The Starting Five. No, Make that Six
SP1) During the filming of the Fugitive starring Harrison Ford, the script called for the main character to disguise himself by growing a beard. The studio was upset because they paid millions of dollars to have the most recognizable face in the world star in their movie. It was quite the dilemma. Then Ford solved the problem. His character would start the film with a beard and then shave it off when he went on the run. Basically, Harrison Ford is responsible for the New York’s no beard policy. The Yankees pay millions of dollars for recognizable players, and they want the drooling masses to recognize them, and so Gerrit Cole had to shave his beard when he joined the X-stros (he may have also been hiding from something). He’s been great so far and is projected to be the best pitcher in baseball with highest WAR on the X-stros (5.2) just barely beating out Carlos Correa for the team lead, while pitching 182 innings with a 2.82 ERA. Cole is earning an Indiana Jones sized salary of $36M this season.
SP2) Cole gained future eligibility to join the X-Stros or pretty much became fated to join the X-Stros when the Astros traded Joe Musgrove in a package to the Pirates to acquire him. Now Musgrove is number two in the rotation for X-Stros behind Cole. He’s not quite projected to be the second best X-stros pitcher, but it’s close enough that he gets the more coveted spot due to his youth. He has continued to improve since leaving Houston and is projected to go 171.7 innings with a 3.51 ERA good for 3.3 WAR. He’s down in San Diego making $8.6M, frolicking on the beach, and laughing at the Pirates. Sorry, Steal City, you just can’t compete with sun, sand, Mexican food, and, you know, an owner that wants to win.
SP3) CHARLIE MORTON. World Champion with the Astros and some other team a little later on. Ground Chuck doesn’t mess around. He just goes from contender to contender to contender, and it looks like he will be a big part of the X-stros rotation yet again. Projected for 164.7 innings and a 3.44 ERA for 3.4 WAR and earning $20M in Georgia.
SP4) The fourth starter really looked good last season. I had completely forgotten that Patrick Sandoval was an X-Stro, but he has beaten out some proven veterans for the fourth spot in the rotation. Some of those older pitchers even have higher projections, but that’s mostly due to limited innings. Zips sees a 4.13 ERA over 100.3 innings for 1.5 WAR for the Angels while earning the league minimum. That’s not bad, but I think he will do better.
SP5) The best hitter on the team is the number five pitcher, Zack Greinke. With both leagues using the DH, we may never see him mash again. We’ll simply have to be satisfied with seeing eephus pitches and other such concoctions. Zack did not look too hot at the end of the 2021 season, but he is projected for a solid 4.18 ERA over 159.3 innings and 2.4 WAR. He’s back in KC for $13M.
SP6) Egos are big on the X-Stros pitching staff, so Strom has decided to go with a six man rotation just to placate the last guy. Dallas Keuchel gets that final spot in the rotation, getting the nod over Wade Miley and Adrian Houser due to his longer history with the Astros even though those two are projected to be as good or better than Dallas in 2022. Keuchel is projected for 145.3 innings with a 4.46 ERA for the White Sox as they pay him $18.5M.
Closer) The X-stros bullpen has been weak spot over the years, but it has always had some star power closing out games with possibly the best closer in baseball, Josh Hader, mowing down batters. He’s projected to be among the best once again. The Brewers will pay Hader $11M this season and probably expect him to meet these projections fairly easily: 2.34 ERA over 61.7 innings for 1.4 WAR. Of all the talents that have passed through Houston, Hader is the one that I have personally wondered, "What if…" about the most. Every contending team could use another dominant reliever in the playoffs.
Setup 1) Veteran closer Mark "The Shark" Melancon is setting up Hader. He’s been all over ever since the X-stros acquired him from the Astros, and he has been consistently good. Good enough still at 37 years old to get paid $7M from Arizona where he can work with the real life Strom. He’s projected for a 3.60 ERA for 55 innings worthy of .5 WAR
Setup 2) Collin McHugh, sadly, remains an X-stro. McHugh, like me, wished the Astros had kept Hader instead of trading him for Gomez and Fiers. That’s just one small reason why I had hoped that his status as an X-stro would change this season, but instead he joined Charlie Morton in Atlanta for $5M. He’s not projected to be as good as last season (few relievers ever are projected for 1.55 ERA and 1.8 WAR), but he should still be a solid arm. I think he’ll do a little better, health permitting, than a 3.97 ERA over 59 innings for .7 WAR.
RP) Will Harris hopes to have a healthy second season with the Nationals. His first season as an X-stro was only a few innings long, so I don’t know what to expect. I hope he meets his 3.60 ERA over 35 innings for .5 WAR projection. Hopefully he gets more innings. He’s making $8M this year. He was great for the Astros as a non-flashy reliever. Well, never mind, looks like he’s out indefinitely with a pectoral issue.
RP) Kendall Graveman, we hardly new you. Good luck in Chicago. Graveman is projected for 48.7 innings and a 3.70 ERA for .3 WAR. He’s earning $8M this season.
RP) Finally, we have Ken Giles. He missed all of 2021 for Seattle. I had actually completely forgotten to include him on this list, but I had a nagging feeling that the staff was missing some punch. Hopefully, he’s healthy for 2022 and not too hard on himself. He has the last spot in the bullpen earning $3.5M, but still has the upside to be the setup man. Zips projects a 3.49 ERA over 38.7 innings for .4 WAR. He’s currently hurt but should be back in April.
SP Wade Miley, Cincinnati, 3.97 ERA 143 innings 2.0 WAR $10M
SP Adrian Houser, Milwaukee, 4.37 ERA 127 innings 1.2 WAR $700K
RP Yimi Garcia, Toronto, 4.27 ERA 52.7 innings .1 WAR $5.5M
RP J.B. Bukauskas, Arizona, 4.91 ERA 66 innings .1 WAR $700K (IL)
RP Kent Emanuel, Philadelphia, 5.13 ERA 59 innings 0 WAR $700K (IL)
Starting Pitcher Salary: $96.8M
Starting Pitcher Projected WAR: 17.1 WAR
Relief Pitcher Salary: $42.5M
Relief Pitcher Projected WAR: 3.8 WAR
Any interesting names that were missed?