We’re almost 60 games into the 2021 season, and there remains some residual murkiness about the Astros’ starting rotation going forward. In this case, it isn’t necessarily a lack of depth with the staff when healthy. No, it is a question of who specifically will lose their job when the staff regains all of its members. Once Lance McCullers Jr. makes his return from the IL in the nearish future, the rotation will probably look something like this one.
- Zack Greinke
- Framber Valdez
- Lance McCullers Jr.
- Jake Odorizzi
- José Urquidy
By fWAR, Greinke has been the Astros’ most valuable starter in 2021 with 1.3 wins, making sense as he has made all 13 of his starts. But two of his fellow staff members don’t trail far behind in this category: Urquidy with a 0.9 fWAR and Luis Garcia with the same mark, who has also helped stabilize a less-than-full-power rotation in recent months. But in a strange twist of fate, despite an impressive 2.75 ERA in 59 innings, it might be Garcia who receives a “reassignment” to the bullpen sometime later this month.
Outside of Greinke, Garcia has a case as the club’s best starter in the season’s first two-plus months. Among all starters with at least 40 innings, Garcia’s 2.89 ERA ranks 26th in the majors. No other Astro ranks better at this time. He is also striking out 28.8 percent of all batters while shaving roughly two percentage points off his walk rate (now 8.1 percent). Increased usage of his cutter to generate more swings and misses has played a key role in that strikeout figure jumping. In turn, Garcia’s effectiveness has continued to progress.
The Astros have a complicated situation to figure out with the staff’s configuration. On the one hand, Garcia needs to start considering the results thus far. While the rest of the staff has had its moments, the 24-year old right-hander is an obvious reason why the club is currently 33-26. It would be a shame to stop this momentum any time soon. However, there isn’t a clear alternative for the organization to place in the bullpen, even temporarily.
We also have to remember that Garcia hasn’t pitched more than 109 innings in a single season as a professional (108 2⁄3 innings in 2019). Although I have doubts about the overall effectiveness of an inning or pitch limit for pitchers, the Astros are probably mindful of how far they push Garcia. A transition to the bullpen would help preserve more of those innings closer to the second half when pitching might be more of a premium. Plus, it is highly doubtful we’ll see the rotation listed above previously to make all of their starts between now and October. Even the vaunted 2018 rotation with Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole, Dallas Keuchel, Charlie Morton, and Lance McCullers Jr. didn’t make it through an entire season before injuries forced the issue.
At the end of the day, this is a good problem for the Astros to have at this juncture in the season. More times than not, teams are figuring out ways to beef up their rotation heading into the non-waiver deadline, which is roughly seven weeks from now. Even in a long-relief role for a spell, keeping Garcia around makes arguably more sense than letting him start with Sugar Land. Yes, there is a case for keeping him stretched out, but this bullpen doesn’t inspire much confidence. Let’s make it simple and keep your best pitchers around. Garcia has clearly earned at least that role on this roster.