CHIPALATTA

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Astros’ rotation still building a bridge over troubled water


For the Astros’ rotation, the future is not now. Not today anyway.  Not April 1. Perhaps later this year. Perhaps 2015.

Unfortunately for the team in 2014, the organization is still building a bridge over troubled water.

Perhaps the good news is that the shore — read: the promised land — is coming into sight.

Until then, Bo Porter‘s mound lineup may rotate quite a bit. None of the five pitchers who started the most games for Houston in  2013 are projected to be in the rotation on opening day 2014.  Since 2011, 20 different pitchers have started games. For only the second time since 1995, the opening day starter is likely to be a player not drafted by the Astros.

Let that sink in.

Erik Bedard (26 starts), Jordan Lyles (25) and Bud Norris (21) are gone. Lucas Harrell (22) and Dallas Keuchel (22) may be scrambling for a bullpen position.

In recent years, the pitching staff has been a mix of scrubs, rehab candidates, over-the-hill retreads with a mix of youngsters. Now, for the first time in recent memory, the list of rotation candidates is top heavy with younger challengers.

LOOKING BACK TO 2013.

Forget last year. In fact, forget the past few years. Astros’ starting pitchers have been at or near the bottom of the league every season since 2010. So there’s nothing much to write about, much less write home about. The good news again is that the only way to go is…up.

In 2013, Astros’ starters walked more hitters and struck out fewer batters than any group of starters in the American League. That translated into a 1.47 WHIP. Comparatively, Detroit starters led the league with a 1.21 figure.

Ten different pitchers started games for the Astros. All in all, that’s not a bad number considering seven of those pitchers spent some time at AAA Oklahoma City, one was traded in mid-season and all but two of the ten made at least two appearances out of the bullpen.

Amazing when you think about it.

Starters didn’t go deep into games before handing things over to the worst bullpen in the league that blew 29 save opportunities. As a result, Houston starters won fewer games (37) than any team in the majors.

So can we not dwell on the past?

LOOKING AT 2014.

Each of us could project the starting rotation for 2014 and there would likely be multiple combinations. (Exercise to follow.) The Astros aren’t fully settled either as they show eight pitchers on the rotation’s depth chart.

You’d think with newcomers Scott Feldman and Jerome Williams joining Jarred Cosart, Brett Oberholtzer and Brad Peacock that the rotation was set and all others would be battling for the opening day spot at OKC.

Unfortunately, reasonable minds could have an honest debate whether the projected 2014 starters will collectively be better than 2013.  If Feldman and Williams are healthy and the youngsters pitch well, it’ll be hands down better. But there are some big “ifs” there.

Remember that bridge over troubled water, and the season could depend largely on which Feldman and Williams show up in Houston in a couple of months.

More than Feldman and Williams, though, most eyes will focus on Oberholtzer, Cosart and Peacock. If there’s  any chance the future is now, those three will lead the charge. But with a combined 34 major league starts between them, it’s not fair to put the monkey on their back in ’14. What are the odds anyway that all three will rise to the top this year?

THE FUTURE.

Ah, yes, the promised land. While it’s not now, the promise should bring a smile to your face. Pitching is arguably the deepest position in the organization. Of course, the way prospects flame out or get hurt, organizations can never have enough pitchers.

It’s why six of the top ten Astros’ prospects on Baseball America’s list are pitchers. It’s why approximately half of Jonathan Mayo’s top 20 organizational prospects are pitchers. And it’s one of the primary reasons the Astros’ minor league system is near the top of virtually every ranking.

It’s where Jeff Luhnow is hanging his hat, and it’s where you should hang yours. Pitching. Pitching. And more pitching.

While it may not be likely, it’s possible that Asher Wojciechowski, Michael Foltynewicz, Jake Buchanan and even Mark Appel spend some time in Houston in 2014. Either as the result of injury or poor performance above them, or because they bust through the ceiling presently holding them back.

The future is not now. But it could be riding in soon on that proverbial white horse.

Make no mistake, however. George Springer, Jonathan Singleton and Carlos Correa will be welcomed additions soon. But it’s the pitching that will help separate the Astros from the pack before the end of the decade.

And, now, for your exercises for the day:

  • Name the starting rotation that breaks camp with the Astros. (Count the number of different rotations in the comments.)
  • How many different pitchers will start at least one game in 2014?
  • Starter most likely to flame out or bomb? (Use the depth chart for your list of choices).
  • Young pitcher most likely to hit it big in 2014? Oberholtzer, Wojciechowski, Foltynewicz, Cosart, Peacock or someone else?
  • Pitcher(s) most likely to end up in Houston in 2014: Folty, Wojoalphabet, Appel or Buchanan?
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About Chip Bailey

Chip Bailey lives in Colorado Springs, CO, and is an author and former sports editor and sportswriter who has followed the Astros for more than 40 years. A native of Natchitoches, La., Chip enjoys watching baseball at most any level, especially pro and college. Several years ago, he worked as an associate of Pastor John Bosman, who enjoyed giving nick names to his staff. He came up with Chipalatta, and it’s stuck.

