Nov 5, 2022; Houston, Texas, USA; Houston Astros starting pitcher Framber Valdez (59) walks off the field after the second inning against the Philadelphia Phillies in game six of the 2022 World Series at Minute Maid Park. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports
Astros Player of the Day: Framber Valdez
Welcome to Gallery Sports’ Houston Astros Spring Training player spotlight, Astros Player of the Day. We will look at a different Astros player each day throughout spring training.
Today’s Astros Player of the Day is starting pitcher Framber Valdez.
Valdez showed that his 2020 COVID season was hardly a fluke when he posted a 3.14 ERA over 22 starts in 2021, but he entered a different class of pitcher last season, finishing with a 2.82 ERA while leading the American League in innings on his way to a fifth-place finish in the Cy Young Award voting.
How did Valdez turn into one of the American League’s best pitchers? He developed another weapon for left-handed hitters.
While righties compiled just .626 OPS against Valdez in 2021, lefties finished the season with a number nearly 90 points higher. They couldn’t touch his curveball, but they went to town against his two-seam fastball. Not only did left-handed hitters bat .292 against that pitch, but they also slugged .438. His two-seamer moves inside to lefties, and he wanted something that would move away. Enter the cutter.
The cutter accounted for 39% of the pitches Valdez threw to left-handed hitters, and they batted .117 with a 37% whiff rate against it, and it made his two-seam more effective against lefties. They still hit .312 versus it, but all 14 hits were singles.
Still, Valdez’s best pitch is and will always be his curveball, but the quality of his other pitches allows him to rely on it much, much less. Valdez used his curveball 28% of the time last season, and its usage has dropped each of the last four seasons, but opponents hit just .146 on it, and they swung through it more than 45% of the time. He can throw it arm side, glove side, he can throw it for a strike, or he can get you to chase with it.
Valdez didn’t throw enough strikes as he struggled through his first two Major League seasons. He walked more than 14% of the hitters he faced, but he’s almost cut that number in half to 8.4% over the last three seasons, all while increasing his strikeout rate from 21% to 23.4%.
Along with his regular season exploits, Valdez turned into a postseason star in 2022 after a mixed 2021 playoff run. After surrendering two runs over 5.2 innings against Seattle in the division series, the Astros lefty won his last three starts, allowing two runs over 19.1 innings. He became the third Dominican-born pitcher to earn two wins in a single World Series, and his seven postseason victories are the most for a Dominican pitcher.
Astros general manager Dana Brown has been vocal about wanting to give Valdez a contract extension, but at this point there really is no urgency for the Astros to get anything done. He will still be under team control for two more seasons after this one, so he’d be hitting the market at age 32, not the best time to enter free agency.