Ah, what the league used to call "Justin Verlander-lite." To say that Hunter Brown's rookie season was disappointing would be an understatement. Brown had a promising MLB debut late in the 2022 season and followed it up with 3.2 shutout innings across three appearances in the playoffs.
This trajectory was one of the reasons why the Astros didn't re-sign Justin Verlander. Heading into 2023, Brown appeared to be a possible Rookie Of The Year finalist, and it proved wonders early in the season. Through the first month, Brown picked up where he left off, boasting a 2.37 ERA with 32 strikeouts in 30.1 innings pitched.
Unfortunately it was short-lived, as Brown's ERA month by month climbed exponentially. A season in which Brown displayed flashes of dominance during starts, It was overshadowed by inconsistency and fatigue down the stretch, specifically with failing to get ahead in the count. If Brown is in a hitters count, the batting average skyrockets to at least .278.
The final three months of Brown's regular season illustrated nightmarish ERAs of 5.92 in July, 6.23 in August, and a whopping 9.23 ERA in September. He finished the regular season going 11-13 with a 5.09 ERA and a 1.36 WHIP in 155.2 innings.
Since his last start, manager Dusty Baker elected to move Brown into the bullpen as a long reliever. With Jose Urquidy back in the possible fifth slot in the rotation, it's doubtful that Baker will start Brown in the postseason. Given his regular season performance, there's a chance that Baker won't include Brown on the playoff roster.
That being said, Brown's stats in the bullpen are nasty. Even if it's a small sample size, Brown has pitched 15 career innings, both regular and postseason, without allowing a single run. These numbers are crucial, especially in the postseason. Considering the pivotal role Cristian Javier played in both 2020 and 2021 as a reliable swingman for Houston, the comparison raises an intriguing question: Can Brown sustainably fill a similar role in high-stakes scenarios, especially when the rotation starters struggle?