Astros 2020: Areas to sustain and to improve, pitchers


First of all – we at Chipalatta wish you the very best in 2020. 

This is the second in a two part look at the Astros expected to contribute in 2020. Today we are looking at some of the pitcher’s stats for 2019 and decide what we would want them to sustain from last season and what to improve.

Justin Verlander

  • Sustain – Well, let’s see. All Verlander did was lead all MLB pitchers in WAR (7.8), wins (21), WHIP (.803), innings (223) and hits per 9 IP (5.529) and tied for the most starts (34). Oh, and he threw a no hitter and won the AL Cy Young award. His ERA (2.58) was 4th in the majors and he struck out 300 hitters for the first time in his career. Yeah, we would take a repeat of all that.
  • Improve – Jeez, Mr. Michaelangelo, could you maybe pick a better-looking woman than this Mona Lisa chick as a subject? She hardly knows how to smile and she looks like a nun dressed her.  OK, if forced to ask for improvement for one of the greatest pitchers I have ever seen, those 36 HRs and the subsequent 1.5 HR/ 9 IP are the highest of his career. Of course, that may be tied more to the juice in the balls and not the failure of a future Hall of Famer.

Zack Greinke

We interrupt this post on sustainability and improvement to spend a few minutes praising one of the most underappreciated pitchers of the last decade. Look at what he did in the last seven seasons. 

Season  W-L   ERA   Innings   Ks/Walk
2013      15-4   2.63   177.2       3.22
2014      17-8   2.71   202.1       4.81
2015      19-3   1.66   222.2       5.00
2016      13-7   4.37   158.2       3.27
2017      17-7   3.20   202.1       4.78
2018      15-11 3.21   207.2       4.63
2019      18-5   2.93   208.2       6.23

He has been one of the top pitchers every season, except 2016 when he suffered an oblique injury….hitting. In his career he has won one Cy Young, two silver sluggers (best hitting pitcher) and as we saw in the playoffs, six Gold Gloves in a row. His control is impeccable and though he gives up hits, he does not give away freebies or as many HRs as some of his contemporaries.

Now, back to the post….

  • Sustain – The Astros would take 2019 Greinke’s 18-5 record, 2.93 ERA, 208.2 IP and 6.4 WAR right now and not think twice.
  • Improve – After the trade from Arizona, Zack’s hits / 9 IP went up from 7.2 to 8.3 and his K rate / 9 IP went down from 8.3 to 7.5. That may have just been him adjusting to a new situation, but a tweak back to his D’Back numbers would be welcome.

Lance McCullers 

  • Sustain – How do you approach sustainability for someone who has not faced live pitching in 14 months and counting? How do you predict what he may or may not bring to the party in 2020? Baseballreference.com predicts the following for Lance in 2020 – 5-3 record with a 4.24 ERA and only 70 IP. For some reason they think he will pick up his first career save and that he will only hit 4 batters – the same amount that he hit in 2.1 innings in game 7 of the World Series against the Dodgers. If we want to look at sustainability vs. his last year of pitching….. well in 2018 he had career bests with 10 wins, 128.1 IP and a 1.169 WHIP added to a solid 3.86 ERA. I think the Astros would take that if he could stretch that out to about 150 innings or so.
  • Improvement – In 2018, he hit right at his career number with 3.5 walks per 9 IP, which is one reason he averages right around a mediocre 5.5 innings per start. Now he may never match Greinke, who runs about 6.5 innings per start and 2.1 walks per 9 IP (1.3 last season) or Verlander who also runs about 6.5 innings per start and 2.6 walks per 9 IP (1.7 last season), but maybe he can learn from them as they both have improved in both those areas over the years.

Jose Urquidy

  • Sustain – It’s the old “small sample” story, but the Astros saw just enough of Urquidy (who missed 2017 after Tommy John surgery) to hope for more of the same. He threw a career high 144 innings between AA, AAA and the majors and topped off decent numbers during the regular season with the big club (2-1, 3.95 ERA, 1.098 WHIP in 40.1 IP) with giving up only 1 run in 10 innings of the postseason and a critical win in game 4 against the Nationals. If he could sustain the poise and good control (1.5 walks/ 9 IP) he showed, he could slide nicely into the 4th slot in this rotation.
  • Improvement – He had a couple poor outings in his first stint with the big club (in July), but after he came back up in September he only gave up 3 runs in 18 innings on top of an excellent postseason. If you drop those two poor outings his ERA for his other 11 outings in the regular and postseason was a sparkling 1.62.  Improvement may be as simple as channeling what he learned between those two shots with the big club.

