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Time For the Astros To Make Some Major Changes: Cut Maldonado, Promote Bryan Abreu

Catcher Maldonado is below replacement level. Release him and elevate Bryan Abreu to starting pitcher role

MLB: Houston Astros at Atlanta Braves Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

This season is turning south. The relative good luck/lack of injuries from last year has turned around 180 degrees in a year when the Astros have less depth to absorb injuries. For example:

  • Heart and soul of the Astros Jose Altuve breaks his hand one week before the season
  • Astros gamble that Yuli Gurriel is washed-up and bring in 36-year-old Jose Abreu. So far, it looks like they got it exactly wrong as to who was washed up.
  • Lance McCullers starts the season on IL (again). His return is uncertain.
  • Michael Brantley starts the season still recovering from last year’s shoulder surgery. He may be back soon, although his replacements in the outfield are one of the few bright spots so far this year.
  • Jose Urquidy goes to IL with a shoulder injury. Expect a prolonged absence.
  • The next day, Luis Garcia goes to IL with elbow discomfort. The Astros have not disclosed the results of an MRI at this time but said they want a second opinion on the prognosis. I assume that means it was bad.

The Astros' record is 16-14, although by Pythagorean W-L they should be 18-12. Still, they are 2.5 games behind the Rangers, and lucky the rest of the AL West is underperforming. The offense is rated 20th in MLB by wRC+ at 94, meaning six points below average.

Much like last year, pitching has kept the Astros where they are. The team is second overall in ERA at 3.20, but that is way ahead of the peripherals. And with the sudden loss of 2/5ths of the rotation, how long can that last?

Don’t expect the returns of Altuve and Brantley to make a major difference since they will replace areas of relative strength in the lineup.

So, it appears unreasonable for the Astros, who subtracted the Cy Young Award winner from their roster, to be on track to achieve anywhere near the success they had last year at this rate. A near .500 record doesn’t seem too pessimistic. And they don’t have a lot of minor-league depth to trade at the trade deadline, although I could see an outfielder being moved.

Astros' depth is much thinner. Their margin for error is much smaller. They cannot afford to misallocate resources, which is exactly what they are doing in some cases. Namely:

  • Catcher
  • Starting Pitching


Let’s start with the catcher. Martin Maldonado is 36 years old and has been catching since 2011. He hasn’t had a season in which his fWAR was more than one since 2018. Currently, his fWAR is -0.4 with a wRC+ of 41. Since 2018 his wRC+ has been above 80 only once. That was the short COVID season. Last year it was 70. That means 30 points below the league average. This IS Martin Maldonado. And he is not getting better.

Yainier Diaz is a top prospect at catcher. Playing only about once a week, 36 PA’s total, he’s hitting much better than Maldonado. (82 wRC+) and has +0.1 fWAR in those few games. His ceiling is high if he gets a chance. Sitting in the minors is Korey Lee, a former first-round draft pick.

It’s time for Diaz. Everyone seems to know this except the Astros manager, who sticks with Maldonado because “the pitchers like him.” Well, half the starting pitchers who like him are gone now. Maybe if the pitchers got to know a new catcher who could hit behind them a little better, they’d grow to like him too. He saved their asses last night with two runners thrown out attempting to steal.

I’d say demoting Maldonado to backup would normally be sufficient, but as long as he’s around, it seems that Dusty Baker will put him behind the plate for 80% of the games. If so, Maldonado should go.


None other than the Wizard, former Astros pitching coach Brent Strom, ordained long ago that Bryan Abreu would be a star in this league as a starting pitcher. His command faltered in his first few years in this league, so he was relegated to the bullpen. But last year, he found himself, and his excellence has continued unabated this year.

2022............K% 35.5......BB% 10.5.......ERA 1.94.......xERA 2.92.....xFIP 2.69

2023...........K% 40.7.......BB% 13.0.......ERA 0.63......x ERA 2.88.....xFIP 2.86

He’s too good only to pitch about 60 innings a year. His command is still imperfect, but I submit that as a starter, it might improve with more regular usage. Based on these stats, it is not unreasonable that he could maintain an ERA in the low threes as a starter.

Perhaps two main objections exist to stretching Abreu out to a starting role.

  1. He’s needed in the bullpen
  2. His arsenal isn’t diverse enough for a starter.

Let’s start with number 1.

With the surprising emergence of Phil Maton as a reliable relief option, the Astros are five deep in reliable relievers without Abreu: Maton, Stanek, Neris, Montero, and Pressly. Sure, you’d like even more depth, but starting pitching is a greater need by far right now. The Astros bullpen ranks second in MLB in ERA, and the rotation ranks seventh...Before the exit of Urquidy and Garcia.

Number 2

Many people may believe, like I did, that Abreu is strictly a FB, slider guy, not optimal for a starter. Yes, his fastball can sometimes reach 100, and the slider, his bread and butter, is nearly unhittable. But did you know he throws a mean curve too?

Here are the percentages of pitches he has thrown this year and their average velocity:

FB: 31.5% (97.5) SL 54.0% (87.8) CU 14.5% (85.8)

And here are the pitch values Fangraphs assigns each of these pitches per 100 thrown. Zero is considered average quality. Positive numbers mean the pitch is more effective than the league average.

FB -1.28 SL 3.45 CU 5.13

Abreu’s curve is rated eighth in all baseball for pitchers over 10 IP. (Maton is 3rd). And his slider is rated 23rd.

It is time for Bryan Abreu to achieve his destiny. That is: MLB All-Star as starting pitcher. Stretch him out NOW.