20 comments on “Astros’ rotation still building a bridge over troubled water

  1. Steven
    February 12, 2014

    I think management is banking on performances from Feldman and Williams. I am not. Williams has been a little more consistent, but Feldman has been at times much better. In Houston I see them both as mid to high 4 ERA types that lose more than they win. I am not even sure either one can stay healthy enough to be effective innings eaters since neither have had to fill that role in the past.

    Cosart will be probably have some very good games, even a few spectacular string of games, his overall numbers will probably be at or just above league average this year. I expect him to improve over the season.

    The rest of the group is why we will once again finish last.

    Wojo probably has the best chance to end the year in the rotation. Appel might get a look in August/September if it goes the way I suspect it will.

    Like

  2. Steven
    February 12, 2014

    And the fun part –

    Rotation that breaks camp – I am going with Feldman, Cosart, Williams, Peacock and Oberholtzer.

    My casino money is on red, 11 different starters this year. Most of these guys have no hisotry of throwing a significant number of innings in a season, durability could be an issue.

    All of them are candidates to Harrell it up. I am going with Feldman being disappointing, but not bad enough to lose his job (remember when Woody kept getting trotted out to give up 4 runs in 5 innings?). If Peacock can’t stay in the strike zone more, he might be candidate 1A. The walks wouldn’t be so messy if he had a slightly better rate of BABIP against, but man a combination of missing the strike zone big and hitting the strike zone sweet spots for hitters is not a good combo. He needs to learn to use the corners a little more.

    Last two questions go hand in hand. Cosart will be the one given the opportunity that Wojo and Folty will lack. I like all 3. Pretty much most of all you can do with young pitching is stockpile it, some will be good, some will be bad, one or two will become great. It’s a crapshoot. We once gave up on Schilling and shipped him out. Guesswork says that Cosart will have the opportunity, Wojo could bully his way in, but I think the Astros are content letting Folty simmer more. Cosart will be the youngster with the most impact.

    Like

    • daveb
      February 12, 2014

      Steven, I agree. I do not expect much from Feldman.

      Like

  3. Steven
    February 12, 2014

    Off topic some – but I have seen 2 different major sources give the Astros farm system the top grade now early season. Interesting considering where they came from.

    For all the praise Tampa has had in scouting, did you know that since 2008 they have drafted or signed 253 amateurs, without a single ine seeing major league time yet?

    Like

    • daveb
      February 12, 2014

      That’s why I continue to insist on a payroll similar to what St. Louis spends each year, even if the experts are telling us we have the best minor league system in the game. It does not translate into guaranteed success.

      Like

  4. 1oldpro
    February 12, 2014

    Can I please show some optimism. Our starting pitching is completely revamped from the group that started last season and we have a new pitching coach and coaches. I think the staff will surprise us and be better than expected. I pick Oberholtzer to be the surprise.

    Like

    • rj1953
      February 12, 2014

      i agree oldpro. i think pitching is definitely moving in the right direction.

      Like

    • BrianT
      February 12, 2014

      I think it’s important to note the Astros’ rotation was the worst in baseball by a long shot last year. Worst ERA by .24 runs a game. Worst WHIP by .05. Most walks, 28th in Ks. We were just bad.

      I really don’t see this staff being that bad. In a lot of ways, Feldman is a fairly even swap for Norris. But we didn’t have an innings eater like Williams. Cosart will be better. Peacock looks promising.

      And there’s real depth thanks to the farm system.

      Will this rotation jump up the standings? No. More likely to will crawl and claw up four to seven spots. But with the better bullpen and better lineup, this is an improved team. Maybe 20 games improved. And I’m OK with that.

      Like

  5. 1oldpro
    February 12, 2014

    This will be the biggest year of their careers for Harrell, Buchanan, Martinez, Cisneros and Tropeano. With the 3 youngsters we already have starting and Folty, Wojo, Appel and Rodon bearing down on them, they are going to have to shine or get out of the way next year.

    Like

  6. 1oldpro
    February 12, 2014

    Pitcher most likely to end up in Houston in 2014: Wojo.

    Like

  7. kevin kuns
    February 12, 2014

    I’m with you 1old pro, We have a lot of good young arms and some vets to hold down the fort. I think a real pitching coach like Storm makes a big difference, not trying to dish LOL forgot his name. My starters same as Chip and by July i think we will see 1 young gun be called up, not a re- tread. I think I hear the mits pooping and the bats cracking!
    GO STROS

    Like

    • 1oldpro
      February 12, 2014

      kevin, I have a really old PC and with Chip’s new format I cannot spellcheck, so seeing your “mits pooping” just caused me to bust out laughing. The first thing that popped into my mind was Villar’s glove!

