It seems Astros fans have always had a strange fascination with Brad Peacock. Maybe its his funny name, or the fact he’s always thrown moderately hard, or maybe its because he’s been with the Astros since the team was putting 100+ loss seasons out of style. But I, and I don’t think anyone, expected him to be a major contributor for the Astros entering this season, or at any point in his career for that matter.
Yet here we are six starts and 44 glorious innings into Peacock’s 2017 campaign, and he owns a 2.82 ERA and has the highest strike out rate in all of baseball (13.30 K/9). The “solid long-relief guy” has been virtually unhittable all season, and if he keeps it up we’ll have to put the name “Peacock” up there with the likes of Clayton Kershaw, Max Scherzer, and Chris Sale.
Now I know this seems crazy – this man has had just one sub-4 ERA season in his career, and even that was a facade when you pulled away the layers. But 2017 has been no fugazzi; his BABIP (.304 – above league average), FIP (2.21 – 3rd highest in the MLB), xFIP (3.24), and SIERA (3.38) all legitimize his gaudy numbers. Something in his game has changed, as this is far from the Peacock we are accustomed to seeing.
As stated in this FanGraphs article, along with other minor tweaks, a more side-arm release has allowed Peacock’s slider and fast-ball to generate more movement than ever before. But Peacock’s slider hasn’t just marginally improved; its gone from being an average pitch his entire career to being virtually unhittable. It’s the second least connected with pitch in all of baseball, and as you can see in this graph also from the article, Peacock isn’t the only Astro who has one untouchable pitch:
I don’t know who exactly is responsible for the Astros continuously finding strokes of brilliance in fringe players, yet I’ll go ahead and thank a combination of GM Jeff Luhnow, club-manager A.J. Hinch, and pitching coach Brent Strom. By making minor tweaks and having guys emphasize their best pitches, the Astros have maximized their roster’s talent and the pitching staff has greatly over-performed as a result. Despite “desperately” needing pitching help, the Astros are 3rd in ERA (3.66), 4th in FIP (3.69), and first in xFIP (3.52) and SIERA (3.53). They also lead the league in strike-out rate (10.11 K/9), and are third in K/BB (3.36).
Astros fans are desperate for another “ace” to join the rotation, but perhaps the most overlooked suitor for the job is already on the roster. The stats suggest he is having as good a season as anyone in baseball, and the only real knock on the guy is his stamina. Even if he doesn’t end up in the rotation, he’ll return to the bullpen as not only a capable reliever, but perhaps one of the most versatile and talented relievers in all of baseball. It’s well documented the Astros are a deep baseball team, but when Peacock is suddenly turning into a Cy-Young candidate, you know the franchise is in good hands.
It’s still too early to tell if his level production will last all season, but kudos to Luhnow and Strom for maximizing the talents of a replacement-level player like Peacock and turning him into a budding star.