The editors apologize for the title error. As reader Matt Bertelli notes below, however, “No one would read the post if it said Astros rotation.”
The Astros make the move to the American League this year and this switch is going to hurt their pitching staff. Of course, even in the National League this was not a staff that made fantasy owners very excited, but now it becomes even more of a struggle to identify anyone worth pursuing in shallower leagues.
Lucas Harrell heads an unexciting group by virtue of his 3.76 ERA last season in his first full year in a Major League rotation. The 27-year old is an extreme ground ball pitcher, but his control and strikeout ability are underwhelming. As a whole, his skills is certainly good enough to remain in the Astros rotation all season, but he is not someone you want to consider for your fantasy team, even in an AL-Only league.
Not too long ago, Bud Norris was the Astros’ exciting young starting pitcher, but he has dealt with arm/shoulder issues and a knee injury over the last three seasons. Although his SIERA has remained fairly stable since 2010, his actual ERA has bounced around, and has only helped fantasy owners in one of those years. A big concern is his declining velocity — since his 2009 debut, his fastball has lost a tick every single year. In fact, he’s lost a total of 2.2 miles per hour in just three seasons, which is significant. His strikeout rate has yet to be affected, but that may not last. He may have been worth a speculation as a reserve option in shallow mixed leagues had the Astros remained in the National League, but now, I’d only consider him in deeper mixed or AL-Only formats.
Another pitcher who could have potentially been an intriguing sleeper in NL-Only leagues, but now loses some of his luster, is Jordan Lyles. Though his minor league track record was rather unremarkable, he was always considered a pretty good prospect. In his second season with the Astros, he displayed good control once again, but this time his ground ball rate surged. His minor league track record doesn’t provide too much optimism that he will hold onto those gains (though, his GB% did rise in 2012 at Triple-A), but it’s unlikely to be a complete fluke. His projections don’t look pretty, but if his luck neutralizes (career 4.12 SIERA versus 5.20 ERA), he might be worth a couple of bucks in AL-Only leagues.
Remember when Philip Humber threw that perfect game? Well, he’s now on the Astros. Humber missed time due to an elbow injury so it’s possible that the injury is what ruined his season post-perfect game. His peripherals actually weren’t all that terrible, but an inflated HR/FB rate and inability to strand base-runners wreaked havoc on his ERA. Depending on his health, he’s another potentially deep AL-Only league sleeper.
You know life has gotten tough when even the Pirates don’t want you. Lucky for Erik Bedard, the Astros were around to scoop him on up. Bedard hasn’t thrown more than 130 innings since 2007 and his average fastball velocity failed to break 90.0 miles per hour for the first time last year. He has never induced a whole lot of swinging strikes, at least not the rate you would expect to see from someone with his historical strikeout rates. Instead, he has relied a lot on called and foul strikes, which is a bit riskier. Bedard’s ERA will surely improve, but with his injury history, I’d rather take a chance on Humber, as amazing as that is to type.
The aforementioned five have a pretty strong chance of opening the season as the starting rotation. Of course, between the time I finish typing this and it gets published, Bedard could have already gotten injured. Waiting in the wings are two off-season acquisitions, John Ely and Alex White. Ely is a soft-tossing rightie who recorded a rather impressive strikeout rate in Triple-A last year, despite an average fastball that didn’t even reach 88.0 miles per hour back in 2010, when all his innings with the Dodgers came as a starter. Sure, he may have gain a mile per hour or two since, but it seems safe to say his velocity falls below 90.0 miles per hour, which requires one heck of a set of off-speed stuff. Steamer seems to like him though, so maybe I am underrating his potential.
Alex White returns to the American League, but at least he escapes Colorado. In the minors, he posted uninspiring strikeout rates, while his control has been in decline. Given his high ground ball rate last year, his upside might be Lucas Harrell, which is to say that he shouldn’t be on anyone’s fantasy radar.
Mike Podhorzer is the 2015 Fantasy Sports Writers Association Baseball Writer of the Year. He produces player projections using his own forecasting system and is the author of the eBook Projecting X 2.0: How to Forecast Baseball Player Performance, which teaches you how to project players yourself. His projections helped him win the inaugural 2013 Tout Wars mixed draft league. Follow Mike on Twitter @MikePodhorzer and contact him via email.