. This may come as no surprise, but they are just as bad as last year. The only difference from last season is the Astros spent a considerable amount of money on the bullpen this season, which to this point, has been mostly wasted. Unfortunately, there is not a quick fix.
The Astros’ bullpen has a record of 8-14 this season. There are screams from the fans saying that it has been overused by manager Bo Porter. Yet, the Astros are only 10th in total innings pitched for relievers in the American League. It may have been overused as of late, but if Porter doesn’t trust anyone in his pen to go multiple innings without giving up a run, he has little options but to change pitchers as often as possible to limit the damage.
The bullpen seems to be getting worse as the season advances. It is getting to the point where no lead may be safe unless Chad Qualls, the lone bright spot of the money spent this offseason on the bullpen, is in the game. The ERA has ballooned to 5.23, which is almost three-quarters of a run higher than any other team in the American League.
The bad stats do not stop there. The Astros’ bullpen has also given up almost 20 more earned runs than other team in the AL. Their 34 home runs allowed are one shy of the Tampa Bay Rays for the most and their 283 hits given up are the most in the AL. More importantly, the 15 saves the Astros have blown are very reminiscent of last season. Qualls has been very dependable in the closer’s role, but he was not brought in to be the closer.
General Manager Jeff Luhnow’s attempt to fix the bullpen this offseason has failed so far. One of the few miscues he has had since taking over his role is the money he has spent for the bullpen Jesse Crain, who was signed to a $3.25 million, one-year contract this offseason, has yet to pitch in a single game for the Astros. Projected to be the closer, his shoulder injury has given him setbacks in his recovery and it is now not known when, and if, he will be able to toe the rubber for the Astros.
Matt Albers, who was signed to a $2.25 million, one-year contract with an option, has only pitched in eight games this season because of an injury. So far, that is roughly $5.5 million wasted to this point in the season. Jerome Williams, who was designated for assignment at the start of July, was brought on for $2.1 million. That adds up to $7.6 million wasted on the bullpen this season. That is as bad, if not worse, as last season.
The only hope the Astros have is if Albers and Crain get healthy and pitch to the end of the season without injuries. Along with those two, the Astros may need to call up some new names instead of repeatedly calling up minor-league players that have had very little success at the professional level. It is hard to blame pitching coach Brent Strom when the starting rotation has vastly exceeded expectations. Luhnow may have to cut his losses this season and use his money available to him next year to get one or two reliable pitchers instead of trying to get three or four players at a discount because of a flaw.