The quietly amazing Astros’ starting pitching

Hidden in the onslaught of the Astros 8.3 runs per game during their 11-game winning streak was the effectiveness of the pitching, especially the starting pitching during this streak. The starters put up a 1.95 ERA over those 11 games and were extremely consistent as they went less than five innings once and gave up only three earned runs once in those games.

This has been a continuation of an ever-improving starting staff, which early on had been a solid top five staff in the AL and now with improving health has taken aim at the White Sox for the best staff in the majors. Currently, the starting staff is first in the AL in wins (34), second in ERA (3.30), first in WHIP (1.08) and second in innings pitched (430.1). 

The excellent results from the starters have been despite injuries that have slowed down a number of their corps. Framber Valdez, who was their best pitcher in 2020, especially the playoffs, missed all of April and almost all of May with a finger fracture that nearly cost him the 2021 season. Jake Odorizzi, who was brought in after the Astros thought they might not have Valdez at all in 2021, pitched in three games and then missed a whole month of the season. Lance McCullers and Jose Urquidy were both out for almost 3 weeks during the season.

And that does not even touch on the giant albatross in the room (hanging around the Astros salary cap) – Justin Verlander, who will be making $66 MM for 6 innings work over the 2020 – 2021 seasons. This brings us to the real reason this is an amazing starting staff when you look at everything they’ve lost from the rotation since the 2018 season.

  • Verlander – only the 2019 Cy Young award winner and the main pitching architect behind their 2017 World Series charge
  • Gerrit Cole – who maybe should have been the 2019 Cy Young award winner
  • Charlie Morton – who was 29-10 for the Astros in two seasons and then came in third in the Cy Young after going to Tampa Bay in 2019
  • Dallas Keuchel – who won a Cy Young with Houston, two-time All Star, 4 time Gold Glover
  • Wade Miley – who went 14-6 for the team in 2019
  • Collin McHugh – 58-35 in 6 seasons with the Astros who received both Rookie of the Year and Cy Young votes along the way
  • Brad Peacock – ultimate swingman, who went 13-2 in the World Series season

That is seven quality arms gone from 3 seasons ago. So, how have the Astros filled in behind them in 2021? With a seven-headed assault of their own.

  • Cristian Javier – The young right-hander has been a terrific swingman himself as his successful jaunt to the bullpen has shown. But to begin the season in 9 starts, he was excellent with a 3-1, 3.14 ERA.
  • Zack Greinke – At 37 years old, the “unique” one is leading the staff in wins (8) and innings (98.2 IP) with a solid 3.56 ERA and 1.115 WHIP.
  • Luis Garcia – Garcia, though, thought of as one of the Astros top pitching prospects has to be considered the biggest surprise on the staff. He has never pitched at AA or AAA ball, having pitched in 15 games at A+ in 2019. He pitched 12 innings for the Astros in 2020 and had a 2 inning scoreless start in the postseason. Though he showed well, there is no way what he has done so far in 2021 could have been expected. In 13 starts for the team, he is 6-3 with a 2.94 ERA and a 1.123 WHIP. He has pitched far beyond what his age and experience level would lead you to believe was possible.
  • Lance McCullers Jr. – Despite missing a few starts and occasionally losing his composure a bit, Lance has been a very effective pitcher for the team with a 5-1 record, 2.94 ERA, 1.173 WHIP and 9.8 Ks/ 9 IP.
  • Framber Valdez – After missing almost 2 months of the season, Framber is now back and has picked back up as the Astro’s best pitcher. In his 6 starts since the return from the IL, he is 4-1 with a 2.11 ERA and 0.991 WHIP and is already back to six and seven-inning stints.
  • Jose Urquidy – After a good showing in 2020, Urquidy has been very good again in 2021, only struggling with a little too good (hittable) control at times. He has been 6-3 with a 3.32 ERA and an excellent 0.962 WHIP and looks like part of a long term rotation for the team.
  • Jake Odorizzi – After 3 starts before his injury and 2 starts after it, Odorizzi was making the fans wonder if he was weakening rather than strengthening the rotation with a 7.16 ERA. But in his last 4 appearances (3 starts including tandems with Javier) he has given up 3 runs in 19 innings for a 1.42 ERA. He has looked a lot more like the 2019 All Star he was with Minnesota.