Brad Peacock

  • Sustain – Peacock was up and down in a season where he spent a good chunk of it battling shoulder problems. He had some good highlights, such as his 7 innings of 3 hit shutout ball and 12 Ks against the Royals. But he eventually lost his starting spot to shoulder tenderness and the IL. If he could channel his 2017 performance he would be the perfect place holder in this rotation, while the youngsters like Forrest Whitley get themselves ready, but is his shoulder good or not? There is a good chance that he will be in the bullpen, which has potentially lost Collin McHugh, Will Harris and Hector Rondon.
  • Improvement – His walk rate has always been on the high side and his home run rate has been up the last couple seasons (who hasn’t?). But health has always been a question for Peacock and in this season leading to free agency, it is critical for him to be available.

Roberto Osuna

  • Sustain – It’s easy to see all the flaws in your team’s closer. I just did a little exercise where I sorted by the number of saves against all the closers in the AL and #1 in 2019 was Osuna with 38 saves. But the other striking thing is that he did this at the age of 24. Of the other top 10 pitchers in saves in the AL, the youngest are 28 (Ken Giles, Taylor Rogers and Hansel Robles). You have to go all the way down to #19, Joe Jimenez (9 saves) to find another 24-year-old. Osuna saved more games, finished more games than any other pitcher in the AL and at 65 IP, threw more innings than studs like Brad Hand (57) and Aroldis Chapman (57.1).                                                Yes, he blew some games late and in the playoffs. But picture how such veteran closers as Chapman (Oh man – Jose Altuve), Kenley Jansen (Oh man – Marwin Gonzalez and Alex Bregman) and Craig Kimbrel (Oh man – Carlos Beltran) have struggled at times in the playoffs. It happens. Anyways – the Astros should gladly take another 38 saves right now and be happy.
  • Improvement – Let’s see if he can boost that very good 86% save percentage to a more elite 90% next season.

Ryan Pressly

  • Sustain – Pressly did not give up a run in his first 19 appearances of the season, which when added to a 21 game scoreless streak at the end of 2018, gave him a MLB record 40 consecutive scoreless appearances. By July 18th he still was sporting an excellent 1.45 ERA when he was hit on the knee on a comebacker to the mound. He gave up 7 runs in his next five appearances and struggled through a chunk of August before having a “procedure” on his knee (it is a procedure when it happens to someone else…). He made his first All-Star team and for most of the season was part of a very tough back end to the Astros bullpen ending up 2-3 with a 2.32 ERA, .902 WHIP and 3 saves. If he can just repeat the performance when he was healthy, that would be great for the team.
  • Improvement – Take fielding lessons from Zack Greinke?

Chris Devenski 

  • Sustain – It feels like a long time ago that Devo came in 4th in the Rookie Of the Year voting, but it was only 2016. It seems impossibly long ago that he was an All-Star, but it was only 2017. But so far the only thing he has sustained in his career is a steady decline year-to-year. His ERA (2.16, 2.68, 4.18, 4.83) and WHIP (0.914, 0.942, 1.162, 1.304) have worsened significantly each season. About the only thing you would want to sustain is his health as he was available for 61 games and 69 innings in 2019. One bright spot, after a horrible August, he bounced back to pitch his best ball in September. Maybe he figured something out?
  • Improvement – When you compare 2019 to his best year in 2016, his hit rate has gone up from 6.6 to 9.0 hits/9 IP, his walk rate has gone from 1.7 to 2.7 walks/ 9 IP and his home run rate has gone from a ridiculously low 0.3 to a below-average 1.7 HR/9 IP. This probably ties into location problems, plus perhaps the opponents have gotten used to his great changeup and are making him throw the fastball over the plate. Whatever, he needs to turn this around in 2020.

