Can it be? The Astros are short on starting pitching
Yes, it’s true the Houston Astros starting rotation contains the reigning Cy Young Award winner in 28-year-old left-hander Dallas Keuchel. The rest of their rotation pitched well in 2015 too, however, the question is do they have enough pitching depth to handle an injury or to replace a pitcher who is having a poor season? Will they have what it takes to get to the World Series with their current rotation?
After Keuchel, comes an entire rotation of right-handers. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing but the team won’t have a lot of versatility. Each pitcher in their rotation has pitched well in both 2014 and 2015 for Houston, however, with the exception of Lance McCullers who is coming off of his rookie season, the others have spotty track records before they joined the Astros. That even includes Keuchel. Can each of these pitchers maintain what they’ve accomplished as Astros or will they revert to their old ways? If they were to do so, would the Astros have enough pitching depth to be able to go further into October than they did in 2015?
Keuchel has had two amazing seasons for Houston. He went undefeated at home to win the Cy Young in 2015 and in 2014 he went 12-9 with a 2.93 ERA, won his first Gold Glove Award and led the league pitching five complete games. Prior to that, however, he was not the same pitcher. In his first two years in the big leagues with Houston Keuchel posted a 5.27 ERA over 16 starts in 2012 and a 5.15 ERA over 22 starts and 31 overall appearances in 2013.
Similarly, the remainder of the rotation, again with the exception of McCullers, have had strong seasons in 2014-2015 but their previous numbers don’t quite match up. Number two starter Collin McHugh pitched in just 15 games between the New York Mets and Colorado Rockies in 2013-14. He finished those two season with a combined 8.94 ERA.
30-year-old Mike Fiers was called up by the Milwaukee Brewers in 2012, he pitched well but struggled mightily in 2013. That year he was sent up and down between the major and minors until an injury ended his season early. He was hit in the forearm while pitching in Triple-A by a liner off the bat of New Orlean’s Kevin Kouzmanoff. Fiers bounced back in 2014, however, he still pitched only 14 big league games and only started 10 of them. In 2015, he was traded to Houston at the trade deadline. He went 2-1 for the Astros in nine starts (10 total appearances) posting a 3.32 ERA and a 1.05 WHIP. Fiers appears to be a good pitcher, however despite debuting in 2012, he hasn’t pitched in very many major league games and the Astros will have to count on him in just his second full season starting in the majors.
Houston’s fifth starter, Scott Feldman, can be seen as somewhat of a question mark. The 32-year-old veteran has played 11 seasons in the majors, spending eight of them in Texas. His ERA was erratic at best ranging from a 3.92 to a high of 5.77. He was used as both a reliever and a starter during that time. He split the 2o13 season between the Chicago Cubs and Baltimore Orioles, starting 30 total games and showing some potential. He finished the season having pitched one complete game, while posting a 3.86 ERA and a 1.18 WHIP. In two seasons with Houston he has posted an ERA under four in each season, profiling as decent number five starter, but can the Astros really rely on him to hold up the back end of their rotation?
Of course there is then McCullers who burst out onto the big league scene in May of 2015, pitching 22 starts for Houston with a 3.22 ERA. He looks like he’ll be a good fourth starter for Houston but almost like Fiers and Feldman, can the Astros really rely on him to have another good season?
We know the Astros have offensive power and can have pitchers with three and even four ERA’s but in 162 games that is hard to compensate for, especially if they are looking to make a World Series appearance and it’s quite evident that they are. If one or two of their starters struggle or their is an unforeseen injury to Keuchel or anyone of those starters, what do they have for backup?
The have 27-year-old right-hander Brad Peacock, who in his last three seasons with Houston has a 4.91 ERA over 47 appearances, not to mention he played in just one big league game last season going five innings while allowing three runs. He’s hardly a solid replacement for any one of their starters.
As for potential prospects, their once-deep farm system is becoming more and more drained. Houston already traded away their number-one pitching prospect in Mark Appel in order to obtain closer Ken Giles from the Phillies. Giles will be a great addition to the Astros’ bullpen, but he was costly. In addition to Appel, the Astros sent Philly pitchers Harold Arauz, Thomas Eshelman, Brett Oberholtzer, and Vincent Valasquez. This comes on the heels of a 2015 deal that sent pitchers Mike Foltynewicz and Andrew Thurman sent to Atlanta.
With those prospects out of the picture, what should the Astros do in order to right the ship and be legitimate contenders for the American League Pennant? For more on this story you can read the remainder of my column on Today’s Knuckleball by clicking the link below: