In this third edition of “Who’s in it for the Long Haul?”, I will try to dissect the Houston Astros current pitching rotation and figure out who could be around when the team is competitive again. From looking at the 2012 Astros’ pitching stats, Jeff Luhnow and company had to have known that without some drastic improvements, Houston would not stand a chance in the American League. Instead of making any big moves, the Astros elected to add a couple stopgap arms in Erik Bedard and “Mr. Perfect”, Philip Humber. Humber has since been DFA’d off the 40-man roster and shipped to Oklahoma City. Bedard has had a hot-and-cold type season, but has played an important role in eating some innings, giving the club a zombie-esque veteran presence, and dragging out games to a sloth-like pace.
Since the Astros were mostly counting on pitchers to self-improve, Houston starters still rank near the bottom in most stats. Bud Norris, Jordan Lyles and Dallas Keuchel have all showed improvement from last season, while Lucas Harrell has taken major steps back and sounds a lot like the whiney kid whose parents complain about playing time at Little League games (Someone needs to buy that kid a sno-cone and shut him up!).
I almost thought that Bud Norris was going to prove me wrong and then Tuesday happened. I’ve always thought that he was better suited for a late-inning bullpen role because of his two plus pitches. This season he has mixed in his changeup quite a bit more than in the past (6.7% in 2012 to 12.1% in 2013), and that has resulted in some weaker contact from hitters. Bud has limited the walks this year and his HR/9 is down to .63 from 1.23 last season.
Of course, Norris has started eleven of his 19 games in the friendly confines of Minute Maid Park. The 28-year old righty continues to struggle away from home, so unless the Astros can find a way to schedule his starts so that he only pitches at home, he will keep on frustrating the fans. It’s likely that Norris will be traded at some point this season, but I’m not sure what his current value would be, given his struggles away from Houston. Because of the trade rumors swirling around David Stefan Norris, I think it’s safe to say that he will not be in it for the long haul.
Lucas Harrell was great last season. He was one of the few bright spots on the team in 2012, going 11-11 with a 3.76 ERA. Much of the same was expected this year, but he has failed to live up to those expectations. His BB/9 is up to 4.64 from 3.62 in 2012. His K/9 is down by nearly a full point as well. Add that to his 16.9% HR/FB ratio, and its easy to see why Harrell has found himself demoted to the bullpen. I’m sure that if the Astros’ infield would stop shifting, all of those stats would be corrected (note: that was sarcasm). I fully expected to see Lucas traded this season, but unless he is able to regain some value, he may be worth more to the Astros than anyone else. Either way, I don’t see the 28-year old as being part of Houston’s long-term future.
Dallas Keuchel has really impressed me this season. He has managed to shut down some of baseball’s best with his below average stuff. He has relied heavily on his 89-90 mph fastball, but when he doesn’t have his command he has been hurt by the long ball. Keuchel’s two best attributes are his sweet, full beard and being left-handed. The Astros have a shortage of left-handed starters, with only Rudy Owens, Brett Oberholtzer and possibly Wes Musick being close to being MLB ready (Oberholtzer is currently in the Astros bullpen, so I will cover him in the next edition). If Dallas can continue his recent trend, he could find himself in the rotation again next season, but I do not see him as a long-term solution.
Young Jordan Lyles is growing up right before our eyes. It seems like just yesterday he was called up entirely too early and asked to pitch so well that he could save the job of then GM Ed Wade. While the early promotion probably hurt his development, Lyles has proven that he is resilient and mentally tough. It’s hard to believe that Jordan is still only 22-years old. His velocity has continued to climb over the past few seasons, and he has developed a nasty curveball. In fact, last season Lyles’ curveball had a PITCHf/x value of -4.9. In other words, it was a worthless pitch. This season it is at +3.4! I do see Lyles being around for a while, and he may very well be the “Ace” of the staff next season.
The Astros will have a plethora of other starting pitchers that will be brought up in the next few seasons to replace the Bedard’s, Norris’ and Harrell’s of the rotation. Guys like Brad Peacock, Jarred Cosart, John Ely, Alex White, Mark Appel, Mike Foltynewicz, Nick Tropeano, Lance McCullers, Jr., Asher Wojciechowski and Vincent Velasquez will all be getting their shots soon, so it isn’t very likely that many of the Astros’ current starters will be around by then. Because of the amount of MLB-ready depth that the team will have next season, the only current Astros’ starter that I can see being around for the “long haul” is Jordan Lyles. Which current Astros’ starters could you see sticking around?