      Like

  8. kevin kuns
    February 12, 2014

    I know i saw that and was LMBO and decided to leave it

    Like

  9. daveb
    February 12, 2014

    Well, as the old saying goes, “you can’t have too much pitching”. First off, I think we’ll see Wojoski and Folty well before September. Besides the inevitable injury and performance issues, guys like Feldman and Williams could get moved, assuming they are effective in the first half of the season, especially if we’ve got a couple of guys in AAA (see above) chomping at the bit. Hypothetically, I’d hate to see a 25 year old guy like Wojoski stuck in OKC, throwing lights out, blocked by a Feldman or a Williams.

    I’ve waited so long to have something good start to happen on Texas Avenue that I’m just not at all excited about “vets to hold down the fort”, another way to say “innings eaters”. I get it of course, as in theory, innings eaters make life much easier on the pen. I just want to see young, hungry, maybe a bit over enthusiastic, young guys out there, getting out of jams, throwing a big strikeout, giving up a dinger at the worst possible time……and watching them grow into a quality baseball club.

    We’ve been bad longer than all the combined years of my Little League and Pony League careers. Enough already.

    Like

    • 1oldpro
      February 12, 2014

      Dave, you say if Williams and Feldman are effective then we could trade them. Then you say you are tired of the losing.
      If they are effective then maybe we should keep them for the rest of the year and keep winning. Make up your mind.

      Like

      • daveb
        February 12, 2014

        oldpro, I’m pretty clear, at least in my own mind. If guys like Feldman and or Williams are holding up a Folty or a Wojoski, I’d move them, if moveable. I’d rather see an up and coming guy from our own system, rather than a journeyman. I personally think both Feldman and Williams qualify in that regard. Had we landed a real ace, rather than the anointed Feldman, a middle of the rotation guy at best, (I fear) then I would have been delighted. But I think we can find guys in house to give us what those two guys, maybe 40% of our rotation, will represent. Maybe Feldman was the best starter Luhnow could convince to come here. If that’s the case, then I would have passed. I would have spent more money in the pen and on another solid bat.

        Like

  10. Dan P
    February 12, 2014

    Kind of tying to daveb’s note – we have been complaining about the Astros spending more money and now that they’ve done some of it – the result is that there are guys who could block others – hopefully not – hopefully they are stop gaps that can be moved for even more young treasure.
    Now to Chip’s questions:
    – Opening day rotation – OK – just for fun I’ll throw a slight curve – my rotation is Feldman, Cosart, Oberholtzer, Williams and Keuchel – giving us two leftys in the five.
    – Number of starters – let’s say 12 – a big number, but I think there will be trades, injuries and uncertainty.
    – Young starter hitting it big – What the heck – Oberholtzer continues to impress with his Glavine like pitching game.
    – Most likely young gun to make it to the bigs in 2014 – Wojalphabet.

    Like

  11. devin_
    February 12, 2014

    I suspect Chip’s projected rotation starts the year. It wouldn’t shock me to see guys like Keuchel or White have big springs and compete for a spot.

    If we assume (best case scenario) that Wojo, Folty, and Appel are in the 2015 rotation, who will be the other two? Feldman (contract) and whichever of the other three (Williams will be gone) perform the best? Oberholtzer / Keuchel for left-handedness? What do we do with the others? What about the other prospects? At what point are we comfortable with Luhnow wheeling and dealing?

    Like

  12. Becky
    February 12, 2014

    I totally expect Wojo and Folty will make it very difficult for Luhnow and Porter to decide who stays up with the big club. They both have some
    very good qualities…….I’ll go out on a limb and say Folty wins a spot.
    Everytime July 29-30th comes around I cringe….who will get traded THIS year. Geeze.

    Like

  13. drbill14
    February 13, 2014

    Of course no one is mentioning Harrell and rightfully so but I wonder if he might be a candidate for closer. His ego might be massaged by getting a shot at an important role and if he could revert back to 2012 form with all of his ground balls he might be pretty effective and make the transition like Myers did in 2011. Would also make him a much more attractive trade piece and would allow the new BP guys who have been successful setup men stay in their roles.
    Actually I think the real evaluation quandary will be which of the potential young starters are attractive enough to get other teams interested in trades for position players while keeping the ones who really will grow into competitors for us. There won’t be enough innings to go around if all of our guys look good and I could sure go for trading one or two pitching prospects for a competent shortstop and/or utility guy who could spell Dominguez.

    Like

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This entry was posted on February 12, 2014 by in Astros.
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