Hunter Brown has by and large been fantastic this season. After losing Justin Verlander in free agency and Lance McCullers Jr., José Urquidy and Luis Garcia to injury, Hunter Brown has taken on the biggest workload of his young career and been a more than capable third option.
Brown is currently 6-4 with a 3.78 ERA and 1.2 bWAR. He's on pace to shatter his single-season innings high, and according to Statcast, he's actually pitched even better than the results he's generated.
His future is very bright, but as the reigning champs with their core still together, it's World Series or bust in Houston. Is there a way to unlock a better Hunter Brown?
Yes, there is. But just like we said about his lineup construction, it will require Dusty Baker to stop making inexplicable decisions for any reason other than they are his decision.
When Yainer Diaz catches Hunter Brown, he is one of the best pitchers in the American League. In the six games he has started with Yainer Diaz behind the plate, Hunter Brown is 3-1 and holds a 2.62 ERA and 77 OPS+.
When Martín Maldonado is behind the plate, Brown's ERA is 4.63. He's 3-3 and his OPS+ jumps to 101. His two worst starts of the year have both come with Maldonado behind the plate.
Inexplicably, Yainer Diaz has not caught Hunter Brown since May 8th. Maldy caught Brown's first game of the year when he was tagged for four runs and couldn't complete five full innings before Yainer caught the next six. Brown was borderline unbeatable in that stretch, with his only loss coming in a game in which Houston was shut out.
For whatever reason, Dusty Baker decided on May 9th that Yainer was done catching Brown. He's gone from Brown's personal catcher to unable to get a start behind the plate.
Baker has claimed it's in case Yainer gets hurt. Maldy and Brown need the reps together in case Yainer goes down. Sure Dusty. And if Maldy gets hurt, what about the one COMBINED start that Yainer has catching Cristian Javier and Framber Valdez. Then what happens?
The Astros simply cannot score runs right now. They only scored one last night. This is true.
But if the team can't score, does it not make more sense to have one of your worst bats out of the lineup if your starting pitcher is markedly better throwing to somebody else?
The numbers, once again, speak for themselves. Hunter Brown is an all-star when he pitches to Yainer Diaz. He is very, very gettable when pitching to Martín Maldonado.
Additionally, Diaz may very well be their best bat without Yordan. Sound crazy? His .280 xBA is higher than Yordan's, his 14.9% barrel rate is second on the team only to Yordan, as is his .577 xSLG.
He's hitting .333 with a 1.028 OPS this month in his first ever extended playing time. If the Astros are going to score, Yainer has to be in the lineup.
But don't just DH him when Hunter Brown is on the mount. Let him catch. Use the DH to keep Altuve or Bregman's legs fresh.
Once again, I haven't managed 3,000 games or played in the MLB. But I can read and I can count. Those two abilities are all one needs to know that a 2.62 ERA and 77 OPS+ are markedly better than a 4.63 ERA and 101 OPS+.
Enough games Dusty. Enough made up "what-ifs" when you don't have a plan for what happens if Maldy goes down and no other catcher is getting reps with your aces.
Amidst injury, your team needs all the help it can get. Part of that help comes from letting Yainer Diaz catch Hunter Brown.