NAILED IT!

Why the timing is just right for Framber Valdez and the Houston Astros

Why the timing is just right for Framber Valdez and the Houston Astros
It's time for Framber to get his bag. Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images.

What is the holdup, better why is there a holdup in the Astros signing pitcher Framber Valdez to a long-term contract?

Sure Justin Verlander won the American League Cy Young Award and was the ace of the Astros staff last season. But who was the Astros best pitcher down the stretch through the World Series? Who’d you rather have for 2023 and especially beyond – Verlander or Valdez?

Valdez had, by any measure you choose, an absolutely fantastic season in 2022. He finished with a 17-6 record and 2.82 earned run average. But, as Ron Popeil would say, wait there’s more!

Valdez made 31 starts and led the American League with 201.1 innings pitched. He led the league with three complete games. He made 25 consecutive quality starts, a Major League record for a single season. That’s a workhorse by modern baseball standards. It’s nothing new for Valdez, he also led all of baseball in innings pitched in 2020.

When the chips were down, Valdez was at his best. He won two games in last year’s World Series, including the critical Game 2 after the Phillies won the opener. Then he slammed the door shut with a 2-hit performance over six innings in the Game 6 clincher. He has a career 7-2 postseason record.

By comparison, Verlander got a no decision in Game 1, although surrendering five runs in five innings. He eventually earned his first World Series win, giving up four hits and four walks over five innings in Game 5.

Valdez has a rubber arm. He looks like he’s playing catch in the backyard when he pitches. If it’s his day to throw, he’s on the mound.

Last month, the Astros signed Valdez to a one-year, $6.8 million deal to avoid arbitration. He may be the best bargain in baseball. There have been reports this month that the Astros were putting the finishing touches on a long-term deal to keep Valdez in Houston. However, Valdez’s agent squashed those rumors on Tuesday, saying there’s been no discussion between the Astros and Valdez about an extension.

Why not? Keeping Valdez in an Astros uniform for years to come should be job No. 1 for owner Jim Crane and general manager Dana Brown. It’s important that Valdez knows the Astros are committed to him. We want him to be happy in Houston.

Of course $6.8 million isn’t exactly chump change, but you can make an argument that we’re talking about the most reliable pitcher in the American League. Right now, if you had to win one game, who’d you rather have on the bump? I’d take my chances with Valdez.

Yes, the Astros loathe to offer stupid money, long-term deals. But five years for Valdez might be a safe investment. He’s 29 years old and signed for 2023. A five-year extension would bring him to 35 years old. That’s the meat of a pitcher’s career.

As that famous baseball analyst Goldilocks would say, Framber Valdez is not too old, not too young, he’s just right.

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How significant Astros spring training revelation highlights even more reasons for optimism

The Houston Astros had a very successful season in 2023 which led them back to the ALCS for the seventh-straight season, but despite another deep playoff run, their pitching did regress from the prior year.

While many would point to their historic bullpen in 2022 and say they had nowhere to go but down, that doesn't paint the full picture. It was the starting rotation that really fell off in 2023. Justin Verlander, Framber Valdez, Cristian Javier, Hunter Brown, and Jose Urquidy all saw a spike in their ERAs from the previous season.

According to a recent report from The Athletic's Chandler Rome, we might have an explanation for Jose Urquidy's down year.

The Astros and Urquidy believe he was tipping his pitches. Which would explain why the slugging percentage against his fastball jumped from .482 in 2022 to .632 in 2023.

When hitters know a pitcher is tipping, they often start hunting fastballs. Also, his strikeout percentage went down last year and his walks went way up. He had 2 more walks per nine innings in 2023 than he had in 2021.

Part of that could be him aiming for corners and refusing to give in to hitters because his fastball wasn't performing up to expectations.

His WHIP in 2023 really jumped off the page as well. He finished with a WHIP over 1.4. While his career WHIP is 1.143. That's a huge difference.

Back to the big picture

Until last season, Urquidy never finished with an ERA over 3.95. He recorded a 5.29 ERA last year. So when we factor in his shoulder injury that cost him three months of the season, and the fact he was tipping pitches, we believe he's in store for a bounce-back season.

And the Astros are going to need him, especially with Justin Verlander and JP France possibly not being available for the start of the season.

What will the rotation look like early on?

The Astros haven't ruled Verlander out yet, so he could be ready to go. But if not, and we base this off what we saw last season. The rotation will likely include Valdez, Javier, Brown, Urquidy, Ronel Blanco, and Brandon Bielak.

Don't miss the video above for the full discussion!

Catch Stone Cold 'Stros (an Astros podcast) with Charlie Pallilo, Brandon Strange, and Josh Jordan every Monday on SportsMapHouston's YouTube channel.

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