Astros: Finding the good in a disappointing 2020 season

HOUSTON, TEXAS - SEPTEMBER 01: Michael Brantley #23 of the Houston Astros reacts after hitting a three-run home run in the seventh inning against the Texas Rangers at Minute Maid Park on September 01, 2020 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)
HOUSTON, TEXAS - SEPTEMBER 01: Michael Brantley #23 of the Houston Astros reacts after hitting a three-run home run in the seventh inning against the Texas Rangers at Minute Maid Park on September 01, 2020 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images) /
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HOUSTON, TEXAS – SEPTEMBER 17: Framber Valdez #59 of the Houston Astros pitches in the first inning against the Texas Rangers at Minute Maid Park on September 17, 2020 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)
HOUSTON, TEXAS – SEPTEMBER 17: Framber Valdez #59 of the Houston Astros pitches in the first inning against the Texas Rangers at Minute Maid Park on September 17, 2020 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images) /

Valdez – Curveball Assassin

One of the more pleasant surprises from this season has been the development of lefty Framber Valdez. He has served as the sixth starting pitcher option in years past while also serving as a long relief pitcher on the roster. Prior to this year, his performances were quite inconsistent, walking batters in bunches and getting shelled on occasion. It was hard to imagine him being anything more than an average relief pitcher.

This year he is 4-3 with a 3.82 ERA and showing much better command with a 4.25 strikeout-to-walkout ratio. What’s been most impressive with Valdez is his mastery of the curveball, a pitch he has used on 54 of his 68 strikeouts. This pitch is a thing of beauty, with a spin rate of almost 3000 RPM and some wicked late breaking action on it. Watching it reminds me of Rafael Nadal ripping forehands at the French Open.

Batters are only hitting .116 against that pitch and Valdez is generating a 42.6 percent whiff rate. This has been a delightful development from a pitcher who didn’t appear to have the repertoire or command even 12 months ago. If Valdez can continue this trajectory of development, he could be a top-of-the-rotation starter for years to come.

Tucker Is Here To Stay

It wasn’t long ago, not even three months, that the jury was still out on Kyle Tucker. The potential has always been there, and the numbers he was putting up in Triple-A would make any Astros fan blush. However, Minor League pitching is different from Major League pitching, and it was hard to ignore how much he struggled in the 2018 season during his first call up. Some even wondered if Dusty Baker would use him at all, considering the deep outfield and Yordan Alvarez occupying DH.

But once the injuries began to mount early in the season, Tucker was given the opportunity to be in the lineup every day, and he certainly came through. He leads the league in triples, he is in the top 10 in RBIs, his OPS is above .800, and he has all the makings of a 20 home runs-20 stolen bases guy.

He’s been streaky as a hitter, looking like Ted Williams one series and Chris Carter the next, but I think it’s fair to say he’s a future offensive juggernaut for this Houston team. He’s also had the opportunity to play the outfield with three true pros in Brantley, Springer and Josh Reddick. I hope at least a couple of those three can stay next year and beyond to help groom Tucker into a solid all-around player.

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