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.
- 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.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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?
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
- We don’t know if critical components to the staff are even on the team at this time.
- We do know that we would love that someone from , Forrest Whitley, Tyler Ivey, Cristian Javier, Brandon Bielak, Rogelio Armenteros, Cy Sneed (or name your favorite prospect) will step up and grab a spot or two with the big club.
So, how do you feel about the team and their pitching prospects for the coming season?