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Astros Sunday Roundup: Unpicking Rotation Questions

Ed Wade and Brad Mills have to find space for young and up and coming young starting pitchers.

When people predicted the Astros to finish 2011 with 100 losses I scoffed at them, because I did not believe that our rotation was bad enough to reach that sort of total. Teams with average rotations typically do not lose 100 games. Given what our rotation, which was basically unchanged from the tail end of 2010, had done some pretty good things, I was confident they could put up a decent showing. I was dead wrong.

We were expecting to have the most settled rotation since 2006. Instead J.A. Happ has gotten knocked about to a league leading losses, Brett Myers has regressed in almost ever single way, while Jordan Lyles, in his rookie season, has failed to stop the bleeding in the fifth rotation slot. 

Excepting Wandy Rodriguez and Bud Norris, who have done all the Astros could have asked of them, the Astros are 20-53 when anyone else is on the mound. 

If not for Jeff Keppinger Happ might have picked up a win in his return to the club on Friday and Myers tossed seven pretty good innings last night. Henry Sosa, acquired from the Giants picked up his first major league win on Thursday. All this might be viewed as progress if it was not against San Francisco, whose offensive production over the past month has whittled away to next to nothing. But maybe the heat has finally been turned up as they know they are fighting for their rotation lives. 

At least Happ is making the league minimum, and can be sent back down to Oklahoma City whenever Doug Brocail wants to pawn a problem off on Burt Hooton. Myers however will make $10m next year, a large amount if he pitches like a fifth starter again, and Wade should have made it a priority to find someone to dump the contract on. It would give Paul Clemens, Brett Oberholtzer, Xavier Cedeno, Henry Sosa and Dallas Keuchel another starting rotation spot to fight over next year.

Unless we assume that Happ, Rodriguez, Lyles and Myers will all return next season that leaves no rotation spots open for the young pitchers to battle for, and presumably improve the rotation. Remember, with those five pitchers in and out of our rotation we have the worst ERA in the national league. Expecting a half a run improvement in Lyles' ERA next season seems a nice conservative prediction, and that cuts out those diabolical Nelson Figueroa outings, but is this the sort of improvement we need to dig ourselves out of this mess.

Or do we believe that Happ and Myers can find the genesis to their 2010 success and put the travails of this season behind them? Jarred Cosart could be rapping on the major league door mid-season, posting a 2.96 ERA in five starts since being called up to AA. He has yet to allow a home run, and while his K/9 has dropped significantly, this may be because he is focusing his pitch repertoire. 

At this stage of the franchise's rebuild, it makes no sense to have Myers around in 2013, a year in which he holds a club option for $10m. However, this becomes guaranteed if he hits performance targets during the 2012 season. 

Pitcher

Team record

W%

GS

Run support

Brett Myers

8-20

.286

28

3.97

Bud Norris

12-14

.462

26

3.62

Wandy Rodriguez

11-13

.458

24

3.90

J.A. Happ

4-19

.174

23

3.75

Jordan Lyles

3-12

.200

15

3.55

Aneury Rodriguez

3-5

.375

8

4.13

Nelson Figueroa

1-4

.200

5

5.40

Henry Sosa

1-3

.250

4

3.25

TEAM TOTAL

43-90

.325

133

3.81

Even with the diabolical bullpen and impotent offense, with Rodriguez and Norris on the mound we are close to playing .500 ball. This is why I disliked the Braves deal, because I think, with a few decent bullpen pieces, our young players in the lineup, we are only three starting pitchers away from being a respectable .500 team, maybe even next year. Jordan Lyles might be one such pitcher. By 2013 I could see him developing into a steady middle of the rotation arm. Mike Minor or Randall Delgado would have fit that bill easily. Cosart could be even better than that in a year or two. 

Screw the low floor guys, Ed Wade and Brad Mills have to give as many opportunities as they can to the players with the highest ceiling. Strong finishes to the season by Happ and Myers can only delude management into making exactly the same mistakes next year that they made this year. I missed last night's game due to it being played on the pacific coast, but unless Happ is getting vertical movement on his fastball he is going to get battered by national league hitters just as he did before. 

Imagine the change in team morale when you aren't throwing this year's J.A. Happ out there. When you have won .174 of the games with him on the mound, how do you think that affects a clubhouse when preparing for that game. Doesn't matter how many runs we score, the batters must think, we are still going to lose. 

Can Paul Clemens and Brett Oberholtzer produce better results in the rotation in 2012 than Happ and Myers could? Maybe not. But the Astros need to take as many chances as they dare, unless they wish to experience back-to-back 100 loss seasons. 

Images by eflon used in background images under a Creative Commons license. Thank you.