One of the biggest pluses of this journey is that the Astros will return six of these seven for at least the next couple seasons with Greinke being the only near term free agent.

So how surprised are you with how well this rotation has performed to date?

31 comments on “The quietly amazing Astros’ starting pitching

  1. As for me, I am truly amazed at how well our starting pitchers have performed thus far this year – especially lately. Even Jake Odorizzi, who got off to an absolutely atrocious start, has turned it around. Urquidy has been awesome – even if he did get ‘read’ and ‘rocked’ by the powerful Blue Jay offense a few games back. Framber has been ace-like. Garcia has shown flashes of brilliance. Greinke and McCullers have been the least consistent, but when on have been very, very good.

    I have also been enjoying the improved performance of the bullpen. I just wish we could quit issuing so many free bases via walks and HBPs.

    Now we just need to win our head-on series’ with the A’s, M’s, Angels, and Rangers – and never, under any circumstances, play A.J. Hinch or Akil Badoo again.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Contrary to the rumors going around, Paul is not dead. Here is what he has to say [as I understand the back-masking] about the 2021 Astros’ starting pitchers: [the tune is: “Maybe I’m Amazed”, okay?]

    Luis, I’m amazed at the way you’ve found a way to shine;
    Framber, I’m amazed at the way nobody hits you.
    Jose’ I’m amazed when you hang in for eight or nine;
    stay ’til it’s Pressly-time;
    and Greinke I’m amazed how you don’t let the bad vibes get you.

    Maybe I’m a fan, and maybe you’re not superman;
    and we’ll all turn around someday – and we’ll be just another also-ran;
    but since sticky stuff’s been banned you haven’t suffered in your spin rate, while Gerrit Cole’s a Petro-Can!

    McCullers, I’m amazed at the way you’re racking up the Ks;
    Jake O, I’m amazed at the way you rack up zeros.
    Christian, I’m amazed at the way you make that fastball blaze;
    pitch great with men on base;
    and maybe I’m amazed that you’ve all become our heroes!

    Maybe we’re just fans, and maybe you’ve got other plans
    than to pitch for Houston … til you trade your spikes for mini-vans.
    But when you see us in the stands, just tip your hat and know we love you;
    just don’t put pine tar on your hands! Ooooh, ooooh, ooooh.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. An excellent, timely, uplifting post!

    I was was almost positive we’d have a heck of an offense. Not quite this good though.
    I felt really good about our rotation, my one caveat was a concern for good health. We’ve fought that battle and beaten it with a couple of guys maturing before our eyes.
    I think we all knew the pen would be a concern. It still is. But I’m hopeful it will get much healthier and significantly better post the All Star game. I’ll be pleased to see a couple of guys go.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Coming off a weekend where the Astros teased us on Thursday and then creepily disappointed us against their former manager the rest of the time, I guess a post about their starting pitching is one way for me to be distracted.
    I don’t look at the Astros starting pitching individually. That would tend to drive me crazy because none of their starters appear able to take the ball and go out and dominate a team by himself for even one full nine-inning game.
    Dusty Baker’s main brain function is that of an old guy who is tired. Therefore, he thinks everyone else on the team is tired and not capable of playing baseball on a regular basis.
    This same mentality is embraced by major league baseball so much so that they actually change the game to accommodate this new way of thinking. Seven inning doubleheaders and non-baseball extra innings is the result of stupid people trying to change a game they seem to hate, and selfish players who wish to take a team game involving 25 players and turning it into a game of 26 individuals showing off.
    The irony of all this is that, with all the advancements in medicine and physical reshaping of bodies, we are trying to remake the game to fit players who are supposedly more fit, but actually more breakable.
    The truth of the matter is that players of sixty years ago were better designed to play the game of baseball than current players are, and baseball is now changing the game to accommodate today’s players whose bodies are being designed to blow up because they are being transformed in the weight rooms.
    Training to play baseball by being a weightlifter makes as much sense as training to be a weightlifter by playing baseball.
    I’ll stop here, but there is a lot more.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Boy I sure agree with a lot of what you’ve just said 1op. An example: Doesn’t it look like Alex Bregman, at the ripe old age of 27, waddles rather than runs? My eyes tell me he’s slower than he was 4 years ago. I’m sure he’s also stronger, right? Fine tuned. But brittle. He’s getting hoodwinked by gym rats that know nothing about baseball. I wonder how much time Cal Ripkin spent in a gym? I do know that for seven days one January here in Nevis I had the pleasure playing catch with Cal every morning. I might have been the only other guy on the island with a glove. This was during the streak. I never saw him in the gym. He played golf. Went fishing. Sat on the beach. Had a beer. From what I could tell, that’s how Cal Ripkin got ready for Spring Training.

