Jose Urquidy, also talented, is more like a mid-rotation arm, a good one at that.
McCullers finished with a solid 13-5 record, a 3.16 ERA, and 185 strikeouts in 28 starts and 162.1 innings.
Valdez, a talented southpaw, had a 3.14 ERA in 134.2 frames.
He had to overcome a late start to the season because of a fractured finger, but ended up having a great year.
While many consider McCullers to be the Astros’ ace, and he has a strong case in his favor, there is a chance that, after the World Series and depending on how he performs in the early portion of the 2022 campaign, Valdez becomes Houston’s ace.
He at least has a shot at the unofficial title.
To get there, it would help if he has an excellent World Series against the Atlanta Braves.
He had to outings against the Boston Red Sox in the American League Championship Series, and while he didn’t pitch well in Game 1, his team won both of his starts.
The last one, Game 5, was a masterpiece: eight innings in which he allowed just one run, on a homer.
He also struck out five and his sinker was working wonders, earning most of his outs on the ground.
For pitchers, groundballs and strikeouts are their best friends.
It has been demonstrated that batters inflict considerably less damage if they strike out (obviously, they don’t put the ball in play) and if they hit it in the ground.
Well, Valdez’s 70.3 percent groundball rate was the best in MLB among pitchers with at least 130 innings pitched.
His sinker is simply excellent, and it gives him a very nice floor.
Cora on Framber: “I think their guy was amazing. He was throwing harder than usual. The ball was moving. We didn't hit the ball hard at all. I think we had two fly balls, if I'm not mistaken, and a home run, right? Credit to him. His sinker was unreal tonight. Unreal.”
— Brian McTaggart (@brianmctaggart) October 21, 2021
It comes courtesy of his excellent curveball.
The pitch earned Valdez a fantastic 44.4 percent whiff rate, which is the number of times a pitcher earns a swinging strike in comparison with the times he swings.
Astros P Framber Valdez had nasty stuff in his last start against the Red Sox
Boston was 0-for-8 vs his curveball with 4 strikeouts
Valdez has the 2nd-most curveball strikeouts in MLB since 2020 …
— SIS_Baseball (@sis_baseball) October 26, 2021
It means that, when Valdez threw a curveball, batters missed it in 44 percent of their swings, which is a very good outcome.
If Valdez keeps improving his changeup, he has ace potential as long as he can keep the walks under control.
He has been a very solid pitcher for the Astros, not only in 2021, but also in 2020.
The World Series will be perhaps his biggest test yet.
He has had to deal with some adversity in his young career, including the untimely finger injury.
But he has shown he can compete in the highest of levels, and if he can get more starts like the one in Game 5 against Boston, he can quickly ascend to ace status.
He will likely get at least two starts in the Fall Classic.
Let’s see what he’s made of.