The veteran reliever is on pace to have one of the best seasons of his career.
When he was signed in late November, Héctor Neris was viewed as Kendall Graveman’s replacement in Houston. The Astros inked Neris to a two-year contract worth $17 million just days before the White Sox landed Graveman for three years, $24 million. Houston’s brass ostensibly balked at giving Graveman a third year and opted to go with the 32-year-old Neris on a more short-term, team-friendly deal.
It’s a decision that has paid substantial dividends.
With the two-month mark of the 2022 season approaching, Neris has a 2.01 ERA in 22 1⁄3 innings, including an exceptional 24-to-3 strikeout-to-walk ratio. The veteran righty’s 3.7 percent walk rate is far and away a career-best figure, and it’s come with a strikeout rate that is in the top 20 percent in baseball and a whiff rate that is in the top 10 percent.
Likely as a result of his strong K/BB numbers, Neris’s current FIP of 2.25 would be the lowest in a full season in his seven-plus years in the big leagues.
Though Graveman is faring well in Chicago (2.78 ERA in 22 2⁄3 innings), Neris is arguably the better fit in the Astros bullpen with his ability to miss a ton of bats — and now he’s seemingly left his once-mediocre control in the rear view.
There are three relievers who have registered at least 10 holds without blowing a save this season: Braves flamethrowing southpaw A.J. Minter, Brewers changeup fiend Devin Williams, and Neris.
A mid-90s four-seam fastball has generated competent results for the ex-Phillies closer, but it’s his outstanding splitter that makes him such an effective reliever. At 54.2 percent, Neris’s has a whiff rate that is higher than any other splitter in the big leagues (min. 25 pitches).
2022 has featured impressive growth from Neris — particularly in minimizing free passes — but there a few notable concerns, namely his batted-ball profile.
Before this year, Neris’s Hard-hit rate had never eclipsed 40 percent in a single season. Entering Friday, it sits at 52.8 percent, which is 2nd percentile in the league.
Additionally, at just north of 40 percent, Neris’s career ground ball rate was relatively solid. It’s fallen to 24.5 percent in 2022, which in turn has resulted in a significant increase in fly balls.
It’s a dangerous combo that has amounted to a 9.4 percent Barrel rate, which is a few ticks above Neris’s career average. To be fair, however, the one home run he’s allowed this year does more or less match up with his xHR figure, so despite all the hard contact, Neris has incidentally done a good job of keeping the ball in the ballpark.
It’s not been a perfect start to the 2022 season for the Dominican native, but Neris’s first eight weeks in an Astros uniform have been tremendous nevertheless. He’s proved to be an excellent late-inning arm as well as the primary bridge to Ryan Pressly.
The Astros bullpen has the lowest ERA in baseball, and Neris’s output is a key reason why.