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Discussing Cristian Javier’s Role in 2022

The Astros have plenty of pitching depth now, but Cristian Javier’s progress will dictate how the team utilizes him.

MLB: World Series-Atlanta Braves at Houston Astros Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Cristian Javier was undoubtedly one of the more intriguing players to suit up for the Astros within the past two seasons. After all, his unique "invisiball" stands out from the crowd in addition to his impressive strikeout potential. Of any pitcher with at least 150 innings pitched in the past two seasons — starter and reliever — Javier's 28.8 percent strikeout rate ranks 16th between Clayton Kershaw and Trevor Rogers. Considering that the right-hander's four-seam fastball velocity — which he throws roughly 60 percent of the time — averages out to 93.1 MPH, it is an impressive feat to post a strikeout rate in that range. This performance is primarily thanks to his ability to generate plenty of backspin on his fastball to create this rising mirage and locate in areas where hitters can't handle it well. Combine that fastball with an effective slider as he does, it isn’t a mystery how he can rake up the punchouts.

That said, Javier does have issues to conquer if he wants to become a complete pitcher. Walks, for example, became a recurring theme with him in 2021. Using the same inning qualifier as earlier, Javier's 11.1 percent walk rate is the second-highest in baseball, trailing only Blake Snell at 11.6 percent. Location issues were part of the reason behind his decline between his impressive April and less-than-stellar May. It is also why he didn't make another start after his May 23 outing against the Rangers, in addition to Framber Valdez making his return earlier than expected. While his strikeout rate and pitch velocity increased as a reliever, his location issues persisted, hence the 13.9 percent free pass rate from May 24 onward. As we saw in the postseason, there were instances where Javier could shut down an opposing lineup for an outing. The next outing or two, however, was a bit unpredictable.

Looking ahead for the upcoming 2022 season — whenever that'll happen — Javier's role is somewhat uncertain. For one, it can be argued that Javier's profile is better suited in the rotation, considering some of his struggles as a reliever compared to those as a starter for his career. While he hasn't necessarily been fantastic as a starter, the overall trend points to better performance in that role for the 24-year old.

Starter or Reliever?

 IP TBF ERA FIP K% BB% SLG wOBA
 IP TBF ERA FIP K% BB% SLG wOBA
As a starter 100.0 397 3.42 4.72 26.7% 9.8% 0.372 0.279
As a reliever 55.2 241 3.72 4.41 32.4% 13.3% 0.358 0.301

Also, general manager James Click stated to Chandler Rome of the Houston Chronicle back in November how the organization views Javier's potential as a starter "is very real for us and creates a lot more depth." Of course, this statement was provided before Justin Verlander signed his new contract with the Astros, which now creates a bit of a logjam in the rotation. If the season were to start tomorrow, the Opening Day rotation probably looks like this one: Verlander, Lance McCullers, Framber Valdez, Luis García, and Jose Urquidy. This configuration would leave Javier out of the mix in addition to Jake Odorizzi.

Is this configuration set in stone, though? Nope. Is it subject to change? Absolutely, especially if injuries befall this group as it did at various instances last season. Plus, I don't envision the Astros pushing certain starters too hard early in the season as Verlander, McCullers, and Valdez have all spent time on the IL due to various injuries in the past two seasons. It is better to have too much pitching than too little.

Javier's role in 2022 might look a lot like his role in 2021. Some games he will start, especially if a starter is unavailable. I feel he would get the nod over Odorizzi in most situations. When he does pitch out of relief, it'll likely be in multi-inning roles, in which he seems to thrive if you take a quick look at his 2021 game log. Considering how Javier usually required an inning to warm up before his relief appearances, that approach makes more sense than using him as a one-inning or less option. Regardless of his role, however, Javier's progress will be measured in how well he locates his pitches and limiting the number of walks he issues. If he can do that much, the role may not ultimately matter.