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Josh James’ Latest Injury News Holds Offseason Ramifications

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Dependent on various factors, the Astros should have some urgency about pitching depth.

MLB: ALCS-Tampa Bay Rays at Houston Astros Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

kThe Astros most glaring weakness in 2020 was arguably the pitching staff, which should come to no tremendous surprise to anyone paying attention. For greatest weakness, see the offense in September. And, yes, there is a difference. Either way, Houston had sixteen rookie pitchers throw at least two innings for the club this year and ten of those finished with at least ten innings pitched. For a club with championship aspirations, it wasn’t a great foundation to build on.

Rookie Pitchers in 2020

Pitcher G IP WAR
Pitcher G IP WAR
Cristian Javier 12 54.1 0.5
Brandon Bielak 12 32 -0.5
Jose Urquidy 5 29.2 0.3
Andre Scrubb 20 23.2 0.1
Enoli Paredes 22 20.2 0.3
Blake Taylor 22 20.2 0.0
Cy Sneed 18 17.1 0.0
Brooks Raley 17 16 0.2
Luis Garcia 5 12.1 0.1
Humberto Castellanos 8 10.2 -0.1
Nivaldo Rodriguez 5 8.2 -0.3
Brandon Bailey 5 7.1 0.0
Chase De Jong 3 7.1 0.0
Cionel Perez 7 6.1 0.1
Bryan Abreu 4 3.1 -0.1
Carlos Sanabria 2 2 -0.1

That said, the backup to the backup plan actually worked to a degree. Sure, it was a sixty game sample, and I still have persisting doubts about long-term sustainability. But it wasn’t a nothing burger, either. After all, the relief corps was in flux for a majority of the season, mainly due to ineffectiveness, a worldwide pandemic, and injuries nearly removed all veteran arms at one point or another. Ryan Pressly was close to the only constant member of the Astros relief corps for the shortened season. Even with all the uncertainty, the staff gradually improved, especially as the postseason came into view.

But warm and fuzzy feelings can only take a team so far. Quality depth is a must in today’s baseball. To put it simply, this club currently lacks the arms to assemble a better than average bullpen. There are some intriguing pieces in place with Enoli Paredes, Brooks Raley, Blake Taylor, and Andre Scrubb, but it is going to take more to succeed during a (hopefully) 162-game season in 2021. The Astros probably realize that and we should as well.

As the World Series rages on, the relatively new general manager James Click has a hell of an offseason in front of him. Not only does he have to determine the course of action with free agents in George Springer and Michael Brantley, the former Rays executive also has Carlos Correa’s long-term future hanging over his head. But one bit of injury news during a nice fall weekend in Houston adds another unwanted wrinkle to offseason planning.

Although Josh James had a really rough 2020 (like, who honestly hasn’t?) with a 7.27 ERA and 8.83 BB/9, there is still potential within that right arm (10.9 K/9). Here’s a pitcher whose control has been the issue in each of the past two seasons. In six appearances when he didn’t allow a walk in 2020, James surrendered just one earned run. But in the seven appearances where he allowed at least one walk, he gave up a total of thirteen earned runs. Yes, some of those appearances where starts, but the wheels appear to fall off quickly when walks are brought into the equation.

While the overall numbers don’t paint a rosy picture, the right-hander also wasn’t that far removed from a 2.35 ERA in his first 23 major league innings. Even his peripherals (3.98 FIP, 3.77 xFIP) indicated that a better pitcher was right there. Control, again, is James’ mountain to conquer.

By losing James to injury for the next six to eight months, which will take his absence into the beginning of next season, it ought to increase the urgency for the Astros this offseason.