The Astros will have 852 players* in camp, vying for the 25-man roster on Opening Day. Let Astros County help you make sense of it. (* - Approximately). Today, we start with the starting rotation, for starters.
Wandy just might be the only player making more than $1m who will actually be worth his salary. He'll make $10m in 2012, and while his K/9 rate has declined in each of the last four seasons (8.58, 8.45, 8.22, 7.82) and his BB/9 has increased in each of the last three (2.76, 3.14, 3.25), he's still the number one starter - provided he doesn't get traded before Opening Day. From 2009-11, Wandy is 36-35 with a 3.36 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, 118 ERA+, and a 2.69 K:BB ratio.
Brett Myers is lucky that Ed Wade loves his Phillies. Myers certainly wasn't as bad as his 2009 indicated (-0.6 WAR, 6.14 FIP), but it was pretty clear that he wasn't as good as his 2010 indicated (4.0 WAR, and his first sub-4.00 FIP since 2007). Still, Myers got his deal ($11m in 2012, $10m in 2013 with $3m buyout). He'll make the rotation, mainly because other teams are scared of him and won't want to take on his contract.
If there's reason for optimism, it's that Myers will likely throw 200+ IP (439.2IP in 2010-11), and his WHIP was still lower than his 2008-09 seasons in Philly. His ERA+ (85) was the lowest it had been since 2004, but Myers' role will likely be to eat up innings and let the younger guys develop.
The great thing about Bud Norris is that he won't be a free agent until 2016, so there's absolutely no reason to do anything other than give him the ball every five days. There's a very real possibility that Norris is the ace of the staff, after his 2011 in which he had an ERA+ of 100 (but still only went 6-11), but Norris' walks were down from 4.5 per 9inn in 2010 to 3.4 in 2011. His Ks went down, but he cut his walks dramatically enough to raise his K:BB ratio from 2.05 to 2.51. FanGraphs lists his value at $8m, and for less than $500K/year, he's a steal.
The Lunatic Fringe
Happ had a miserable 2011. I was getting ready to be all, "10.2% OF HIS FLYBALLS WERE HOMERS!!!" And then I saw that Wandy, Myers, and Norris all had higher HR/FB rates than Happ, so that's out. But still, Happ had a miserable 2011. He's another one of those guys who probably wasn't ever as good as his numbers indicated - his ERA outperformed his xFIP by 0.89, 1.40, and 1.23 from 2008-10, respectively. It all just sort of caught up with him in 2011. Walks contributed to it - he walked 4.78 batters per nine innings in 2011, as did his lower groundball rate (33% - his lowest since 2008), and his BABIP regulated itself. And by "regulated itself," I mean that it was normal, for once, with a .297 BABIP in 2011 (after .266, .266, and .262 from 08-10). If he has a miserable spring it could turn out that he heads to OKC - as he did for three starts in 2011.
You know all about Jordan Lyles, the 21-year old phenom, and the former prize of the Astros' farm system. But the thing is, he is only 21 years old. Still, he only walked 2.49 batter per nine in 2011 (striking out 6.41 per nine). While he had a horrific ERA (5.36), his FIP was 4.53, and his xFIP was an even better 4.13. Was he "unlucky"? His BABIP was .307 at the ML level, but he's been pretty unlucky his entire professional career - only having part of one season (low-A in 2008) with a BABIP under .315. Still, it's feasible to think the Astros will let Lyles go back to OKC in 2012 for more innings.
You pretty much know what you're gonna get with Hernandez: 170-200IP of serviceable starting pitching. If he fares well in Spring, and someone else gets hurt or completely nuts it, Hernandez is probably in the rotation.
This was an interesting one. A non-roster invitee like Hernandez, Duke could be a sleeper after an injury-plagued 2011. He's a lefty ground-ball pitcher who doesn't get strikeouts, or walk many batters. At the end of 2010, after Duke had been DFAed by the Pirates, FanGraphs said that xFIP is probably a better gauge of Duke's abilities. Should that be the case, Duke is a high-contact pitcher with an ERA in the 4.20-4.30 range, not the ~5.00 ERA pitcher he's been over the past two seasons (with a BABIP of .338 and .339, respectively). If it doesn't work out for Duke in the rotation, he could turn into a lefty specialist out of the pen. Or he could not play for the Astros.
Acquired from the Red Sox with Jed Lowrie for Mark Melancon, the 25-year old Weiland could be an intriguing SP4 for the Astros. Weiland's fastball sat at 92.5mph (according to FanGraphs) in 2011, which would put him right there with Norris as the hardest thrower in the rotation. He's somewhat of an unknown - with his cup of coffee in 2011 getting spilled down his chest, scalding his flesh. In his first season at Triple-A Pawtucket (24 starts) in 2011, he had a 3.58 ERA/1.27 WHIP, with a 2.29 K:BB ratio and 3.9 BB per nine innings (8.8 K/9 in 2011). Still, he won't be 26 until September and will be shooting for just his 2nd stint in the Majors.
The Aneurysm, as we like to call him, is on the outside looking in because we don't know what role he'll have in 2012. The former Rule 5 pick had to stay on the 25-man roster in 2011, or he'd be sent back to the Rays, so he would start for a while, then go back to the bullpen, then make a spot start. He'll be 24 all season long and it's possible that, if the rotation is in his future, he could spend some time in OKC until a rotation spot opens up. As a starter, he had a 5.80 ERA/1.44 WHIP, and a 1.86 K:BB ratio. In 35 games in relief, Rodriguez had a 4.80 ERA/1.27 WHIP, with a 2.11 K:BB ratio. And that's with an overall .271 BABIP. There's no reason to not let him go back to Triple-A (he only had 17 starts for Tampa's Triple-A team in 2010) and get some more seasoning - unless he has a killer Spring.
Harrell, one of Wade's waiver claims from 2011, made his Astros debut on September 2 against Milwaukee - going 5.1IP, allowing 3H/0ER, 4K:2BB, and throwing 114 pitches. Then he appeared in five more games, with an unsuccessful start against the Rockies thrown in on September 25. But he did alright. Harrell has a tendency to walk batters - 4.3 batters per nine - in seven minor-league seasons, with 6.0 K/9 in the same time frame. In nine starts for Oklahoma City in 2011, we has 5-2 with a 1.72 ERA/1.26 WHIP. He has a couple of options left, but will be 27 in June.
Obtained in the Keppinger trade from the Giants, the hard(ish)-throwing Sosa (93.1mph avg fastball) got ten starts for the Astros in 2011. He had a 5.23 ERA, but his FIP was 4.77, and his xFIP was 4.50 - so he probably isn't as bad as it looked. He'll also be 27 at the end of July.
The Astros picked up Cedeno following the 2010 season, and assigned him to Double-A Corpus (he missed the entire 2010 season), where he went 5-6 with a 3.95 ERA/1.28 WHIP, striking out 8.9 batters per nine. So they bumped him up to Oklahoma City, where had a much worse time with his peripherals (6.23 ERA/1.54 WHIP), but still managed to strike out 27 batters in his 26IP. He saw 1.2IP of action with the Astros in 2011 (3 games), and gave up 5H/2ER (2HR) in his final appearance of the season - in the 19-3 drubbing at the hands of the Rockies. Nowhere near enough to get any sort of opinion about Cedeno. Still, he's a longshot to make the rotation, and I'd expect him back in OKC.