John Rieger-USA Today Sports

Houston Astros Bullpen: Who Should be the Relief Ace?

The Astros need to stick with a top reliever for the 2017 season. No, this does not necessarily mean a "closer".

After going through the options for the Houston Astros last week, I concluded that...

  1. The closer role is stupid
  2. The way to go is either have a relief ace pitch one inning similar to a closer but instead of strictly the 9th inning, he is used whenever he is needed. Or, he pitches 2-3 innings every two or three days.

Now getting into who are the main pieces in the bullpen and what their roles should be, it appears the four main pieces are Ken Giles, Luke Gregerson, Will Harris, and Chris Devenski. After reading my pal Issa Cook’s piece a couple of weeks ago on Chris Devenski, I agree with his assessment and the statistics that he used to describe Devenski and his role.

Playing along with his idea about Devenski’s role and somewhat mixing it with mine, I think Devenski should be the guy that goes 2-3 innings with two to three days rest that I mentioned earlier. I think he should be used in a lot more serious situations in comparison to last year though. Last week I described the role as something similar to what Andrew Miller did last year in the postseason.

Obviously I don’t think Devenski is as good as Miller, and I’m not asking him to used as frequently as Miller was. I do think that Devenski can hold a close game in the middle innings and even finish out late innings occasionally.

Now down to the final three guys. First, we’ll start with Will Harris. Last year we was an improved Harris, as he lowered his BB/9 and raised his K/9 while having an ERA of 2.25. After having an incredible first half of the year and making the all star team, Harris flailed a little bit in a second half, having a 3.24 ERA, and a slash line against him of .231/.304/.359.

While still, solid, it was a drop off from an amazing first half. One thing Will Harris did have over Gregerson and Giles was a higher WPA, or Win Probability Added. If you don’t know this stat, it is a very context dependent stat, meaning situations matter more. An RBI single in the 9th inning or strikeout in the same situation are weighed more in comparison to the same thing happening earlier in the game. Basically, Will Harris helped the team out more in more important situations than his counterparts did in the season.

Next, we’ll look at Luke Gregerson. Overall, I think it is fair to say Gregerson had a worse year than Harris. While still solid, he was worse in most statistics except for K/9, where Gregerson had 10.46 in comparison to Harris’ 9.70. Despite this, Harris still had a lower BB/9 and HR/9, giving him a much lower FIP.

Another issue with Gregerson was he got worse in 2016 in comparison to 2015, with the biggest issues being a higher walk rate and his struggles versus left-handed hitters. His BB/9 raised from a 1.48 to a 2.81 and against lefties, Gregerson gave up .322 OBP with a .424 Slugging Percentage. Gregerson continues to be a solid reliever for the Astros, but there are some improvements he needs to make in order to get back as the main guy in the bullpen.

Last but not least, we look at Ken Giles. After giving up a pretty hefty package for him last offseason, Giles came into the organization with expectations that he would be the main man in the bullpen. Unfortunately, things didn’t start so hot for him, as he ended the first month of the season with a 9.00 ERA. After that, he was pretty inconsistent, going through months where he would be outstanding and then other months where he wouldn’t be good at all.

He ended the season with a negative WPA, not exactly a sign that he should be the team’s relief ace. As most Astros fans know, the issue wasn’t his slider. Last year, his slider was one of the best breaking balls in baseball. The issue was his fastball, where batters had a slash of .378/.456/.622 against it. I really don’t think I need to tell you how bad that it. The issue was leaving the ball elevated and right over the plate, instead of painting the corners, you know, basic command issues. It appears he is only going to go as far as his fastball takes him.

After looking at the main three options, all signs point to Harris being the guy. And I believe that is the way the team should start the year. As much as I want Giles to be the dream relief ace all Astros fans want him to be, he has to be consistent in the regular season first. He has to be able to control his fastball and continue to throw his slider at an elite level. If he has been successful by the middle of the season, maybe it will be ok to switch things around a little bit, but for now, the relief ace for your 2017 Houston Astros needs to be Will Harris.

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