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Astros: Starting rotation not quite as stellar in recent weeks

codypoage
HOUSTON, TX - JUNE 03: Manager AJ Hinch #14 of the Houston Astros takes the ball from Charlie Morton #50 as he leaves the game in the sixth inning against the Boston Red Sox at Minute Maid Park on June 3, 2018 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)
HOUSTON, TX - JUNE 03: Manager AJ Hinch #14 of the Houston Astros takes the ball from Charlie Morton #50 as he leaves the game in the sixth inning against the Boston Red Sox at Minute Maid Park on June 3, 2018 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images) /
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The Astros starting rotation has by far been the best unit in baseball. But the luster has start to worn off in recent weeks.

Currently, the Astros’ starting rotation has a 2.69 ERA in 385.1 innings. That’s great. But in the last two weeks, the same starting rotation has posted a 4.42 ERA in 77.1 innings. That’s not great.

So, where have the leaks sprung?

Since the Astros have only used five starting pitchers this season, we do not have to look far and wide. Let’s take a look of how each of the five have performed in the last 14 days.

  • Justin Verlander – 18.2 IP, 1.93 ERA, 2.31 FIP, 3.61 xFIP, 28.6% K Rate, 4.3% BB Rate, 4.3% HR/FB
  • Dallas Keuchel – 11 IP, 4.91 ERA, 2.02 FIP, 3.05 xFIP, 23.1% K Rate, 7.7% BB Rate, 0.0% HR/FB
  • Lance McCullers – 10.1 IP, 7.84 ERA, 6.89 FIP, 4.84 xFIP, 13.0% K Rate, 8.7% BB Rate, 27.3% HR/FB
  • Gerrit Cole – 20 IP, 3.60 ERA, 4.46 FIP, 3.49 xFIP, 30.3% K Rate, 7.9% BB Rate, 20% HR/FB
  • Charlie Morton – 17.1 IP, 5.71 ERA, 4.61 FIP, 3.20 xFIP, 28.6% K Rate, 6.5% BB Rate, 23.5% HR/FB

As you can summarize from the numbers, there are a few members of the Astros’ starting rotation who haven’t been as airtight as they were earlier in the season.

McCullers stands out with a 7.84 ERA in his last 10.1 innings. In those same 10.1 innings, the right-handed pitcher also surrendered three home runs. So, one home run per every 3.36 innings. His total for the season is now six home runs in 69.1 innings. In 118.2 innings last season, McCullers allowed only eight home runs. Keuchel ran into trouble in his latest start in New York when he surrendered four runs to the Yankees. On a positive note, he did not allow a home run in his last two starts. His 2.02 FIP indicates that he was a bit unlucky in his latest appearances.

Cole and Morton have surrendered four home runs in each of their past three starts. Cole, in particular, had a notable home run problem last season when he allowed 31 with the Pirates. Part of his success in 2018 stems from limiting home runs. In his first nine starts with the Astros, he has allowed only five home runs. That is pretty good! But the recent turn of events is somewhat concerning. But Morton has had a bit more of an issue with the home run in 2018. In 146.2 innings last season, Morton allowed 14 home runs. But in 2018, in only 73 innings, the age-34 pitcher has surrendered 11 home runs. In short, Morton has suddenly become susceptible to home runs. But his 51.7% groundball rate is nearly identical to his numbers from last season, so he is still generating plenty of groundballs. A bit more thorough analysis of Morton and home runs may be needed in another post.

Verlander, well, has been awesome. Time to move along.

At first glance, it appears that the home run has caused part of the Astros’ starting rotation some grief.

In the last 14 days, the rotation has allowed 12 home runs total, which is the fifth-most in baseball. This increase in home runs would explain the less than stellar results during the past two weeks. At the same time, if the rotation tames the sudden home run issue, then the results should trend back to early season standards. Alas, it is unrealistic to expect the Astros’ starting rotation to limit home runs like they were a few weeks ago. We all knew that a regression would occur to this staff, sooner or later. On the plus side, the Astros’ schedule will ease up in the coming weeks.

Next: Astros Draft 2018: Outfielder Nick Schnell could fit the need

Since the 2018 season began, the Astros have been one of the best teams in baseball. A major reason for this success primarily has been due to the starting rotation. A unit led by Verlander, Keuchel, McCullers, Cole, and Morton have formed what is perhaps the best unit in baseball. Fortunately for Houston, the starting rotation has picked up the slack for the lineup and the bullpen. But if this unit starts to show any prolonged signs of issues, well, it could be to the detriment of the club.

**Statistics and information courtesy of FanGraphs**

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