The Astros’ best reliever has returned.
For the first time in close to two years, it feels as if Ryan Pressly has finally regained his elusive top form. If you may recall, back when the Astros acquired the former Twin near the 2018 trade deadline, they unleashed that version of the right-hander onto the baseball world. In 23 1⁄3 innings that season, Pressly posted a 0.77 ERA with a noticeable improvement in command as his walk rate dropped by 5.5 percent. His incredible productivity also carried over into the start of the 2019 season when Pressly made headlines for setting a new scoreless appearance streak.
While Pressly’s performance through May 20, 2019, was truly incredible, it was also unrealistic to expect him to continue at that rate. Issues would eventually arise and cause some consternation. And, mercy, did they arrive in unspectacular fashion. Following a batted ball off his right knee in Anaheim that July, Pressly would start to struggle with his mechanics not long afterward. A couple of rough performances that August necessitated arthroscopic surgery on his right knee, which kept him out of action for roughly a month.
Although he returned in time for the postseason, Pressly wasn’t the same. In fact, since his knee surgery, his overall numbers have taken a plunge. A quality reliever, mind you, but not the dominant one we saw through May 20, 2019.
We’re now almost a month into the 2021 season, and trends are starting to take shape. Among those potential trends to watch is how dominant Pressly has been in the season’s early going. For example, his 4.4 percent walk rate is three percent lower than his career average. It does take a walk rate 170 batters faced to become more reliable, and Pressly is only at 45 for the season. But anytime a pitcher exhibits more control, and the results have been favorable (0.82 ERA/1.27 FIP), you can’t help but be interested.
All of Pressly’s pitches when you watch him pitch appear sharper than last season, at least based on my untrained eyes. Velocity, for example, is closer to his 2018-19 self than last season. That is an encouraging trend to follow. While strikeouts are down, the improvement in control and the ability to generate more ground balls has helped counteract that decline. I am curious to see if those strikeout numbers rebound if his velocity continues to hold steady.
Also, something to watch is his curveball, which has recaptured some of the horizontal movement that was missing at times last season.
The interesting aspect of his curveball is that he is also retaining some of the increased vertical drop on display last season.
2018 – 53.7 inches
2019 – 53.8 inches
2020 – 56.3 inches
2021 – 55.4 inches
Now fully healthy and with a normal Spring Training under his belt, Pressly’s performance in April is more in line with his 2018-19 self. The question becomes whether he can sustain this form for an entire season. At this point, as long as health permits, I don’t see a reason why not based on the early returns thus far in this year’s campaign.