The shortened 2020 season saw the Houston Astros struggle at times with starting pitching depth. Of course it didn’t help that the reigning Cy Young Award winner Justin Verlander closed his season early with a forearm injury. Verlander underwent Tommy John surgery at the end of the 2020 season and is expected to miss the 2021 season. However, his injury did lead to more opportunities for the young arms on the roster. These arms showed their immense potential, even if it came with some inconsistencies. Houston has a solid core of starters, but some more depth may be necessary. Here are the 2021 Astros starting rotation options as well as some potential adds to round out the roster.
Zack Greinke Cristian Javier
Framber Valdez Jose Urquidy
Lance McCullers Jr.
This is how the Astros starting rotation currently projects. Since coming over at the 2019 Trade Deadline, Zack Greinke has been very solid, posting a 3.54 ERA in 22 starts. The 37 year old is entering the final year of his contract, and possibly his career, so hopefully Houston can get a good final year out of him. Framber Valdez had a breakout season in 2020, pitching to a 3.57 ERA in 70 2/3 regular season innings, and a 1.88 ERA in four postseason appearances. Valdez showed what he is capable of, but he has never pitched more innings than he did this past season, so that is a bit of a question mark.
Lance McCullers Jr. has been an important Astro for years now at just 27 years old. Last season was McCullers first, post Tommy John surgery, and he was solid, putting up a 3.93 ERA in 11 starts. Houston is looking for him to take that next step towards greatness, 2021 could be that year. Cristian Javier finished third in Rookie of the Year voting in 2020, going 5-2 with a 3.48 ERA. His potential beamed bright throughout the season, and a repeat of his 2020 would be more than welcomed in 2021. Jose Urquidy limited to just five starts due to a positive COVID test, returned to the team late, and he was great, posting a 2.73 ERA.
This core of starters can be really good, but injuries are bound to happen with a full season being played, and regression is a possibility with so many young pitchers. Josh James is expected to miss the beginning of the season due to a hip injury, so there needs to be other options. Let’s look at some internal and external options to provide depth.
Other Internal Options
One of the many Astros rookies who made their debuts in 2020, Luis Garcia owns very little experience. He made five appearances, including one start, and gave up four runs in 12 1/3 innings in the shortened season. It’s about as small as a sample size can be, but he looked good and is only 24 years old. Another 24 year old option is Brandon Bielak, although he had very little success in his debut season, posting a 6.75 ERA in 12 appearances. Finally, Houston still has top pitching prospect Forrest Whitley sitting in the minors. The past few years have been a struggle for the 23 year old. However, the organization liked what they saw from him at the alternate training site.
Free Agent Options
There are some alternative options remaining on the free agent market as well. These players look to be risky options who have a lot of upside, but shouldn’t have a high price tag after rough 2020 seasons. Rick Porcello is coming off a career-worst 5.64 ERA, but he stays healthy. He has started 31 or more games in eight years of his career and 12 in the shortened 2020 season. Jake Arrieta is coming off a rough season, as well. However, they are both former Cy Young winners. At the very least can give veteran leadership and depth to the Astros.
A third option is a bit younger, 30 year old Julio Teheran. Teheran is coming off a dreadful season where he surrendered 35 runs in 31 1/3 innings, a 10.05 ERA, but he did have a 3.67 ERA in nine previous seasons with the Atlanta Braves. These pitchers would help lengthen the Astros 2021 starting pitching options immensely.
In a season where depth is going to be crucial, the Astros starting rotation has solid options. However, if the train starts to wobble, some extra pitching options would help keep the train on the tracks.
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