You only go as far as your pitching takes you. The Houston Astros realized this truth once again in 2016.
On paper, the Astros pitching staff is a talented group. Not the best collection of talent mind you, but a capable one.
The starting rotation in 2016 after all featured the 2015 AL Cy Young winner and one of the more promising arms in baseball. Solid pitchers were pencilled in to take over the mid-rotation jobs. Outside of the final rotation spot, there wasn’t much cause for concern for Houston’s rotation.
And the bullpen was designed to be best one in recent memory. You probably have to go back to the remnants of the mid-2000’s playoff teams to find a comparable collection of talent in the ‘pen.
Oddly though, this talented Astros pitching staff had a strange season. It was both good and bad. Peaks and valleys.
And here are three statistics that paint this puzzling picture.
To be clear, WAR is not the be all, end all of advanced statistics. However, it is a valuable indicator of performance. And the Astros were one of the top-five teams in terms of WAR from their pitching staff.
Only four clubs, all playoff contenders, posted a higher WAR from their pitching staff than the Astros: the New York Mets, Washington Nationals, Los Angeles Dodgers, and Chicago Cubs. And the three clubs following Houston were playing in the postseason as well: the Toronto Blue Jays, Cleveland Indians, and Boston Red Sox.
Once again, another statistic that doesn’t necessarily paint the whole picture. But this is one number that could shed some light into the Astros struggles on a multitude of levels such as the starting rotation, a less impressive defense, and a lack of good luck.
For example, the St. Louis Cardinals (.317) at second were the only playoff team with a higher BABIP from their starters than Houston. The Mets came in sixth (.313), just one spot behind the Astros. The next playoff team in terms of BABIP were the Dodgers at twenty (.296).
The 2015 playoff team for the Astros by comparison had a .291 BABIP. So it is not farfetched to think that an increased BABIP, which partially stems from ineffectiveness in the starting rotation, was a contributing factor.
The 2016 Astros bullpen was actually a competent unit. Regardless of the struggles of Ken Giles, Tony Sipp, Luke Gregerson, and Will Harris throughout the season at various points, there was much to like from a relief standpoint. And the unit’s SIERA was by far the best in baseball even above the likes of vaunted bullpens like the Dodgers and New York Yankees.
Of course, SIERA is just like FIP and xFIP as it is only another ERA estimator. It is best to not to rely just this one statistic. Rather use it in conjunction with other statistics. But this stat could be used as an argument for the bullpen in 2016.
Overall, the Astros pitching staff produced a mixed bag of results. Both the starting rotation and bullpen had it’s moments. But the low points, especially in the rotation, cost the team another chance at postseason glory.