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Don’t overlook the importance of Luis Garcia and José Urquidy

MLB: Spring Training-Houston Astros Workouts Rich Storry-USA TODAY Sports

For the majority of last year’s championship season, the Astros boasted a rotation of at least five healthy starters, with up to six to seven names deep at various points. This logjam was enough to push top prospect Hunter Brown into a full-time relief role following his first two major league appearances. Jake Odorizzi was traded to the Braves at the deadline to essentially make room for Lance McCullers Jr. during his return from the IL. The lack of openings also forced two capable starters — Luis Garcia and José Urquidy — to the bullpen once the postseason rolled around.

But the circumstances of last year don’t necessarily apply to 2023. Most importantly, there is no more Justin Verlander, who is now co-headlining the Mets rotation with Max Scherzer. While it made sense, on one hand, to let the reigning AL Cy Young winner leave considering the overall depth of the pitching staff, the Astros still have to replace 175 high-quality innings. To be blunt, there is no fully replacing Verlander and what he brings every fifth or sixth day, at least in 2023. His replacement likely won’t post a six-win season as the future Hall of Famer did last year. Heck, the chances feel high that even Verlander couldn’t meet or top what he did last season entering his age-40 season. But with no meaningful external addition to the rotation, it is clear that the organization is banking on its overall depth to help mitigate this loss.

Plus, with the recent development about McCullers Jr. and his recent bout of arm soreness, that vaunted depth appears slightly less impressive than it did even a couple of weeks ago. While the Astros aren’t expressing too much concern at this stage of camp, and it could prove to be a big nothing burger, arm soreness in a pitcher isn’t something to lightly toss aside. Considering the investment in McCullers Jr., the organization should proceed cautiously with one of their more talented pitchers. But if a prolonged absence is required, it now leaves Houston possibly in a bit of a pickle moving forward if another pitcher(s) experiences inefficiency, injury, or both.

This is where the likes of Garcia and Urquidy come into play as both pitchers could have more significant roles, at least in the early portions of the season, than originally anticipated. While both right-handers were already counted among the regulars in the rotation, their contributions could hold more sway than forecasted. Below are their ZiPS projections for the upcoming season.

  • Luis Garcia: 137 IP, 23.6% K%, 7.4% BB%, 4.09 ERA, 4.10 FIP
  • José Urquidy: 141 IP, 21.1% K%, 5.4% BB%, 4.04 ERA, 4.23 FIP

While I do believe both Garcia and Urquidy could outperform their projections by a decent margin, as they’ve done in the past to some degree, it also wouldn’t surprise me if their final figures more closely resemble those listed above. For Garcia, one of his more notable issues last season was the number of home runs allowed (23 in 2022 compared to 19 in 2021), even in a campaign where home runs overall were suppressed. He also had inconsistent stretches last season before appearing to turn the corner in September. Home runs were also an issue for Urquidy, who allowed 29 in 2022. Again, in a season when home runs were down across baseball. But if both pitchers finish somewhere between their career figures and those projections, then there isn’t much to complain about in the grand scheme.

The greatest value Garcia and Urquidy provide is to absorb as many innings as possible in the regular season while providing average to above-average pitching on the aggregate. In a season where the Astros' depth could be tested more often than last year, the duo raises the floor of the rotation. While it may seem trivial now, their collective performance could hold wider ramifications by July or August.