CREIGHT EXPECTATIONS

Patrick Creighton: Hinch must define bullpen roles for consistency

A.J. Hinch needs to better define bullpen role.s Jason Behnken / Getty Images

There’s no doubt the Astros are loaded with talent, even if they haven’t hit their stride yet.  No one should feel like the bats won’t come around. The rotation is the best in baseball. The pen was fortified in the offseason, but has been the bane of the team’s existence too often during a 14 game stretch where the team lost nine games.

There have been some spectacular bullpen failures during that 5-9 run that have directly led to losses.

Joe Smith has been a top reliever in baseball for 10 years, but has shown none of that thus far for Houston.  While 10.2 IP is a small sample size, Smith was brought in specifically for his late inning prowess and ability to close games if necessary. However, Smith was the culprit back on April 24 when he allowed four runs vs. the Angels in the top of the 7th, right after the Astros had rallied for 2 runs in both the 5th and 6th to take a 5-4 lead.

On May 1st, Ken Giles suffered a meltdown vs the Yankees.  Entering in the 9th of a 0-0 game in which Justin Verlander was absolutely dominant, Giles, who had put down the previous 19 straight batters to face him over 7 appearances, allowed 4 of 5 batters to reach base while giving up 4 runs in the 9th, and needing Will Harris to get out of the inning.  The Astros would lose 4-0. Oddly enough, despite no injury being disclosed by the team, Giles has not pitched since.

Two days later the Astros bullpen would fail again.  This time, the Astros held a 5-3 lead going into the 9th.  For whatever reason, Hinch did not go to his closer, Ken Giles.  He went to Will Harris. Harris could not record a single out, allowing two hits and a walk before being lifted for Brad Peacock, who allowed all three inherited runners to score, and the Yankees stung the Astros with a 6-5 come from behind victory.

While Harris had not pitched poorly to that point, if Ken Giles is the closer, Giles should have been given the opportunity to get back on the horse and close out the game.  A closer must have a very short memory. Not giving him the ball in that situation could not have been a strong message to send to him, made worse by the fact his replacement failed miserably.

On May 5th in Arizona, it was Chris Devenski’s turn to fail in the 9th.  In a tie game, Devo would allow a hit and two walks while only recording two outs before being lifted for Peacock, who again could not stop the bleeding.  Peacock allowed a hit to let an inherited runner score and the Astros lost 4-3.

While the Astros may have some interchangeable parts in the bullpen, Hinch must still give them order.  Ask any bullpen pitcher and they will tell you, guys pitch better when they have defined roles.

Maybe it shouldn’t matter but it does.  Having defined roles in the pen allows guys to better prepare mentally.  It gives them a sense of hierarchy that they need, and history shows us they pitch better as a result.

The Astros have three pitchers with saves and four pitchers with blown saves. Seven of the team’s 15 losses have been attributed to relievers. While Hinch may have been looking to see how the pieces fit early on, it’s time for him to make some decisions.

The Astros already carry an unusually high number of relievers because they cannot send Peacock or Collin McHugh to the minors without their consent (not happening) and Tony Sipp’s $6M piece tag is keeping him in town.  With 13 pitchers, finding regular work for everyone isn’t really possible. He will have to deal with some unhappy campers.

It's time to treat Ken Giles like a closer.  His one bad game vs. Yankees can’t get him banished to the bench for a week if he is to be the man at the back of the pen.  A good closer has a short memory, and puts failures behind him instantly to succeed the next time on the hill. Giles still hasn’t been granted that next time.  This is a failure on Hinch.

Hinch still hasn’t figured out how to utilize Joe Smith.  Giles has the fewest appearances of all the regular relievers not named Tony Sipp.

Hinch needs to create a hierarchy, and give guys defined roles.  Start with Giles at the back end, and work his way forward. Giles should get literally every save opportunity unless he’s pitched three straight days.

Make Rondon, Smith and Harris your setup guys (once Smith escapes his funk – he will have to pitch some lesser leverage spots to regain his confidence).  These are the roles they are most familiar with and have the most success with in their careers.

Collin McHugh ultimately isn’t going to enjoy being the long man, because he’s a very good ML caliber pitcher who is caught in a numbers game, and at least one person in that pen has to remain fully stretched out in case a start needs to be made outside the rotation.  There may be opportunities to utilize him in a tandem role similar to how Astros used starters in the postseason, with one following another, and going 3-4 innings.

They will have to figure out how to use Devo and Peacock.  They are both guys who can give length, and in situations that don’t require a traditional setup guy, should get the opportunity to go multiple innings, can set up when another pitcher is unavailable, etc.  They are the two most flexible guys in the pen, and these are the two Hinch can really work with.

Sipp can pitch when the team is up or down 4+ runs.

It was OK to experiment in April.  Now it’s time to have a plan and execute.  Once the bullpen knows the plan, it should pitch better and more consistently.

 

Alvarez is the third in franchise history to get the award

Astros' Yordan Alvarez wins AL Rookie of the Year

Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images

As expected, the MLB announced on Monday that the winner of the 2019 American League Rookie of the Year Award is Yordan Alvarez of the Houston Astros. It comes as no surprise, considering Alvarez's performance since being called up on June 9th of this season was powerful, to say the least. He beats out the two other finalists: John Means of the Baltimore Orioles and Brandon Lowe of the Tampa Bay Rays.

After dominating at the AAA level for the Round Rock Express where he led the minors in home runs (23) and RBIs (71) while hitting for a .343 average and 1.184 OPS over his 56 games before being promoted to the major leagues, he brought the same power to Houston's lineup. He wasted no time showing what he was capable of, notching his first career home run in his second at-bat at Minute Maid Park in his debut game.

He followed that by hitting home runs in four of his first five games and going on to slash .317 / .406 / .733 for a 1.139 OPS from his debut through the end of June, tenth best in all of the majors over that span. Though he finished the month with seven homers in just 60 at-bats, he also maintained his ability to drive in runs, notching 21 RBIs in his first sixteen games. He slowed down slightly in July, banging just five homers in 75 ABs to go along with 15 RBIs, though increasing his average to .333.

He picked the power back up in August and September, though, finishing the final two months of the regular season with a combined 15 home runs and 42 RBIs over 178 at-bats. That ended his regular season with 27 homers, 78 RBIs, a 1.067 OPS, and .313 average, a line that would have been decent for a full season, much less one that started in early June. One of the shining moments of his debut year came in the matchup with the Orioles on August 10th, a night when the Astros put up a franchise-record 23 runs, seven of which came off the bat of Alvarez on a three-homer night including a grand slam.

Although not factored into the voting, Alvarez did contribute in the postseason for Houston, though not at the same level as his regular-season numbers. He had just one home run in the playoffs, a two-run blast in World Series Game 5 against the Nationals in D.C. to help Houston take that game 7-1. He had just one other RBI in October, in ALDS Game 1 against the Rays, giving him just three total along with the one homer to leave his postseason stat line as something to improve on.

Nonetheless, Alvarez's power is something that Houston will gladly put in their DH spot as long as he can continue to drive in runs and be a difference-maker in a game with one swing of his hefty bat. Yordan is the third player in franchise history to win the Rookie of the Year award, joining Jeff Bagwell, who took home the honor for the National League in 1991 and Carlos Correa, who also won in the American League in 2015. The future is bright for this left-handed slugger and the Houston Astros as a result.

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