Astros pitchers and catchers don’t report to Spring Training for another 39 days. But don’t let that fool you. After all, there is still plenty of offseason left in the tank.
Right now, the Astros offseason is at the point where most of the major moves have been consummated. Sure, there are still the occasional rumors. Jose Quintana comes to mind. Edwin Encarnacion just a few weeks ago was another.
But now we are getting closer to see Houston’s offseason actually taking place on the field instead of paper. Until we get there though, we will attempt to grade the team’s acquisitions based on our own interpretation of their needs and reality.
So, let’s start with the process!
First, I want to give out an early grade on the team’s pitching staff, which has been a point of constant speculation amongst the fanbase.
The notable acquisition on the pitching staff was the addition of veteran Charlie Morton. You know, a career 4.54 ERA/4.10 FIP pitcher that threw only 17.1 innings in 2016 before a hamstring injury running the base paths ended his season. Not exactly the type of move that fans want to see their team make to improve the starting rotation.
On the other hand though, there could be some value in Morton. And the reason I state that lies in his improved velocity from his two-seam fastball, splitter, and even his curveball.
But the two-seam fastball could be his key pitch in 2017. For example, his 2013 two-seam had an average velocity of 92.5 MPH. That season he finished with a 3.26 ERA/3.60 FIP in 20 starts. He had a 4.05 ERA/3.15 FIP in four starts with an average two-seam speed of 93.3 MPH. Sure, that is a small sample size. And there is much more to consider than improved velocity. But it is a decent place to start.
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On a two-year, $14 million contract though, it was worth taking a shot to find out if he can be an effective pitcher. I honestly wouldn’t sleep on this signing. There are plenty of question marks, no doubt. Injuries are a constant concern with Morton. However, pitching isn’t cheap. And I’m all for finding value in unusual places.
Normally, I would concentrate on the bullpen next. But the Astros have been relatively quiet on that front outside of trading Pat Neshek to the Philadelphia Phillies and signing a few left-handed arms for the ‘pen. Not a lot to talk about right now on that front.
I will say this though that I liked that the team made it a point to acquire left-handed pitching depth to compete with Tony Sipp. Don’t forget that Sipp is under contract for two more years as part of the original three-year, $18 million contract that he signed last offseason. And while the Astros will likely give Sipp every chance in the book to reclaim his incredible 2014-15 form, they seem willing to change things up if needed.
Overall, it has been a slight disappointment that the Astros didn’t acquire another top-of-the-line starting pitcher to pair with Dallas Keuchel. On the other hand, there is definitely value in Morton. If he can stay healthy, his acquisition makes the rotation that much deeper.
Early Offseason Pitching Grade: B
In my next post, I will concentrate on the offseason from a hitting standpoint. As you all should know by now, the Astros have been quite active on that front. But if certain rumors come to fruition, then I may need to provide an update on the pitching staff.
**Statistics courtesy of Fangraphs and Brooks Baseball**