The Astros are awful. They won only 55 games, losing 107 times, as the worst team in baseball in 2012 (they won a mere 20 games on the road last season). They were outscored by 211 runs, also the worst mark in baseball. But things are looking up for 2013. They are moving to the AL. They have new uniforms. They… that’s about it. Given how embarrassing things were last season it’s hard to get down on any one player from the club, there is enough blame to infect pretty much every section of the organization, but in terms of the on the field product one of the biggest losers has to be flame throwing Bud Norris who went from a being a player on the verge of a breakout to one wallowing in the morass of mediocrity in 2012. But is that actually a fair representation of what occurred?
Bud Norris won six games against 11 loses in 2011, blame the team for that, but he posted a 3.77 ERA, 1.33 WHIP and had 176 Ks in 186 innings in what counts as a Cy Young type effort for the Astros these days.
In 2012 Norris actually won more games, seven is nothing of course, but he also lost two more (13). The biggest gripe his owners will have is that his ERA rose by nearly a full run to 4.65. That’s a number that strikes fear into fantasy players who envision a move to the AL doing nothing to help a hurler. However, I’m here to tell you that all hope isn’t lost. Let me be clear. All hope is lost if you think Norris will actually have his name mentioned in the Cy Young talk, but all hope isn’t lost if your expectations are that you could add this hard thrower late and get a passable season with strong strikeout totals.
Like with James McDonald in his Player Profile the other day, Norris’ efforts look worse on the surface than they actually were. Consider the following data points.
Norris’ WHIP was 1.33 in 2011. It was 1.37 in 2012.
Norris upped his K-rate from 8.52 to 8.82 per nine innings in 2012.
Norris walked 3.53 batters after a 3.39 mark per nine in 2011, but given the extra strikeouts his 2.50 K/BB ratio was only one hundredth lower than his ’11 mark.
Norris allowed less than a tenth more homers per nine innings than the year before (1.23 to 1.16). His HR/F ratio also changed by a mere three tenths (12.0 to 11.7 percent).
Norris allowed the exact same line drive rate in both seasons (21.2 percent). His BABIP went from .294 to .301, and that’s pretty much exactly the same.
His left on base percentage in the two years was only 0.7 apart (72.8 and 72.1 percent).
Norris saw his GB/FB ratio go from 1.01 in ’11 to 0.99 in ’12. It was the same.
That’s a whole lot of the same wouldn’t you say?
There is a legitimate concern with Norris that I haven’t touched on. If he wasn’t on a team bereft of talent, would Norris be pitching out of the bullpen? Norris throws hard, often a key to bullpen arms, but it should be noted that his fastball velocity has gone down three straight years (94, 93.6, 92.6 and 91.8 mph). Part of that has to do with his attempt to locate his pitches better, but it’s also obviously a result of having to throw so many pitches over the course of the year. The second point, and more germane to the talk of moving him to the pen, is the fact that he’s really only a two-pitch pitcher. For his career Norris has thrown his heater 55 percent of the time while throwing the slider 36 percent of the time leaving less than 10 percent of his pitches as a third offering (a change up). Moreover, Norris cut his change up usage down even further last season throwing the pitch just 6.7 percent of the time, a four year low. If Norris was moved the bullpen and allowed to work the 9th inning we might be looking at something with that right arm of his.
One final note. He has some fairly drastic career splits that include a 3.51 ERA at home an a 5.39 ERA on the road so he might be a solid streaming option at home an a poor option while throwing on the road.
Norris is a big arm who pitches for a terrible team who is now in the league of hitters. He’s still worth a reserve round add in mixed leagues, talent and stuff cannot be taught, but the distance to fantasy stardom is slightly more vast than it was 12 months ago.
By Ray Flowers