HOUSTON, TX - SEPTEMBER 24: Jordan Lyles #41 of the Houston Astros retrieves a ball after walking in the go-ahead run to the Colorado Rockies in the 13th inning at Minute Maid Park on September 24, 2011 in Houston, Texas. The Rockies won the game, 4-2. (Photo by Eric Christian Smith/Getty Images)
The Oklahoma City RedHawks have gotten off to a nice start to open the season, and are in first place by a ½ a game. A large part of their early success can be attributed to the RedHawks starting pitching. Granted the season is early, but each of the five starters have experienced some measure of success in the early going. What is more impressive is that this rotation is not built around the typical AAAA group of older guys that Astros fans have grown accustomed to over the past several years, but actually features some younger talent who could contribute to the club in the future. Even though the current rotation lacks ace potential it is loaded with mid to back-of-the-rotation starters, which is more than you could say in the past and shows the progress that the Astros system has made. Listed below is a look at some of the Astros past AAA rotations grouped by the top five pitchers who made the most starts for their team that year.
Needless to say pitching has not been one of the strengths over the past four years at the AAA level for the Astros organization. Excluding Jordan Lyles last season the only other time that their rotation featured a pitcher under 25 was in 2009 which featured Bud Norris and Yorman Bazardo. This season Henry Sosa is the only pitcher in the RedHawks rotation that is over 25-years old. So how has this younger talent performed through the first twenty games of the season?
Dallas Keuchel has pitched a total of four games so far, and all of them have been of the quality variety. His last start this week was actually his worst one this year and he still managed to go seven innings while only allowing three earned runs. The soft tossing lefty relies on pinpoint control and a heavy fastball that when clicking will induce several groundball outs. Through his first four starts Keuchel has a groundball rate of 60%. Keuchel has done a good job of limiting hits to open the season, and so far has only allowed 18 on the season. Add this to his walk total of 6 and Keuchel has a WHIP of 0.89 which is very impressive. He doesn’t possess overpowering stuff and so far has only recorded 13 strikeouts through his first 27 innings pitched.
As good as Keuchel has been to open the season he likely won’t be able to keep up his current level of production. He has been aided by a .218 batting average on balls in play and a 84.1 left on base percentage that are well above his career marks and will likely regress as the season wears on. Still given his shaky introduction to the AAA level last season he has been a pleasant surprise to start the season, and has added to the Astros back-of-the-rotation depth.
With the win last night Jordan Lyles starts his 2012 campaign 4-0. With the game last night Lyles ERA stands at a respectable 3.46. Through his first three starts Lyles has an FIP of 2.77, and has struck out 18 batters while only walking 2. He has been a tad bit hittable to open the season, and has allowed 18 hits in his first 18.2 innings. Lyles has also generated his fair share of groundball outs and he has a 60% groundball rate in his first three starts. His groundball percentage will increase after his last outing where he recorded 11 groundball outs, but also raised his walk percentage with the 2 walks he issued.
Out of the five RedHawks starters Rodriguez has performed the worst, and has averaged less than five innings a start and a 4.29 FIP. Rodriguez has struggled with his control in the early going and has walked 11 batters, and given up 26 hits through his 18.1 innings of work for a 2.02 WHIP. On a positive note Rodriguez has recorded 26 strikeouts showing that he does have swing and miss stuff but has been unable to control it through his first couple of starts.
Clemens is the only pitcher in the RedHawks rotation that carries a little prospect allure. He also generated a little bit of buzz during spring training with an impressive start against the Cardinals where he recorded six strikeouts in four innings. That success carried over into his first three starts and he currently has a 3.91 FIP in 17 innings pitched. He has a total of 13 strikeouts, and has a 1.06 WHIP to start the season. Clemens last start was skipped due to the fact that he was experiencing some back spasms.
Like Jordan Lyles and Aneury Rodriguez Astros fans got acquainted with Henry Sosa last season. Sosa is primarily a two-pitch pitcher that relies on a low to mid nineties fastball and slider combination. Sosa has also gotten off to an extremely strong start and has a 2.08 FIP through his first three starts. Sosa has been a bit hittable allowing 14 hits in his 16 innings of work, but has only allowed 4 walks for a 1.13 WHIP. He also has impressive strikeout numbers with 15 on the season which is just under 9 per nine innings. Sosa has also been good at inducing groundballs to start the season as evidenced by his 57% groundball rate.
The strong start by the RedHawks starting core has been a pleasant surprise, and gives the Astros organization a good amount of pitching depth. Guys like Dallas Keuchel, Henry Sosa, and Aneury Rodriguez likely have ceilings as back end starters while Jordan Lyles and Paul Clemens have the potential to be mid rotation arms with the possibility of a little more.The newfound depth at the AAA level also gives Jeff Luhnow the flexibility to move a starter (Wandy) at the deadline should the Astros choose to do so.