A lot of Astros fans are ready to give up on Bud Norris. Well, I’m not one of them. Lately, Norris has been the subject of ridicule and trade rumors by fans on Astros message boards and twitter. I must admit I’m a little surprised at how quickly some people have turned on Bud. I’m sure that some of the same fans who are ready to pull the plug on Norris were singing his praises less than a year ago.
Some people seem to have forgotten the tremendous start Norris got off to in 2012. After a win over the Cubs on May 21st, Norris was 5-1 with a 3.14 ERA. He was poised to become the Pitcher of the Month in the National League before a disastrous outing in Colorado on the final day of May took him out of the running. The loss to the Rockies was the first of twelve straight for Norris, and that seems to be the only thing Astros fans remember. Prior to the loss, Norris had only allowed four earned runs in 30 & 2/3 innings for the month.
Sure, Bud had a few lousy outings during his losing streak, but they weren’t all bad. After the stinker in Colorado Bud bounced back nicely, fanning 12 in six innings against the Cardinals. People also seem to have forgotten that Norris has always pitched well against St.Louis. Being able to navigate a tough lineup is something that just might come in handy in the American League.
In his next outing Norris suffered a knee injure trying to chase down a popup in foul territory. When he returned from the disabled list the Astros were shut out in each of his next two outings. As his losing streak continued Norris battled problems with blisters and more than likely a bruised psyche.
Once he finally turned the corner, the old Bud Norris seemed to be back on the mound. Bud pitched 13 & 1/3 shutout innings, winning his final two starts of the season. Norris allowed a total of nine base runners in those two games and seemed to have regained his confidence. Sure it’s a small sample size, but Bud was pretty dominant in a game that meant a lot to the Cardinals. It’s also nice to go into the offseason on a high note, especially after such a tough year.
The Astros were a bad team and that didn’t help Bud’s cause in 2012. If you think you might be among those who are saying things like “Norris is nothing more than a fourth starter on a good team” take a closer look at some of the numbers.
In the month of July 2012, hitters posted a .219/.341/.369 slash line against Norris. In September/October Bud improved those numbers to an outstanding .189/.273/.321. Norris also posted the best home ERA in the league with a 1.71 mark. I think there are more than just a few pitchers who would be pretty happy to have those stats.
Norris turns 28 in March and should be entering the prime years of his career. Last season he eclipsed the 500 career innings mark which has often been the threshold for big league pitchers to take the final step in their development. All signs point to the fact that Norris is primed to take his game to the next level. That’s why Jeff Luhnow continues to insist that Norris is a key member of the plan going forward.
A slight drop in velocity and strikeout rate has some fans concerned, and that’s understandable. But the strikeout numbers are still good and the velocity, which has dipped from 94 to 92, could have been a product of the nagging injuries. Bud’s slider is rated as one of the best among big league starters and his changeup could be the key to continued improvement.
I think Norris is a good athlete. He has quick feet for a big man and an excellent pickoff move. He’s also an outstanding golfer, which is more than most of us can claim. One thing that is obvious is Bud’s burning desire to win. His competitive nature is unquestioned. In fact, he could stand to reel it in a bit. That could be something that comes as he continues to mature.
Norris will get a significant pay raise this season as he is arbitration eligible for the first time. That means he is still under team control for the next three seasons. So let’s wait and see what Norris can become before parting ways with one of the only proven big league starters on the team.