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Astros Pitching: The Wheels Have Come Off the Tracks

Can the bats overcome the wreckage and still lead the team to another round of playoffs?

Houston Astros v Los Angeles Angels Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

When you look at the big number, team ERA, the Astros pitching is a disappointing, but still respectable 16th in MLB at 4.39.

Not bad when you consider the list of names from last year’s roster lost to free agency or injury: Gerrit Cole, Justin Verlander, Will Harris, Joe Smith, Brad Peacock, Hector Rondon, Chris Devenski, Roberto Osuna, just to name a few. That’s the heart, soul, brains and guts of the staff.

But as anyone who has been watching Astros games knows, as a gauge for the future, this ERA number is misleading.

It includes positive contributions by Justin Verlander and Roberto Osuna, both gone indefinitely.

And it includes overall superlative performances by 11 rookie pitchers, performances that so far, generally far surpass their career performances in the A, AA, or AAA leagues from which they came. From a rational perspective, this can’t last.

Let’s break down the Astros staff by categories: rookies vs. veterans, rookie starters vs. veteran starters, and relief pitchers in the last seven days. It’s not a pretty picture.

Overall, the Astros starters have a 5.34 ERA, 22nd in MLB. That includes a good start by Verlander, gone indefinitely. The starter ERA among remaining veterans, Framber Valdez, Zack Greinke, Lance McCullers and Josh James, is 8.42. McCullers’ ERA is over nine, and James is currently out of the rotation.

Replacing Verlander and James currently are rookies Cristian Javier and Brandon Bielak. These have been among the few pleasant surprises for the Astros this year. Together as starters they have a 1.10 ERA.

That’s nice, but that’s part of what keeps the Astros overall starting ERA even as low as 5.34. And if you think that is sustainable you just might be homer. I mean, we have a combined level of 11 innings of max experience at AAA between these two. They were never that good in the minors. The league will figure them out.

So, the anchors of the rotation are two rookies who debuted two weeks ago. Neither were considered anything close to Top 100 prospects. Then you have Zack Greinke, fastball velo 87, ERA 5.00, Framber Valdez, who did impress last Sunday in relief, but whose consistency is far from proven. I’ve already written about McCullers. Nuff said.

The combined ERA of all active veterans, whether in a starting or relief role, is 7.58. That includes the six scoreless innings by Valdez Sunday, and the .2 innings by Ryan Pressly, including his performance last night in which he blew a ninth inning lead by surrendering the two losing runs without recording an out.

After just having written an article about the demise of former All-Star Lance McCullers, I don’t have the energy to follow up with one on the demise of former All-Star Ryan Pressly. Suffice to say his ERA is 45.00.

So far the relief staff has been a pleasant surprise overall, with an ERA of 3.47, 11th in MLB. The rookie relievers have a 3.20 ERA. The overall rookie ERA is 2.59.

But last week I reported that the rookie ERA was 1.26. Regression has already taken hold. Especially among the rookies still in a relief role. In the last seven days the rookie relievers have posted a 6.72 ERA. The bullpen in general in the last seven days has a 4.94 ERA, brought down by the scoreless Sunday performance of Valdez, an ostensible veteran starter.

Is it reasonable to think that a relief staff comprised entirely of unheralded A, AA, and AAA pitchers plus the damaged Ryan Pressly, could be expected to do any better than that in the long run?

With the Astros bats, many of them slumping but still maintaining a team wRC+ of 125, and with the expected arrivals of Yordan Alvarez in the lineup and yet another rookie, Jose Urquidy, in the rotation, the Astros should be able to maintain a .500 record. If the injury pieces start falling into place, that leaves them with a good chance to not only make the playoffs, but advance in the playoffs as well.

After that it’s a crap shoot. And a roller coaster ride. Hold on.

Fun fact. Who is the bWAR leader of the Astros?

Rookie Blake Taylor, 1 WAR in 8.2 innings. Who dat?