Arguably the strength of the whole team in the first half, the Houston Astros rotation has been incredible this season. From acquiring Gerrit Cole in the offseason to our first full year of Justin Verlander, we all thought it would be a good year, and it certainly has been that and then a whole lot more. Some have struggled but pushed through and others have just been dominating, let’s grade all five of the guys on their pre-all star break performance.
Justin Verlander: A
Going into the season one of the most intriguing topics of the year was centered around Verlander and if he could continue his ridiculous run of success at the end of the 2017 season. So far, Astros fans have not been disappointed. Verlander has put up some really solid numbers with a 2.29 ERA in 137.2 innings and recorded 172 strikeouts.
The big right hander’s strikeout to walk ratio is 6.67 and he is making hitters swing and miss on 14.7% of his pitches. His WHIP leads all other starters at 0.828. Clearly Verlander has been really good this year. Finally, Verlander’s first half fWAR of 4.2 already has surpassed his WAR from the entire 2017 season with the Tigers and Astros combined when he finished with a 4.1 mark. If the veteran righty can continue to improve upon these numbers we should be looking at another big postseason run.
Gerrit Cole: A
Gerrit Cole has had the best first half of his career. The now two-time All Star has a 2.52 ERA through 128.1 innings of work and a team record 177 strikeouts. Cole’s 5.6 hits per nine innings leads all major league starters. Furthermore, Cole’s 35.2 K% is the second highest in all of baseball behind only Chris Sale. As of right now, Cole is on pace to tie his career best season in fWAR at 5.5 as he holds a mark of 3.5 heading into the All Star break.
We were all excited when the Astros made the move to get Cole last off season but were not sure what we would get out of the young right hander. We knew his stuff was A+ but his results were sometimes questionable. Well thanks to his work with Astros pitching coach Brett Strom, his stuff has finally been rewarded with big time results.
Charlie Morton: B+
Arguably the biggest surprise for the Astros in 2017, Charlie Morton has continued to pitch very well in 2018. The righty has a 2.96 ERA in 112.1 innings with 146 strikeouts. Morton is pitching the best he ever has in his career and his 11.7 SO/9 proves it.
The only factor preventing Morton from an A or A- first half grade is that he hit a rough patch in most of June, failing to find the strike zone and walking more batters than he struck out for a few starts. This was not the the Morton that Astros fans were used to, but it seems that CFM has figured out the issue and put those struggles behind him.
Brian McCann said that Morton’s stuff in Game Seven of the 2017 World Series was the best he’s ever seen, so clearly Morton can be nasty. His late career resurgence with the Astros has led him to his first professional All-Star game this year, and if continues to pitch well he should be a lock for the third spot in the Astros playoff rotation.
Lance McCullers Jr: B-
So far, Lance McCullers has had an up and down season. He currently sits at a 3.77 ERA through 112.1 innings of work with 119 strikeouts. Certainly not the first half he had last year, but not a complete disaster. McCullers SO/9 and his SO/W ratios are the 2nd lowest of his career. So, what does that tell us? He’s been battling. McCullers has one of the best pitches in baseball in his knuckle curve but it has not been quite as sharp this year. In 2017, batters swung and missed his knuckle curve 19.2% of the time, while in 2018 that number dropped to 17.7% of the time.
25 Lance McCullers Curveballs in 48 Seconds (all from last night). pic.twitter.com/gK0RjAnMds— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) July 7, 2018
Although this drop is somewhat minor it shows that McCullers has not been quite as sharp. Even though he has not had his best stuff LMJ has managed to put together a productive first half. However, he major positive sign for McCullers so far this season has been that he has been able to stay healthy and avoid a stint on the disabled list. McCullers has struggled with injuries throughout his young career and its good to see him on the mound on a consistent basis.
Dallas Keuchel: C+
Dallas Keuchel’s struggles in the first half of the 2018 season have been well documented and discussed. The now veteran lefty currently has a 3.75 ERA through 122.1 innings and has racked up 93 strikeouts. Keuchel has had some good outings here and there but not enough to replicate his old 2015 self. He’s thrown too many games where he has not given the club a chance to win the game.
Pitching, Mental Game, Attacking vs. Trying to make a Perfect Pitch. Dallas Keuchel. pic.twitter.com/LZLEZ9BjeG— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) July 14, 2018
What the Astros need out of Keuchel is consistency. He will never be the type of pitcher that will wow you with stuff but he can produce high level results when he is consistent. What is encouraging with Keuchel is that he has been getting better. In his last 7 starts he is 4-0 with a 2.17 ERA. If Keuchel can continue to improve and pitch like he has been of late, the second half should be much better for the upcoming free agent.