About the Astros’ fifth starter

Entering the 2023 season without Lance McCullers Jr., the Astros rotation rolled out like this…..Framber Valdez, Cristian Javier, Jose Urquidy, Luis Garcia, and Hunter Brown, and that was the order they have pitched this season. Based on performance so far, the top three would be Framber Valdez (2-2, 2.25 ERA), Cristian Javier (2-0, 3.21 ERA), and young Hunter Brown (2-0, 3.09 ERA).

The fifth spot is a negative fight between Luis Garcia (1-2, 5.14 ERA) and Jose Urquidy (1-2, 5.64 ERA).  To this point, Urquidy would have to be considered the bottom feeder here, trailing in most stats and, on top of it, averaging only 4.4 innings per start, whereas Garcia is averaging 5.25.

Urquidy’s five starts roll out like this.

Opponent Innings Earned Runs Decision
White Sox 4 IP 3 No Decision
Twins 5.1 IP 1 No Decision
Pirates 6 IP 0 Win
Blue Jays 4.1 IP 4 Loss
Rays 2.2 IP 6 Loss

From one standpoint, you could say with some luck, he could have won two games as he easily could have gotten the win against the Twins with help from his teammates. But he only has the one win against a so-so Pirates team, and in his two latest starts, he was bad and badder against two top-notch lineups with Toronto and Tampa Bay.

If you look at some of the comparative stats for Urquidy, between last year and this year to date….

Season ERA WHIP Hits/ 9 IP HR/ 9 IP BB/ 9 IP K/ 9 IP
2022 3.94 1.168 8.4 1.6 2.1 7.3
2023 5.64 1.746 12.1 1.6 3.6 8.1

Hand in hand with the worse ERA is the huge jump in WHIP which tracks the number of hits + walks per innings pitched. Urquidy has always pitched a bit to contact, but he is giving up almost 4 more hits for every 9 innings and 1.5 more walks per 9 than in 2022. Putting on that much extra traffic is killing him, even with a bit of an increase in Ks and having his HR rate holding steady (though at an elevated point).

This is a small sample, but it is disturbing that against the best competition in his last two games he has been whacked around and forced Dusty into two deep early dips into the bullpen.

So, if the Astros want to do something here, what are their choices?

Do Nuttin’ – Urquidy will never be mistaken for Justin Verlander, but he has been solid at the back of the rotation the last two seasons – going 21-11 over 48 starts, 271.2 innings and a 3.82 ERA in 2021 and 2022.  It can be easily argued that he should be given some starts to elevate his game. Maybe he has something a bit mechanical going on or possibly is tipping a pitch or ten.

Do Nuttin’ Until You Do Somethin’ – The next expected move would be to make space when/if Lance McCullers returns to the rotation. The last update on his rehab from right arm muscle problems was on April 16, where he was still playing long toss without a mound with the expectation he might throw from a mound before the end of the month. This would seem to be good progress if someone wants to throw out the first pitch before a game, but does not give fans a whole lot of optimism for when Lance (who missed the first 4-1/2 months of last season) will return. But let’s say he comes back in June. At that time, the team will no longer have continuous Thursdays off and may or may not replace the 5th starter with Lance. They might just keep what they have and go to a 6 man rotation to keep everyone’s workload small.

Do Somethin’ Small – With the Astros having Thursdays off through May, they could skip his next two turns in the rotation and have the other folks in the rotation move up a day to pitch on four days rest instead of five.

Do Somethin’ Bigger – In this context, this would be a decision to fill the fifth spot from within because they couldn’t continue carrying Urquidy. Here are the options. On the 26 man, Seth Martinez and Ronel Blanco are the long men. But neither is pitching that well or that long, so this does not look that likely. Looking at AAA, there are three men on the 40-man roster, who would be the first choices. Even though Forrest Whitley (1-2, 4.86 ERA) has the bigger name here, both Shawn Dubin (0-0, 2.25 ERA) and J.P. France (2-1, 2.45 ERA) are pitching better to date.

Do Somethin’ Really Big – This is really an option that if it happened would be closer to the trade deadline. But if the Astros are struggling to fill that 5th spot due to injury and/or performance, it would seem likely that they would explore who they might rent or even grab outright from the free agent market. It isn’t likely to be another Justin Verlander, but they just need someone to help them eat innings heading for the playoffs (if they are so fortunate as to make them again).

Your turn….is the bottom of the Astros’ rotation a concern for you, and how would you address it?



36 comments on “About the Astros’ fifth starter

  1. Urquidy has a 1.131 lifetime WHIP. Where do we find anyone with that stat to take his place? Not Lance. Not in Sugarland. Jose was very bad in April last year too. And then he pitched in that darn exhibition thing in March. That could not have helped either. Leave him alone. If someone wants to do something, maybe our GM could talk to Dusty about giving Maldy a bonus day off every week. As bad as Diaz’ stats are in very limited play, Maldonado is worse.


  2. Speaking of starters, 4 of our 5 are pretty much going in the right direction. The pen is solid. Already an excellent road trip, and we’ve still got all kinds of holes in the line up. We’ll be better!


