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Josh James Should Close for the Astros

The pitching woes in Houston continue to stack upon one another. Consider it bad luck, karma for cheating, or whatever you want, the fact of the matter is that this pitching staff is dealing with a litany of issues and cannot afford to make more mistakes throughout the rest of this shortened season. The Astros need to fix their closer situation expeditiously.

With Roberto Osuna (forearm) out for the foreseeable future with the possibility of Tommy John and incumbent set-up man/closer-en-waiting, Ryan Pressly, dealing with a nagging elbow injury, the Houston bullpen is left with major question marks on the back-end.

Enter Josh James, who could (should) be closing for the Astros in 2020.

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Better in the Bullpen?

The 27-year old fireballer is one of the top "prospects" in the Astros organization and had the chance to start twice thus far in 2020. Unfortunately, those starts left owners clutching for their ratios as James's walk issues reared its head in full force and relegated him from the bullpen after a total of six innings pitched. Typically, when a pitcher's walk rate is higher than his strikeout rate, that's a bad sign.

However, there is a silver lining for those who have held on in redraft, along with his dynasty owners. James realistically profiles better as a reliever long term and it would behoove him and the organization to shift that role as soon as possible to not further the damage done to the team or his development. James's "stuff" is not the problem so much so as forcing him to utilize it multiple times throughout a batting order.

Where James can really shine going forward is in a current Seth Lugo/early Josh Hader-esque role in which he is a fireman/closer who comes in to either get two innings worth of outs earlier in close games or closing on other occasions.

In 2019, when primarily deployed as a reliever, despite posting a walk rate that had him bottom-sixth percentile in the MLB, James was top-first percentile in expected batting average, top-second in expected slugging and top-tenth in expected weighted on-base average. James has not been anywhere near as effective with his arsenal in 2020 but that may be due to his new role as starter.

Also, it is important to note that thus far, James's average fastball velocity has been down by nearly two miles per hour and it is likely due to having to throw more pitches per game and not dish out in the high-90's as he did the last two seasons where his velocity sat around 97.1 vs this season at 95.6. It also could be a slow start related to COVID and a lack of summer camp/bullpen prep but that should improve regardless as we get deeper into the season and James is asked to throw fewer innings/pitches per game.

 

Houston's Bullpen "Depth"

Pressly's elbow was deemed "healthy" enough to return to game action after a stint on the IL to start the season but it seems that he is either rusty or dealing with lingering issues. His most recent outing was a clean inning with a strikeout, leading to the sole caveat of this piece being his health. If Pressly's elbow is back to normal-ish going forward, this could become a moot point as he'll keep the role. Obviously, there are concerns though.

Other options in the Houston bullpen include but are not limited to Cy Sneed, Andrew Scrubb, Blake Taylor, and Enoli Paredes. Sneed and Scrubb are run-of-the-mill relievers without strikeout potential at the moment or at any point throughout their respective minor league careers. Taylor is very impressive. He's given up no runs throughout his first 8.2IP and has struck out ten and walked just three. If he was not literally the only left-hander in Houston's bullpen, he would probably be the favorite to take over. However, with matchups so important to continue playing, regardless of the new three-batter rule, it is doubtful we see Taylor take on a full-time closer role but he could sneak a few saves here and there.

Promising young right-hander Bryan Abreu was recently optioned to the team's alternate site after walking seven batters in 3 1/3 innings. Enoli Paredes looked sharp in extra innings against Oakland the other day, but he is still a largely-unknown entity.

Josh James seems to be the logical answer at closer. Sure, there remains the possibility that Houston trades for someone of Ryan Pressly's elbow magically returns to 100 percent but both are unlikely due to varying reasons. While in a normal season a trade would be the clear answer, this shortened season leaves a lot to be desired given that teams are still partially un-sure if the season will even fully play out. If you trade for a reliever, lose a year of control and regain your in-house options next season, what was the point? That's just bad asset management depending on what you give up.

James is not likely to pitch in high-leverage innings from the jump given his poor outings thus far but the possibility remains that after a few shut-down innings over the next week or two with an improved pitch command, he can get relied on to close games.

James is about to be free across most leagues due to his disastrous start and demotion. Take advantage of this opportunity in redraft and even dynasty where you can buy-low. There is a place for Josh James in this league, just because it might not be as a starter does not mean that he cannot still be a valuable fantasy asset.



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