With Justin Verlander now residing in the Big Apple, the Astros projected rotation, deep as it is, isn’t quite as formidable as last year’s edition. At least at the top. FanGraphs’ projections currently rank Houston’s starters 13th in baseball based on fWAR (12.5), between the Giants and Dodgers.
Regardless of how confident you feel about this particular group of starters, those projections were always going to take a hit as soon as the reigning AL Cy Young winner officially signed elsewhere. For as fortunate as the Astros have become at replacing star-level players, the fact of the matter is that one can’t replace Verlander with an exact carbon copy, at least in the short-term. Heck, let’s take the Dodgers as another example, who look increasingly mortal, at least in the regular season, for noticeably the first time in more than a decade due to similar developments.
But projections are only that, projections. These figures, based on FIP models, are possibly underestimating Cristian Javier, for example, due to how many infield flies he generates (shoutout to Breathin’ Orange Fire on Twitter). Out of all pitchers with at least 100 innings in 2022, Javier’s 13.4% IFFB rate was the 15th highest in baseball. Jose Urquidy is another whose batted ball profile (specifically higher contact rates, less strikeouts) probably doesn’t lead to favorable projections across the board. The same thought applies to Luis Garcia, albeit to an arguably lesser effect.
My main point though is not to take these figures to heart and think FanGraphs or the projections absolutely hate your favorite team. The numbers reflect the models based on current rosters and projected playing time. However, even without the services of Verlander, the Astros still boast one of the deeper staffs in baseball. There is also now ample opportunity for one of the top pitching prospects in baseball to make his mark. But even if you’re absurdly confident about Hunter Brown becoming the next great thing based on that one viral GIF which demonstrated the similarities between he and Verlander’s deliveries, odds are that he won’t be the latter’s equal tomorrow. Or the next day. That said, there is potential, which is better than nothing.
It also helps that Lance McCullers Jr. is healthy leading into the offseason with hopefully leads to a relatively uninterrupted and effective 2023. Framber Valdez is effectively the ace of this staff now with Urquidy and Garcia playing important roles filling out the rotation. There is a lot to like about this Astros staff in 2023, even if the projections aren’t wild about them. Ultimately, those numbers only provide snapshots of what we could possibly see this year. The actual games matter more.