Kicking off coverage of the AL West Division, I have to say that I would have a difficult time targeting any of the members of the Astros' rotation for my fantasy rosters. But there is a job to be done here, so let's get down to the dirty details.
Starting Pitching Rotation Analysis
Potential Rotation Alternatives
ADP designated by * indicates no reported ADP as of date of publication. Projections are based on a compilation of several sources (ZiPS, Oliver, Steamer, RotoChamp), given equal weight.
When Scott Feldman grades out as your number one starting pitcher, your team has some serious problems. Houston is rebuilding, to be sure, but most teams restructuring have some young arms that are creating buzz, and usually a dependable veteran presence for stability. Feldman will give the Astros a decent WHIP and moderate groundball production, but a 2.77 BB/9 will translate into a relatively weak 2.36 K/BB, which is not what you want from your top starting pitcher.
Jarred Cosart is an intriguing young pitcher, but there are blemishes it is hard to overlook in his game. He has battled control through his career, with his BB/9 continuing to grow as he moved up through the minors, culminating in a 5.25 in 10 games with the Astros last season. He does have an elite 94.5 MPH fastball, and that should translate into decent strikeout numbers, which will go well with his extreme groundball inducing tendencies. Maybe he breaks out in 2014, but without control, his peripherals will shoot through the roof, and that makes him toxic for fantasy purposes.
Aided by an unsustainable .273 BABIP and 79.2% strand rate, Brett Oberholtzer burst onto the scene when he came over in the Bud Norris trade with the Orioles. He had 7 Quality Starts while posting a 4-5 record and a 2.76 ERA and 1.10 WHIP in 10 starts. Lacking an elite fastball, and not inducing groundballs, expect a regression this season, and I will not own him when it comes.
Lucas Harrell was a good starter for the Astros in 2012, but 2013 was a train wreck for the 28 year old right hander. Can he regain his 2012 form and be a decent fifth starter, or is 2013 a reflection of diminishing skills? Certainly if he puts up a high ERA and WHIP (5.86 and 1.70 in 2013), he is unusable. If he can start generating more strikeouts with his 92 MPH fastball, keep the ball in the park and continue to generate extreme groundball ratios, such as his 1.97 GB/FB ratio last season, then he could have some value, but he's never been able to harness much control, and that will deplete whatever goodwill his other ratios provide. Could be a sleeper, but let sleeping dogs lie, lest you wake up with fleas.
Dallas Keuchel followed up three consecutive scoreless outings this spring with a real stinker, yielding 7 runs over 4 innings to the Marlins, with one of the 13 hits he surrendered being a three-run homer by Giancarlo Stanton. That outing may have terminated his shot at making the rotation, if the Astros' cupboard was not so barren. Actually, if he can continue his extreme groundball inducing ways, and improve his control (3.05 BB/9 in 2013), he could have success in Houston. You don't need to roster him to wait for those developments, however, just keep him on your radar.
As a back of the rotation pitcher with the Angels, Jerome Williams was nothing exciting. He has had a good spring with Houston, though, with a 2.16 ERA and 1.32 WHIP this spring. Note, however, the 11 hits he has allowed, and realize just why his recent ERA numbers have hovered in the mid-4 range, and why he was available to sign with Houston. As a spot starter, he has been valuable for fantasy, if you need a short term injury replacement, but leave him for the wire instead of taking him late in drafts.
Brad Peacock showed a glimpse of what he could provide after being recalled from Triple-A in August, posting an 8.32 K/9. Unfortunately, he also posted a horrific 4.0 HR/9 and 1.62 HR/9, numbers which have to change for the positive if he is going to stay with the Astros and not make another trip to the minors. He has potential, but it is not being realized as of yet.
There are not a lot of teams I absolutely will not draft a starting pitcher from, but the Astros are tops on my list. You should avoid this morass of uncertainty unless and until these SPs prove themselves worthy of fantasy consideration.
If you disagree with my assessments, or just want to discuss starting pitching, I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. I enjoy comments and am more than willing to engage in discussion about fantasy baseball, so feel free to write.