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Have Injuries to Frontline Astros Starters Hurt The Team?

And if not, should the Astros stick with the replacement pitchers?

Chicago Cubs v Houston Astros Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images

When starting pitchers Luis Garcia and Jose Urquidy joined Lance McCullers on the IL about a month ago, many fans and analysts cried, “Turn out the lights; the party’s over.”

Not so fast. Since that time, the Astros have posted a 13-8 record, compared to 15-13 before the injuries. Of course, you can’t give all the credit for that to the two unheralded rookie replacement players, Brandon Bielak, and J.P. France. But they have been a pleasant surprise, certainly exceeding expectations, and perhaps even performing better than the two pitchers they replaced in a small sample.

At the time the two veterans went down, it seemed like a disaster; that these replacement pitchers would perform much worse and gravely damage the team’s chance for the playoffs. Has that happened?

The simple answer is: No. At least if your look at results.

In five starts (+ one batter), Luis Garcia had a 2-2 record and a 4.00 ERA. He averaged 5.2 IP per outing.

In six starts, Urquidy was also 2-2, with a 5.20 ERA. He averaged 4.7 IP per outing.

Let’s compare these results with those of the replacements.

Brandon Bielak.........1-2.............3.51 ERA...............5 IP/game. Five games

J.P. France................1-1..............3.43 ERA..............5.1 IP/game. Four games

So based on results from these small samples, the replacement pitchers have actually outperformed the pitchers they replaced.

However, result-oriented stats like W-L and ERA are poorer predictors of future results than advanced, peripheral stats like xERA and xFIP. Do the advanced stats support the contention that the replacement pitchers have performed better than the pitchers they replaced?

Yes and no. Of the four pitchers under consideration, Garcia looks the best by xERA and xFIP, 3.98 and 4.11, respectively.

J.P. France...........4.24 xERA...............4.33 xFIP

Brandon Bielak...5.86 xERA................4.44 xFIP

Jose Urquidy.......4.79 xERA................5.13 xFIP

Of course, Luis Garcia isn’t coming back this year, and when McCullers returns, he will probably get a rotation slot. So the question is, if current trends continue, (big if) will France get to keep the remaining starting slot over Urquidy?

He might possibly earn it based on the numbers. But given Urquidy’s status as a veteran on a championship team, he will almost certainly be given his spot back when he returns unless he is terrible during rehab. And it may just be that his subpar performance earlier this year was due to trying to pitch around his injury.

So despite helping to keep the Astros in the playoff picture, France and Bielak will not likely get many thanks once McCullers and Urquidy return. But, so far, at least, they deserve some thanks — and maybe even a little love.

Well, I’ll give it to them here.

Thanks, Brandon and J.P. for not sucking and keeping us in the hunt. Keep playing good and we might even love you.