The Houston Astros have a comfortable nine-game lead in the AL West, but they’re still trying to improve. The fifth spot in the rotation has been a team weakness, as Corbin Martin and Collin McHugh struggled to answer the call throughout the start of the season. However, with those two struggling, Houston is turning to a talented youngster in Framber Valdez.
Framber Valdez Earning Starting Job
The Astros starting rotation has been one of the best in the league despite having no answer for the fifth starting spot. Corbin Martin and Collin McHugh have combined to start 13 games with some seriously discouraging results. Martin has only gone 19.1 innings in his five starts, allowing a 5.59 ERA and an 8.42 FIP while walking almost six batters per nine innings. McHugh hasn’t been much better, as he owns a 6.04 ERA and a 4.89 FIP in 44.2 innings of work.
Because of their struggles, the Astros are turning to 25-year old lefty Framber Valdez joined the Astros system back in 2015 and quickly climbed the ranks, making his major league debut in 2018. Pitching primarily as a starter, the youngster tossed 37.0 innings to the tune of a 2.19 ERA and a 4.65 FIP. The lefty started the year in the bullpen, posting a 3.12 ERA and a 3.64 FIP in 26.0 innings of work.
Valdez’ Pitch Tools
Framber Valdez is primarily a two-pitch guy, favoring his fastball and curveball. According to Fangraphs, Valdez throws his fastball roughly 65% of the time with an average velocity in the low-90’s. He adds in an 80 mph curveball which he throws 30% of the time. Every now and again, Valdez throws a changeup just to keep hitters guessing.
The best thing about Valdez is his ground ball rate. The lefty currently has a 62.7% ground ball rate, which is well above the league average. Ground balls are the least damaging type of contact, so Valdez’ success will be directly tied to his ability to keep balls on the ground.
Additionally, Valdez will need to improve his control if he’s to keep the final starting job. The lefty has a 5.29 BB/9 rate in his short career, which is way too high for a starter. Additionally, he’s not a big strikeout guy, which makes it all the more important for him to limit baserunners.
Valdez had success as a starter in 2018, but the underlying numbers suggest luck had a lot to do with his positive play. For one, his 4.65 FIP was a full two points higher than his 2.19 ERA. For those who don’t know, FIP is essentially ERA if you take away batted ball luck. The reason for the discrepancy is that Valdez had an unsustainable amount of good luck on balls in play. The underlying numbers back this up as well, as the lefty had a .213 BABIP last season. The league average typically lies around .300, so Valdez was undeniably a beneficiary of batted ball luck.
Even with luck not on his side, Valdez still has a shot to stick on as a number five starter. While he’ll never be Justin Verlander, his ability to induce ground balls gives him a chance to stick in the rotation. In a worst-case scenario, he can be similar to Hector Velazquez of the Boston Red Sox.
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