Astros Add Rotation Options

If the season started tomorrow, the Houston Astros would lack a determined fifth starter. The man who made the fifth most starts for the Astros last season – Felipe Paulino – is now Colorado property, leaving the team with Brett Myers, Wandy Rodriguez, Bud Norris, and J.A. Happ as locked-in starters. The season does not start tomorrow – it’s snowing, sillies – and as such the Astros have the ability to collect options and see who catches their eye during workouts and exhibition games. Over the latter part of the week they added two interesting options. Does either have hope?

Ryan Rowland-Smith had the lowest WAR amongst pitchers with at least 100 innings last season. Despite a third of Rowland-Smith’s appearances coming out of the bullpen, his ERA and FIP were startlingly close (6.75 and 6.55). Rowland-Smith managed career worst marks in the following metrics: K/9, K/BB, HR/9, AVG, LOB%, ERA, FIP, xFIP, tERA, SwStr%, and … well, you get the point. If it’s measured on these online pages then Rowland-Smith performed brutally at whatever the statistics quantifies.

Rowland-Smith’s previous 27 career starts suggest he’s capable of being a rosterable starting pitcher in the big leagues. His peak well could be league average, but Houston is asking him to be the fifth starter on a below average team, not the missing link between 85 and 90 wins. Signing the man affectionately known as Hyphen for peanuts and seeing if he can’t bounce back isn’t a bad idea. The Astros’ ballpark makes this a difficult pairing to love, though, as Rowland-Smith has always had issues with the long ball, and Minute Maid Park is a launching pad for right-handed batters.

Compared to the other new starter in town, Rowland-Smith is the more experienced combatant, and one with the lower roof and presumably the higher floor. Give the Astros credit for taking advantage of the Rule 5 draft and selecting Aneury Rodriguez out of the Rays’ system as a potentially unconventional answer to finding a fifth starter.

Rodriguez (who turns 23 tomorrow) spent the last two seasons in between Double- and Triple-A, splitting time as a starter and reliever last season. His strikeout-to-walk ratio over those seasons is something like 1.90. Such a figure does not seem like a harbinger of Major League success, but Rodriguez’s stuff tends to draw positive reviews. Chaim Bloom — one of the folks in charge of overseeing the Rays’ minor league system – once praised Rodriguez’s ability to pitch, citing his tendencies to set batters up and off-speed pitch usage.

Since Rodriguez cannot be demoted to the minors (barring the Astros acquiring Rodriguez’s rights) one has to figure he’ll open the season in the bullpen if not the rotation. That doesn’t necessarily give Rodriguez the default leg-up on Rowland-Smith, as it might be preferable for the younger one to break into the majors slowly, but who can be sure.

With Jordan Lyles close by, neither of these fellows is likely long for the rotation. Still, even if the upside is mediocrity, employing two guys with perceivable upside should provide a more enjoyable experience than seeing Russ Ortiz and Mike Hampton attempt to renew their careers for the umpteenth time.



Print This Post





Sort by:   newest | oldest | most voted
OremLK
Guest
OremLK
5 years 6 months ago

I feel like the Astros do have decent depth at the five-spot in the rotation. Other names you didn’t mention who will be in the mix: Nelson Figueroa, who spent some time in the rotation last year and performed pretty well. Lance Pendleton, another rule 5 draft pick from last week. Fernando Abad, who performed well out of the bullpen last season and had very strong numbers in the minor leagues.

Of all of those names, I have the highest hopes for Rodriguez and Abad to carve out something like an average performance out of the five-spot in the rotation. I think the Astros will again have above average pitching next season, although I’m doubtful that it will be anywhere near enough to make up for their terrible offense.

Lee
Guest
Lee
5 years 6 months ago

Hyphen… lol.

Slow day.

CJ
Guest
CJ
5 years 6 months ago

The Astros already know that Figueroa can handle the 5th starter role. They can put him in the rotation if necessary. The Astros would prefer a younger pitcher in that spot. So they compile a number of very cheap options, like Rowland-Smith, Abad, and the two Rule 5 picks, Rodriguez and Abad. There is a decent chance that one of those younger options will show that he can provide acceptable performance in the rotation. If none do, the worst that happens is that Figueroa is the No 5 starter–just as he was at the end of last season. As the article suggests, there are many worse ways to fill the fifth starter spot.

CJ
Guest
CJ
5 years 6 months ago

correction….I meant to say “Rodriguez and Pendleton” as the Rule 5 picks.

hdarvick
Guest
hdarvick
5 years 6 months ago

Why would “the Astros prefer a younger pitcher in that spot (#5 starting pitcher)”, than Nelson Figueroa? As a starting pitcher in the Mets rotation (August-October 2009) and the Astros starting rotation, 35 and 36 year old Nelson Figueroa averaged 6+ innings and 110+ pitches per start and proved he could pitch on 3 days rest if necessary when he followed 6.2 shutout innings against the Reds with 6 shutout innings against the Cubs in the last 2 Astros victories of 2010 (we lost 6 of our last 8 games). 2010 stats (Phillies & Astros) for the versatile 36-year-old righty: 7-4 3.29 ERA (5-3 3.22 ERA for Houston). And like a good wine, he gets better with age.

JP
Guest
JP
5 years 6 months ago

Figueroa would be a competent 5th starter, but I would suggest he would struggle to stay in the rotation for an entire season, given his age and MO.

Rowland Smith will probably end up as one of the two left handers in the bullpen with Abad, but anything could happen in Spring Training.

Give Arnsberg and Rodriguez a month together, and I think he could get over the bump to being a solid major league starter. Expect Changeups. Lots of them.

Jim
Guest
Jim
5 years 6 months ago

Yeah, I wouldn’t expect RRS to be anything more than a spot starter in case of injury to one of the other starters.

He’s best used as situational lefty in the pen, as shown by his awful 2010 sesaon. He was at his best in Seattle when used out of the ‘pen a few seasons ago.

hdarvick
Guest
hdarvick
5 years 6 months ago

His MO proves you’re wrong about Figueroa “struggling” to stay in the rotation for an entire season and age means nothing. He doesn’t pitch like he’s 36 and doesn’t look like he’s 36. In 2011 Spring Training, he’ll outpitch the other candidates for #5. Guaranteed.

JP
Guest
JP
5 years 6 months ago

So, he’s 37 next season and his career high in IP is 93, but you think he’s going to last out an entire season in the rotation. Righht……

Rex
Guest
Rex
5 years 6 months ago

As far as Figgy goes, 93 IP may be his ML season high, but this is a guy that throws in the minors, when the season ends, throws in the DR, then throws in China…only to come back and throw in the bigs again. His arm is rubber.

wpDiscuz