Thank the heavens for J.P. France and Brandon Bielak, two unheralded and non-pedigreed rookies that NO ONE expected to play major roles in the 2023 Astros season. Thank the heavens because, not only have Lance McCullers, Luis Garcia, and Jose Urquidy gone down to injury, but the three other expected mainstays in the rotation, Framber Valdez, Cristian Javier, and Hunter Brown, have seen a marked decline in their performance in June and July
Never mind advanced stats right now. When it comes to actual results, luck-driven or not, since late June France and Bielak are currently the best starters on the Astros staff. France has a 3.13 ERA. That’s second-best among Astros starters and 17th in the league among pitchers with 70+ innings.
Bielak isn’t far behind with a 3.46 ERA, third best among Astros starters.
Compare that to recent performances by the “mainstays.”
In four starts since June 27, Valdez has a 5.79 ERA, and his vaunted GB% is down to 39.4%. Although xFIP and SIERA numbers are not as high as ERA, they are still well above his season averages.
Or how about Hunter Brown? He started off the season with ERAs of 2.37 in April, had a rough May at 4.78, improved in June to 3.65, but in July, his ERA is 8.76. In July, the batting average against is .400. Some of this really might be bad luck. The BABIP is an astronomical .595, and his xFIP is actually a monthly season-low of 2.29.
Last but not least, Cristian Javier. Since June 9, his ERA is 8.44. Since June 21, it is 12.06. Advanced stats don’t give us much hope, either. Since June 21, his xFIP is 6.64 and his SIERA 5.71.
Javier’s flyball-inducing “invisiball” doesn’t look so invisible anymore. During this slump, Javier’s HR/FB percent is 16.7 compared to a pre-slump average of 7.4%. They’re pulling him more: Pull % 42.4 compared to a pre-slump average of 32.6%. And they’re hitting him harder: 37.3% hard hit% compared to a pre-slump average of 29.9%. And the K% is 15.9%, down from a pre-slump average of 23.8%. Since June 21, the league is hitting .347 against Javier compared to a .217 average before June 21.
So, since about late June, France and Bielak are the Astros’ two best starters. In July, Bielak has a 1.02 ERA. And since June 29, France sports a 2.22 ERA.
Of course, I’m not predicting this will continue. But for now, thank the heavens for J.P. France and Brandon Bielak. They’ve kept the walking-wounded —and apparently tired— Astros in the playoff hunt.
And if the other three starters continue on their current trajectory, the Astros going forward will have a rough final third of the season. Who would have thunk that J.P. France and Brandon Bielak would have to carry the Astros’ starting pitching load?