Brad Peacock entered the Astros starting rotation on April 20, and went on to post a 3.89 ERA in his first 13 starts of 2014. The command remained an issue throughout that time, but at the back end of Houston's rotation, he was certainly serviceable.
But on the final day before the All-Star Break, Peacock made a start against the Boston Red Sox in which he faced just five batters. Home run, single, walk, strikeout and hit by pitch. Peacock left the game with the bases loaded and one out. The right-hander has made four MLB starts since then, allowing 21 earned runs on 28 hits and 12 walks in just 18 innings.
That stretch includes Peacock's decent start vs. Minnesota, in which he allowed just one earned run in five innings. But he followed that up by blowing a 5-1 lead Houston established on Saturday night at Boston.
So what should Houston do with Peacock? That leads us to today's Starting Nine question:
From here on out, with pitching schedules aside, who should be holding the fifth starter spot in the Astros rotation? Should Peacock get a couple more chances, or should someone else take his spot?
I always struggle with questions like these, because I never like to call for somebody to lose his job. As somebody who was wrongfully set up by a bad manager to take the fall for several of his poor decisions, and therefore losing my job over it, I always try to remember that even public figures are regular people just trying to do their best, and you never know what's going on behind the scenes (for the record, that manager has since lost his own job, and I love my new one, so there's some justice in the world). So while I'll still endeavor to answer the question, I feel obligated to point out that there is obviously something about Peacock that the Astros like, or at least something they see that has given them patience with his struggles all season. Since July 2nd, Peacock has made seven starts. In those games, he has an 8.59 ERA. He seems to have had rotten luck on balls in play and on home runs. He gets batters to swing at pitches outside the zone 30% of the time, which should lead to a lot of outs, but weirdly, and despite an excellent 11% IFFB%, that doesn't seem to be happening with any consistency. The main culprit seems to be in the Home Runs - a fly ball pitcher (45% FB rate) with a high HR/FB ratio (18%, yikes!) is doomed for failure.
So after looking into it, I'm going to waffle a bit. The HR/FB rate is not sustainable, particularly for a Fly Ball pitcher, who sometimes can sustain a lower rate than ground ball pitchers. Nor is the .366 BABIP sustainable. Unless there is something that Peacock is doing wrong mechanically that needs work, there is ample statistical reasoning for riding him out during this lost season to see if he can turn it around and be a good contributor in 2015. The stuff is good, the approach seems to be good, but the results are not.
That said, if the Astros decide a change of scenery for Peacock is in order, either in the minors or on another team if he is claimed off waivers, it would certainly be a defensible decision given the depth down on the farm. If that happens, the logical choice is somebody already on the 40-man roster or somebody who will need to be protected in the upcoming Rule 5 draft and is likely to be selected if they weren't. A reasonable choice would be Nick Tropeano, who has made mincemeat out of the PCL this season. Ironically, Tropeano may be the pitcher in the high minors most like Peacock in repertoire and batted ball profile. Others, including Alex Whilte, Jake Buchanan, Asher Wojciechowski, and Rudy Owens, are less likely to be chosen in the Rule 5 draft, or are on injury-related innings counts, or are struggling at AAA.
What's to be lost at this point? Throw him out there, and give him at least one last chance. Who should we have instead? Folty? He can't locate anything except a fastball, and that only about 60% of the time it seems. Use another 40-man spot to call up someone else? Who has more upside? Nitro doesn't, Rudy Owens doesn't, Paul Clemens doesn't, Alex White doesn't, Asher Wojciechowski doesn't. What's the point? xFIP likes him for almost a full run better than his ERA. Let's let him continue to try. Peacock was the reason we lost this past Saturday, but the offense and bullpen share the brunt of the blame for most of the recent losses. Do we care so much about winning 1-3 games more in a season that is clearly now lost that we want to run the risk of cutting bait with a former-top prospect and then watching them turn into something with someone else? Have we forgotten J.D. Martinez already? He has a 150 wRC+ with the Tigers, by the way.
I don't have any strong feelings on this question. Given that the lone remaining option could be lost if Peacock is sent to AAA, my guess is that Peacock stays on the ML team, and the question is whether he starts or not.
Here is what we know: Peacock was much better in the first half than he has been in the second half. His FIP is 7.91 in the 2d half and 4.50 in the first half. His ERA (first/second half) is 4.39/10.50, and his ability to strike out batters declined markedly in the second half. His velocity is about the same over the season, but he has thrown fewer knuckle-curves in the second half (20% to 16%). It's also notable that Peacock hasn't shown severe Left/Right splits-in fact, his HR rate is worse against RHBs. Peacock also has pitched much better at home than on the road.
That significant a change in performance in the second half likely is caused by either (1) injury or (2) mechanical change. So, first, the possibility of injury should be eliminated by the medical staff. And, if he is not injured, then the mechanical issue should be addressed. In that case, maybe Peacock should be used as an emergency arm in the bullpen, but otherwise given a week or so off, working on his mechanics and throwing on the side for the coaches. Buchanan could get a start or two as a replacement and hopefully Peacock irons out the mechanical issue and returns to the rotation.
At this point in the season I think we should just let him continue to start. We are obviously not going to have a shot at anything more meaningful than moral victories this season. The frustrating thing about Peacock is that he can look like a really good pitcher at times, and then come out and not have any idea where the ball is going. Many times these 2 occur in the same game (or the same inning). He obviously has the tools to pitch at this level (he does have 5 quality starts this season), but for some reason, cannot put it together over the course of a season. I see no reason to dump him, and possibly have him get it right for another team.
Instead of fishing around for another starter who may or may not fit into the future plans of the rotation, I think we give him the last weeks of 2014 to see what he can straighten out. If he does not improve, he starts the spring of 2015 fighting for a starting spot with whatever rookies, September call-ups, and free agents the team brings in to camp. If he doesn't win a starting job then, he could still provide some value as a bullpen arm, and as a possible spot starter..
I think he should at least get a chance to pitch through the rest of August, and then join a tandem (I think we should have a couple of those) in September along with someone like Owens or Buchanan or Cruz to audition for a starting spot next year. He obviously is getting unlucky this year (just take a look at his HR/FB rate) and still has a good amount of upside-too much, in my opinion, to totally count him out.
Peacock has been rather infuriating to watch because of his lack of fastball command. For the most part, it seems as if he has no idea where it's going. The curveball has been even worse. I think there is still a good starting pitcher in there somewhere just based on the stuff he possesses. But if he cannot harness what he has and develop some type of command, then it will be difficult for Houston to stick him out there every fifth day.
As for the rest of this season, Peacock should keep his spot. With Cosart in Miami, and the best Houston pitching prospects located somewhere between Quad Cities and Corpus Christi, Peacock is the best option at the moment. Nick Tropeano's struggles in early August signify that he should stay in OKC for a few more starts and Peacock still maintains plenty of upside. The Astros aren't going anywhere special in 2014. Let's see of Peacock can work through his troubles against Major League bats.