You’ll have to forgive me, I’m a little out of breath. I’m still in the middle of running the victory lap of telling everyone, everywhere last season to draft Cristian Javier at all costs. Can I see the future, you might ask? No, my friend, I am no fortune teller. At least I don’t think so, but I did declare 2022 the #YearOfCJ and watched Javier lead me to many a championship. Am I Professor X? Who really can say?
Now, dear fantasy baseball reader, I have looked high and low for the 2023 version of Cristian Javier. Javier 2.0, if you will. But it turns out I didn’t have to look very far. Hunter Brown was over there sitting in the ice bath in the very same clubhouse.
History Repeats Itself
At this point last season, there were certain things we knew about Cristian Javier. He was in the precarious position of being the sixth starter on a team that featured five strong ones. The Houston staff would go on to feature a Cy Young winner, another top-five Cy Young finisher, and two other pitchers who would combine to win 28 games and have an ERA of 3.82. But they also (foolishly) thought Lance McCullers would stay healthy and that the corpse of Jake Odor(ous)izzi would give them quality innings.
Of course, neither of those last two things happened, which opened the door for Javier to deliver 150 innings with a 2.84 ERA and 11.74 K/9 attached. Javier started 25 games. He dropped his BB/9 from 4.71 to 3.15. He struck out 13 Yankees in seven no-hit innings in perhaps the most dominant pitching performance of the regular season. And then he handled two-thirds of just the second World Series no-hitter in history.
With 2023 almost upon us, Javier is firmly entrenched in the rotation. But the Astros, like the guy who has one joke and tells it every time he is in a social gathering, once again have Lance McCullers listed as one of their five starters. That’s cute. Give me the under on whatever the projection systems are spitting out for him this year. Hunter Brown, the Astros’ #1 prospect and the guy who had almost 10 K/9 and a 0.89 ERA in his 20-inning debut last year, is nominally the sixth starter for Houston.
Like Javier, that should soon change.
Hunter Brown (Curveball 2022)
Run Value: -2
AVG LA: -6
Active Spin: 88%
Spin Based: 6:30
Spin Rate: 2467 rpm
Total Movement: 21.1 In pic.twitter.com/oZoaW3dR3h
— Ian Bach, CSCS (@BachTalk1) February 6, 2023
But the similarities to Javier’s 2022 season don’t end there for Hunter Brown. There are a lot more than potential rotation spots working in his favor.
The knock on Javier going into 2022 was “how can a two-pitch pitcher succeed as a starter in this league?” Even if both of those pitches are freakin’ elite, you need more, right? Well, wrong, actually. Javier used his devastating slider and pinpoint control on his four-seamer to blow by hitters. Those two pitches accounted for 87.5% of his arsenal last year (every once in a while he threw a curveball or a changeup).
Hunter Brown also has primarily a two-pitch arsenal. His four-seam fastball and wicked curveball accounted for 83%-84% of his pitches in the majors during his cup of coffee in 2022 (depending on which site you trust). He mixed in a slider every so often, but he made his money keeping hitters off balance with two outstanding offerings. These two pitches are a mash-up of some of the best stuff that Justin Verlander and Framber Valdez can throw, which limits the risk of hitters keying in on a certain pitch.
Javier and Spencer Strider dominated their leagues with two pitches last year, and Brown may be the next in line.
Walks This Way
Also similar to Javier, Brown struggled at his minor league levels with walks. Across three levels in four seasons, Brown posted between a 3.71 and 6.85 BB/9. When he got up to the big club and under the tutelage of Brent Strom, Brown was apparently told to challenge hitters. He dialed down the walks to just 3.10 per nine innings which helped contribute to his xERA of 2.96.
Brent Strom is no longer in Houston, so a major question for Brown is how will Astros’ coaches instruct him to go after hitters. Will they tell him to throw the almost-unhittable curve in the zone, or dump it outside or in the dirt and let hitters swing away (Merrill)? The fastball is also a major weapon at an average mph of 96.6 last year. Does he challenge the best hitters in the world with that pitch or try to locate it?
I can only imagine the direction will be “Challenge!” when Brown takes the mound. Against his fastball last year, hitters only managed a .167 average with a .233 slugging percentage. Similarly, they hit .148/.296 against the curveball that had the highest percent drop versus the average of any pitcher who threw at least 50 curves. Javier challenged batters last year with his two pitches to great success (photos courtesy of Baseball Savant):
Free To Take Home Today!
At this point last season, Cristian Javier was being drafted at pick 215 in NFBC drafts and was an afterthought in most home fantasy leagues. Those that guessed right on Jake Odorizzi crapping the bed or McCullers getting hurt were handsomely rewarded if they stashed Javier until May. Continuing with the theme, Brown is currently drafted at pick number 260 in NFBC drafts since January 1. He is the 99th pitcher taken in drafts, right before Kyle Finnegan of the Washington Nationals.
Today, Javier is drafted inside the top-70 picks for 2023. And while I may not be ready to proclaim that Brown will jump that high in his second year in the league in 2024, his combination of skills and velocity should go a long way to helping the Astros forget about Justin Verlander leaving for richer pastures. Brown will get 15+ starts this season just due to injuries and stretching to a six-man rotation late in the year.
If he gets closer to 20-25 turns through the rotation like Javier did? His value is going to far, FAR outweigh the price of admission.