With great difficulty, we list the Houston Astros all-time pitching staff.
We just came up with the Houston Astros all-time lineup, which was a walk in the park compared to this exercise. Ranking the team’s all-time pitching staff was a tough task, especially when it comes to the rotation. Listing only five names is not easy.
I was able to narrow it down to eight names for the rotation — Roger Clemens, Gerrit Cole, Larry Dierker, Roy Oswalt, J.R. Richard, Nolan Ryan, Mike Scott and Justin Verlander. Can you eliminate three names from that list? I did, but only because I had to, and it was worse than splitting hairs.
What helped me make the decision was actually the ERA+ stat, which accounts for the environment in which the player pitched. Pitching to a 3.00 ERA in 1980 is different than pitching to a 3.00 ERA in 2010. It wasn’t easy, but that was what helped me eliminate some really deserving guys.
So it’s narrowed down to five starting pitchers and three relievers, since I didn’t see much point in naming more relievers than that. Without further ado, here they are.
1. Roger Clemens
Regardless of your feelings on Clemens now, there’s no denying he was brilliant in an Astros uniform. He’s the club’s all-time leader in ERA, besting even the best relievers in that category. He was 38-18 with a 2.40 ERA with the Astros, compiling an ERA+ of 180, indicating he was 80 percent better than league average. Good luck beating that.
2. Justin Verlander
Verlander actually comes close to Clemens’ stats, as his ERA+ is 179 with the Astros. He’s 42-15 with a 2.45 ERA, winning one Cy Young and finishing runner-up for another. He’s been durable, thrown a lot of innings, limited baserunners and struck out plenty of batters. He’s the complete package.
3. Gerrit Cole
Cole was 35-10 with a 2.68 ERA in two seasons, compiling an ERA+ of 164 and striking out 602 batters, including a club record 326 in 2019. He would’ve won a Cy Young himself if not for Verlander. He was absolutely dominant down the stretch and in the postseason in 2019, rivaling Scott’s 1986 run as one of the best we’ve ever seen.
4. Roy Oswalt
Oswalt finished one win away from tying the franchise record, and his 133 ERA+ is sterling. He was a bona fide ace for nearly a decade, notching five finishes in the top five of the Cy Young voting. He also pitched well in the postseason, winning the 2005 NLCS MVP award. He wasn’t overpowering, but he was always effective.
5. Nolan Ryan
The last spot was a tough one to figure, but I gave the nod to the franchise’s all-time strikeout leader. His ERA+ with the Astros was 110, which was better than Richard, Scott and Dierker. He compiled a 3.13 ERA in nine seasons and led the league in ERA twice. It’s tough to keep the game’s strikeout king off this list.
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Closer: Billy Wagner
This was an obvious choice. Wagner is the franchise’s all-time leader in saves, and his opponents batting average of .186 is second in team history to Verlander. There’s an argument to be made that he’s the game’s best closer not named Mariano Rivera, and I’d certainly vouch for that. He was simply dominant.
Setup: Dave Smith
Smith is second in club history with 199 saves and worked to a 2.53 ERA and 137 ERA+ in 11 seasons. He was a key player on both the 1980 and 1986 division championship teams. He had both longevity and consistency, making him a logical inclusion in the all-time bullpen.
Setup: Joe Sambito
The left-handed Sambito played eight seasons with the Astros, and his 2.42 ERA is bested only by Clemens. He threw 88 or more innings out of the ‘pen in four straight seasons, and though his saves total (72) isn’t impressive, he had an ERA+ of 140, was an All-Star in 1979 and had the distinction of finishing fifth in the Cy Young voting in 1980.