The 2012 season was supposed to be the point in which Bud Norris took that big leap forward and established himself as the “Ace” of the Houston Astros pitching staff. Instead, Norris took a step back from his 2011 season and was out-pitched by Astros’ rookie Lucas Harrell This was due to a lack of consistency by Norris.
Bud Norris’ 2011 season was his best season since being called up in 2009. He ended that season with a 6-11 record, a 3.77 ERA and a 1.33 WHIP in 31 outings. He threw 186 innings with a 1.8 WAR for the season. Unfortunately, he followed that up with a disappointing 2012 campaign by going 7-13 with a 4.65 ERA in 29 starts. His average fastball velocity (91.9) was down nearly a full mile per hour from the 2011 season.
Perhaps the most evident point of his lack of consistency during the 2012 season was the month of May when Norris started the month 4-0 with a 1.17 ERA and was looking like a serious National League pitcher of the month contender. He then ended the month going into Colorado and allowing 9 earned runs in 1 & 2/3 innings. He followed that up with a lousy, injury-filled June, going 0-3 with a 6.46 ERA. No doubt a knee sprain and blister issue played a role in some of his midseason struggles. He was able to close out the season on a good note, going 2-0, allowing no earned runs while striking out 11 in his final two starts. Other positives from the 2012 season include Norris striking out an average of nearly one batter per inning and 22.5% of the hitters he faced. He also finished 16th in baseball with a 10.4% swinging strike rate and he had a 1.5 WAR, which was 69th among major league starters and second on the staff behind Lucas Harrell’s 2.8.
At 27 years of age, Bud appears to be a lock to start the season as the number two starter in the rotation. Over the course of his career he has had trouble with giving up the long ball, allowing 47 home runs in the past two seasons alone. This will, more than likely, remain an issue for Norris due to him being a power pitcher that is not afraid to challenge hitters up in the zone. Norris features a good fastball, velocity-wise, though it has very little movement. He also has a good slider with sharp break, and a below average changeup. I believe for him to be a more successful starting pitcher, he will need to improve his change up and develop a curveball to give the hitters a change of pace. His current repertoire of pitches is better suited for a late-inning relief role, which is evident by the drop in his BPV (Base Performance Value) throughout a game. The first time through an opponents’ batting order he ranks among the league leaders with a 155 BPV. His second time through the order his BPV drops to a 45, and by his third trip through the order, it is a 26. That is a 130 point drop in his BPV from the first time through to the third time through the order, which is the biggest drop in all of baseball.
Unfortunately for Norris, he will have to deal with some much tougher American League West lineups in 2013. There is, however, still a possibility Norris could get to face the St. Louis Cardinals lineup that he has owned over the course of his career (8-5, 2.74 ERA, 83 Ks, 1.14 WHIP), as they will be part of a home and away Interleague Series with the Astros in June and July. As the expectations for the Astros rise over the next few years, so will the expectations for Bud Norris to improve as a starting pitcher. With such a young team, the Astros are hoping that Norris can eat up some innings and reach the 200 inning plateau in 2013 for the first time in his career. If he is not able to find some consistency soon, he could find himself getting passed by some of the up-and-comers, moving to the bullpen or wearing another team’s jersey.