As if there was ever any doubt, Framber Valdez has been named the Houston Astros' 2023 Opening Day starter. This is the second straight year that the club's best pitcher will take the mound for the season opener.
The Astros are fortunate enough to have a starting rotation full of potential Opening Day starters. Behind Valdez, Cristian Javier and Luis Garcia are both emerging as top-of-the-rotation type of arms and José Urquidy and even prospect Hunter Brown are not far behind.
For Valdez, it took a bit for him to come into his own at the big league level. After making his big league debut in 2018 and posting a 2.19 ERA over eight appearances and 37 innings, he came way back down to earth in 2019, struggling to keep his ERA below 5.00 (finishing with a 5.86) and suffering a complete lack of consistency on the mound.
Despite these struggles, he bounced back in a big way in the COVID-shortened 2020 season to finish 11th in the AL Cy Young Award voting.
Valdez followed this up with an even better season in 2021, making 22 starts and going 11-6 with a 3.14 ERA, 4.01 FIP and 137 ERA+, establishing himself as one of the better starting pitchers in the game.
However, it wasn't until last season that Valdez truly showed ace-level stuff. He finally made a full season of starts and dominated the opposition all year long. In 31 starts, the now-29-year-old went 17-6 with a 2.82 ERA and 3.06 FIP. He made the first of what will likely be many trips to the All-Star Game, finished fifth in Cy Young voting and even managed to earn some MVP votes as well.
Of course, he was also able to get it done in the postseason last year, which only furthers his value to this club. Valdez made one start in both the ALDS vs. Seattle and ALCS vs. the Yankees, shutting down the opposition in both games. In the World Series, which the Astros went on to win, he made two starts and allowed just two earned runs in 12.1 innings, striking out 18 and walking only five.
Through and through, Valdez is the ace of this staff. He has all of the makings to be the leader of this club's rotation for many, many years to come.