The last time Lance McCullers pitched for the Astros was game 4 of the 2018 ALCS against the Red Sox. The last time Lance McCullers pitched uninjured for the Astros was probably in early July of 2018. He had a 10-3 record and a 3.41 ERA and then gave up 14 runs in his next 13.2 innings before being shut down for most of August and September. He came back and pitched out of the bullpen for the final week of the season and through the playoffs and then underwent Tommy John surgery immediately after the season.
Whenever the 2020 season is discussed, LMJ is mentioned as the third starter behind Justin Verlander and Zack Greinke. The Astros have lost through free agency 74 starts from 2019 (almost 1/2 of a season) between Gerrit Cole (33), Wade Miley (33) and Collin McHugh (8). Note – McHugh theoretically could return, but there has been no mention of him as a possibility. So, a big chunk of the #2 and #3 starts of Cole and Miley are assumed to be picked up by Greinke and McCullers.
Greinke, who has 32 or 33 starts and more than 200 innings with ERAs ranging from 2.93 to 3.21 in each of the last three seasons, would seem to be capable of picking up a chunk of the slack from losing Cole. The bigger question is – what can the Astros expect from McCullers? Even with Miley’s struggles down the stretch, he still gobbled up 167.1 innings for the Astros in 2019.
The only time that LMJ has come close to that number of innings was in his rookie season when he completed 157.2 IP between the minors and the majors. Since then he has pitched a combined 89 IP in 2016, 126.2 IP in 2017 and 128.1 IP in 2018. And of course, that culminated in a big goose egg in 2019 as he recovered from the TJ surgery.
When he has pitched he has been good to very good for the Astros. He has a 29-22 record with a 3.67 ERA that has usually been better than that except for a few inflated games before some of his visits to the IL (actually DL at the time). He has a good 10.1 K/9 IP and gives up an excellent 0.7 HRs / 9 IP. His walk rate is pretty mediocre at 3.5 BB/9 IP and he consistently has had trouble going deep into games. In each of his seasons, he has averaged about in the middle between 5 and 6 innings a start. And there is a big question about how many innings he should pitch in a season after he pitched none.
On the positive side, Lance reported shortly after the team lost in the 2019 World Series that his rehab was over and that he was cleared to throw whatever and whenever he normally would this off-season including using his top-notch curve ball.
There are a number of choices here:
- Start LMJ in the bullpen for a couple months and then ease him into the starting rotation
- Throw him out there in the starting rotation and leave him there for the length of the season and hope he doesn’t break down
- Throw him out there in the starting rotation and have him take 4-6 weeks off in the middle of the season due to some “strain” or “pain”
It might make the most sense to give him some time off in the middle of the season when one of their young guys (Forrest Whitley?) is ready to come up and help.
- Do you think McCullers is the most important cog coming into 2020?
- How do you think they should handle his return?
- Do you think he would be better off in a bullpen role?
- What do you think the rotation will look like at the beginning of 2020? At the mid-point?