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Oops! All Astros: Cristian Javier

An ace in any other rotation, Cristian Javier was nearly unhittable all season.

MLB: World Series-Houston Astros at Philadelphia Phillies Kyle Ross-USA TODAY Sports

We’re reviewing every player to appear in Houston’s system through 2022.

Cristian Javier, known sometimes around these parts as El Reptil, is a six-foot-one, 213 lb. right-handed pitcher from Santo Domingo, DR. Born on March 26, 1997, he signed his first professional deal just a week before turning 18, with Houston in 2015. The Astros have long known they had a gem in Javier, who was ranked 19th in Houston’s MLB Pipeline in 2018 and moved up to sixth by 2020. He made his major league debut in 2020 as well.

Through Javier’s first two seasons, he struck out 184 batters in 155 23 innings for 10.6 K/9 while holding opponents to a 1.118 WHIP and a .186/.287/.367 slashline. He was 9-3 with a 3.53 ERA and a 4.61 FIP. In 48 total appearances, only 19 were starts as Javier was entrusted to pitch his own way and come into the middle of some other contests. The rub on Javier through the end of 2021 was his unsightly 1.6 HR/9 and a not-quite prime time 4.1 BB/9. Still, that WHIP was better-than-average, and his strikeout rate was already elite.

Javier started the 2022 season coming out of the pen for the Astros, striking out 12 in 8 13 innings before making his first start. He walked one and allowed five hits over that stretch. On April 27, he made his first start and earned the win, striking out four and giving up two runs in five innings of a 4-3 triumph against the Texas Rangers.

On June 25, Javier struck out 13 over seven no-hit innings. He allowed only a walk, and with the help of relievers Héctor Neris and Ryan Pressly was able two innings later to celebrate a combined no-hitter in a 3-0 win against the New York Yankees. Incredibly, Javier followed that up by pitching seven one-hit innings in his next start, striking out 14 in an 8-1 win against Anaheim.

Late in the year, Javier’s last four starts would see him walk six and allow six hits and zero runs, striking out 29 in 23 innings. Everyone knows that Justin Verlander and Framber Valdez were “co-aces” in Houston’s rotation. With a number three pitcher like Javier, it’s not surprising they ended up winning it all.

Javier is reliant mostly on his 94 MPH fastball, his most dangerous pitch by far. What it lacks in raw velocity, he makes up for with his crazy 12.2-inch vertical drop. His 3.0 inch greater-than-average drop ranks him in the top two percent of all pitchers. This results in one of the “flattest” fastballs in the majors. He used it 60 percent of the time, producing a run value of minus-18.

Javier’s slider, which he used 28 percent of the time, is no picnic for hitters either. It has an xBA value of .126 and an xSLG of .211. Think they’ll catch a break with his curveball, which is simply a change-of-pace he uses eight percent of the time? Nope. It has an xBA of .170 and an xSLG of .242. The only “hittable” pitch in Javier’s arsenal is his seldom used (four percent) changeup, which players hit to a .286 average and a .571 SLG. Fortunately, only 105 of his 2,554 pitches were the change.

Javier’s heroics didn’t end when the regular season did either. Oh no, sir. He won Game Three of the ALCS against the Yankees, 5-0 with 5 13 innings of one-hit ball. He walked three and struck out five. That performance was simply a precursor of his final start of the year, a nine-strikeout, no-hit, two-walk six-inning start. The Astros won that one, a 5-0 win against the Philadelphia Phillies in Game Four. Oh, and it was another combined no-hitter.

Javier finished the season with an unremarkable 11-9 record, but everything else was noteworthy. He threw 148 23 innings and gave up only 89 hits while collecting 194 strikeouts. That’s a 2.18 K/H ratio that’s probably the second-best in history among starters. Randy Johnson in 2001 had 372 K’s and 181 hits allowed (2.06), and Nolan Ryan’s 1972 was close, with 329 K’s and 166 hits allowed (1.98). Verlander finished with a 2.19 in 2019, with 300 K’s and 137 hits allowed. That’s the only one I could find with a higher K/H.

Javier also joined Verlander as the resident sub-1 WHIP guys on the team, finishing at 0.948. Opponents slashed .170/.252/.305 over 585 plate appearances, and unlike Verlander, Javier’s just getting started. Look for Javier and Valdez to co-ace the 2023 Astros rotation, and probably 2024 and 2025 as well.