There isn’t much use in complaining about an Astros squad that’s 29-15 on the season. After all, there isn’t much to not like about them.
The Astros are currently one of the best teams in baseball. No, this isn’t an opinion. This is a factual statement when you consider that they own one of the best records (29-15, .659) and one of the top run differentials (+54).
Every team, no matter how big or small, has a flaw or two. The Astros flaw could very well be their starting rotation. And there is some evidence to back up this statement.
First, let’s examine the current construction of the starting rotation. There is Dallas Keuchel and Lance McCullers as the one-two punch. The Astros are 11-1 when one of he duo starts the game. They have a combined 2.21 ERA/3.19 FIP over 118 innings pitched in 18 starts. That’s something good. Quite good, in fact.
Keuchel and McCullers are clearly not the issue. The rest of the rotation, though, is a different story. Currently, the third through fifth starters are Charlie Morton, Mike Fiers and Joe Musgrove. There is potential there, but this hasn’t necessarily translated into actual production. Once you account for Musgrove’s rather disastrous outing yesterday, the trio has a 9-9 record in 26 starts. Within those 26 starts, they have a combined 4.99 ERA/5.52 FIP.
As a contender, this is not optimal for the Astros. It’s painfully obvious to me, anyway. The offense and bullpen can only pick up so much of the slack before you eventually have a rat’s nest. Sorry, I just had to throw in a fishing reference.
Going forward, the Astros have a few options to consider.
One such option is to stay the course. After all, there is potential within the rotation. Morton has been an adequate starter despite the occasional hiccup. Fiers may stop allowing home runs. Let’s just hope he doesn’t continue his current rate, which happens to lead all starters in the majors today with 17 home runs. Then you have Musgrove, who has exhibited flashes of becoming a reliable pitcher. Unfortunately, there has been the expected roller coaster as with most young players early in their careers.
This option also likely includes waiting on Collin McHugh, who is recovering from a “dead” arm in Spring Training and subsequent complications. If the Astros are confident that McHugh can return this summer then this option becomes likely when you consider the team’s strong start and the high price of quality starters.
The Astros have the possibility of promoting from within the organization as well. Francis Martes is the first name to pop into people’s mind. The top prospect is likely the first option. Maybe David Paulino? Unfortunately, there isn’t many ready-to-go options at the Triple-A level.
Another option is to acquire another pitcher from outside the organization. The usual names like Jose Quintana and Chris Archer are still floating around. Then you also have the inclusion of Gerrit Cole into the rumor mill in recent weeks. So, there are options available to the team. The high price of acquiring a quality starter continues to be the detriment to any trade, though.
I have a inkling that a trade may happen in June or July. But this hinges on the health of McHugh and the progress of Martes. The best immediate hope is that Fiers and Musgrove, in particular, improve and provide some solid innings. I have that Morton will start seeing better results if he can avoid the letdown inning in his starts.
**Statistics courtesy of Fangraphs**