      Liked by 2 people

      • In reading an article about Ripken’s training regimen, he ran a lot for many years and played basketball to stay in sprint shape.
        He turned to weights late in his career to try and retain his muscle, rather than to add to it. He had three different weight regimens focusing on three different areas of his body and used each one for a day and started over with the first on the fourth day of the week. So he did each set twice a week and took a day off.
        He always worked out after a game, so as to not wear himself out before a game.

        Liked by 3 people

  5. Speaking of starting pitching: as good as our hitters are, we sure could not figure out big Tarik Skubal. He absolutely tied our guys up in knots. Poor Abraham Toro [3 Ks] – he looked completely helpless. It will be interesting to see how Skubal does from this point forward.

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  6. We could have asked for better starting pitching, but there is no way we would have gotten any better. They have done all that was asked.

    As to strength and conditioning, the game is so changed. If you can throw a 95 mph heater for a strike, throw it 97. No one knows where it is going but that is not important. If your normal exit velocity as a hitter is 100, try for 120 even though you will get only one HR per month. It is amazing to me to see a “stat driven” franchise that would NEVER bunt to advance the runner, will have a guy hitting .210 swing wildly for a K and walk back to the dugout.

    Liked by 1 person

    • The only team who has won a World Series in at least the last 20 years and finished outside the top ten in contact rate is the 2004 Boston Red Sox. Tampa tried to do it last year, but we all know a shortened season with travel restricted scheduling could yield some quirky results. I think the lack of bunts is tied closely to the low contact rates and also influenced by the fact most managers are former players who are doing what their analytics department full of people who never played the game are telling them. But also remember how a running theme on this blog for years was the inability of the Astros to get runners in from third base with fewer than two outs.

      Liked by 2 people

  7. There are some interesting things when you go to mlb sortable stats
    For instance with Runner on third and less than 2 out….
    https://www.mlb.com/stats/team/runs?split=r3l2
    The Astros have scored the most runs in the majors
    And you can say that – sure – because they have so many opportunities they scored the most runs. However, one of the most interesting stats you can find for comparison is the following.
    The White Sox have more ABs (132 vs. 128) than the Astros have had with runner on third and less than two out. They’ve also way out hit the Astros in those situations (.371 BA vs. .273 BA). But the Astros have outscored the W’Sox 137 vs. 115 runs in those situations. That means the Astros have been good at making outs that still score runs – much better than a team like the White Sox.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. All the luck the Astros hit I for a couple weeks is abandoning them. Hitting shots that were hits and are now getting snagged. May need a repeat late inning heroics from Alvarez and Correa!

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  9. About the time that Dusty started giving “days off” the fire seemed to go out with the offense. When you’re hot you don’t let up. You keep the pedal to the metal. I agree with Becky and others. Time for Dusty to go. (But it won’t happen) And we’ll lose the opportunities to really put some distance between us and the others (A’s) included.

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  10. THAT WAS THE MOST INFURIATING INNING *EVER*!
    Walk in two runs….with bases loaded and one out and you get NOTHING😠
    I just threw my radio across the room!! You guys go ahead and watch this awful game….I’m done! They don’t deserve to win this game😠
    GRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR!!

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Garza on to pitch since Beilak gave up 4 runs. Taylor gives up 1 and were 0 for 10 with RISP. I guess we forgot how to play this game. What the hell was Bielak put in there anyway. 9th inning in a tie game. We never had a chance.

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  12. Unfortunately, when a streak ends, sometimes a slump happens. Last night it announced itself in spectacular fashion. Hey, the pen still sucks. Who comes in instead of Bielak? That has not gotten fixed. Usually when we get 20 baserunners, we win, especially against a pretty bad pitching club. Not right now though. Are we really going to blame this latest dip in the road on too much rest? I did not hear Dusty Baker getting much credit when our guys won 11 in a row. And when Grienke is off or when the offense sputters or when the pen implodes again, of course we blame Dusty.

