If the season started tomorrow, the Houston Astros would lack a determined fifth starter. The man who made the fifth most starts for the Astros last season – Felipe Paulino – is now Colorado property, leaving the team with Brett Myers, Wandy Rodriguez, Bud Norris, and J.A. Happ as locked-in starters. The season does not start tomorrow – it’s snowing, sillies – and as such the Astros have the ability to collect options and see who catches their eye during workouts and exhibition games. Over the latter part of the week they added two interesting options. Does either have hope?
Ryan Rowland-Smith had the lowest WAR amongst pitchers with at least 100 innings last season. Despite a third of Rowland-Smith’s appearances coming out of the bullpen, his ERA and FIP were startlingly close (6.75 and 6.55). Rowland-Smith managed career worst marks in the following metrics: K/9, K/BB, HR/9, AVG, LOB%, ERA, FIP, xFIP, tERA, SwStr%, and … well, you get the point. If it’s measured on these online pages then Rowland-Smith performed brutally at whatever the statistics quantifies.
Rowland-Smith’s previous 27 career starts suggest he’s capable of being a rosterable starting pitcher in the big leagues. His peak well could be league average, but Houston is asking him to be the fifth starter on a below average team, not the missing link between 85 and 90 wins. Signing the man affectionately known as Hyphen for peanuts and seeing if he can’t bounce back isn’t a bad idea. The Astros’ ballpark makes this a difficult pairing to love, though, as Rowland-Smith has always had issues with the long ball, and Minute Maid Park is a launching pad for right-handed batters.
Compared to the other new starter in town, Rowland-Smith is the more experienced combatant, and one with the lower roof and presumably the higher floor. Give the Astros credit for taking advantage of the Rule 5 draft and selecting Aneury Rodriguez out of the Rays’ system as a potentially unconventional answer to finding a fifth starter.
Rodriguez (who turns 23 tomorrow) spent the last two seasons in between Double- and Triple-A, splitting time as a starter and reliever last season. His strikeout-to-walk ratio over those seasons is something like 1.90. Such a figure does not seem like a harbinger of Major League success, but Rodriguez’s stuff tends to draw positive reviews. Chaim Bloom — one of the folks in charge of overseeing the Rays’ minor league system – once praised Rodriguez’s ability to pitch, citing his tendencies to set batters up and off-speed pitch usage.
Since Rodriguez cannot be demoted to the minors (barring the Astros acquiring Rodriguez’s rights) one has to figure he’ll open the season in the bullpen if not the rotation. That doesn’t necessarily give Rodriguez the default leg-up on Rowland-Smith, as it might be preferable for the younger one to break into the majors slowly, but who can be sure.
With Jordan Lyles close by, neither of these fellows is likely long for the rotation. Still, even if the upside is mediocrity, employing two guys with perceivable upside should provide a more enjoyable experience than seeing Russ Ortiz and Mike Hampton attempt to renew their careers for the umpteenth time.