One would think that with the success that Justin Verlander has had this season, he would be the unquestioned ace of the Houston Astros‘ staff. However, Framber Valdez and Cristian Javier have authored some incredible pitching performances in recent starts. With these amazing outings, the pair have nearly matched Verlander statistically on the season. The two have really ascended, and now the Astros have a three-headed monster at the top of the rotation. Here is a breakdown of why the Astros’ stars, Valdez and Javier, have had so much success in 2022.
The key to Valdez’ success is his sinker/curveball combination. He throws these pitches 51% and 27.8% of the time respectively. The sinker is the big reason why Valdez has a 67.6% ground ball rate. Meanwhile, the curveball is the main swing-and-miss pitch, registering 55 of his 93 strikeouts on the pitch. Valdez’ curveball is in the 91st percentile in terms of spin according to Baseball Savant. Opponents are hitting .159 on the curve.
When facing lefties, Valdez breaks out a cutter. The left-handed pitcher has only thrown the pitch 104 times this year, but 85 of them have been against left-handed batters. His cutter has been extremely effective, registering 37.3 whiff percentage and a .107 batting average against. In 29 plate appearances that end in a cutter, 13 have ended in strikeouts.
Across 16 starts, spanning 101 innings, Valdez is 8–3 with a 2.67 ERA. The 28-year old is averaging just 8.3 strikeouts per nine innings, but struck out 13 in six innings in his last start against the Los Angeles Angels. After this impressive performance, Valdez now has a league-leading 14 quality starts.
Javier is essentially a two-pitch pitcher, throwing a fastball, and a slider a combined 88.6% of the time. He throws the fastball 61.5% of the time and the slider 27.1% of the time. With the amount of success Javier has had with them, it’s all he really needs. Javier has one of the best four-seamers in the game this season. Opponents are hitting .151 off the pitch with one homer. Of Javier’s 95 strikeouts on the season, 60 have been on the fastball. However, his big swing-and-miss pitch has been his slider. Batters have a 37.9 whiff percentage on the pitch according to Baseball Savant. In 64 plate appearances ending with a slider, 30 have ended in a strikeout. Overall, hitters have a .186 batting average on the pitch.
In 15 appearances this season, 11 starts, Javier is 6–3 with a 2.58 ERA. Across 69 2/3 innings, the 25-year old has struck out a team-leading 95 batters. This equals out to a rate of 12.3 strikeouts per nine innings. A big chunk of these K’s have come in the past two starts against the New York Yankees and the Los Angeles Angels. Javier has pitched 14 innings in that span, giving up one hit, one walk, and one run while striking out 27.
Even after missing basically two seasons, Verlander is leading the Astros’ rotation once again. With an ERA just a tick above two, he is as good as he has ever been. However, with the way that Valdez and Javier have pitched for the Astros, Verlander isn’t the only one with the title of ‘Ace.’ Meanwhile, Jake Odorizzi returned from the IL on Monday and Lance McCullers Jr. is starting to face live hitters. Luis Garcia and Jose Urquidy have also pitched well. The Astros may have the deepest rotation in the league, especially when they get fully healthy.
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