It has been about a month and a half since the non-wavier trade deadline, so we’re now able to take a look at the acquisitions from the deadline and critique how they’ve panned out thus far. One of the biggest apparent winners of this year’s non-waiver deadline were the Houston Astros.
The Astros already had a stellar bullpen coming into the season and that has continued throughout, from notable names like Chris Devenski who was a huge contributor to their World Series run, to Hector Rondon and Collin McHugh. All three have preformed pretty well, although Devenski has slipped a little bit compared to last season. They also have seen really good seasons from Brad Peacock and Joe Smith, plus Will Harris has been above average as well. Roberto Osuna, although under controversy due to alleged sexual assault, has put up solid numbers since being acquired by the Astros. However, the slam dunk trade deadline move for Houston was acquiring reliever Ryan Pressly from the Minnesota Twins.
Pressly has been very consistent throughout his five-plus seasons. He’s been a bit shaky in higher leverage situations during his time in the Twin Cities, but he still performed well enough to be a major contributor logging 60-plus innings the past two seasons and now a third season. At the time of the trade in July, it looked like a very solid move as noted in an article by Patrick Brennan.
However, given Pressly’s performance since the trade the narrative has changed completely as he looks to be one of the best pitchers in an already stellar bullpen. Although there is a much smaller sample size with Houston, the results have been mind-bending. The table below compares his stats before the trade with his stats since joining the Astros.
Pressly Before Trade vs After Trade
Those numbers are just the tip of the iceberg, though. Since Pressly was traded on July 27th, 236 starters and relievers have pitched at least 20 innings. Among all 236 starters and relievers, Pressly ranks second in FIP, third in xFIP and wOBA, sixth in strikeout rate and tenth in walk rate. Performances like that, even just 20 innings of that level of performance doesn’t happen on it’s own. There are always aspects that have enabled these types of results.
The first noticeable thing with Pressly since moving to the Astros has been pitch selection. He’s using his four-seamer about nine percent less often and is using his curveball about 14 percent more often. But the key is the counts he is utilizing those different pitches in. Prior to the trade his four-seamer was most often the go-to pitch when even or behind in the count, and since the trade, he’s mixing a lot more curveballs and sliders when even or behind. In 0-0, 1-0, 2-0 and 3-1 counts he still uses the four-seamer the most, but in the rest of the counts he’s mixing in curveballs and sliders equally as often as the four-seamer or more often. The chart below shows the pitch type by counts for before and after the trade.
Sequencing is not the only thing Pressly has changed though. He’s almost completely abandoned his two-seamer, throwing only two total out of the 273 pitches he’s thrown since the trade. But by far the biggest factor in Pressly’s success has been where he’s locating his pitches. Before the trade he would only throw the curveball along the edges and out of the zone, as an out pitch, but now he’s locating the curve in the strikezone as well. This has paid huge dividends as his wOBA on the curveball in the strikezone since the trade is .000, and prior to the trade it was .423. The charts below show the changes in how Pressly located his pitches before and after the trade.
The four-seamer has really evolved into a dominant pitch for Pressly, as the numbers against the pitch in all parts of the zone has changed significantly as the table below shows.
Pressly’s 4SFB wOBA
|Out of Zone
Normally the quality of tunneling pitches would play a key role in a dominant streak like this and it’s something I always take a look at. However, it seems as though Pressly’s slightly above average tunneling with the Twins has degraded a quite a bit since joining the Astros.
Between the sequencing adjustments Pressly has made and the location differences, he’s crafted a recipe for total dominance and something that wasn’t fully expected when the trade was made. Pressly has transformed himself from a significant role-player into one of the most important pieces for the Astros’ bullpen between now and the end of October. If he keeps up his current pace he could be the premier reliever for the Astros during the postseason and if that happens, it spells trouble for anyone he faces.