Aside from reigning AL Cy Young award winner Justin Verlander, the Houston Astros won the World Series last season with a relatively young pitching staff. That’s bad news for American League teams, as the Astros are set to bring back virtually the same rotation as last year, along with two strong auxiliary options waiting in the wings. With that said, let’s take a closer look at the Astros rotation for this season.
Related: Projecting the Royals Rotation for 2023
A Look at the Astros Rotation Options
- LHP Framber Valdez (17-6, 2.82 ERA, 8.7 K/9 in 2022)
- RHP Cristian Javier (11-9, 2.54 ERA, 11.7 K/9)
- RHP Luis Garcia (15-8, 3.72 ERA, 9.0 K/9)
- RHP Lance McCullers Jr. (4-2, 2.27 ERA, 9.4 K/9)*
- RHP José Urquidy (13-8, 3.94 ERA, 7.3 K/9)
Even though the Astros won’t have RHP Justin Verlander back for 2023, the top of the Houston rotation should be just fine for this season. Part of that reason is the dominance of LHP Framber Valdez, who led all AL pitchers in innings (201.1) in 2023. The 29-year-old can pound the zone and induce ground balls with a good sinker, and fool opposing hitters with a plus curveball that has been Valdez’s best pitch. Last season, Valdez owned an impressive 45.4% Whiff% rate on the pitched and recorded 123 of his 194 K’s via the curve.
RHP Cristian Javier blossomed for the Astros last season. The 25-year-old struck out 194 over 148.2 IP in the regular season, and turned in two impressive performances in the ALCS and World Series. Now locked up to a five-year extension, the Astros will hope that Javier will prove to be just as dominant, if not more, in 2023.
RHP Luis Garcia turned in a 15-win season in 2022, just one year after an impressive rookie campaign in 2021. It will, however, be interesting see how Garcia performs this season. Thanks to the pitch clock addition, Garcia is set to debut a refined delivery that will axe the “rock the baby” motion that he’s used throughout his career.
Lance McCullers Jr. missed most of 2022 due to a forearm injury, but pitched relatively well late in the summer for Houston. Despite less-than-stellar walk problems, McCullers Jr. pitched to the tune of a 2.27 ERA over 47.2 IP last year. The 29-year-old did a solid job with utilizing his stuff, including his hard fastball and mid-90s sinker, and has done fine over the past two seasons despite the high walk totals. We’ll see if that holds in 2023.
The Astros opted to hold on to Team Mexico pitcher José Urquidy in 2022, as he should be called upon to round out a very strong Houston rotation. Urquidy won 13 games for Houston last season, a campaign that saw the 27-year-old post a solid 2.1 BB/9 rate. Good control and a keen ability to change speeds at the right time are the keys of Urquidy’s success.
All five starters mentioned above are under the age of 30, and were with the World Series championship team from last year. Should Houston need any reinforcements throughout the season, the Astros could look towards the likes of Forrest Whitley and Hunter Brown. Whitley, a 2016 first-round pick, could finally make it to the Majors in 2023 after he returned to the mound for the first time since 2019 last year. But, health and consistency will be key.
As for Brown, the team’s top prospect and one of our fantasy rookie pitchers to watch, the young righty boasts an fantastic fastball to go along with two very good breaking balls. Brown seems to be the more likely of the two to get time in the rotation this upcoming season, but don’t sleep on Whitley just yet.
UPDATE (2/22): McCullers Jr will miss Opening Day with a muscle strain in his right elbow.