Options for the Astros’ rotation

One of the most prominent question marks heading into 2022 for the Astros is the potential makeup of their starting rotation. It is a conglomeration of what we know and what we don’t know.

What We Know. Seven pitchers started 159 of the Astros games in 2021 – Zack Greinke (29), Lance McCullers Jr. (28), Luis Garcia (28), Jake Odorizzi (23), Framber Valdez (22), Jose Urquidy (20) and Cristian Javier (9).

What We Know. Zack Greinke is gone in free agency to the Royals. Justin Verlander is back after pitching 6 innings in the last two seasons.

What We Know. The arguably two best pitching options for the top of the rotation from Verlander and the six returnees are Verlander and McCullers. And we know that neither of them will start the season on time, with McCullers return being more uncertain and worrisome.

What We Don’t Know. We do not know which five pitchers will start the season in the rotation.

What We Don’t Know. And we don’t know which pitcher(s) will trudge off to the bullpen as the first one and then the other of the studs returns to the rotation (hopefully).

So, let’s talk about it. A betting man at this point, based on the other options being healthy at the beginning of the season, would say four of the spots are locks to be in that rotation. Luis Garcia (11-8, 3.58 ERA, 2nd in ROY voting), Framber Valdez (11-6, 3.14 ERA), Jose Urquidy (8-3, 3.62 ERA) and Jake Odorizzi (6-7, 4.21) should be expected to be four of the five men. The fifth man would seem to be the one in doubt.

Option #1 – Cristian Javier. This would seem the easiest choice for the fifth spot in the rotation. In his two seasons with the Astros, Javier has started 19 games, is an excellent 8-3 with a 3.42 ERA, and has given up a .181 BA/.270 OBP/.642 OPS slash against. The only question with Javier is that with the shortened Spring Training and the likelihood that the starting pitchers will not be stretched out, whether he would be of more value in his role as a man who could come out of the bullpen every 3 or 4 days for a couple of valuable innings to help bridge to the back three in the bullpen.

Option #2 – Youth Will Be Served. Peter Solomon looked excellent in a small sample in his 2021 debut. Brandon Bielak was serviceable (4.50 ERA) in 50+ innings. Jonathan Bermudez and Shawn Dubin pitched reasonably well in their first exposure at AAA last season and are on the 40 man roster. Would one of those two pitchers be a top option to prove whether they possibly belong on the 26 man roster? I cannot force myself to type Forrest Whitley here…..

Option #3 – Use that Shortstop Windfall. If the Astros do not sign Carlos Correa or Trevor Story, would they use some of that money to bring in a more expensive option? This does not seem likely unless they think that McCullers is out long term. But if they do this, it could mean that Odorizzi is heading elsewhere when the wounded heal.

Option #4 – Bring in a rental. Pick up a veteran who is on the wrong side of 30 as a lower cost-free agent or make a minor trade to pick up someone who is not likely to keep their roster spot. This would be someone they could flip or release later with very little problem.

The other side of this coin is what will happen when/if Verlander and McCullers return. Who goes to the bullpen first between Odorizzi and Options 1,2,3 or 4? This could well depend on performance, but it might be something pre-ordained. They might tell one of the other what the long term plan is. Or they could decide that someone has earned a longer look. And then again, other pitchers in the rotation may struggle a bit or even have some injury problems. This will be a very interesting decision, especially if one or the other of Verlander and McCullers does not return any time soon.

In the end, the decisions related to the rotation may be some of the most critical related to the team’s success in 2022.

What are your thoughts?

27 comments on “Options for the Astros’ rotation

  1. I am one of those guys who plans for the worst case scenario while hoping for the best. That means I plan for [a] NO MCCULLERS til at least after what used to be known as the ‘All Star Break’, and [b] only one or two starts at most from Verlander before he goes to the IL for an extended period if not the entire year. In other words, Framber Valdez is my #1 starter, followed by #2 JOSE URQUIDY [who will be on the IL for at least a month at some time the year], followed by #3 LUIS GARCIA [who will be inconsistent, but occasionally brilliant]; followed by #4 JAKE ODORIZZI [who will be brutally massacred by competitive offenses, such that he is relegated to the bullpen by the ASB], and by #5 Christian Javier [who will, like Garcia, be inconsistent, but occasionally brilliant]. When Urquidy goes to the IL and Odorizzi crashes and burns we will see what Peter Solomon and Shawn Dubin can do. Solomon will be occasionally brilliant; occasionally mundane. Dubin will be serviceable, but not spectacular.