Joe Smith

  • Sustain – Coming back in mid-July from an off-season rupture of his Achilles tendon, Smith was an unexpected addition to the bullpen for the stretch run. He ended up with a 1.80 ERA (that was 1.11 before giving up 2 runs in his last appearance of the season). His ERA, walk rate and WHIP were all below career averages. The sidewinder was particularly tough on right-handed batters (.196 BA/ .211 OBP/ .443 OPS with no homers allowed), but his numbers against left-handed hitters (.229 BA/ .308 OBP/ .765 OPS) were better than would be expected. If he pitches like this in 2020, he will be a real asset.
  • Improvement – His K-rate (7.9 K/9 IP) was down from the last couple of seasons. Maybe that is not even needed if he gets them out otherwise.

Josh James

  • Sustain – After a nice cup of coffee in 2018, James struggled out of the gate in 2019 finishing April with an ERA above 7. This may have been tied to coming back from a quad injury suffered in Spring Training. He would work that ERA down, have an appearance or two where it went back up and finally missed time with a tender shoulder in August. About the only number they would like him to sustain from 2019 is the 14.7 K/9 IP.
  • Improvement – Lots of places to pick from, but his 5.1 walks/9 IP and his 4.70 ERA stand out. Good health would be nice, too.

Framber Valdez

  • Sustain – On the Astros MLB depth chart page they show Framber as the 5th starter. Considering he was 2-4 with a 7.07 ERA as a starter in 2019 for the Astros and 2-3 with a 4.63 ERA as a reliever, there is not much to speak for that in recent history. He did show pretty well in 2018 as both a starter and a reliever, so maybe they are hopeful he can get back to that competency. Sustainability-wise they would like to see the suppressed amount of hits he gave up in 2018.
  • Improvement – Valdez gets tremendous movement on his pitches. Unfortunately, this has resulted in an unacceptable 5.7 walks/9 IP in his time in the bigs. He needs to improve his control if he is going to be of value to this pitching staff.

Joe Biagini

  • Sustain – Coming over with Aaron Sanchez and Cal Stevenson in the Derek Fisher trade, he did nothing to impress the fans or the front office with his 0-1 record and 7.36 ERA in his 14.2 innings (including 9 walks and 6 HRs) with the Astros. Now we do not know if they were having him completely change the way he pitches after the trade, but if he could sustain some of the positive things he did with the Jays (3-1 / 3.78 ERA) that might allow him to eat some middle innings for the club.
  • Improvement – Again small sample, but the 3.7 HR/9 IP, 5.5 walks/ 9 IP and a 2.045 WHIP after the trade are all areas to address.

Bryan Abreu

  • Sustain – The 22-year-old had problems in his one post-season appearance against a loaded Yankee team, but he showed a lot of promise in 7 regular appearances. He had a 1.08 ERA, .808 WHIP, struck out 13.5 K/9 IP and did not give up a dinger in his late-season appearances. Repeating those kind of numbers could put him in line for a shot at that 5th starting spot.
  • Improvement –  The kid showed he may just need a chance to be a difference-maker for the team.

And the rest

So, how do you feel about the team and their pitching prospects for the coming season?

31 comments on “Astros 2020: Areas to sustain and to improve, pitchers

  1. First, to start the season with JV and Greinke, is almost as good as starting last season with JV and Cole, in my opinion. Second, if LMJ comes back healthy, we will be as good as any 3rd starter we could ask but 4th and 5th need to step up. We have plenty that MIGHT be good, but are yet unproven. In the bullpen, Osuna and Pressly are great or can be. Smith appeared to do well at the end of the season. James, Valdez, etc need to have better control. Fix that and they will be fine. Devo still needs a 3rd pitch in my opinion. And I am not sure what to do with Biagini except send him down to work on somethings. Finally, this team has an excellent defense. The pitchers need to pitch to contact in my opinion. That reduces the pitch count, which keeps you in the game longer, and does not wear out the rest of the bullpen.

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    • And by the way – sorry for the mistake in the title – itchers rather than pitchers – though obviously many players are itchers.
      Chip will fix it I’m sure

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Journeyman pitcher Don Larsen just died at 90 yrs old. He pitched the only perfect game in World Series history for the Yanks against the Dodgers in 1956 (when I was 6 weeks old).
    Towards the end of his career he spent a short stint with the Colt 45’s here in Houston in 1964-65.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Dan, I was eight years years old and was with relatives visiting Beaumont, Texas when Larson threw his perfect game. Some of us watched it on a black and white 21″ TV. By the way , it was Leonardo Da Vinci that did Mona Lisa– LOL.

