Updated: Jul 20
Some of you will read this title and say "What Problem? WE have the best ERA in baseball!"
Well, the Astros did at one time- July 2nd. Since then, the Astros have a 5.46 ERA. It is likely an anomaly. Or is it?
The Astros have a significant challenge in the second half of the season- how to manage the pitching staff. I would go as far as saying the 2023 Astros have an eminent pitching problem. Read this to see what I mean. If you rather watch a video, here you go.
For starters, the advanced metrics are more worrisome.
5th in MLB
8th in MLB
9th in MLB
12th in MLB
What is happening with the Astros pitching? What is wrong?
Problem #1- The Starting Pitchers are wiped out or soon will be
The Astros have FIVE SP on pace to BLOW past their career innings max. The Astros simply CANNOT allow Brown, France, and Bielak to pitch as many innings that they are on pace for.
The starting pitching issue is actually not all that surprising when you consider
Verlander's 175 IP are gone from last year
Odorizzi's 60 IP were traded last year
Garcia is out for the season after pitching 27 IP vs. 157.1 IP last year
Urquidy has been out after pitching 27.2 IP vs. 164.1 IP last year. He is on a rehab assignment and may return soon.
McCullers is out for the season after pitching 47.2 IP last year.
These five delivered 604.1 IP last year vs 54.2 IP this year.
The entire SP had 950 IP last year. The Astros are missing two-thirds of the IP.
This has put pressure on players to deliver innings. Overall, they have done fairly well, but now their loads are way too high. The Astros have already deployed their best prospect SP options that were on the 40-man roster. Will they DFA to add others? Arrighetti (the top SP prospect) is also already on pace to be capped at his IP soon.
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Problem #2- The Relief Pitchers are wiped out or soon will be
The Astros RP have only pitched the 27th most innings (315.1 IP), and yet STILL have two pitchers trending to be over any previous career usage. Four other MLB pitchers are also right at historical highs.
The table to the right shows the individual RP (% games in relief >80%, 20+ IP) sorted by IP. There are 219 RP shown. Don't pay attention to all of the names; focus on the number of the orange lines and their position to the population of MLB relief pitchers.
Of the top 51 RPs by IPs in the MLB, FIVE are Astros. Seth Martinez is 73rd. This is the overuse. All things being equal among the 30 teams, The Astros should have 2 or MAYBE 3 in this group. They have six. Why?
They have been ultra durable AND they have been called on a lot repeatedly.
The team that has pitched the 27th most relief innings has six relief pitchers with a ton of innings relative to the population. Those six pitchers have pitched 80 percent of the team's relief innings. This might seem normal. It isn't. The good news is there have been no major RP injuries. I am concerned about how long that stays true.
The relief pitcher situation may be an equal challenge to the SP Situation.
There are FIVE of a seven-to-eight-man bullpen who CANNOT be optioned.
Gage and Kuhnel have been optioned 3 times already this year. A team can only option a player 5 times in a season.
None of these are a true long reliever. If one uses a six-man starting rotation to help the manage the starting pitching innings, Seth Martinez is the "longest" reliever.
Of the 12 times he has been asked to pitch more than 30 pitches in his career, Martinez has done it 7 times in 2023 with a maximum of 52 pitches on 6/9/23 in an extra innings game.
The issue is in those seven games Martinez has a xwOBA of 0.387 (that is terrible- career is 0.306).
Martinez can be effective for 2 innings. Beyond that and you are pushing beyond his career effectiveness.
Without a true long reliever, several short relievers have to be used in a non-ideal situation. This adds to their innings and appearances.
Honestly, it isn't clear who among Mushinski, Gage, Kuhnel, Taylor, or Paredes the Astros could even substitute in for the core relief staff.
An odd fact that relates to this overall use is that the Astros have used only 20 pitchers this year. This is tied for fewest pitchers in the MLB.
They have used only 15 pitchers for more than 10IP. How does this compare to other Astros years?
The number of relief pitchers is low but perhaps grows as the season progresses. Probably at least two pitchers will be added by trades.
As rough as the SP injuries have been, other teams that have used 30+ pitchers don't want to hear about it. In a way, the Astros pitchers are wearing down because they have not had more injuries especially to RP.
Are you worn out yet? The Astros pitching has been faltering lately because of the pitchers they keep using- both the SP and RP- are overtaxed.
What can the Astros do about their pitching problem? Read this Part 2.