    I hope the offense scores a lot of runs.

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  2. No forecast UCL blowouts for position players. The ones Ifrom whom I expect significant missed time based on past history or age are Bregman, Brantley, Alvarez, Diaz, and Gurriel. Hopefully, if they go down for a stint, it will be be one at a time.

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  3. I’ve always liked Johnny Cueto and I assume he was the inspiration for Garcia’s goofy windup. It would be great to see them on the same team.

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  4. I’m not worried about it. The Astros have 24 pitchers on their 40-man roster. I am pretty sure they can find five starters in there.
    I guess I’m like the players and the owners: If it’s gonna happen, it’s gonna happen. We’ll worry about everything later.

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  5. Not much out there left if you wanted more depth.

    I like our staff. It could be worse. Valdez, Urquidy, Garcia and Javier all came to us via Luhnow’s commitment to that market. It’s paid off. They all have some consistency issues, and injury issues, but if you get 80-90 starts from those 4, 40 from the aces Verlander and McCullers, and they are all upright in September for the stretch run and October for the playoffs, we will be in a good spot.

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  6. And ref: Bryant to Colorado, I don’t know if the Rockies are going to win, but Bryant is going to get paid AND now he is going to move into the top 10 in most fantasy drafts. Especially since he will have multi position qualification at least for this year.

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  7. I’ll stop talking about football, but the conversations on the radio are about the need to have that top 5 in the league quarterback. The days where Trent Dilfer and Brad Johnson could easily find starting jobs with security are long gone. I disagree with this approach, but the way Seattle and Indianapolis started blowing up the phones in Cleveland once Mayfield requested a trade support it. In baseball, it’s hard to let go of the notion you need that ace who can go the distance in a playoff game, but outside of Madison Bumgarner we’ve mostly seen starters put in a quality start and hand it over to the bullpen. That’s why I feel pretty good about our staff despite the McCullers injury. We have a lot of guys who have shown the ability to put us in position to win. You could argue that if we had LMJ for the full postseason we probably beat the Braves, but I’d counter that there’s no reasonable excuse for the offense not torching the pitching the Braves put out there.

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    • I don’t know about an ace that goes the distance, but I’ll take 5 innings of 1 or 2 run ball and keep you in the game.

      Our starters gave up 16 runs in 19 innings. And that is counting the now absent Greinkes pretty good 4 shutout innings. Without him it was 16 runs in 15 innings.

      I don’t have confidence that Valdez or Garcia, the horses we tried to hitch to in the WS, would be any better in a different spot. Maybe they learned from it, or maybe their stuff just isn’t good enough for the biggest stage.

      That’s why people chase aces. You named 2 above average QB’s that managed to win a superbowl, but the rest of QB’s to do it are all time greats. They are names like Montana, Elway, Brady, Manning, Aikman, they are the Mount Rushmores of their respective franchises. In the case of Dilfer, he was that pitcher with the 29 Yankees, his teams defense was so good it was hard not to win.

      I don’t care if McCullers and Verlander only combine for 35-40 starts, because this team, especially if they do resign Correa, probably wins the AL West anyway. I care that they are there in October, and we aren’t trotting out Valdez and Garcia in must win scenarios.

      I know its not about going the distance anymore, heck managers are so scared of leaving someone out there too long and losing a game (and their jobs) that the bullpen is up after the first walk, or even after the starter lets out a held breath. But those aces, much more likely to give you 5 innings (and sometimes bonus) and keep the game winnable. That’s why I would have rather matched what SF gave Rodon, shift Bregman, and sign a middle of the road 3B (Colin Moran was out there). You still have cap space after all of that to piddle with at the trade deadline, and you put 1 more arm out there that is capable of 5 innings 1-2 runs.

