Entering the 2022 season, I had high hopes for Phil Maton to assume a larger role in the Astros’ bullpen. While his first 25 1⁄3 innings in Houston following the Myles Straw trade with Cleveland weren’t exactly praiseworthy (4.97 ERA, 4.08 FIP), his performance that postseason (0.73 ERA, 2.68 FIP) definitely caught my attention. Insert the standard small sample caveat here, but those 12 1⁄3 innings in October provided some hope for the future.
Alas, it wasn’t meant to be, at least for last season. While Maton was generally adequate (3.84 ERA, 4.33 FIP), his 65 2⁄3 innings in 2022 felt a bit inconsistent.
- March/April: 4.82 ERA, 5.26 FIP, 6.8% BB%
- May: 2.13 ERA, 4.77 FIP, 3.8% BB%
- June: 5.00 ERA, 6.22 FIP, 14.3% BB%
- July: 2.53 ERA, 4.42 FIP, 6.8% BB%
- August: 6.97 ERA, 2.05 FIP, 11.4% BB%
- September/October: 2.63 ERA, 3.70 FIP, 9.1% BB%
I included walk rates above to drive the point home that Maton, as with all pitchers, has better chances of succeeding when his walk rate is manageable. While his FIP on a per-month basis didn’t put those performances in the best light, the general trend is there. If the right-hander wants a prominent role in a bullpen, he will have to keep those walk rates down. That is the case thus far in 2023 as evidenced by the fact that he has yet to allow an earned run in 8 1⁄3 innings of work and his 3.3% walk rate is significantly lower than his 8.9% career average. Not to mention that his strikeout rate (33.3%) is trending upward compared to past seasons. Needless to say, I have hope that Maton is possibly having that breakout season I envisioned for him following 2021. I’ll probably do a deeper breakdown of him in the coming weeks.
I have numerous baseball websites bookmarked in my Google Chrome browser, with FanGraphs, Baseball-Reference, and Baseball Savant obviously among my favorites. One of my go-to links is this Baseball-Reference link that comes in handy quite often during the season, especially when I want a glance to see how a team is performing overall. Now that we’re nearly 20 games into the season, right now felt like an appropriate time to see how the Astros stack against their competition.
- Runs scored per game (R/G): 5.05 runs (9th)
- OPS+: 101 (15th)
- Hits: 162 (13th)
- Runs allowed per game (RA/G): 4.05 runs (9th)
- ERA+: 132 (6th)
- Runs allowed: 77 (8th)
To no one’s surprise, the Astros are about middle of the pack, if not slightly above, when it comes to offense. Without Jose Altuve and Michael Brantley, the lineup has struggled to find some consistency, especially when Yordan Alvarez and Kyle Tucker aren’t driving in runs. While I don’t prefer to concentrate on RBI, it is worth noting that Alvarez and Tucker have driven in nearly 38% of the club’s runs this season. I expect Alex Bregman and, hopefully, José Abreu to help alleviate some of the offensive load, but the Astros could run into trouble if Alvarez or Tucker experience a prolonged slump.
In terms of pitching, it is clear this staff is the main driver for the club’s success in the season’s first couple of weeks. There have been a few hiccups along the way, but this staff is solid enough to keep the team in most games. Regression from last season’s incredible run was expected and there hasn’t been a development thus far that has made me feel uncomfortable about their prospects throughout a 162-game season.
Luis Garcia’s Cutter
Earlier this week I highlighted how Luis Garcia’s four-seam fastball was getting crushed. I figured that the new windup may hold some influence behind the decreased velocity on the pitch, in addition to how Garcia throwing less on the edge of the strike zone. On a pitch not known for overpowering velocity or movement, any change, however slight, could negatively impact how the pitch operates.
Interestingly enough, in his latest start against the Blue Jays on Wednesday, Garcia decided to utilize more of his cutter — 19 whiffs on 34 swings! — in place of his four-seam, and it worked with terrific results. While he still threw his four-seam about 23% of the time, his cutter usage jumped to 55% against Toronto. His cutter has been effective to start the season (.258 wOBA, .285 xwOBA), being particularly sharp earlier this week.
Going forward, I wonder how much more Garcia will lean into his cutter. While I don’t expect the right-hander to completely drop his four-seam from his arsenal, it is clear right now that his cutter is his best pitch. Hopefully, his start against the Blue Jays is a sign of things to come for Garcia.