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The Most Improved Player of the Year: Framber Valdez

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The Dominican lefty has been the most consistent starter for Houston in 2020. But now that he has the same number of innings than last year, what has gotten better for him? Let’s take a look...

MLB: Texas Rangers at Houston Astros Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Framber Valdez’s win at Seattle on Tuesday left him with 70 23 innings thrown in 2020, the same number he registered a year ago. He sealed that game with 7 frames of five-hit, one-run ball, no walks, and eight strikeouts. But besides that, it was a statement from him to Astros fans and coaching staff: He’s here to stay!

It takes no time to see a big gap in Valdez’s performance compared to last year’s.

He’s taken over a starter role and went from recording a 5.86 ERA to 3.57 in 2020. His FIP also got better in a big way as it fell from 4.98 to 2.84. The same is happening with his WHIP: from 1.67 to 1.12. And that’s not it! Take a look at his ratios:

  • 2019: 9.4 H/9 | 1.1 HR/9 | 5.6 BB/9 | 8.7 K/9
  • 2020: 8.0 H/9 | 0.6 HR/9 | 2.0 BB/9 | 9.7 K/9

Also, the 26-year-old Dominican is enjoying his curveball, which ranks among the best in the Major Leagues. Even though his sinker has not produced great numbers, it works great when he mixes it with his breaking pitch to fool hitters. They’re averaging .124 and slugging .229 off his curveball (with 60 punchouts) for a reason!

As if it wasn’t enough, he’s not only striking out at a good rate, but he’s also inducing lots of groundballs despite doing so at a lower level than last year (60.2% now, 62.0 in 2019), which will always be positive for any pitcher.

I know there are some red flags when you see Framber’s statistics. For example, his exit velocity (91.4 MPH) and his Hard Hit% (48.7%) are not the best marks, but there are others that make up for that and one of them is his opponent launch angle: -0.8º, a number that gets him the ball on the ground at a high frequency.

There are more good things about Valdez than bad ones. He’s shown steady progress and keeps developing into a really good starting option for Houston compared to 2019, thanks especially to his out-of-this-world curveball.