Posted on December 15, 2017, by Bryan Zarpentine
The Houston Astros managed to win the 2017 World Series despite a shaky bullpen. If they’re going to repeat as champions in 2018, improvements in the bullpen need to be made, and the Astros are already working hard to make that happen. On Friday, Houston agreed to sign one time Chicago Cubs closer Hector Rondon on a two-year deal worth $8.5 million. The addition of Rondon comes on the heels of the Astros signing Joe Smith earlier this week during the MLB Winter Meetings.
If nothing else, Rondon is an interesting addition to the Houston bullpen. The Cubs declined to tender him a contract earlier this offseason following the worst season of his career since his rookie year in 2013. In 61 appearances, Rondon was 4-1 with a 4.24 ERA. Those numbers would be solid for a middle reliever but not for a late-inning setup man. After serving as Chicago’s closer for much of 2014, 2015, and the first half of 2016, the Cubs were expecting better from Rondon last season. With Rondon set to make over $6 million in arbitration next season, the Cubs didn’t feel it was cost-effective to keep him.
However, Chicago’s loss could soon become Houston’s gain. Rondon is an ideal candidate to have a bounce-back season in 2018, especially considering how up and down relief pitchers can be. His decline started the second half of the 2016 season, and for whatever reason, he hasn’t been the same pitcher since. But at age 29, Rondon is more than capable of getting things turned around.
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Despite a couple down years, Rondon has continued to strikeout hitters at a high rate. In 2017, he had 69 strikeouts in 57.1 innings. Opposing batters also hit just .233 against him, which is more than acceptable for a setup man. He also had no discernible splits between right-handed and left-handed hitters, so it’s not as if he’s a specialist. That fact that Rondon has experience as a closer and has made 15 postseason appearances also make him a strong signing by the Astros. Even if he performs no better than he did last season, Rondon will still be a useful addition to the Houston bullpen.
With both Rondon and Smith on board, the Houston bullpen looks far more formidable than it did last season. Rondon and Smith should be able to step in as the primary setup men for closer Ken Giles. Despite a disastrous 11.74 ERA during the postseason, Giles was a dependable closer throughout the regular season in 2017. The Astros should be able to lean on him to close out games again in 2018.
Rondon and Smith should receive plenty of help from the likes of Will Harris, Chris Devenski, and Joe Musgrove. All three pitched well out of the bullpen last year and should be ready for larger roles next season. The Astros also have young pitchers in Michael Feliz and Francis Martes who have the stuff to become key contributors out of the bullpen if they can’t find a home in the starting rotation.
On paper, the Houston bullpen doesn’t appear as dominant as some of the top bullpens in baseball. However, the signings of Rondon and Smith definitely add depth and experience. The high-end bullpen talent may not be there. But with the recent additions, the Astros should have a more reliable bullpen in 2018.