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What a Healthy José Urquidy Brings to the Houston Astros Rotation (and a Tangential Discussion on the Nature of Balance in Baseball)

The Astros have muddled through the 2023 season despite key components of their rotation being AWOL.

Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

What is José Urquidy worth to the Houston Astros rotation?

The very very short answer is — just over two wins above replacement through a 162-game season. If you’re happy with that, you can stop right there and go on to your next article.

Urquidy has amassed 4.7 bWAR over 66 major league starts (and three relief appearances). For our purposes, I’ll eliminate his contribution for the bullpen games he played in. That leaves us with Urquidy racking up one win above replacement per 14 starts.

Remember also, it’s wins above replacement. In this case, wins above Ronel Blanco (who is tracking dead-on replacement level btw). Through Urquidy’s career, we’ve seen his best and his worst. Remember, he started this particular season at 2-2 with a 5.63 FIP and an average GameScore of 46. Those are metrics that are comparable to Blanco when it all boils down. Like Blanco, Urquidy is replacement level for his six starts this year.

If Urquidy rejoins the rotation and contributes as he had to begin this season, the added value will be nonexistent (over Blanco). The thing is, was Urquidy at full strength to begin this campaign? I don’t think so. We need to walk it back.

Urquidy’s pre-2023 career would see him with a 24-13 record, along with a 110 ERA+, a nifty 1.091 WHIP, and 4.35 FIP. If that’s the Urquidy we can expect to rejoin the team next week, he could make a positive difference on the bottom line.

Again, though, he’s been worth about one WAR every 14 starts...and there will be fewer than 60 games remaining on the schedule when he does return. That translates to somewhere between 10 and 12 starts, depending on if we see a return to the six-man rotation or not. So very roughly, one win. Urquidy will be worth one win at best.

That’s not to say it doesn’t count...far from it! Baseball is a game of marginal differences in value. The best player in the majors and the worst player in the majors could both very well be different species entirely from the fans who worship them. That also ties in with the reason I love baseball so completely, if you’ll allow me a tangential discussion....

This is essentially the same game that was played back in 1871, when the National Association kicked off with nine teams. By the way, the Philadelphia Athletics were the pennant winners in that initial season. I was a little excited to hear that until I realized that version of the A’s had no relation to the current club, which started in 1901, also in Philadelphia. In that first game, as well as every game since, every statistic earned by one player was yielded in an equal measure by a different player. For every strikeout, there’s a poor sap who struck out. For every double play turned, there’s a bum who just GIDP’d.

This is a game that has persisted as a game recognizable as baseball to every person who has ever enjoyed it. It’s been going on for over 150 years now. Yet, the game boils down to the roughly 7/10ths of a second it takes the ball to travel from the mound to the plate. It’s the very smallest of margins in which some players excel and some players are considered also rans.

Considering the balance of the stat versus counterstat, if you didn’t know better, you’d think the game was binary in nature. Au contraire! This is a game rich in fours, threes and multiples of three! Three outs, three strikes, nine innings, nine players in the field, four balls, four bases, four umpires.

And while I’m on this tangent, how cool is it that an average base stealer takes nearly exactly the same time as it does for a ball to travel from the pitcher to the catcher to the second baseman? Was that by design? Did it just evolve that way? Think about it. I mean seriously, WTF?

It really is a game of inches. Fair and foul, over the fence vs off the wall, the “swim” move to avoid the tag. Inches are what separates the superstars from the career minor leaguer.

Aaaanyway...I’ll be happy to see Urquidy rejoin the rotation, even if the bottom line is only moved by as little as one win. After all, one win will in all likelihood separate the worst playoff team from the best non-playoff team. And we all know, in baseball, you just need a ticket to get into the dance. Once you're in there, anything can happen, even a back-to-back World Series Champion.

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