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      • Great memory Larry!

        Oops my booboo – oh well as Bill and Ted would say – “One of those Italian dead dudes….”

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  3. I’ve been in contact with friend of the blog Diane. She had a seizure back in mid-December and spent a few days in the hospital. They are fighting it with meds and she can’t drive for a few months – her employers are working with her on this. She seemed in good spirits – but I’m sure prayers are always appreciated.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Can Justin Verlander duplicate his Cy Young season? It’s hard for me to have the same expectations for him.
    I’m pretty comfortable with Greinke having continued success. While he might not put up the best stats of his career, he’ll get run supports.
    It would be tough to deal with a significant injury from our 1 or 2.
    The balance of the rotation remains a question mark. And even when we find out who will make up 3, 4 and 5 (and who knows, maybe even 5A and 5B) in the rotation, it is hard to say right now how McCullers (3?), Urquidy (4?) and the back end of the group will perform. I thinking some dark horse is going to have to play a positive role at some point.

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  5. The thing that encourage me are LMJ admitting that he’s been pitching for years with a bad UCL and that he feels healthy now. I’m hoping that LMJ moves up to the next tier of pitchers with a good arm.
    The next thing that encourages me is the fact that the team trusted Urquidy with the game 6 start. I think that sometimes the conservative approach by the organization in regards to their pitching prospects gets in the way of those prospects reaching their potential. I’m hopeful that their experience with Urquidy trickles down to another young pitcher being allowed to come in and shine and grab that #5 spot, leaving Peacock free to be part of a strong bullpen.
    On a final note, having Biagini and Devenski in our bullpen for 2020 is not an improvement. In order to improve the bullpen, they need to add better pitchers to it.. And those pitchers need to be young, better arms from our prospect, who help us, not just in 2020, but for a lot of seasons to come.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. As you can see, this is more in line with my thoughts, than the MLB Trade Rumors “2/$18MM” estimate. That’s the same publication that only missed Cole’s contract by $68 million.

    Nov. 5
    https://www.mlbtraderumors.com/2019/11/mlb-free-agent-predictions-2020.html

    Jan. 2
    “Feinsand indicates Harris is mulling multiple multi-year offers in the salary range of $6-7 million per year. We haven’t heard much in the way of rumors on Harris so far this offseason, but it’s unsurprising he is generating interest from multiple clubs given his strong track record.” I wrote that we should offer him 2/12 originally, and only recently began to consider dave’s comments.

    My first choice would be to trade for an up-and-coming, Dinelson Lamet.
    3.61 SIERA/3.44 xFIP.

    In the event we cannot swing a trade like this, I’m still much more in favor of pitching the younger arms for SP4/5
    Urquidy, Valdez, James, Javier, Abreu, Bielak, Ivey, Whitley, Armenteros, Sneed, Perez are the year-long candidates. There is a TON of talent here, which is not unproven. They have in various forms evicerated their competition.

    Peacock is the likeliest to take the last rotation spot on OD, but I don’t expect him to hold it all season.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I don’t know what to say about the pen yet. It’s probably a bit of a long shot, but I’m going to hope Harris comes back. And I agree that Biagini and Devenski are not going to help. It’s likely a couple of the young guys are going to get a real shot and I’m okay with that, but there will be growing pains. Abreu come to mind. His way on to the 26 man might well come via a job in the pen initially. He’s versatile. It was not too many years ago when some folks didn’t have much patience with that Bregman kid over at third.

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    • Bregs started slow but caught on pretty quick. That hot corner is a totally different animal than SS.

      That reminds me again of how many times Bregman was on 1B when Alvarez was up. That looks like the scariest thing in baseball, standing there with so little time to react from 115 mph exit.

      Btw, dave, I’m going to make you a bet that Tyler White’s career is ostensibly over. He’s currently behind Muncy, Beaty and Bellinger. Maybe when the Dodgers got him to pick his brain, he would have told them the Astros did NOT cheat? One would think so, since other former players have said the same; Cole, Davis, etc. The Scrub we got for him isn’t going to amount to much either. You’re going to have to find a new nephew, my friend!

      Abreu is a great idea. I think he’s going to be a STAR in a few years.

