I know it's a day later than I had anticipated, but my Thursday quickly devolved into a time vortex that left me with too much to do and not enough time. So, you get this today, a little past the midpoint in the season, but I hope you'll forgive that one minor quibble. Without further ado, here's who's up and down on the Astros pitching staff...
Brett Myers, dropping back but volatile: If you followed Brett Myers' peripheral stats last season, you won't be surprised that he's gotten hit a little harder this season. Well, scratch that, he's not getting hit harder, the hits he's giving up are just finding a hole instead of falling into a glove. Myers doesn't have the dominant strikeout rate of an ace and found success last season in pitching to contact with a collection of high 80's stuff. This season, he's found a harder time, but that's also in part because of a high home run rate and that could come down in the second half. That's why Myers' stock is volatile. You could make a case he could rebound in the second half, but he also could continue to look like a third or fourth starter.
Wandy Rodriguez, blue chip: I am not the first to point this out (that would be our own Joshua Powling), but Wandy has pitched like a Cy Young candidate over the past 32 games. Anyone thinking he's a good pitcher who's never been great should look at his numbers over that stretch. Heck, even his numbers so far this season have been stellar. The only negative you can find is that his strikeout rate is down, but his corresponding drop in walk rate seems to help him back up a bit. He's clearly the best pitcher on this staff, even if his home/road splits make watching him start-to-start an adventure.
Bud Norris, rising quickly: The nicest surprise of the 2011 season has been Bud Norris seemingly turning a corner towards being a productive pitcher. Norris has already equaled his fWAR total from 2010 and is close to reaching his career total in a start or two. His strikeout rate is steady, his walk rate has dropped nearly 1.0 per nine innings and all the rest of his peripherals remain the same. He's wobbled a little in the past month, but overall, Norris is making a case that he can be a frontline starter for Houston in the coming years.
J.A. Happ, sinking quickly: Where Norris has surprised, Happ has disappointed. When he came over from Philadelphia, the smart and snarky statheads predicted his success would be short-lived. It wasn't big news, since they'd been suggesting that since he first burst onto the scene with the Phils. Happ just isn't a pitcher who fits into a neat box, thus he has very little room for error. This season, he hasn't been significantly worse than he was in 2010; he's just been much, much unluckier. Happ isn't as bad as he's been this season, but he hasn't shown that he's any more than a fourth starter on a bad team.
Jordan Lyles, realistically low: What did you expect? A 20-year old to come in and set the league on fire? Of course Lyles was going to have some growing pains. He's still growing as a pitcher. He's still growing, period. His control has been good, as he's not walking a bunch of batters. But, his command hasn't been as good, leaving pitching in the zone too much. That's what hurt him against the Rangers on Tuesday. Lyles will get better and still has a bright future. He just might be better off toiling away in Triple-A instead of pitching in the majors.
Aneury Rodriguez, penny stock with future potential: If Lyles has been a little disappointing, Aneury has been disappointingly inconsistent. He's performed exactly like a Rule 5 pick, not looking entirely big league ready, but showing signs that he could be good in the future. When pressed into the rotation, Aneury had a few moments where he looked like a future starter, but he then devolved into a control-challenged pitcher who gave up too many gopher balls. Give him time, though. Next season, with a full year in the big leagues, Aneury could be a completely different pitcher.
Mark Melancon, rising slowly: One of the reasons managers don't feel comfortable with rookie closers is that they struggle. They're learning how to pitch in the tightest possible situations, which is why they like bringing them in for setup roles first, like Houston did with Brad Lidge and Billy Wagner. Sometimes, necessity forces a manager's hand, as Brandon Lyon's injury left a hole at the back of games. Melancon has generally looked good and throws harder than man of the relievers in the bullpen. He has struggled at time, but not bad enough to think he won't be able to be a good closer in the future.
Wilton Lopez, holding steady: Injuries have held him down more than his performance this season. Lopez was consistent last season and is a bit of an abberation. He's being successful late in games without a high strikeout rate or an elite ground ball rate. There's no doubt he gets the job done, and continues to be one of the few reliable pitchers in an terrible bullpen.
Brandon Lyon, sell off everything: In the past two years, Lyon has had shoulder/arm problems that have caused him to spend time on the disabled list. This time, he's having season-ending surgery in June, which means he may not be ready for the 2012 season right away. When Ed Wade signed him to a three-year, $15 million deal two winters ago, the blogosphere went crazy. I still think you could justify the contract on Lyon's performance, which lived up to expectations last season. However, you can't control for injury risk, and that's what ultimately made this a bad contract. Hopefully, Lyon is able to play next season and play well.
Enerio Del Rosario, steady performer: I didn't say he was steadily good, but he's been better than you'd think. If you just look at his ERA, EDR looks like he's been one of the biggest problems in the Astros bullpen. The reason he's not been one of the guys optioned back to Round Rock is that he's doing exactly what he should be. EDR's ground ball rate is 62 percent, which makes up for a low strikeout rate. He's also not giving up home runs, the bane of any reliever. I know it's cliche, but we have to bring up the small sample size issue with him. If he keeps up this performance for the entire season, he'll probably end up with an ERA around 4.00 and being one of the better middle relievers on the team.
David Carpenter, rising quickly: I called him out earlier this week and was probably too negative. He certainly made an impression in his major league debut, getting a strikeout and working a perfect inning in the midst of an Astros win. I still worry about his control, but his fastball may be good enough to get away with spotty command. He's certainly risen quickly this season and provides one more thing for Astros fans to be hopeful for.