Despite the Astros 14-7 start to the season, there are a few concerns going forward to watch.
One strength of the Astros has arguably been its pitching staff. This opinion rang true especially throughout the first week or so of the season when the offense struggled.
However, the pitching staff isn’t quite the juggernaut that we, as Astros fans, have made them out to be. Let’s look at the starting rotation as an example.
At the front of this rotation stands Dallas Keuchel. He has been quite good, so this post isn’t necessarily about him. Then you have Lance McCullers, the Astros second-best starter on the staff. And he has been something else at Minute Maid Park this season and for his career. The road, however, has not been as kind to the 23-year old pitcher. Last night’s results, five runs in five innings, happen to reinforce this notion.
In McCullers defense, though, he has been remarkably good at home. He currently maintains a 2.91 FIP/2.87 xFIP at Minute Maid Park in 142.2 innings pitched. The road equivalent splits are a 3.66 FIP/3.76 xFIP in 88 innings pitched before last night. Sooner or later, I would like to believe that the positive results will also translate to the road.
The rest of the Astros rotation is a bit of an enigma.
Charlie Morton has shown flashes of being a solid mid-rotation starter. Sure, he may have a 4.29 ERA, but his 3.18 FIP is encouraging. His FIP is also lower than every other Astros starting pitcher, including Keuchel. But Morton has only pitched past the fifth inning just once, which happened to be six innings in his Astros debut against the Mariners. And don’t forget about the injury track record. All of that said, his improvements in velocity still makes him the potential best bargain from this past offseason.
Joe Musgrove, for as much promise that he showed last season, currently has a 5.91 ERA/5.14 FIP. But like any young pitcher, he is going to need time. His latest start in Tampa just proves why he has made it this far.
We all know that Mike Fiers is consistent at being inconsistent. Or the other way around. But his veteran presence as the fifth starter is a positive trait. And quite frankly, Fiers as the fifth starter is better than quite a few teams out there today.
Simply put, the Astros rotation still has its question marks despite the strong start. Excluding Keuchel, McCullers has been the only Astros starting pitcher to advance past the sixth inning so far this season. And he has accomplished that feat twice.
To be clear though, I am not of the camp that believes the Astros need to trade for another starting pitcher right now. There is clearly talent and potential in this rotation. And the results have been fairly solid when you consider that Collin McHugh has yet to throw a pitch this season. Remember that you have to keep everything in context and let these pitchers have more than 21 games before we develop any definitive conclusions.
With that said, my opinion can be easily swayed depending on how the starting rotation behind Keuchel pans out between now and July 31st. I am just saying that the starting rotation is an area of the team to watch closely going forward.
**Statistics courtesy of Fangraphs**