  3. Brown has had 4 starts, 2 brilliant ones, one subpar one that our offense hit for him, and one that ended up not good (at least statistically). What I like is his strike percentage has been very consistent. His pitch counts have been between 90-100 every start, and his strikes have been between 57-66 every start. For the year he has a 64% strike percentage – it is not bad. I think what we have seen with our eyes that there have been an inning or two where his ability to stay in the zone unraveled on him – that’s the learning process at work.

    Garcia looks more polished. I realize you probably wrote this before last night but he is now on a 13 inning scoreless streak – and like TK and whoever that replacement for the great Blummer said last night he is starting to pitch like he is angry about his start.

    I did love the line last night when they were talking about Brantley and his rehab assignment – the guy was like, and there is one more kid they are looking at to help soon, how do you say this, Al-toof-eh like he had never heard of him.

    Urquidy – last year he had a .309 BAA in April. It was far worse in May (.345). In June, July, and August it was .202, .174 and .195. What I think you see from Urquidy – when he is on he is on, when he is not he really is not – in his 13 wins last year he had a 2.94 ERA, in his 8 losses a 7.52. I kind of expect that with a guy that doesn’t have great stuff – he lives on the margins – when he is hitting spots, making his balls look like strikes and his strikes look like balls, he is good. When he has a day where the breaking ball isn’t always ending up in ths spot he was aiming for, he has a bad day because the stuff doesn’t cover up mistakes. April was his worst month in 2021, and it looks like it will be 2023. Could be that he has early season command issues – which isn’t rare among pitchers.

    We should probably just not talk about McCullers. Especially before coffee. If the standard for that kind of salary is going to be that he pitches between a quarter and a third of every season and still not be available for over half the playoff games he has been on the roster for…… He is living on past glory, but fans memory can be short.


    • Steven –
      – That was Steve Sparks from the radio broadcast team helping out on the TV broadcast last night for Blummer. Yeah – that Al-toof-uh line was really funny
      – Yeah I wrote this before Garcia pitched so well last night. They said that he had moved from the 1st base side of the slab to the 3rd base side of the slab before his last start and things started to click
      – Urquidy may have been one of those WBC casualties where he ramped up hard to pitch for Mexico and is still trying to find his spot
      – Based on how many innings he’s pitched at the MLB level, Hunter is doing fine. He needs more experience, but he seems to have both the tools and the temperament
      – McCullers – looks like a bad contract when he’s not pitching and an OK one when he is – frustrating

      Liked by 1 person

      • WBC may play a part – but really he has sucked every April in his short career so far. He was worse in May last year. Then he went on to be one of the best pitchers in baseball in June/July/August. It’s kind of like looking at Abreu’s career April and May stats and realizing he will hit better in June. Granted, Urquidy is a much smaller sample size than Abreu, but he shouldn’t be voted off the island yet.

        In answering your question about what about the 5th spot, it sits with Urquidy even if he is 2-7 with 5 ERA at the end of May. Now at the end of June, that could be a different conversation. But to me he has earned the right to get those 4-5 June starts before the team should consider replacing him.

        Of course none of us are team management, so they will do what they do. When McCullers actually is back, if all 6 are healthy, they should go to a 6 man rotation that skips Urquidy anytime they have 2-3 off days in a 10 day period. That can give you a 3-4 game stretch when he is skipped that he is available for long duty out of the pen.


      • And the best line of the night when Sparks said his favorite Astros hitting streak was the 24 game streak by Tony Eusebio in 2000 – because it took 2 months to get (he wasn’t playing every day) – and TK snuck in the “and you know none of those were infield hits” line.


    • I don’t have any complaints about the starting pitching. There have been some mental lapses, but those can be cleaned up. I agree with your Urquidy analysis completely. Even in his best games there are a couple pitches they just miss that make you hold your breath. Sometimes it can be as simple as the launch angle being too shallow and ending up in the CF’s glove. Overall, if he’s our 5th starter, I think it gives us a much better chance to win games than putting Contreras in at catcher would have.

      Just finished my first cup of coffee, so I’ll say that I haven’t been counting on LMJ in years. It’s really hard to pitch when your can’t stay healthy. The thing is, if he is healthy in the back half of the seasons it provides a huge boost to the team.


      • I have little expectation of LJM at this point. I don’t really mind him missing half the season or more. We’re stuck with the contract. So be it. My hope is that he’s able to provide quality innings during the long season at some point. What I don’t like is Lance coming back in time for the post season and stinking the place up. We won in 22 in spite of him.


  4. I am looking forward to getting Brantley back, maybe next week? Hensley needs help. I’d probably keep Bannon around and send Hensley out. And now I’m thinking that Yordan might be gone for awhile.

    Talking about part time guys picking up the slack. Of course Frenchy is now into hitting streak territory that most guys, even good hitters, never reach in their careers. But our top three BA’s come from:

    Dubon at .329, Julks at .317 and Jake at .302. Now BA is not a real big stat for me, but if these three guys were not getting on base right now as they have been, we’d be in real trouble.

