If the postseason were to begin today, the Astros would likely have a rotation of Justin Verlander, Framber Valdez, and Lance McCullers Jr. in the top three, with either Jose Urquidy or Cristian Javier filling out the fourth slot. For much as I like Luis García, he is the odd man out in my book, although his exclusion isn't a certainty at this point.
Honestly, though, not much of a surprise if this alignment comes to pass, especially among the top three. There is nuance regarding matchups at home or on the road to account for, but not much of a discernible difference. No, the development to monitor how Urquidy and Javier are utilized in the coming weeks once Verlander returns from the IL.
There is a case for both pitchers to earn a start in the upcoming ALDS. Urquidy, for example, has fared better since he ditched his cutter following his start on June 8 (3.01 ERA, 15.4% K-BB%) than he did prior (5.04 ERA, 12.3% K-BB%). Account for previous successes in October, and one can see a viable case for him to start at least in the division series as the fourth starter. A team could do far worse than Urquidy. But Javier's case has become increasingly difficult to ignore, as we've seen him mature as a starter for most of the season (3.07 ERA, 23% K-BB% in 22 starts). Hop on a leaderboard, then sort by pitchers with at least 110 innings as a starter, and you'll notice Javier's 32.1% strikeout rate ranks fifth in baseball, in between Gerrit Cole and Dylan Cease. This swing-and-miss potential offers an interesting dynamic to consider, especially among Javier's rotation mates.
Swinging Strike Rates in 2022
- Cristian Javier - 13.7%
- Luis García - 12.9%
- Justin Verlander - 11.6%
- Framber Valdez - 11.4%
- Lance McCullers Jr. - 10.8%
- Jose Urquidy - 10.0%
But that potential also presents a conundrum for the Astros, optimizing their pitchers' roles. Urquidy's value, for example, likely takes a hit if he is assigned to relief. And for as good as Javier has looked in the rotation, the appeal of that swing-and-miss potential being an option in the bullpen is enticing. After all, Javier performed well in his relief role in the club's World Series run last year, with 19 strikeouts in only 10 2⁄3 innings. That translates to a 41.3% strikeout rate. Impressive, even when taking into account Javier's occasional lapse of command.
There are zero embellishments when discussing the embarrassment of riches that the Astros have on the pitching side of the roster. Of course, based on the actual results, Javier is arguably the better option to start in the postseason. While both pitchers are prone to the occasional stinker, Javier's profile arguably translates better in the postseason when the value on swing-and-misses is further heightened. With a bullpen already among the league's best without Javier's services, his value is perhaps better utilized as a starter than not.
Due to how the off-days align in the ALDS, it is quite likely that the fourth starter for both clubs will be used at some point, especially in Game 4 or 5 when there are no off-days between those two games. For the Astros, who they decide to employ as the fourth starter may come down to particular matchups. Urquidy's season-long struggles against the Mariners come to mind if Seattle is their division series opponent. Something to keep in mind as October approaches.