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The Astros just improved their already good bullpen by acquiring Ryan Pressly’s devastating slider

The Astros paid a high price for Ryan Pressly, but an unhittable slider should serve a purpose in their bullpen.

Texas Rangers v Houston Astros Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

We’ve reached peak trade deadline. That part in late July when a team gives up some highly regarded prospect... or two-highly regarded prospects for a player that you’ve never heard of. Most of these deals involve relievers. The non-closer types. The ones who can go a full-season being one of the most valuable players on their team and still go relatively unnoticed by most of the baseball world.

A mirror image of what I just described went down last night. The Astros dealt two highly ranked players from a very deep system in RHP Jorge Acala and OF Gilberto Celestino for Twins reliever Ryan Pressly. Pressly, an under-the-radar-type of acquisition, is currently in the middle of a great season with peripherals to drool over. But because he was buried in a small-market, non-contending team’s bullpen, the name didn’t look familiar to most, therefore he’s oficially under-the-radar. In a relief market that tends to play strong to the selling team year to year, the Astros had to pay a high price, dealing away a prospect with an 80-grade fastball in Acala and a 19-year-old high-variance, high-tools outfielder with a 151 wRC+ in Low-A.

The Twins did very well here. Probably one of my favorite selling moves of this deadline. The Astros gave up a ton and there may be some risk in acquiring a short track record guy in Pressly, but he’s been lights out this year and has 2 12 years of control to his name.

Now that I’ve highlighted the deal, I want to get the main focus of this piece in Ryan Pressly. He’s been on my list of guys to write about for a while now. A guy who was never a strikeout guy suddenly becoming a big strikeout guy is a pretty easy article.

The jump in K-rate for Pressly this year has been ridiculous. He’s gone from a guy that didn’t strikeout guys as a starter in the minors, to a reliever that didn’t strikeout guys in the minors, to a reliever in the big leagues that didn’t strikeout guys, to a big league reliever that currently posts elite K-rates.

To be fair, he did improve upon his K-rate last season, hovering respectably above league average (actually below average for a reliever), but that doesn’t deter the significance of the spike. Last season he ranked 42nd in K-rate among 75 relievers with just as many innings as him. This season he ranks sixth among 39 relievers with just as many innings as him.

Going deeper on this matter, he ranked 38th in swinging-strike percentage and 35th in out-of-zone-swing percentage among 84 relievers with a 60 inning threshold last year. Lowering the threshold to 40 innings for this year, he ranks fourth and fifth among 98 pitchers in those respective metrics.

Let’s see what’s changed with the overall pitch results.

Ryan Pressly Pitch Results By Year

Year FA wRC+ SI wRC+ SL wRC+ CU wRC+
Year FA wRC+ SI wRC+ SL wRC+ CU wRC+
2015 85 238 99 53
2016 157 97 96 48
2017 146 46 86 7
2018 120 17 74 124
wRC+ Values FanGraphs

And then the swinging-strike rates.

Ryan Pressly Pitch SwStr% By Year

Year FA SwStr% SI SwStr% SL SwStr% CU SwStr%
Year FA SwStr% SI SwStr% SL SwStr% CU SwStr%
2015 3.0% 0.0% 20.3% 8.7%
2016 5.9% 6.6% 16.7% 21.2%
2017 8.4% 4.1% 14.8% 20.6%
2018 12.9% 2.8% 32.5% 17.0%

On these two counts, the sinker and slider look like his two most improved pitches. I wanted to put most of the focus on his slider, as I believe that’s what driving up the strikeouts.

To start off, he’s running with a lower vertical release point, imitating something closer to his 2016 release point.

I think the big change that his led to his improvement is the location. The movement on his slider obviously plays better out of the strike zone, as opposed to catching more of the zone.

Last year the slider only produced three of Pressley’s 61 strikeouts. This year, 15 of his 69 strikeouts have come with the pitch.

The Astros already had one of the better bullpens in all of baseball, but adding Pressley may add some depth and security to some uncertainties there, with Ken Giles currently down in AAA and Chris Devenski running into some struggles during the second half. A guy that’s been nails against both righties and lefties with knockout peripherals like him will serve a good purpose in the later innings during the playoffs. They may have gave up a lot, but I’m definitely a fan of what they got back.

Patrick Brennan loves to research pitchers and minor leaguers with data. You can find additional work of his at Royals Review and Royals Farm Report. You can also find him on Twitter @paintingcorner.