After 63 games, the Astros have used 60 different batting lineups, seven cleanup hitters, four shortstops, seven left fielders, and 36 players overall.
Perhaps the most glaring number, however, is the number of starting pitchers A.J. Hinch has penciled into his lineup.
After 63 games, Houston has used 10 different pitchers to start a game, making pencil the operative word as half of those 10 starters have opened the game on the mound four or fewer times. In 2014, the team needed 11 for the entire season. The numbers were similar in 2013 (10), 2012 (11) and 2011 (9). So 10 for the first 63 games signals a huge problem for the club.
Despite the inconsistent hitting, which seems to be coming around in some regards (e.g. George Springer, Evan Gattis, etc.), the success of the rotation portends a huge issue as the cool spring turns into hot summer and then the stretch.
Only Dallas Keuchel has provided consistent outings and his sidekick Collin McHugh has faded after a decent start, including that disastrous start Saturday. Many feared a regression from the two top-of-rotation pitchers but McHugh has regressed enough for both of them combined. Meanwhile, injuries and lack of performance have plagued the starting group for Houston.
Again, however, only Keuchel and a generally strong bullpen have saved the day. Houston starters are 22-19 with a 4.12 ERA over those 63 starts, though they have pitched more innings than any other team (382) for a 6 1/3 IP per start. Still, Houston starters are in the bottom half of the league in batting average (11), strikeouts (11), walks allowed (12) and hits allowed (15).
To be sure, the rotation is in disarray. Feldman is due back later this month or next. Peacock could be out all or much of the season after another setback this week. Hernandez is now in the bullpen. Furthermore, the two youngsters — Lance McCullers Jr and Vincent Velasquez — could be only stop gaps since they are likely on an innings count and the jury is still out on Oberholtzer who returned from the DL a second time just Friday night.
Yes, the rotation for the first place Astros is a mess.
The issue isn’t run support. Houston hitters have provided plenty for McHugh (5.87), Obie (5.40), Hernandez (4.23) and Feldman (4.20). Wojo got 6 runs per his three starts and Keuchel manages to win with just 3.8 run support per game.
With little else waiting in the wings in Corpus Christi and Fresno, Jeff Luhnow may be assembling his prayer team while he works the phones in advance of the deadline. The crystal ball is even a mess and can’t possibly predict the outcome with so many injuries and up and down performances.
Here’s a quick recap for each of the pitchers.
Frankly, Keuchel may be the only current starter to finish the season in the rotation, barring injury. Feldman, Hernandez and McHugh have ERAs near or over 5 and could retain spots (Hernandez is in the bullpen presently) by default. At least for the time being.
Tommy Shirley and Brady Rodgers are stop-gap possibilities, but the Astros chose to leap-frog them with McCullers and Velasquez from Corpus Christi. How many rookie pitchers can you have in a rotation or on a pitching staff altogether and still be successful?
Most of the conversation about the trade front has focused on top of the rotation starters like Scott Kazmir, Cole Hamels and others, but Luhnow could be focused on adding two or more mid-rotation replacements that one big splash starter.
Make no mistake. Luhnow’s heavy lifting this summer will be correcting the rotation. He could get lucky with Obie or Peacock or perhaps stretch out or get creative (tandem) with McCullers and Velasquez, but the sheer number of holes in the dam are growing.
Questions for your Sunday morning.
- Is the rotation to the biggest challenge to a successful season?
- Which of these is most likely to provide decent contributions down the stretch: Feldman, Hernandez or McHugh?
- Should Luhnow focus on a top of rotation pitcher or two lesser, but solid, middle rotation guys?
- Which of the starters — injury or otherwise — has been the biggest disappointment in the first 63 games?
- If nothing changes with the roster except what is currently in the system, how would you advise Hinch to use the rotation?