Monday, July 15, 2019

Why the Best Rotation Option Now is to "Grin and Bear It"

On Sunday morning, the Kansas City Royals scratched Homer Bailey from his scheduled start today. Speculation immediately began that Bailey was being traded, and, remarkably, a small part of that speculation came from Astros Twitter.

Bailey has had a bounce back season, avoiding injury and improving to an ERA of 4.80.  How is that an improvement you might say?  Well, Bailey had ERAs of 6.43 and 6.09 in 197 1/3 IP in 2017 and 2018 combined. In short, let's just hope that those who wanted Bailey were friends of his from LaGrange High School...or just big ZZ Top fans.

But the desire by a handful of Astros fans for Bailey reflects the frustration we currently have with the state of the rotation. While Verlander and Cole are Cy Young contenders and Wade Miley has been a revelation, the fourth and fifth rotation spots have been a revolving door. Brad Peacock (15 starts) has been injured, Collin McHugh  (8 starts) was ineffective, and Framber Valdez (5 starts) was not ready, and Corbin Martin (5 starts) hit the trifecta--he was ineffective, not ready, and is now injured.

And news came Sunday morning that Brad Peacock had a setback during a bullpen session yesterday, and he will not be able to start tonight in Anaheim as anticipated. As a result, the team will start Josh James on Monday as an "opener," followed by Framber Valdez, fresh off a start of 2/3 of an inning in Arlington on Thursday. Who will start on Tuesday?  We don't know yet, but the smart money is on a bullpen game.

In short, the starting rotation is in a bad way.  What are the Astros going to do to solve the problem in the rotation?  As of right now, not much. Jake Kaplan of The Athletic interviewed GM Jeff Luhnow about the rotation yesterday in Arlington. Luhnow's take: "I think at this point we're going to have to grin and bear it."

Luhnow did say that "we've looked at some external options."  But the attitude of "grin and bear it" suggests that the Astros don't plan to make a trade anytime soon.

As unsatisfying as it is, I believe this is the right attitude.  Acquiring a middling pitcher like Bailey would help the team in the next couple of weeks, but that help would be minor. To acquire that pitcher, the Astros would have to remove a player from the 40-man roster (which is full) and carry that new pitcher for the rest of the season.

The benefit may be an extra win, but what's the value of one win to the Astros right now. Not much.  The Astros lead the As by 6 games and have a better than 90% chance of winning the division according to every major win projection. The team is on pace to win 100 games and are only a game and a half back of the Yankees for the best record in the AL.  In short, a move for an innings eater does little to help the team right  now.

Of course, the Astros are in the  market for a new starting pitcher. And they should be be. Astros fans should have every expectation that Luhnow will acquire a starting pitcher at the trade deadline later this month. But the primary standard on which to judge that acquisition is how well can that new pitcher do in October. If Bailey pitches in October, his team is in for a world of hurt that night.

But the top starters will not move until right close to the trade deadline. Teams that want to deal a star player will wait until as close to the deadline as possible to see if teams will increase their offer as they learn that other teams are interested. It would cost additional in terms of prospects for the Astros to do a deal now for a pitcher of the likes of Marcus Stroman or Madison Bumgarner.

In short, the benefits of making a trade now for an innings eater are small.  We can wait until around July 31 to get a better pitcher at a better price.  It's worth enduring a bullpen game or two to wait for our Game 3 starter in the ALDS.