We probably can’t be worse.
That’s the likely slogan for the Houston Astros rotation entering 2014, because the 2013 rotation was a flaming tire-fire. Then finished 27th as a group in innings pitched, averaging fewer than 17 outs a turn, 26th in strikeouts per nine innings, 28th in ERA and tops for free passes issued.
The Twins, Orioles and Blue Jays were the only teams worse in terms of fielding-independent pitching metrics (4.42 FIP). It would be difficult for the rotation to get worse, is what we’re saying. But it’ll be a largely new crew, and they’ll try their best!
The Astros threw three years and $30 million at Feldman this offseason in what can largely be considered a filler-contract. That is, the Astros have some nice arms in the system but they’re a ways away from being able to log 200 innings. Enter Feldman, a decent but unspectacular starter who threw 181.2 innings last year. Granted, it was only the second time he topped 151.1, so maybe he’s not quite the innings horse they’re hoping for, but it was also his third straight (partial) season with DIPS right around the 4.00 mark. In fantasy terms, the wins will struggle to reach low-double-digits and the strikeout rate isn’t coming anywhere close to 20 percent, so he’s basically an average ERA, a slightly above-average WHIP and is largely an empty filler-arm beyond that. Ace, though.
How questionable is the Astros rotation beyond Feldman? Well, these three names are the only arms looking likely to throw more than 100 innings but neither can be reasonably expected to cross 150 with any certainty. Basically, it’s Feldman, a few three-quarter-season pieces and a bunch of potential fillers. Things can change, of course, and someone might impress.
Keuchel can’t strike anybody out but limited walks in the minors, and his 2013 was begging for regression (5.15 ERA, 4.25 FIP, 3.58 xFIP). His ground ball rate is strong so even if he’s gopher-prone, the fly ball rate is low enough that it doesn’t completely kill his chance to be an average back-end arm. A fantasy consideration? Not in standard formats. Jarred Cosart could be, eventually, though projection systems certainly on high on him for this year. He walks too many batters and only just began striking Triple-A batters out (the first time he struck many people out since 2010) before his call-up. He can still be a nice arm long-term but buyer-beware for 2014 if you’re looking at his ERA or anything near it. Oberholtzer was perhaps even more impressive in 2013, walking just 13 batters in 71.2 innings with a 3.65 FIP. Like with the others, he shouldn’t be expected to strike a ton of batters out and is probably only an upside play in deeper formats.
See What Sticks
This group will compete for the final rotation spot and could perhaps bump one of the earlier names, but there’s little sexy here. Peacock was rocked in his 2013 pseudo-debut, hiding what was a nice bounce-back half-season at Triple-A. He might be the only pitcher on the staff who could conceivably strike out double-digit batters but he’s also walk and homer prone. Clemens was also rocked in 2013 and still hasn’t had what you’d call a successful stint anywhere since his Astros system-debut at Double-A in 2011. Harrell is probably headed to the bullpen as a long-man but the team may look at his 2012 numbers (3.76 ERA, 3.75 FIP, 3.89 xFIP) and roll the dice that his one-to-one strikeout-to-walk ratio in 2013 wasn’t the real him. Remember Bass’ 2011 ERA of 1.68? Yeah, nobody else does, either.
Appel was the first overall pick in the 2013 draft and got a nice $6.35 million signing bonus but it’s probably much too early to hope on him. He’ll attend camp but probably needs at least one year of minor-league seasoning. Wojciechowski was put on the 40-man after a pretty successful year between Double-A and Triple-A but it’s unclear if the team sees him as a starter or a reliever. Foltynewicz has a lot of names to jump but is heading to camp to show he’s got his walk issues under control. All three are dynasty-league considerations, however, along with a few other names in the system.
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