The Astros' pitching has been weak, ranking in the lower third of the league. However, most of us expected the pitching to be weak, at least relative to the offense. The pitching has been approximately what we expected, but the offense hasn't been as good as we anticipated.
During the off-season, I said that I expected the Astros' pitching to be somewhat better than in 2007. Some were skeptical of that contention. However, so far the pitching performance in 2008 is better than the 2007 pitching. If you said that shows how bad the pitching was in 2007, I wouldn't argue with you. But the Astros' overall ERA of 4.52 in 2008 is an improvement over the 4.70 ERA in 2007. The performance of starting pitchers in 2008 has been approximately the same as last year (4.74 in 08 vs. 4.70 in 07). However, the relief pitching in 2008 is significantly improved over 2007, with a current ERA of 4.17 compared to 4.69 in 2007. The bullpen has been used for a larger proportion of the innings pitched in 2008 (37%) than 2007 (33%). This raises the question whether the bullpen can continue to shoulder that large a burden in the future without its performance deteriorating.
On to the grades. In case you're wondering, I leave out Chacon and Villareal, who might get a "withdrawn/incomplete" grade.
Roy Oswalt. C. Oswalt leads the team in wins and innings pitched. Most pitchers might get better than a C grade. But, in his case, the expectations for an ace of his quality are much greater. Oswalt has gone through streaks in which he has pitched either very poorly or very well. I suspect that periodic problems with his hip injury may have led to this pattern. If and when he gets healed up, I anticipate he will give us another streak of well pitched games. Roy's ERA of 4.56 is almost one full run higher than his norm. His Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) result (4.28) indicates that he has pitched somewhat better than his ERA indicates.
Brian Moehler. B+. Moehler has an ERA of 3.97 as a starter and 7.45 as a relief pitcher in 2008. Since most of his innings have been as a starter, his overall ERA is 4.28. Any way one looks at it, Moehler has outperformed expectations by a wide margin. Moehler's FIP is 4.77, which could indicate that his below-3 ERA as a starter may not be sustainable in the future. The only down side to Moehler's performance as a starter is that he is averaging less than 6 innings per start.
Wandy Rodriguez. B. A pitcher with Wandy's 3.48 ERA might normally get a better grade than a B. However, his time off due to injuries has prevented him from being as great a force as he should be in the rotation. He also has averaged less than 6 innings per start. Wandy's 3.70 ERA FIP shows that his performance is no fluke, though.
Brandon Backe. C+. Backe's 4.76 ERA isn't much higher than I would have expected, based on his career performance. But he has some ugly numbers too: like a 1.56 WHIP, 22 HR allowed, and 124 hits in 112 innings. His 5.51 FIP might suggest that his ERA is "lucky." Given that Backe's outings often are either very good or very bad, you wonder which Backe you will see before any given start. An optimistic view is that he is slowly making his way back from arm surgery, and will improve in the second half.
Chris Sampson. B-. Which Chris Sampson do we grade? Sampson, the reliever, with a 1.61 ERA and microscopic 0.63 WHIP? Or, Sampson, the starter, with a 5.66 ERA and 1.46 WHIP? Sampson's overall FIP of 3.65 is the best of his short ML career, and significantly better than overall ERA of 4.50. If he stays in the bullpen, Sampson's grade may go to the head of the class.
Jack Cassel. incomplete. His 5.59 ERA isn't good, but his 9 innings pitched aren't enough to evaluate him.
R. Hernandez. D-. With more lenient grading, his 14 innings pitched could result in an incomplete too. However, his 10.29 ERA leads one to believe that he won't be any further help to the major league team this year.
Jose Valverde and Doug Brocail. Overall both late inning relievers have done their jobs. Valverde settled in to become a tough as nails closer after a shaky start to the season. Brocail had his ups and downs, too, but basically he has been better than we have a right to expect from a 40 year old relief pitcher on a pace to pitch 85 or so innings. Overwork may become the issue for Brocail in the future. Some of the bad outings by each pitcher have occurred when they were asked to peform the other's role (i.e., Valverde in the 8th inning or Brocail in the 9th inning).
Tim Byrdak and Geoff Geary. Both have fine ERAs (Byrdak at 1.71 and Geary at 2.25). However, ERA is limited as a means of evaluating middle relievers. That's because the pitchers' good or bad performances may have more impact upon the ERA of the pitcher who preceded them in an inning. Both pitchers walk too many batters (Byrdak is over 6 BB/9 and Geary is over 4 BB/9.) Both pitchers have exceeded our expectations out of the pen, though. Byrdak's FIP is much more out of line with his ERA, than Geary's. This may indicate that the odds of Geary continuing his excellent pitching are better than Byrdak's.
Wesley Wright. A reliever with a 5.03 ERA and 1.53 WHIP often gets a grade below C. But I adjust my grade to reflect our legitimate expectations for a AA relief pitcher working in the majors for the first time. As a Rule 5 acquisition, one might have expected Wright would be assigned to mop up relief roles. Instead, Wright has been used in many critical high leverage situations. On some occasions he has come through with flying colors. On other occasions he has failed. His biggest failing is his control (over 6 BB/9). However, his 8.47 K/9 is excellent, and indicates that his performance this season may hold promise for the future.
Dave Borkowski. 7.45 ERA. 6.25 FIP. 1.90 WHIP. 45 hits in 29 innings. Average fastball velocity below 90 for the first time. Yikes!
COACHES AND FRONT OFFICE
Anyone care to give their grade for Cooper, his coaches, or Ed Wade? I'll cop out on these questions and leave it to you.