Astros Roster Breakdown: The Starters

To lead off the starters section, I wanted to focus a little on Roy Oswalt. The soon-to-be 32-year old had his worst season as a professional, but was that a sign of aging and decline, or just a bump in the road?

His BABiP shows he wasn't unlucky in 2009 and was right in line with his career average. He also didn't throw more pitchers per plate appearance than he has in his career, while getting the most swinging strikes he's had since 2004. He did have a slight dip in his percentage of strikeouts that were looking, but since his swing and miss percentage didn't change, I think that was more statistical noise than anything.

You can't even blame injuries for hampering his stuff, because his fastball velocity was the same as it has been for the past few years. In fact, it actually ticked up a notch, but that's probably because of the only significant difference in his performance this season, a 5% drop in the number of fastballs he threw. Oswalt supplemented with more sliders and changeups. So, speed was not an issue...was something wrong with his movement? I wish I were smart enough to put together those cool scatter charts using the PitchF/X data, but I'm not there yet. I'd really like to see if he lost movement or late life on his fastball to determine if that's what the injuries robbed him of.

Other than possibly that, it appears his main problem may have been his attitude. Clashing so publicly and so often with Cecil Cooper, Roy just didn't give off the vibes of a guy playing his best. I'm sure he was playing his hardest, since he seems to have only one speed in that regard. But I wonder if he was mentally there this season. It's the one thing we can't really quantify, attitude.

Hear that, Brad Mills? Keep The Wizard happy next season and he'll bounce back.

Onto the rest of the starting rotation after the jump...

Roy Oswalt, RHP

2009 Season Stats: 8-6, 181 1/3 IP, 4.12 ERA, 30 GS, 19 HR, 138 strikeouts, 42 walks, 1.24 WHIP, 101 ERA+

FIP: 3.76

Average Game Score:  53

BABiP:.305

GB/FB: 1.21

Pitching Runs Created: 70

Notes: Since we've already talked about Roy-Boy's career trajectory, let's focus in on his 2009 season. Is this just the pitcher Roy is now? He struggled with getting any kind of decision all season, finishing with 16 non-decisions. His BABiP was right in line with normal luck, and he still got plenty of ground balls. The concerning part is his strikeout total, but as I said, that's been pretty steady for the past four seasons. His FIP shows he should have had a better ERA, but it would still have been his highest in his career. Roy was one of the main players disappointed in Cooper. Hopefully, he'll be motivated in 2010, because with Roy feeling right and Wandy pitching well, we will have a nice front end to the rotation. About that back end, though...

 

Wandy Rodriguez, LHP

2009 Season Stats:  14-12, 205 2/3 IP, 3.02 ERA, 33 GS, 21 HR, 193 strikeouts, 63 walks, 1.24 WHIP, 138 ERA+

FIP: 3.54

Average Game Score:  57

BABiP:.306

GB/FB: 1.21

Pitching Runs Created:100

Notes: Wandy was the best pitcher on the Astros staff last season. To put it in perspective, the difference between his and Roy's PRC was Mike Hampton. Maybe overly simple, but pretty amazing, no? Wandy's BABiP showed he wasn't just lucky to pitch this well and his strikeout total is very impressive, especially for a lefty. You'd like to see a few fewer walks, but that's just quibbling. The other interesting thing is his game scores. At 57, it was the highest of any of the starters and showed just how good he was game-to-game. His home/away splits were still very pronounced, though his strikeout rate was about the same. Two full runs of ERA though? For Wandy to take that next step to be an ace, he needs to perform better in road games.

 

Brian Moehler, RHP

2009 Season Stats: 8-12, 154 2/3 IP, 5.47 ERA, 29 GS, 21 HR, 91 strikeouts, 51 walks, 1.53 WHIP, 76 ERA+

FIP: 4.75

Average Game Score:  44

BABiP:.325

GB/FB: 1.25

Pitching Runs Created: 39

Notes: Moehler started the third-most games on the team last season. The trouble was, he did not perform like a third starter. Though his FIP was lower than his ERA and his BABiP meant he was a little unlucky, Moehler was more bad than good. His strikeouts and walks were both not where they should be. Though he had a good G/F ratio, his average game score shows he was a below league average starter in most of his outings. Much was made about a few of his starts at the beginning and end of the season blowing his ERA up too high. If you added 50 points to his total game score, he still would be well belew the the baseline. As a back-end starter? Moehler probably is useful, but will be recovering from a knee injury he had surgery on. Still, for 3 million? He's not a bad option.

 

Mike Hampton, LHP

2009 Season Stats: 7-10, 112 IP, 5.30 ERA, 21 GS, 13 HR, 74 strikeouts, 37 walks, 1.55 WHIP, 78 ERA+

FIP: 4.57

Average Game Score:  45

BABiP:.322

GB/FB: 1.78

Pitching Runs Created: 30

Notes: Hampy did just what we thought he'd do, getting a ton of ground balls and not really overpowering anyone. Oh, and getting hurt. He did that too. It's a little surprising Hampton gave up as many home runs as he did, but it did appear this experiment failed.

