Astros Need to Keep Lance McCullers as a Starting Pitcher
By Cody Poage
Promising arms abound in the Astros organization, both in the majors and minors.
There is one thing that the Astros aren’t short on is potential. There are still needs to be met, especially the pitching staff arguably. This team is set up for the long haul as far as competing is concerned. But this pitching staff has potential, even today despite no Chris Sale, Chris Archer, or Jose Quintana on the roster.
One pitcher that exemplifies that potential almost better than anyone else on the team’s major league roster is Lance McCullers.
Yes, you read that right.
Sure, McCullers has now been part of the major league roster for the better part of two seasons. He has pitched in the heart of the playoff chase and the actual postseason. However, there is still potential there that could make him the Astros best chance to develop an ace from within any time soon.
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When you look at the numbers, McCullers’ time as a starting pitcher for the Astros has been simply a success. In part of two seasons he has thrown 206.2 innings (36 GS) and posted a 3.22 ERA/3.16 FIP. Sure, he started 2015 in the minors and didn’t make his debut until May 18th that year. And his 2016 season was riddled with arm issues. But the fact that the could pitch that well that soon as a rookie along with injury scares is quite impressive.
Outside of the numbers, McCullers has the stuff to be an electric pitcher in the Astros rotation for some time. His curveball was simply awesome last year in generating whiffs (43.35 whiff per swing). His four-seam fastball in conjunction with that curveball continues to produce plenty of ground balls as well. And though it is seldom used when compared to his top two offerings, McCullers’ change-up can catch hitters off guard from time-to-time.
With that kind of stuff to generate ground balls and whiffs, it may be wise to keep his arm in the rotation until proven otherwise.
There are people out there though that claim McCullers would be better off in the bullpen. And there is some merit to that school of thought.
After all, his primary two-pitch combo of a four-seam with a curveball fits a back-end of bullpen profile. And McCullers did have issues with elbow ailments off-and-on all season long. That same issue limited him to just 14 starts this year. Maybe a move to the bullpen would allow him to save that arm versus the rigors of starting every fifth day.
On the other hand, arms like McCullers do not come along that often. And if the Astros did indeed move him to the ‘pen then that would take out one less dynamic arm from a group that lacks the ability to throw hard every day. Don’t forget that McCullers usually had the highest fastball velocity (93.98-96.24 MPH) in the rotation the past two seasons when completely healthy.
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A team hollering that the need for a number one starter is important, a change like that would remove a promising arm like McCullers is an odd one to make possibly. Now, if his arm continues to give him issues in 2017 and beyond then, yes, explore a move to the bullpen. But at this moment in time, it is best to give McCullers a shot to be “THE” guy in the rotation.
**Statistics courtesy of Baseball Reference and Brooks Baseball**