Aced Out: Hard luck Framber deserves more help

Apr 28, 2023; Houston, Texas, USA; Houston Astros starting pitcher Framber Valdez (59) pitches against the Philadelphia Phillies in the fourth inning at Minute Maid Park. Mandatory Credit: Thomas Shea-USA TODAY Sports

Aced Out: Hard luck Framber deserves more help

Houston Astros starter Framber Valdez has made six consecutive quality starts. He’s 2-4 in that stretch.

Framber Valdez has ascended the throne for the Houston Astros. The heir apparent to being the ace of the staff a season ago behind future Hall of Famer Justin Verlander, Valdez earned his first All-Star appearance in 2022. Framber led the league in innings pitched, complete games, shutouts, batters faced, and fewest HR/9. He set an MLB record of 25 consecutive quality starts in a single season.

Now the affirmed ace of the staff, Valdez has picked up right where he left off last season, with six consecutive quality starts. His only start which did not qualify for a quality start was Opening Day, when he threw five scoreless innings and was on a pitch count.

Yet seven starts into the season, Framber Valdez is 2-4. This despite his 2.60 ERA (last season, he was at 2.82) or 1.16 WHIP (same as 2022). A case can be made Valdez has been even better this season, as his walk rate is significantly down. His 4.5 K/BB ratio is excellent and a huge improvement over his 2.9 K/BB ratio a year ago, mainly due to the fact he has lowered his walk rate from 3.0 BB/9 in 2022 to 2.0 BB/9 in 2023.

It is unusual to see a pitcher with the peripheral numbers of Valdez with a losing record. It is a direct result of an incredible lack of run support, occasional bullpen failures, and key defensive errors.

In Framber’s seven starts, the Astros have scored 23 runs for 3.28 runs per game. While Framber is actually in the game, the Astros have scored 15 runs in those seven games, for 2.14 runs per game, while Framber is on the mound. Eight of those runs came in one game against the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Framber has thrown 45 innings this season. He has pitched with a lead for only 10 of those innings, seven of them came in one game against the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Valdez has been the victim of bad luck and bad offense. He hasn’t always gotten help from the bullpen either.

In his Opening Day no-decision facing the Chicago White Sox, the Astros didn’t score while he was in the game, the bullpen allowed three runs in a 3-2 loss.

On April 4 against Detroit, he was victimized by bad defense and a bullpen that allowed three runs.

April 10 in Pittsburgh, he got eight runs of support as the Astros throttled the Bucs.

April 16 against the Rangers was the exact opposite of his previous start. Houston didn’t score while he was in the game, they made errors, including a key throwing error by SS Jeremy Pena in the seventh. Hector Neris came on in relief and allowed a grand slam to Marcus Semien. Ronel Blanco allowed three more runs in the eighth. Houston lost 9-1.

April 22 in Atlanta, the Astros scored four runs in the sixth to make a winner of Valdez for the second time in a 6-3 victory over the Braves.

April 28 against Philadelphia, Houston scored one run in the seven innings Valdez was on the mound and lost 3-1.

May 3 versus San Francisco, Houston did not score while Valdez pitched six innings, and the bullpen allowed two runs in a 4-2 defeat.

The Law of Averages says this should turn around, and Valdez should get more support as the season progresses. The pending returns of Jose Altuve, Michael Brantley, and Chas McCormick should bode well for the Astros’ offense. The expected increase in performance from key bats like Alex Bregman and Jose Abreu, two righthanded sluggers who have gotten off to their typical slow starts, should also bode well for the offense.

But so far this season, Framber has been a hard-luck pitcher. Don’t let his record fool you. He’s been as good as ever on the mound.

Framber is a legitimate ace. Now the offense needs to treat him like one with some runs.

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