Fortunately for the Astros, Lance McCullers Jr. is being everything Houston could have expected. The 27-year-old, who signed a contract extension earlier in the season, is impressing so far and leading the starting rotation.
After missing the entire 2019 campaign due to Tommy John surgery and having a so-so 2020, McCullers Jr. has been lights out to fill the voids left by Framber Valdez and Justin Verlander in the starting staff.
After keeping the Rangers off the way on Sunday, the young right-hander has pitched 46 2⁄3 innings of only 28 hits, 14 earned runs, 22 walks, and 52 strikeouts. After eight appearances, he’s 3-1 with a 2.70 ERA.
That ERA may try to fool you, but don’t let it. McCullers Jr. has had only one bad outing throughout the whole season. It was on April 14, vs the Tigers: 3 2⁄3 IP, 4 H, 6 ER, 3 BB. If you remove that bad performance, his ERA would be 1.67 across 43 2⁄3 episodes. How about that?
Lance has been building things up as weeks have gone by. After averaging less than five innings in his first three starts of the season, he’s thrown at least six frames in each of his last five performances, all quality starts.
Over that five-game span in which McCullers Jr. has faced Anaheim twice, Tampa Bay, New York, and the Rangers, he’s recorded 33 innings of 20-hit, six-run ball along with 13 bases on balls and 36 punchouts (1.64 ERA).
During the whole season, the Florida native has surrendered only four home runs (0.8 HR/9) and two of them were in a single outing against the Yankees (May 6). Besides, Lance’s been better than ever at limiting hits: 5.4 H/9. The fact that he doesn’t have an even better WHIP (1.07) is because of his high walk rate (4.2 BB/9), but that hasn’t kept him from dominating.
And guess what? McCullers Jr. has already seen and dominated many of the game’s most dangerous hitters right now in 2021:
- Shohei Ohtani: 1-for-6, 2 SO
- DJ LeMahieu: 0-for-4, 1 SO
- Aaron Judge: 0-for-3, 2 SO
- Mike Trout: 0-for-2, 1 BB, 1 SO
- Joey Gallo: 1-for-3
McCullers Jr. enjoys a lethal combination of his slider and curveball, pitches that combine for a .115 opponent batting average (78 at-bats), 27 of his 52 strikeouts so far, and only one extra-base hit allowed. Those are the main reasons why he’s 82nd percentile in Whiff%, according to Baseball Savant.
His next start is scheduled for Saturday again vs the Rangers. We’ll see how McCullers Jr. can perform in back-to-back outings against them. But so far, he has fulfilled his expectations for 2021.