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Three Astros Things: J.P. France

A few items of note about the latest call up for Houston.

MLB: 2022 Houston Media Day USA TODAY NETWORK

Hello, Strikeouts

Considering the rash of injuries to the starting rotation, it felt like only a matter of time before we saw J.P. France join the major league roster. Sure enough, he will make his debut against the Mariners on Saturday. After all, his numbers with Sugar Land — 2.33 ERA/3.06 FIP in 19 13 innings — have been positive, even if in a small sample. But what stuck out the most about his recent performance was his 33.8% strikeout rate, which is the ninth-highest rate in the PCL among all pitchers with at least 10 innings. For a rotation that has been hampered by injuries, France’s strikeout potential should help, at least in terms of upside.

The catch? None of France’s pitches — four-seam, curveball, slider, cutter, and changeup — are considered a plus offering. I am curious to see how major league hitters react as he also doesn’t possess overwhelming velocity. But there are reasons to like France. Mine is specifically about his curveball. Look at that break.

But The Walks

France has had issues with walks off and on throughout his minor league career. In 110 23 innings last season in Triple-A, the right-hander walked 10.6% of the opposing hitters he faced. Again, we’re dealing with a small sample for this season, but the early returns — 14.3% — don’t exactly remove those doubts. But when we look at a start-by-start basis, France’s walk issues don’t look nearly as troublesome if you weigh his last three appearances against his first two.

  • First two appearances: 7 walks in 4 23 innings
  • Last three appearances: 4 walks in 14 23 innings

That said, in his last appearance prior to his promotion, France issued three walks in 4 23 innings. A quick glance at his game log from 2022 shows that his walks do come in bunches, as he had 17 walks in 11 23 innings (appearances with 4-plus walks) while walking 34 in his remaining 99 innings.

Groundballs Incoming?

One reason for France’s success, albeit limited, in 2023 is due to something different in his profile: Groundballs. At a 53.8% clip, those types of batted balls have prevented more of those walks from becoming runs. Last season, that groundball rate was 33.6%. The season before? 32.8%. This increase is an interesting development as it only takes about 70 balls in play, or roughly 25 innings, for groundball rates to begin to stabilize. France has had 43 balls put in play, with groundballs accounting for 21 of those events. Only time will tell if this higher groundball rate is now part of his profile; however, if it is, then France could have a bit more upside than I originally anticipated.