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The Benefit Of A Deep Pitching Staff

MLB: Baltimore Orioles at Houston Astros Erik Williams-USA TODAY Sports

There is no question that the Astros have one of the best rotations in baseball, with an AL-leading 3.07 ERA on the season and a 13.9 fWAR. Only the Dodgers (2.67 ERA) and Phillies (14.2 fWAR) have better marks in those categories. There also isn’t another club that has received more innings from their rotation (752 13 ) than Houston, which makes the results this season even more impressive. For context, the rotation with the next highest innings total belongs to the Padres at 725 23 innings on the season, who allow .80 runs more than Houston.

Overall, it is difficult not to be impressed with the Astros when you account for the results along with the sheer number of innings pitched. Not only is that a sign of a quality staff, but it is also representative of a deep one. Unfortunately, that depth could soon be tested, depending on the severity of Justin Verlander’s right calf strain, which occurred during Sunday’s finale against the Orioles.

Verlander’s 2022 season through Sunday’s three-inning start — 1.84 ERA/2.72 FIP in 152 innings — has been nothing short of fantastic, considering he is in his age-39 season and coming off Tommy John surgery in 2020. This type of season is frankly unheard of for a pitcher at this age coming off that surgery. Also, the right-hander is arguably the front runner for this year’s AL Cy Young award. Take all of these factors into consideration as we’re probably watching one of the more impressive pitching performances in recent memory.

So, what happens if Verlander misses an extended amount of time?

The primary concern with Verlander is whether he is ready for the postseason. A calf injury could linger. Thankfully, the Astros, more or less, have the AL West virtually locked up and currently hold a 3.5-game lead over the Yankees for the top seed in the AL. It is farbmore vital at this point that Verlander is ready to roll in October. It also doesn’t hurt that Houston currently possesses the depth to finish the season without too much concern. Below is what the rotation looks like without Verlander.

  • Framber Valdez
  • Lance McCullers Jr.
  • Luis Garcia
  • Jose Urquidy
  • Cristian Javier

Overall, we’re still looking at one of the better rotations in baseball, although losing Verlander for any stretch of time is a significant blow. Javier, recently moved to the bullpen to accommodate some off days in the schedule, likely slots back into the rotation with any absence. Not to mention that top pitching prospect Hunter Brown is another possibility to start some games in September, especially once the rosters expand in September.

Again, depending on the severity of Verlander’s calf injury, I wouldn’t be shocked to see the Astros include Brown to keep the rotation at six leading into October. There is little value to the games in September other than seeding and keeping everyone as healthy as possible, which is why we may not see Verlander much under any scenario. Plus, it helps when the depth is there to absorb any loss, even if you can’t truly replace one of the best pitchers in baseball on short notice.