Apr 20, 2022; Houston, Texas, USA; Houston Astros relief pitcher Blake Taylor (62) delivers a pitch during the first inning against the Los Angeles Angels at Minute Maid Park. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports
Welcome to Gallery Sports’ Houston Astros Spring Training player spotlight, Astros Player of the Day. We will look at a different Astros player each day throughout spring training.
Today’s Astros Player of the Day is reliever Blake Taylor.
Taylor appeared in 19 games for the Astros in 2022 before an elbow injury knocked him out of action for more than two months. He appeared in eight games on a rehab assignment before the team activated him. Upon being activated, he was optioned to Triple-A Sugar Land, where he finished the season, though he was on the Astros’ taxi squad during the postseason.
A 16-inning sample size is small, but Taylor wasn’t very effective before getting shut down. He compiled a 3.94 ERA with a walk rate that went up from 11.7% to 13.3%, but much more alarmingly, his strikeout rate plummeted to 12% from 21.8%.
The 27-year-old was acquired in a trade from the New York Mets for Jake Marisnick in 2019. Taylor has held left-handed hitters to a .518 OPS with a 25% strikeout rate over his three Major League seasons, but he hasn’t had nearly the same success against righties, allowing a .785 OPS with a 14.5% strikeout rate.
Taylor’s fastball averaged 92.6 miles per hour last season, which had him in the 36th percentile among all pitchers, per Baseball Savant, after it averaged 93+ in 2020 and 2021. He also mixed in a slider around 25% of the time. Left-handed hitters are batting .129 against Taylor’s fastball, but five of the 11 hits he allowed on that pitch came last season.
With the Astros likely starting the season with a six-man rotation, they will only be allowed to carry seven relievers. Assuming they are healthy, you can pretty much lock in Ryan Pressly, Rafael Montero, Bryan Abreu, Hector Neris, Ryne Stanek, and Phil Maton to six of those spots, leaving room for one more. Dusty Baker always wants to have a lefty in his bullpen, so Taylor will compete for that spot with Parker Mushinski and Matt Gage.
Taylor was an important member of the Astros bullpen in 2020 and 2021, but his fastball velocity has dipped from 93.7 MPH to 93.1 MPH to 92.6 MPH. He’ll get an opportunity to reclaim his spot in 2023, but a jump on the radar gun will be key to setting up his slider that generated a career-best 32.4% whiff rate last season.