Astros’ Framber Valdez problem is deeper than just a short rough stretch

Houston is going to need more out of Framber Valdez this season, but fixing his biggest issue isn't that simple.
Houston Astros v Seattle Mariners
Houston Astros v Seattle Mariners / Steph Chambers/GettyImages

On Monday, the Houston Astros had Framber Valdez on the mound against the Mariners and, once again, he didn't look particularly great. While Valdez did end up going six innings and gave up just three runs, all of those runs came during a first-inning implosion and Valdez failed to miss bats while getting hit hard for much of the evening.

In fact, the entire month of May has been extremely mediocre from Valdez. He did have one good start against Oakland on the 15th, but he also got beat up a couple of times and his 5.34 ERA with 22 strikeouts in 30.1 innings of work in May hasn't inspired the most confidence. For some, this should be attributed to rust after having gone on the injured list earlier in the season.

However, Valdez's fundamental problem goes back further than that and points to a great deal of uncertainty as to how he is going to profile as a starter moving forward.

Framber Valdez's issues with hard contact point to a real regression problem

No one argues that Valdez is among the best pitchers in all of baseball when it comes to getting ground balls. It is that very attribute that has allowed him to pitch deep into games and keep his pitch count low. When he is on and the defense is playing well behind him, he is as good of a pitcher as any in MLB.

The problem that has been true ever since Valdez joined the big leagues is that those grounders get hit really, really hard as he has consistently ranked at or near the bottom of the league in hard-hit % against him going back to 2019. Before this season, Valdez had been able to compensate for that problem by missing bats at a decent rate, avoiding barrels, and his aforementioned ability to keep the ball on the ground. The story is very different in 2024 though.

So far this season, Valdez hasn't been able to create much separation between his fastball and changeup, which has resulted in the latter getting teed off on in 2024 with opposing hitters having a .314 batting average and .457 slugging percentage against the pitch. Given that the pitch was one of Valdez's aces in the hole against righties previously, that presents a big problem.

One hopes that Valdez's struggles are not injury related, but the dropoff has been significant as the Regression Monster has come to claim him. He is still more than capable of having dominant starts, but his margin for error is a lot less these days unless he can figure out how to fool guys and actually get them to swing and miss.

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