With so many innings being logged by the starting pitcher, it is necessary for a rotation to be able to perform quality work in order for the team to do well. Of course, the bullpen, offense, and defense have to do well too in order for all parts of the team to perform well together. But the rotation didn't do well this year, and that partially caused us to plummet to a 100 loss season. How can next year be any different?
Among the 9 players who pitched in the rotation this year, the best of them were Bud Norris & Wandy Rodriguez. Norris really took a step forward this year by commanding his pitches much better than he did last year. In effect, he's been ace-like in most of his starts. Wandy had a good season all around as well. But the rest of the rotation this year has been pretty terrible. Brett Myers was battling with Bronson Arroyo for most homeruns given up and J.A. Happ's control problems caused his ERA to soar up in the 6.00 range. Aneury Rodriguez didn't do well enough to stick as a starter, and Jordan Lyles still has things to learn if he wants to become anything but a #5 starter.
So, here are my predictions:
Starting Rotation at the beginning of the year
Given how the rotation this year was a weakness, I don't see the Astros trading Wandy in the off-season since that would cause more fans to lose interest in the Astros, something that Crane might not want to do when / if he becomes owner. Also, given the recent success in J.A. Happ & Brett Myers, those two will probably be a lock for the rotation starting off next year, spring training performances notwithstanding.
The only real competition in spring training may only be for the 5th spot in the rotation, just like last year. Jordan Lyles could become a great pitcher if he can work on his breaking pitches. Presumably, the best place for that would be in the minors, but if Lyles does great in spring training like he did this year, he may win the spot outright depending on the performances of the other pitchers in ST. Henry Sosa has also done pretty well for the most part. His fastball / slider combo has worked well when he can command his pitches. And Lucas Harrell is also a possibility if he doesn't end up in the bullpen.
Someone who could also surprise people in taking the rotation by storm could be Xavier Cedeno. He has a lot of movement on his curveball which is responsible for high strikeout games in the minors this year. The Astros view him currently as a reliever, but that mindset might change based on how well he does from now until the end of spring training.
Other players who could be considered for a spot in the rotation: Dallas Keuchel, Aneury Rodriguez, Lance Pendleton, Paul Clemens.
Starting Rotation later in the year
Given the performances of pitchers in the beginning of the year, the rotation could change quite a bit. Pitchers could be sent down, released, or traded. This would allow for pitchers at Triple-A to get a shot in the bigs. Paul ClemensAfter the first few months of the season, there are several players who could be considered rotation candidates who weren't previously considered in Spring Training, such as the players listed shortly above. But the most intriguing player that comes to my mind is Jarred Cosart. Cosart would be starting the year off at Double-A next year, but he has a very electric repertoire of pitches and could become a #1 starter as early as 2013. Cosart might get an invite to ST which might help his chances of making it to the bigs next year. The reason why I mention Cosart above the plethora of pitchers who would be ahead of him on the depth chart is because Cosart has a chance of becoming more than just a #4 or #5 starter. If he does well to start the season next year, he could be in Houston before long.
If Myers or Wandy do happen to be traded next year, new opportunities would open up for the younger pitchers.
Up next: Offensive Predictions for 2012