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      • You’re right that we needed fewer runs surrendered by those starters, but my point is still that they’re pulling starters after they’ve seen the lineup twice – max. Rodon, against us, gave up 2 runs in less than 3 innings and was pulled. I think he’s better than that and would have been worth the investment. Chris Sale went 1 inning against TB giving up 5 runs, 2.2 innings and 1 run against us and then 5.1 surrendering 4 in his second shot. Whether it’s Framber melting down or past Cy Young candidates struggling, that’s the trend I see.

        You’re right about the SB winners, mostly. Nick Foles and Joe Flacco both won. One of Peyton’s came when he was certainly not among the top echelon and I’ll never agree with anyone ranking Eli Manning above middle of the pack. I’m not sure what to say about Ben Roethlisberger and Matt Stafford. Matt Ryan should have won one…and I think he’s incredibly overrated. Rogers, Brady, and (maybe) Mahomes sure work against my argument though.

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  8. What will we learn in this abbreviated Spring Training about the following pitchers ‘on the cusp’ – some of whom we will probably see in the majors at some point this year:

    1. Bryan Abreu;
    2. Jonathan Bermudez;
    3. Shawn Dubin;
    4. Tyler Ivey;
    5. Josh James;
    6. Peter Solomon;
    7. Brandon Bielak;
    8. Forrest Whitley; and
    9. Enoli Paredes

    I hope we see a lot of innings from each of them. I don’t really understand the purpose of starting- or seeking 3 innings from – anyone else.

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    • Looking over the minor league career stats of these guys [except James and Bielak, whom we have seen quite a bit before], it looks like they all have had a bit of a problem with BBs. Tyler Ivey is the least ‘walkable’ abong the group averaging 3.01 BB/9; Abreu the most at a whopping 5.57/9. Comparing walks to strikeouts, the best milb k/9 in the stack belongs to Whitley at 13.2; then it drops to Dubin (11.9); Abreu at 11.7, Paredes at 11.6, and both Ivey and Bermudez at 11.0. The lowest milb batting averages against belong to Dubin [.199] and Ivey [.213]; the worst are Paredes at .233 and Whitley at .232. The best milb WHIPs belong to Paredes (1.05), Dubin (1.12) and Ivey (1.13); the worst ones belong to Abreu (1.39) and Whitley (135).

      In short, by the numbers at least, Ivey and Dubin seem to have made the best milb showings overall.

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  9. The Astros are losing 4-1, but…… the only Astro player who matters today with all the youth in the lineup was starter Veralnder – 31 pitches – 2 hitless innings, 1 walk and 2 Ks

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      • I presume that the team decided that with the opt outs after each season that they did not want to live with this hanging over their heads for another season or whatever.
        If Correa puts together another big full year he can hit the market again as the biggest catch out there with few top SSs available. If he pulls another 110 game injury wracked season he can continue on with his $35MM and not opt out
        I wonder if we chase Story or do we make any more moves or wait until the trade deadline and see what’s not working

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      • Dan, I’m not as shocked as I was when waking up pre coffee and reading the news. We’ve been talking about Correa and his eventual compensation for years now, to the point of distraction. Maybe the Astros finally got fed up with it. Correa now controls his own destiny for the next three years, and all we’ll continue to hear is where he’ll will sign next year and for how much. In the meantime, Minnesota is on the hook for 100 million over the next three years regardless of his performance and health, unless Carlos ditches them for a better deal.

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    • The opt out clause was reported to be the deal breaker. It was reported that his house in Houston was already up for sale so I guess his mind was already made up. A loss yes, but not the end of the world. Time to move on.

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    • Six years ago he said he would take the free agency route and he did.
      The Astros won’t get strapped with his $35 million this season.
      Crane continues to not chase guys who cheated.
      MLBTR say the Astros are in the Story wooing circle.
      The Astros already have two players who will be $30 million players in 2023 and 2024.
      Chronical has an article about Odorizzi a couple of days ago. Anyone able to read it and could comment on that pulse?
      The Astros get a draft pick.
      Cots says the Astros are $37 million under the luxury tax level but still have a player payroll of $192+million for 2022.

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      • If the Astros are planning on going with Pena et al at short, and I’m not convinced that’s the case, then they will have to add offense in the outfield.

        I’m also not convinced the Astros have no interest in Story.

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