Astros: The starting rotation looks ready to roll

LOS ANGELES, CA - NOVEMBER 01: Lance McCullers Jr.
LOS ANGELES, CA - NOVEMBER 01: Lance McCullers Jr. /

The starting rotation has already been announced, but it is difficult to not indefinitely admire the Astros’ staff as we approach Opening Day.

As you all know, the Astros are a good baseball team. That much isn’t newsworthy. Do I dare say that this is expected? Who am I kidding; yes, it is!

Anytime a baseball team claims to be good, the starting rotation has to be at least average. No, most likely above average. The Astros have an above average rotation. Check out the FanGraphs’ projections for the starting rotation. There are currently ranked first in all of the majors with a projected 19.2 wins above replacement. One, or many, could argue that the staff is well above average.

If you were to take only the names at face value, the starting rotation has the previous history of being considered above average.

Justin Verlander
Dallas Keuchel
Lance McCullers
Gerrit Cole
Charlie Morton

But name recognition doesn’t always mean everything. Notable names can start sucking or something. The Mets starting rotation to start the 2017 season looked great based on name recognition. At the end of the season, well, that was a different story.

So, here are some projections courtesy of ZiPS.

Verlander: 3.43 ERA, 3.44 FIP
Keuchel: 3.41 ERA, 3.49 FIP
McCullers: 3.43 ERA, 3.29 FIP
Cole: 3.79 ERA, 3.67 FIP
Morton: 3.79 ERA, 3.80 FIP

See, a projected solid unit of starting pitchers! It is not common, in my  mind, to see a starting rotation with all five starters projected to have an ERA under 4.00.

Nowadays, a team doesn’t get by on just five starting pitchers. Health plays a significant role in this regard. Most teams likely need anywhere from seven to ten starters to make it through the season. 162 games per season mean there need to be 162 starts. If you divide 162 games evenly across five pitchers, each pitcher would be expected to start 32.4 games a season. Only twelve major league pitchers made more than 32 starts last season. Not counting Verlander, who made most of his starts with the Tigers, the Astros team leader in starts last season was Mike Fiers with 28 starts. Ironically, Fiers is now a member of the Tigers’ starting rotation.

The Astros are wise to carry Brad Peacock and Collin McHugh in the bullpen in light of today’s pitching environment. While they will start the season in relief, each can step in and start on occasion if the need ever arises. Well, the demand will occur sooner or later. Here are their ZiPS projections.

Peacock: 4.04 ERA, 4.01 FIP
McHugh: 3.73 ERA, 3.74 FIP

For the proper context, these projections are based on McHugh throwing 135 innings over 24 starts (24 total appearances) and Peacock throwing 127 innings over 22 starts (32 total appearances). Don’t forget that ZiPS’ ”performances have not been allocated to predicted playing time”, and ”ZiPS is projecting equivalent production”. Even with the rotation as currently constructed, I wouldn’t be shocked if both pitchers made meaningful starts. I am just not sure about the amount or frequency. It all rides on the health of the starting five.

Throughout spring training, the Astros starting rotation has looked mightily strong.

Almost too strong.

Oh, there’s the unwelcoming dose of reality. Honestly, we shouldn’t take much stock into Charlie Morton’s disastrous start on a Thursday afternoon in spring training. Just saying.

Next: Notes about first base and the bullpen

Overall, there is much to like about this starting rotation and, by extension, the pitching staff. The depth is there, even beyond the likes of Peacock and McHugh. Hopefully the Astros don’t have to use all of it.

**Statistics and information courtesy of Fangraphs**