The Astros currently have the best record in baseball at 27-12, yet their starting rotation does have a concern or two going forward.
Mike Fiers has allowed a major league-leading 16 home runs in just 36 innings of work. For comparison sake, he allowed 26 and 24 home runs in the past two seasons when he pitched at least 168.2 innings. That is simply not optimal for the Astros starting rotation. Or any rotation for that matter.
The home runs are also not the only issue for Fiers in 2017. If you choose to examine one of Fiers’ player pages on either Baseball Reference or Fangraphs, you would know exactly what I mean. For example on Fangraphs, Fiers has posted a 5.75 ERA. This is not a good ERA for any starting pitcher regardless of assignment. If you go one step further, you will also notice his 8.21 FIP. Gulp, this is definitely not encouraging.
One positive to be derived from his player page would be his 4.35 xFIP. The key difference between FIP and xFIP is that the latter replaces the actual home run total with an estimation based on the amount of fly balls that were actually hit while using the league average home run to fly ball percentage. You can find a more detailed explanation on Fangraphs here.
So, Fiers currently has an issue with home runs, or allowing runs in general.
Fiers isn’t pitching deep into games, which is another issue of its own. If you jump over to his Game Logs, you see that Fiers has only pitched past the fifth twice. One such start was back on April 7th against the Kansas City Royals, which ended in a loss. It is arguable whether that was his best start this season. The other start was against the Texas Rangers on May 2nd. The Astros actually won that affair 8-to-7. Both starts he only lasted through the sixth inning.
Yet, somehow, the Astros are 4-3 in games that Fiers start. This could likely be attributed to the offense carrying the load and the bullpen keeping the team in the game once Fiers departs. You cannot expect, though, that the team will keep winning these games if his issues persist. Sooner or later, the Astros will either have to make a change or Fiers reverts back into his previous form. And his previous form from 2014-16 is perfectly fine for a fifth starter in a major league rotation. At a certain point, you have to think that Fiers will regress in home runs allowed. His current HR/FB rate of 39.0% shouldn’t last forever. The concern is that Fiers continues to post career-worst numbers in each following season since 2014.
Fiers HR/FB rates from 2014-17: 8.4%, 11.3%, 15.2%, 39.0%
One answer would be to remove Fiers from the starting rotation and either move Brad Peacock from the bullpen or promote from the minors. And that is probably the one that makes the most sense. I would like to caution though that there is no guarantee that the Astros prospects will perform any better than Fiers has at this point in time.
Another avenue could be a trade for a starting pitcher outside of the rotation. But the Astros are sitting nicely with a 27-12 record through mid-May so it is unlikely that they pursue this avenue right now. Maybe the Astros are just hoping to get by with Fiers in the rotation until Colin McHugh returns. Who knows at this point what will happen, but pay attention to Fiers as time marches on.
**Statistics courtesy of Fangraphs**