Pitcher List has high praise for Cristian Javier
The Astros have received much disrespect this offseason, with much of it directed at their pitching staff and how the loss of Justin Verlander will be handled. We get it, they lost the Cy Young winner. But has everybody forgotten they bring back a top-five Cy Young winner, the guy that started two combined no-hitters, a healthy Lance McCullers and a very deep rotation even without Hunter Brown factored into the mix?
The most pivotal arm for Houston to remain dominant is Cristian Javier. One MLB.com writer picked Javier to win the Cy Young, but for the most part, he has been overlooked this offseason. This made it genuinely refreshing to see Miles Schachner's article on Pitcher List, How High Can Cristian Javier Fly in 2023?
This article was incredibly insightful and well worth your time to read, whether your an Astros fan or just a fan of the game. Schachner goes into great detail highlighting what has made Javier so special, and even made some wise comparisons to similar pitchers in recent history.
Schachner leaned heavily into emphasizing Javier's two-pitch arsenal: the fastball and slider. When Javier debuted in 2020, he threw the four-seamer 63% of the time, for a -6 run value. Each year, he has increased how often he throws it at the top of the zone. Of Javier's four-seamers in 2022, which he threw 59.9% of the time, 64.5% of his heaters were at the top of the zone. This led to a 15% swinging strike rate and according to Baseball Savant, a staggering -18 run value.
Opponents hit .181 off Javier's fastball in 2022 and slugged only .326. His fastball is among the most elite in the game. He pairs a wipeout slider alongside it. Javier throws his slider 27.6% of the time. His slider is up to 15.1 inches of break. Opponents hit only .121 with a .223 slug on his slider this season, good for a -8 run value.
He mixes in a periodic curveball and changeup for the other two pitches in his repertoire, but mostly rides his two best pitches. Surely an ace can't be a two-pitch pitcher, right?
Schachner listed out a multitude of successful starters that have rode predominately two pitches in recent history: 2018 Jacob DeGrom, 2019 Justin Verlander, 2022 Justin Verlander, 2017 Chris Sale, 2015 Clayton Kershaw and 2018 Max Scherzer among others.
Javier's 87.5% rate for his fastball and slider is a little high, but if he can mix in his curve slightly more often in 2023, he may evolve into a truly dominant ace. Opponents hit only .226 with a .279 wOBA against his curve last season.
As Schachner addresses, many preseason projections have Javier regressing big time from this past season. Baseball Reference predicts a 3.12 ERA for Javier this year, but most have him hovering between a 3.6 and a 4.00 ERA. These are just laughable projections. Javier's stuff is too overpowering.
His Baseball Savant page in 2022 was redder than the surface of the sun: 98th percentile in xBA, 96th in xERA/xwOBA, 95th in xSLG and 94th in strikeout rate. That level of dominance doesn't fall off a cliff. Even if Javier's control still isn't at the level of a prototypical ace (3.1 BB/9), it is improving (down from 4.7 in 2021). He's also so impossibly hard to hit, that the occassional walk rarely comes back to bite him.
Opponents hit .170 against Javier in 2022. Care to guess how many names were better? Zero. And as the Statcast metrics show, he wasn't lucky. He just dominated the competition.
Schachner posed the question: how high can Javier fly in 2023? There may not be an actual limit. A Cy Young could be in the cards. Maybe he finishes off his own no-no. Another World Series title with he and Framber Valdez leading the way is entirely possible.
Javier is the truth. I can't wait to see what he has in store for us next season.