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      • I didn’t want Devo and Biagini on the roster either, but on those guys, I’m just going to trust the Stros. Hinch loves that Devenski will take any assignment, like Peacock, and Biagini’s year of control and experience (1.5M is pretty cheap too).

        Devenski has such strong character; I like that they are loyal to him. Shame his fastball/changeup aren’t what they once were. I can’t remember the rule (how many yrs of service precludes using options), but Devo had 3 options last year. If that’s true, we can always shelve him. I thought a year ago he’d be a good trade add-on to CIN. The NL hasn’t see his stuff much.

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      • Nephew just got engaged. Maybe he will settle down and go home. But that small sample in 2018 was a pretty big small sample. LA might not be his kind of town, but I still think he’ll get another shot somewhere. When he allows himself to be selective, he’s a pretty good hitter. So what’s the bet?

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      • I would say a bottle of rum, but you’re tastes are probably out of my price range ha!

        He didn’t take 2018-2019 offseason seriously, but in retrospect, the Astros were just looking for a cheap placeholder for Alvarez.

        I loved the guy’s story, and it was really cool when his parents were there for his debut. I rooted for him over Reed in 2016. I can’t explain his regression other than the weight. We’ll see if finding out a thyroid issue was a catalyst, or if he gets a chance somewhere else.

        The bet should be whether he ever puts up 1 WAR again. Shall we?

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  8. It was alarming for me when the Dodgers said our organization knew of Tyler White’s diabetes and did nothing about it. If that was the case, it makes my opinion of the front office even MORE despicable. I truly hope that wasn’t the case. After Verlander and Greinke it’s a crap shoot. I’m not a skilled baseball mind, just a fan….but I guess it remains to be seen if McCullers still has “it”.
    We all would love for Devo find another pitch…. and I’m perplexed that Strom hasn’t addressed that (maybe he tried) he still has worth, so I don’t see him gone since he still has an option left.
    PLEASE Dan give my love to Diane she will surely be in my prayers and my thoughts for a return to good health. She means a lot to me🙏 Thanks, Becky

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  9. Minor leaguer Luis Robert signs deal with the White Sox for a guaranteed 50 million before ever playing a Major League game. He’s a heck of a prospect, but there are other guys with higher ceilings. My, how the business of baseball is changing before our eyes.

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    • He had signed for 26M as a prospect, if I recall.
      I still remember seeing him at 16, a freak of a talent.

      The fact that the Astros are able to develop an MVP in Jose Altuve for $15,000 ought to tell you where the real talent is — development.

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    • That’s a painful one for me. It does make me wonder if Harris thought it was a good idea to get out of town at this time and place. Based on what other guys are getting paid this year, 3 at 8 sounds almost reasonable.

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      • Hard for me to impute a “get out of town” factor to Harris’ decision. I think 3 yrs/$24M was not in our budget so he went for the money. Isn’t they what they all do? VERY few exceptions to that rule these days.

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      • That’s fair to say Thriller. Just a totally unsubstantiated thought from me. Maybe we’ll hear some candid thoughts from players themselves once whatever sanctions are handed down.

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      • Can’t blame Harris for that. He’s one that I genuinely wish well except if he has to pitch against us. How many relievers in the game get a 3yr/24MM at 35? Good for him.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Harris told Mark Berman that the Astros were eliminated early on because they couldn’t compete with what he was looking for.

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  10. This is not meant as a complaint but figures don’t lie, although liars figure. The Astros are right at or above the Luxury Tax amount. Sitting around $200,000 million this year. We all want all our “stars” to get “tied up” for several years. Some times, the money just does not allow the team to do so. The Astros “might” pick up a big name or two in July for 1/2 a year’s money. But they are in Red Sox and Yankees payroll territory.

    Also, if for some reason the Astros are nearly out of contention in July, that means several are not playing to their potential, so I expect a large salary dump getting ready for the future and attempting to hold on to some of the “stars.”

    Liked by 1 person

    • Gosh AC45, salary dump? I doubt management would take 1/2 season under peformance as proof that their window is closed. They still have Verlander and Greinke for 2021, and Altuve, and Bregman and Correa and Alvarez. And then by 2022 they will have a lot of flexibility with JV and ZG (and probably Springer) gone

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