A Look At Some Of The Starting Rotation Hopefuls For 2012

HOUSTON - SEPTEMBER 27: Pitcher Henry Sosa #65 of the Houston Astros throws against the St. Louis Cardinals at Minute Maid Park on September 27, 2011 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)
Heading into the 2011 season the Astros starting rotation was expected to be the backbone of team. After all, the same cast of characters that led the team to a better than expected finish to the 2010 season were returning. Brett Myers and Wandy Rodriguez were able to parlay their 2010 performance into shiny contract extensions, Bud Norris’ swing and miss stuff left fans hopeful that he could turn the page, J.A. Happ made the Roy Oswalt trade hurt a little less with a solid start to his Astros tenure, and Nelson Figueroa’s strong end to the season netted him his first guaranteed contract. Unfortunately only Wandy and Bud were able to meet expectations. Myers struggled to keep the ball in the park, Happ struggled to throw strikes, and Figueroa just plain struggled.

The starting rotation was less of a sure thing this offseason as trade rumors surrounded both Myers and Wandy in the early going. Since the winter meetings there has been less and less trade chatter involving both players, and it is starting to look more and more likely that both will be Astros to start next season. Assuming this is the case Brett Myers, Wandy Rodriguez, Bud Norris, and J.A. Happ look to once again anchor the first four spots. That would leave rotation hopefuls Jordan Lyles, Aneury Rodriguez, Henry Sosa, Kyle Weiland, and Lucas Harrell to compete for one spot in spring training. Below is a brief look at the five candidates for the 5th spot in the rotation.

Jordan Lyles

By now most of you TCB faithful know enough about the former Astros top prospect so I won’t spend too much time on him here. What Lyles doesn’t possess in pure stuff he makes up for with a solid mound presence, and decent control of his complete repertoire. While his overall 2011 stat line was disappointing he proved that he has what it takes to pitch in the majors though the amount of success he experiences is still too be determined. As David pointed out here, Lyles did display good command and limited walks, but his control was sometimes lacking as he would miss in the zone and was thus hittable last year.

Aneury Rodriguez

The rule 5 pick didn’t log the innings that the rest of the group did due to the fact that he had to spend the entire year on the major league roster and split time between the rotation and the bullpen. As a starter Aneury threw 40.1 innings and posted a 5.11 FIP. Rodriguez fit the description of a two-pitch pitcher in 2011 throwing his fastball/slider combination 93.2% of the time. One particular area that Aneury struggled in this past season was retiring left-handed hitters.

When Facing Lefties = 6.19 FIP, .265 batting average against, 22 walks, 143 batters faced

When Facing Righties = 3.85 FIP, .238 batting average against, 10 walks, 226 batters faced

However, with a hat tip to Clack for finding minor league splits at drivelinebaseball.com, Aneury’s righty/lefty splits were not as drastic in the minors. Whether this is a sample size issue and will regress in time or remain an issue due to the fact that he was facing better hitters in the majors is hard to tell.

It’s also worth noting that Aneury had a successful showing in the Dominican Winter League this offseason throwing 32.2 innings, and posting a 2.48 ERA with 32 strikeouts and 5 walks.

Henry Sosa

Sosa was more drastic of a two-pitch pitcher in 2011 than Rodriguez was, throwing his fastball/slider combination 97.3% of the time. Sosa had plenty of life on his fastball that averaged 93.1 MPH, and generated plenty of movement on the pitch throwing it from the low ¾ arm slot. In his 53.1 innings with the Astros Sosa posted a 4.77 FIP. Also like Rodriguez, Sosa struggled with left-handed hitters, but unlike Rodriguez this trend was evident in the minors as well.

When Facing Lefties = 6.24 FIP, .293 batting average against, 12 walks, 89 batters faced

When Facing Righties = .396 FIP, .246 batting average against, 11 walks, 142 batters faced

Sosa also pitched in the Dominican Winter League but did not fare as well throwing 26 innings, and posting a 6.23 ERA with 18 strikeouts and 7 walks.

Kyle Weiland

Acquired in the Melancon trade from the Red Sox Weiland also represents another rotation option for Brad Mills. Weiland pitched as a closer in college, but was moved to the rotation in the Red Sox system. Weiland has found success at every level as a starter, and with his four-pitch repertoire he has a chance to stick as a back-end rotation type innings eater in the majors. He struggled in his cup of coffee with the Red Sox last season posting a 7.66 ERA with a 4.74 K/9 and a 4.38 BB/9, in his 24.2 innings pitched with the club.

Lucas Harrell

Lucas Harrell had a solid 2011 season though most of that season was spent at the AAA level for the White Sox and Astros. Harrell has not been much of a strikeout pitcher at any level in the minors, but he has been good at inducing grounders. According to FirstInning.com Harrell has never posted a groundball rate lower than 52% at any level. Harrell is also a four-pitch pitcher with a good low nineties fastball with movement. He didn’t see much time in the majors last season, making just nine appearances (2 starts), and pitched a total of 18 innings posting a 4.50 ERA.

The charts below are a look at the stats of each pitcher’s 2011 season across all levels, their 2011 innings distribution, and their minor league career averages:

2011 Combined Stats

Pitcher Level IP SO/9 BB/9 H/9 ERA
Jordan Lyles AAA/Astros 156.1 6.28 2.48 9.86 4.67
Aneury Rodriguez Astros 85.1 6.75 3.38 8.8 5.27
Henry Sosa AA/AAA/Astros 142.2 7.28 3.48 9.81 4.81
Kyle Weiland AAA/Red Sox 153 8.18 3.94 8.06 4.23
Lucas Harrell AAA/White Sox/Astros 144.2 6.8 3.62 8.18 2.81

Harrell and Weiland had the best season’s last year, but also spent the least amount of time in the majors. Below is a look at the innings distribution (major league level vs. minor league level) for each pitcher.

Jordan Lyles – Astros = 94 IP, AAA = 62.1 IP

Anuery Rodriguez – Astros = 85.1 IP

Henry Sosa – Astros = 53.1 IP, AA/AAA = 89.1 IP

Kyle Weiland – Red Sox = 24.2 IP, AAA = 128.1 IP

Lucas Harrell – White Sox/Astros = 18 IP, AAA = 126.2 IP

Minor League Career Averages

Pitcher IP SO/9 BB/9 H/9 ERA
Jordan Lyles 421 8.9 2.5 9,2 3.55
Aneury Rodriguez 712 7.9 3.2 9.1 4.56
Henry Sosa 492.1 8.1 3.7 8.3 3.53
Kyle Weiland 449.1 8.5 3.4 7.5 3.51
Lucas Harrell 761.2 6.0 4.3 8.4 3.65

Each of these players has a solid minor league track record. Of the group Aneury Rodriguez is the only pitcher to post an ERA above 4.00, Lucas Harrell is the only pitcher who has a sub-par strikeout per nine innings rate, and Henry Sosa and Lucas Harrell have a significantly higher than average career walk rate per nine innings. Lyles has the best strikeout rate, but he also did a lot of his damage at the lower levels.

The Astros have no shortage of options to fill the 5th spot in their rotation assuming no additional players are acquired. While it’s a good possibility that all of these guys will see some time with the Astros at some point this season it will be interesting to see who breaks camp in the rotation. Lyles, Weiland, and Harrell seem like better fits as starters since they have more of a starter’s repertoire, but both Rodriguez and Sosa could make a case for themselves with a strong spring training.

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