Coming off a rather disappointing weekend (doesn't it feel good to expect to win again, and to be disappointed after losing?), I thought I would share some positive news. Jeff Sullivan over at Fangraphs listed Baseball's Biggest Over- and Underachievers, By Position last week. As we follow the Astros closely, the pleasant surprise that is the Houston Astros' starting rotation has been quite evident, but it is good to see that they are getting more and more national exposure for it. Below is the section from Sullivan's piece pertaining to the Astros:
Astros Rotation, +3.4 WAR
This shouldn’t be a huge surprise. Before the year, the Astros were projected to have the worst rotation in baseball, which made sense, given that the Astros were assumed to be one of the worst teams in baseball. By this point, the projections figured the Astros would have about 2.0 starting-pitcher WAR. In truth, they’re at 5.4 as a team, and Scott Feldman hasn’t even been particularly good. This is mostly about the emergence of Dallas Keuchel. Collin McHugh, also, has been an enormous surprise, and Jarred Cosart is pitching more competently than you might’ve thought. The Astros’ staff right now ranks in baseball’s upper-third, and this is why the Astros’ rebuild might be a little ahead of schedule.
I find the emergence of Dallas Keuchel and Collin McHugh both fun and fascinating. I know many members of the TCB team absolutely love Keuchel, and have been tooting his horn even before this season started, a season where he has been nothing less than dominant. But, for me personally, I did not know nearly enough about him as I should have. He was a 7th round draft pick in 2009, he does not have overpowering stuff, and, again in my opinion, was a less-than-heralded prospect coming up through the ranks. With all that in mind, how then, is he pitching like a legitimate ace?
A similar path can be said for Collin McHugh. Here we have a player that was cut by two organizations, all the while the Astros front office continued to target him. The Astros saw something in McHugh, something that the Mets and Rockies evidently did not. All in all, from a non-expert such as myself, I see two players that should not have a big impact at the major league level, be the catalysts for turning over a rather poor starting rotation in the big leagues, into an above-average one. That is no small feat, and they both have had a huge impact thus far.
As I cannot attribute their emergence and production to simply luck, what then can we learn from them? I know the first thing we can say is small sample size. Although I do not necessarily disagree with that, I think we can dig a little deeper. Do we give most of the credit to Brent Strom, who thus far has seemed to live up to his lofty expectations? Do we give credit to the defensive shifts, and the influx of scouting data we have to attack the opposing hitters' weaknesses? Perhaps a little bit of all of the above has helped with the vast improvement from the starting rotation. Keep in mind that last year, the Astros' starting rotation ranked dead last in terms of WAR, a combined 1.6 for the whole year. So far this year, we are in the middle of the pack (15th out of 30 teams), and have already surpassed last year's WAR. What do you think are some of the factors that has helped with the starting rotation's improved production? I believe there are a ton of things we can learn from their emergence, the challenging part is figuring out what those lessons we can learn actually are! I am open to any and all input.