 

Felipe Paulino, RHP

2009 Season Stats: 3-11, 97 2/3 IP, 6.27 ERA, 17 GS, 20 HR, 93 strikeouts, 37 walks, 1.67 WHIP, 66 ERA+

FIP:  5.11

Average Game Score:  45

BABiP:.368

GB/FB: 1.08

Pitching Runs Created: 24

Notes: Obviously, anytime a hot, young prospect makes his debut and promptly posts a 6+ ERA, it's hard to be very excited. I still think his performance was somewhat affected by recovering from his 2008 injury, even if only slightly. His strikeouts numbers were great, though he gave up too many hits to win consistently. Paulino is too talented not to win more than three games next season, but it may take him a while to adjust. The Astros would pay more on the open market for a pitcher without nearly the upside of Paulino.

 

Russ Ortiz, RHP

2009 Season Stats: 3-6, 85 2/3 IP, 5.57 ERA, 13 GS, 8 HR, 65 strikeouts, 48 walks, 1.67 WHIP, 75 ERA+

FIP: 4.61

Average Game Score:  42

BABiP:.330

GB/FB:  1.62

Pitching Runs Created: 23

Notes: Ouch. The positives? Ortiz only gave up eight home runs and had a nice G/F ratio of 1.62. That's about it, though, as his nice start gave way to a rough time in the rotation. Ortiz wasn't as bad as his ERA indicated, but neither was he very good. He was hittable and probably was best as a swingman in the bullpen. He'll have to be that for some other team though, as I don't see the Astros bringing him back.

 

Bud Norris, RHP

2009 Season Stats: 6-3, 55 2/3 IP, 4.53 ERA, 10 GS, 54 strikeouts, 25 walks, 1.50 WHIP, 92 ERA+

FIP: 4.77

Average Game Score:  49

BABiP:.327

GB/FB: 0.87

Pitching Runs Created: 20

Notes: Norris had the most successful debut of any Astros rookie in 2009. He had some rough patches, obviously, but his average game score was still just a shade under average. He was a bit unlucky with his BABiP and gave up too many fly balls, but the strikeouts were there and the walks were minimized. I don't know whether he can get his control working well enough to be a permanent fixture in the rotation, but with his arm, he will have a place on the big league team for a while.

 

Yorman Bazardo, RHP

2009 Season Stats: 1-3, 32 IP, 7.88 ERA, 6 GS, 17 strikeouts, 22 walks, 1.84 WHIP, 53 ERA+

FIP: 5.00

Average Game Score:  34

BABiP:.323

GB/FB:  1.52

Pitching Runs Created:5

Notes: The Astros won a bidding war to sign Bazardo to a minor league deal in spring training. He joined with Bud Norris and, later, Polin Trinidad to form a potent rotation at Round Rock. Unfortunately, Bazardo may be the proverbial Quadruple-A guy. His strikeout rate has never been very good (5.3 K/9 in minor-league career), though he supplements that by not allowing too many walks. Bazardo does get a fair number of ground balls and his BABiP showed he was slightly unlucky in 2009. His ERA, though, doesn't really support the claim that his failure was all because of Tejada and Matsui. Bazardo should probably be given another shot, but he's a fringe fifth starter at most.

 

Wilton Lopez, RHP

2009 Season Stats: 0-2, 19 1/3 IP, 8.38 ERA, 2 GS, 9 strikeouts, 8 walks, 2.07 WHIP, 50 ERA+

FIP:  6.25

Average Game Score:  35

BABiP:.381

GB/FB:  2.32

Pitching Runs Created: 2

Notes: Lopez pitched eight games out of the bullpen, but did start two games, so he ended up in this list. A pickup from the Padres, Lopez pitched relatively well for Corpus Christi before getting a late-season callup. Lopez had a good ground ball rate for his limited sample size and his FIP was lower than his ERA (though neither were very good). He profiles as a guy who could hang around Triple-A and help the Astros out in a pinch, but I wouldn't count on him contributing much in 2009.

 

Brandon Backe, RHP

2009 Season Stats: 0-0, 13 IP, 10.38 ERA, 1 GS, 10 strikeouts, 6 walks, 2.08 WHIP, 40 ERA+

FIP: 7.94

Average Game Score:  41

BABiP:.375

GB/FB:  0.77

Pitching Runs Created: 2

Notes:You'll find no bigger fan of the Galveston native than me. Jeff Kent's home run to beat the Cards in 2004 wouldn't have been possible without Backe throwing a whale of a game. Unfortunately, that's all we got from him. Tantalizing glimpses at potential that never really panned out in the majors. Backe ran into a wall of injuries and ineffectiveness in 2009, refused a demotion to Triple-A and was released.

 

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