Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Season Review-Pitching

With roster expansion just a few days away, it's time to start reviewing the season. Heading into 2011, Astros fans had good reason to feel a little torn between hope and fear. On one hand, we had another magical run to finish out 2010. Fueled by the beginning of the youth movement, the Astros surged to a 40-33 record after the All-Star break. However, that same youth movement led to a lot of uncertainty for this year. So, what were we hoping would go right to feel good about 2011? We'll look at pitching in this installment and position players in the next.

Pitchers

Starters

For the first time in a couple years, we weren't scared of our starting rotation. Gone were Shawn Chacon, Russ Ortiz, Mike Hampton, Brian Moehler, and Brandon Backe. In their place were J.A. Happ, Bud Norris, and Brett Myers, plus a surprising Nelson Figueroa, a new ace in Wandy Rodriguez. Yes, pitching was going to lead our fight for respectability. Instead, the Astros are currently next to last in quality starts with 61 and last in the NL in ERA, with starters ERA coming in at 4.69.

On the bright side, Wandy and Bud have performed as well if not better than expected. Among qualified starters, Wandy is currently 17th in the NL in K/9 and 18th in ERA, though a closer look at his peripherals suggest he's been a little lucky this year. Wandy has more or less lived up to our expectations.

Bud Norris has taken a definitely step forward this season, finally starting to realized some of his potential. Norris is 7th in K/9 and 25th in ERA, while lowering his BB/9 by a full walk this season. His peripherals indicate he may be a tad lucky, but he truly has reached a new level of performance this season.

Not many people really expected Brett Myers to repeat his career year of 2010, it's safe to say we were hoping for more than we've seen this season. He's still eating innings at a high level, which is a plus given our bullpen, as we'll discuss in a minute. Myers is striking out fewer while giving up more home runs, and his woes seem to be driven by a decrease in the effectiveness of his off-speed offerings. He may not be as good as he was last year, but I think he's a little better than he's shown this year.

Brace yourself, it's not pretty after this.

J.A. Happ...where to start. It was fairly well known that Happ had likely been lucky in his young career, but he seems to have regressed enough to make up for his two previous full seasons. He got himself so far out of sorts that the Astros sent him to Oklahoma City for three starts in an attempt to clear his head. His strikeout rate is up, but his walk rate jumped more, up to almost 5 walks per 9 innings. Happ has been a big disappointment in 2011, and he must improve his command if he's going to contribute going forward.

Nelson Figueroa, in the words of Denny Green, was who we thought he was. Why Wade ever thought he was worth almost $1 million we'll never know. He lasted 8 games and 5 starts before getting demoted and, a few months later, released. Moving on...

The Astros have also seen a trio of new young starters take a few turns in the rotation this year.

Jordan Lyles is the one who's debut everyone was waiting for, and he has certainly held his own. As a 20 year old who doesn't depend on blowing hitters away, Lyles gave the Astros something to look forward to. His K% should improve a little as he learns how to pitch to major league hitters. His HR% and LOB% indicate he's experienced some bad luck this year, as well.

Henry Sosa was acquired in the Jeff Keppinger trade and, despite having been a reliever all season in the Giants organization, joined the rotation after just one start in OKC. The jury is definitely still out on Sosa, as he hasn't really succeeded or failed in the rotation. With a continued look over the last month of the season and the likelihood of the continuation of the rebuilding effort this winter, he will probably get a look at the rotation next spring.

Aneury Rodriguez was selected in the Rule 5 draft from the Rays organization, and has served as a long reliever/spot starter in 2011. At this point, The Aneurism is a replacement level pitcher with a cool nickname, but he will need to reach a new talent level to contribute long-term.

Bullpen

We knew going in to 2011 that our bullpen was for the most part inexperienced, but what we had seen was serviceable at worst. What we got instead this season was a league worst save %, a 4.28 ERA, and good evidence to support the belief that relievers are a fungible and fickle group.

Brandon Lyon blew the first save in the first game of the season, and it never really got better for him before he hit the DL after 15 games and an 11.48 ERA. No, my finger didn't stutter, that's really an eleven. He has one year left on his contract, so hopefully the repairs to his biceps tendon and labrum will get him back to a respectable level next season.

We were hoping Jeff Fulchino would return to 2009 form, but instead he replicated 2010 as he bounced back and forth between the Astros and the RedHawks, pitching to a 5.18 ERA through 33 major league innings.

After a promising 17 inning call up last year, Mark Melancon has been thrust into the closer role this season due to Lyon's injury, and it's safe to say the results have been mixed. He has a 3.29 ERA in 63 innings, with 15 saves versus 4 blown saves. He's also lost a few games that were tied when he came in. High leverage shakiness aside, he's basically fulfilled our expectations this year.

Fernando Abad looked good after a solid 2010 debut, but he's bounced around from Houston to Oklahoma to the DL and back, and has struggled accordingly. He's given up 5 HR in just 19.1 innings, leading to a 7.32 ERA for the Astros.

Wilton Lopez showed unbelievable control in 2010 and looked like a potential back end piece, and, while not quite as much of a control artist this season his results have been roughly what we were hoping for, posting a 2.79 ERA through 61.1 innings.

The rest of this year's bullpen was essentially unknown coming into the season. The good of the unknown include Fernando Rodriguez (3.29 ERA 46K/22BB in 41 IP), Sergio Escalona (3.00 ERA 25K/11BB in 27 IP), and David Carpenter (2.65 ERA 15K/7BB in 17 IP). The bad would consist of Enerio Del Rosario (4.50 ERA 26K:25BB in 46 IP) and Jose Valdez (9.00 ERA 15K:7BB in 14 IP).

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