    And of course I never forget Chas. He’s still 3rd in slugging, 2nd in OBP, 3rd in OPS and 5th in BA. Dusty will have a tough job trying to find enough work for Jake, Frenchy, Julks and Chas.

    These part timers getting almost daily at bats illustrates just how helpful it is to get regular playing time, Maldy being the exception of course.


  5. Watching the games I have observed a few things:
    * All of the talk was about how the elimination of shifts would help certain players, but Mauricio Dubon was never in that conversation. Now, everything he hits finds a hole.
    * I have been so focused on that rectangular strike zone on the screen that I never noticed where it is. Look at that top line and it is located at the batter’s belt line. When I was playing in my youth, all the strike zones were from bottom of the letters to the middle of the knees. Now the zone has shrunk and those pitches from the letters to the belt are considered balls. The strike zone is smaller and yet the umps are having trouble seeing that zone because it is almost completely blocked out by the catcher’s head and body. Automated balls and strikes can’t get here fast enough. Could not believe all the ridiculous calls that went against the Astros in game 1 of the series in Tampa.
    *Thinking that Brantley should slide back into the two spot when he returns. Bregman in the 3 spot followed by Tucker. Then move somebody who is hot into the five spot until Abreu breaks out. Maybe Julks or Pena should be there because they have been more productive than Abreu.
    When Alvarez, Chas and Altuve return, we will see the lineup we have waited for, right?

    Liked by 1 person

    • An interesting note from someone on one of the telecasts I heard the other day – Dubon put on 8 pounds in the offseason, his goal was to increase his exit velocity – not for more power but for more grounders to find holes. It looks like he has learned what type of hitter he needs to be. Just watching the guy hit or field you can tell he has a natural ability for the game and was well coached as a youngster. This game is tough at 6’/165 though. At 175 he is finding more success. This level isn’t sustainable, but I think he can be an important part of this team for a few years.

      The question is – when Al-tooof-eh is back, does Dubon start seeing a lot of time in CF, given he is a very effective CF (statistically he is in line with Meyers)?


  6. Just a reminder – with all the pleasant surprises off the bench we also have gotten the following from our bench:

    David Hensley – .143/.250/.393 – 49 ABs, 19 Ks [33.9%], 0 EBHs;
    Yanier Diaz – .192/.233/.502 – 26 AB, 7 Ks, 1 BB, O HR, 2 2Bs; and
    Cesar Salazar – .286.375/.661 – 7 ABs, 1 K, 1 BB, 0 EBHs, O RBI

    [Warning: Hensley and Diaz are both in tonight’s starting line-up]


  7. The 5 and 1 road trip sounds even better, finishing with back to back shutouts against the Rays, previously the best offensive team in MLB. That was a statement by the World Champs. Previously unbeaten at home, those guys went meekly against a club missing half its regular line up.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah I don’t know why I keep thinking the Blue Jays series was on the road – yes it was 5-1 road trip but nice 7-2 run in the last 9 games regardless considering the competition

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Overheard from kid on tricycle after watching Astros/Rays finale:
    “Oh, man! That was totally wicked!”

    Watch out, world: The Incredibles are coming!


  9. Update on Forrest Whitley’s Sugar Land Experience so far :

    4 games; record 1-2; ERA 4.86; WHIP 1.02; BAA .172

    The WHIP and BAA are encouraging, as are his SO numbers (10.26 per nine) and his 1.70 GO/AO ratio , BUT …. command and control still seems to be the problem.
    For instance, in the course of the 16.2 innings Forrest has pitched he has:
    – given up 9 runs (all earned – hence the high ERA];
    – given up 10 hits (4 of those long balls);
    – walked 7 batters … and hit (are you ready for this?) FIVE;
    – basestealing attempts have been successful 3 of 4 times

    The pitching coach who fixes this for Forrest will be a hero.


    • Whitley’s 10 hits allowed in 18.2 innings is excellent. Where he has faltered is where you would expect a guy to falter when he has hardly ever pitched against professional batters. This guy has the jitters, big-time.
      What he is showing is that he has the stuff, but now has to learn to command it. That is the last thing a power pitcher learns and we have watched it throughout the years with guys like Abreu and Brown and Garcia and even Morton and Keuchel.
      Whitley is learning how to pitch, after all these years of doing little or nothing.
      I’m encouraged.


    • Well, at least Kessinger is producing. He needs to hit this year. And Loperfido is off the charts with the Hooks. But where has Will Wagner gone? Not on the injured list, but has still only played 6 games on the season.


      • I have held back lately because I talked about Wagner’s absence twice already. I fear something is up with him. He hasn’t played since the 18th of April.


  10. There is a difference between being the #5 starter and being the fifth most productive starter.
    Urquidy has not been as productive as Brown, but in the first month of the season the Astros #3 starter has generally been facing the opponent’s #3 starter.
    Urquidy just needs a couple of good performances and wins and he will get his ship on a better course.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Bannon was tearing it up in Sugarland. He had an incredbile slash line of .190/.314/.600. Yainer Diaz just can’t compete with that, Dave. [Thank Heaven].


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s