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    • Dave, I am not on a campaign to get Dusty fired. Nor Click. Nor to get Crane to sell the team. But it is evident to anyone that wastes a couple hours a day that this bullpen will eventually cost the Astros some important games. I see no help in Sugar Land or Corpus Christi. It is just frustrating.

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      • I watched another team’s minor league game the other night. So it is not just the Astros that are crazy in my opinion. The starting pitcher pitched 5 innings. Gave up no runs, 1 hit, and 1 walk. Also the catcher threw out one of those two on an attempted steal. So he was pulled after 5 innings because it was 5 innings. His pitch count was 61. You could tell the kid was not happy either.

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      • astrocolt45, yes! The pen has and will continue to cost us games, important ones. I mentioned yesterday that my hope is the pen gets significantly better after the break. It really has to, because otherwise we’ll have been wasting two thirds of a very good baseball team in 2021. I’m optimistic. But last night was a team effort. I’m sure Grienke would say he was off. The bats were off. The pen acted like our pen.

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  13. It is tough to judge any manager, because we end up judging them based on what have you done lately. Managers make lots of decisions and some of them don’t work out right for them.
    I don’t always follow Dusty’s logic, but the team overall has done well. During the 11 game win streak they did most of that without Bregman or Tucker and during the streak at various times Altuve, Correa, and Gurriel had days off. He also was giving Uncle Mike some rest by putting Yordan out in the outfield various days.
    During the streak everything seemed to go there way. Well, luck reverses in this game and sometimes things don’t always work out.
    Is Baker as good of a manager as AJ Hinch? Probably not. But he is a good manager as his career numbers and playoff appearances show.
    If the Astros go down this season I’m not thinking it is because of Baker, but as AC45 says – the bullpen handing away games. They need help and I am not sure how they will do that. Obviously Baez may come back (August?) and they may move one of the 6 starters to the bullpen, but I’m not sure if that will be enough. Maybe Joe Smith turns back into 2019 Joe Smith?

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  14. We do have Abreu in Sugarland. We do have James wearing a Woodpecker hat. Hopefully both guys play a positive role with the Astros soon. But I do think GM Click is going to have to get some outside help, and soon. That’s his job.

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  15. I won’t get into all the statistics but when we were winning games and kicking butt we were beating the other teams like a drum. The offense and the pitching were pretty much on cruise control. The manager made out the line up card and the guys went to work. The real test comes when the games are close and the manager has to really manage the situations and put forward the best that he has out on the field. It’s not a time for guess work and “let’s get whomever” out there because he needs a little work. It’s not that I don’t like Dusty or not respect him. It has more to do with inspiring the team, lighting a fire under them, and getting them in a position to win the game. I had to follow the game on “gameday” because my MLB subscription does not carry Baltimore or Washington games because they are too close (350 miles) to me and get blacked out. I followed the 9th inning and I actually thought we might come back and tie or win the game. Something happened there and maybe somebody got pissed off but for a moment we looked like we did when we won 11 in a row.
    What does all this babble mean? I still think there’s a missing ingredient to make this team be world beaters. No, I don’t expect us to be perfect but don’t embarrass yourselves. Bull pen 1st and manager 2nd.
    Kudos to Scrubb for an almost perfect inning. But I really don’t have a lot of confidence in him, Bielak, Garza, Taylor Abreu, or Paredes. But since that’s better than half of our bull pen what’s the alternative? And yes, I know not all of them are on the active roster but some team must have somebody in their system we can go get to help the team out. Can’t wait till August/September to strengthen the bull pen.
    And I think we need to thank Becky who has now created our PO’d cheer.
    GRRRRRRRR!

    Liked by 1 person

  16. From Brian McTaggart: “The Astros are 13-13 this year in games decided by two runs or fewer, which is indicative of the bullpen woes in close games.”

    Is it the ad for Hotels.com the one that says “Thanks Captain Obvious.”

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  17. That game looked lost from the get-go. The offense was atrocious and Greinke looked uncharacteristically clueless. We were not prepared in any facet of the game. If it had been any team other than Baltimore, we would have been out of it by the fourth or fifth inning.

    We gave the Orioles 15 hits – and 4 walks – and they only scored 9 runs? They gave us 10 base on balls and a hit by pitch -along with 10 hits – and we scored only 7 runs?

    I can’t even blame the bullpen – that was just a really, really ugly performance, from stem to stern.

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