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Houston Astros Pitching Analysis & Projections: 2014 Fantasy Baseball

In a continuation of my last piece on the Houston Astros offense, today I'm going to examine the current pitchers on the Astros roster for the upcoming fantasy season. In case you don't like reading, though, here's the readers' digest version of this one: none of them are draftable in 2014 fantasy baseball leagues, and I mean that in almost every league you might be playing in. At this point, Astros pitchers are relevant only to the extent that they're warm bodies that are taking the mound, and they will thus have opportunities to accumulate stats. If you play in a deep enough league (and I mean something like a 16-team AL only league) where innings are scarce enough to be valuable in and of themselves, then target the Astros on draft day in the very late rounds. For the great majority of fantasy owners however, this won't-- and shouldn't-- apply.

Note: One of the stats I'll be listing is FIP, a stat which some readers might not be familiar with. Essentially, what FIP does is estimates what a pitcher's ERA would be if we stripped away all the factors outside of his control (things like defense) and evaluated him only based on the things he can control-- namely, strikeouts, walks and home runs. It is of course not a perfect stat, but it has been shown to have much more predictive power than ERA, which is why I include it.


2014 Houston Astros - Pitching Staff Preview

Scott Feldman

2013: 12 W, 12 L, 30 Starts, 181.2 IP, 6.54 K/9, 3.86 ERA (w/ 4.03 FIP)

2014 Steamer Projection: 10 W, 11 L, 27 Starts, 173 IP, 6.28 K/9, 4.34 ERA (w/ 3.99 FIP)

As his stats suggest, Feldman is pretty much your stereotypical fifth-starter type. He doesn't excel at much, but he'll keep his team in the game long enough to give them a chance to win more often than not. Sadly, with the Astros' well-below-average offense behind him, he probably doesn't have much of a chance to win more than the 10 games. Steamer has him projected right there, and this understandably limits his usefulness as a streaming option. It should go without saying that you wouldn't want to draft Feldman. His limited upside and low floor combine for a rather undesirable package on draft day.

Recommendation: Avoid on draft day


Brett Oberholtzer

2013: 4 W, 5 L, 10 Starts, 71.2 IP, 5.65 K/9, 2.76 ERA (w/ 3.65 FIP)

2014 Steamer Projection: 9 W, 10 L, 25 Starts, 154.0 IP, 6.23 K/9, 4.64 ERA (w/ 4.47 FIP)

Not to take away from the season he had in 2013, but Oberholtzer is the reason why many fantasy owners shy away from evaluating their pitchers based on ERA alone. That 2.76 ERA last year was a product of a perfect storm of unreasonably low strand, home run and batting-average-against rates, something which almost certainly won't happen again. It's because of this that Steamer has him posting an ERA well above 4.0 next season, and thus he is similarly well outside of normal for fantasy purposes. And this of course assumes that he is able to stay healthy, something which you just can't necessarily expect with young pitchers. Unless Oberholtzer takes a big, big step forward, he's at best a streaming option in very deep leagues.

Recommendation: Avoid on draft day


Jared Cosart

2013: 1 W, 1 L,10 Starts, 60.0 IP, 4.95 K/9, 1.95 ERA (w/ 4.35 FIP)

2014 Steamer Projection: 7 W, 11 L, 24 Starts, 144.0 IP, 6.56 K/9, 5.06 ERA (w/ 4.55 FIP)

Everything I said about Oberholtzer above applies doubly to Cosart. He should be commended for pitching way, way above his head last season, but if you think he has a chance of replicating that ERA, then you're in for a tough season. Cosart might be a viable fifth-starter or back-of-the-bullpen arm in a year or two for a major league team, but for fantasy purposes his value is virtually nonexistent this coming season. Like Oberholtzer, he's at best a streaming option for the desperate in very deep leagues.

Recommendation: Avoid on draft day


Brad Peacock

2013: 5 W, 6 L, 14 Starts, 83.1 IP, 8.32 K/9, 5.18 ERA (w/4.98 FIP)

2014 Steamer Projection: 6 W, 7 L, 17 Starts, 96.0 IP, 7.55 K/9, 4.57 ERA (w/ 4.46 FIP)

The good news on Peacock is that he's got a bit more strikeout potential than most of his rotation mates in Houston. The bad news is that he's going to kill you in every other category so badly that he could have Darvish's strikeout numbers and still be virtually useless to most fantasy owners. As mentioned above, ERA doesn't tell the full story, but based on Peacock's peripherals (i.e., strikeout rate, walk rate, etc.), it looks like it's going to hang closer to 5.0 than 4.0 in 2014. That's a hard player to roster outside of very deep leagues, and most fantasy owners can safely to ignore Peacock, certainly on draft day.

Recommendation: Avoid on draft day


Dallas Keuchel

2013: 6 W, 1 0L, 22 Starts, 153.2 IP, 7.20 K/9, 5.15 ERA (w/ 4.25 FIP)

2014 Steamer Projection: 9 W, 10 L, 25 Starts, 165.0 IP, 5.83 K/9, 4.42 ERA (w/ 3.96 FIP)

I put Keuchel's name here somewhat hesitantly, because the fifth spot in the Houston rotation is very much in play for several pitchers, among them Alex White, Lucas Harrell, and Mark Appel. I think it is most likely, however, that Houston breaks camp with Keuchel in the No. 5 spot, which is why I include him here over the others. The distinction is not terribly important,  though, because outside of Mark Appel, fantasy owners shouldn't be interested in any of these names on draft day. Keuchel is probably the best of the non-Appel camp, and as the Steamer projection suggests, his upside is something that looks very much like Scott Feldman, himself undraftable, and his downside is the kind of ERA that can lose you a league. If he seems solid after a few starts, he might be a streaming option in deep leagues, but I'd probably avoid him if possible.

Recommendation: Avoid on draft day


While the rotation as of now looks unpromising, the Astros do have several exciting young pitching prospects like Mark Appel who could join the team as early as this coming season. I'll cover them in more detail in a later article on Astros prospects in general.


Houston Astros Bullpen

Josh Fields: 5 career saves, 5 saves in 2013 with the Astros

Joshua Zeid: 1 career save, 1 save in 2013 with the Astros

Kevin Chapman: 1 career save, 1 save in 2013 with the Astros

Chia-Jen Lo: 2 career saves, 2 saves in 2013 with the Astros

Jesse Crain: 4 career saves, 0 saves in 2013 with the White Sox

Chad Qualls: 51 career saves, 0 saves in 2013 with the Marlins

At the present moment, it's hard to make very much of this bullpen for fantasy purposes. Obviously, whomever Houston names the closer will have value in fantasy leagues, but until Bo Porter makes that decision, all these guys are in limbo. If I had to hazard a guess, I'd say the most likely candidate for the job is Chad Qualls, based on his closing experience and history with the organization. That said, Veras only had five career saves spread over almost seven seasons before winning the job in Houston, so closing experience isn't necessarily the driving force behind the decision calculus for the Astros. We probably won't get much of an indication as to which way Porter is leaning until Spring Training at the earliest, and of course there’s also always the chance that they stick with the bullpen-by-committee strategy they employed last season after the Veras trade. What it all makes for is a confusing jumble, and until things are cleared up and their roles become more defined, none of these players is really draftable outside of a deep Holds league. I'd keep the situation closely monitored, however, because even a closer on the worst team in baseball can be a valuable fantasy commodity.

Recommendation: Undraftable until their roles become defined. If Porter does happen to name his closer before your draft day however, I'd target whoever it is around the 19th or 20th round in the draft.