I was recently reading a random Bill James article where he mentioned ”quality of an opposing pitcher”, and it got me thinking. I knew the Houston Astros were a very weak team offensively in 2012, but I wondered how their hitters fared against the league’s best starting pitchers. Since I couldn’t find a stat that told me exactly how a team hit against a high quality pitcher, I ran over to FanGraphs.com and collected some information.
I started by writing down the top 20 starting pitchers from the National League, according to their Wins Above Replacement for the 2012 season. Then I looked at their game logs so that I could see their statistics from the games they started against the Astros. Let’s just state the obvious results: the Astros could not hit good pitching. The 20 best starting pitchers from the N.L. had 42 starts against the Astros and went a collective 27-4 with 315 innings pitched. The Astros were 3-8 in the no-decisions by these pitchers. The league’s best struck out 290 Astros hitters and averaged a 1.10 WHIP during those starts. Keep in mind that I’m not talking about just the top ten pitchers in the league. I’m talking about guys like Homer Bailey, Ian Kennedy, Trevor Cahill, Lance Lynn and A.J. Burnett, who generally aren’t considered top tier starters. Two of the top N.L. pitchers (R.A. Dickey and Josh Johnson) have been traded to the American League’s Toronto Blue Jays during the offseason, so the Astros can expect to see them once or twice apiece in 2013. Also, Kyle Lohse (2-1, 0.89 WHIP and 11Ks vs the Astros in 2012) is still a Free Agent, and has been linked to the Astros new division rivals, the Texas Rangers.
Now that we have seen how the 2012 Astros have struggled against the N.L.’s best, we can look at the American League’s best and worry a bit more about what the future may hold. The A.L.’s top 20 starters had a slightly better WAR in 2012 than the N.L.’s. The Astros did face two of the top five A.L. pitchers, in terms of WAR, last season (Yu Darvish and Chris Sale). Those two went a combined 2-0, averaged a 0.82 WHIP and had 18 Ks in two starts. Out of the A.L.’s top 20 starting pitchers from 2012, seven of them are in the American League West, so the Astros can expect to see the likes of Darvish, Felix Hernandez, Matt Harrison, Jarrod Parker, Jered Weaver, Tommy Milone and C.J. Wilson around 3 times a piece. The Astros also play all five of the N.L. Central teams in Interleague games in 2013, and seven of the top 20 N.L. pitchers play for those teams.
It looks as if the 2013 Astros could potentially face the top pitchers in each league in about 55 of their 162 games next season, as opposed to the 44 games in 2012. They can also count on seeing the top ten pitchers in all of baseball in about 13 of those games, including the likes of Justin Verlander and David Price. Of course, each year we see pitchers rise and fall so we cannot say that a guy that was a top pitcher in 2012 will be in 2013, but it is intimidating nonetheless. American League teams averaged 4.45 runs per game last season, so if the Astros want to stay competitive they are going to have to figure out how to score more than the 3.60 runs per game that they did last year; and they are going to have to do it against better pitching too!