Cristian Javier At A Crossroads

Does Cristian Javier's future belong in the rotation or the bullpen?

Since making his Major League debut in 2020, Cristian Javier has utilized a pitch arsenal that is headlined by a four-seam fastball that is effective when used at the top of the strike zone, due to its plus induced vertical break and vertical approach angle. Alternating between the starting rotation and bullpen during his first two seasons in the majors, Javier appeared to be on the cusp of a breakout after an impressive 2022 season where he produced a 33.2% strikeout rate and an 8.9% walk rate over 148.2 innings pitched. Javier continued that momentum into the postseason, including pitching the first six innings of the Astros combined no-hitter in Game 4 of the World Series.

While Javier seemed poised to follow a breakout 2022 with a dominant 2023, Javier regressed to a 23.1% strikeout rate and a 9.0% walk rate over 162.0 innings pitched last season largely due to a regression in his four-seam fastball performance and continuing command issues. Javier is at a crossroads entering the 2024 season, as his performance during the first half of the season will likely determine whether Javier belongs in the starting rotation moving forward, or if his future belongs in the bullpen. Javier has gotten off to an intriguing start to the 2024 season, allowing only four earned runs despite producing an 18.9% strikeout rate and an 11.6% walk rate over 23.1 innings pitched. While some surface-level statistics may indicate that Javier has taken the next step this season, the underlying metrics of Javier’s pitch arsenal raise some concern regarding the sustainability of his early season success and make me believe that he can have more long-term success in a bullpen role.


Four-Seam Fastball


Since making his Major League debut, the four-seam fastball has been Javier’s best offering due to the plus induced vertical break and vertical approach angle that the pitch possesses. These movement characteristics of the pitch allow Javier to effectively utilize the pitch to generate swing-and-miss at the top of the zone due to the “rising” effect his four-seamer has on hitters, allowing for the four-seamer to experience good results despite possessing below-average velocity. Regression in velocity and induced vertical break were a key reason why Javier experienced a decline in performance in 2023, and it appears that Javier emphasized regaining his lost induced vertical break on the four-seamer over the offseason.

Cristian Javier: Four-Seam Fastball (2022-2024)

As shown by the table above, Javier added about an inch and a half of induced vertical break to his four-seam fastball over the offseason, allowing for the pitch to generate more “ride” than it has at any point over the past two seasons. While the increase in induced vertical break is a positive development for the four-seamer, Javier continues to lose velocity on the pitch, averaging only 92.1 mph with the offering so far this season. Pitch modeling metrics are split on the effectiveness of this trade-off, with FanGraphs’s Stuff+ indicating that it has been a positive change while PLV believes that the pitch shape has declined in quality.

I am as big of a fan of four-seam fastballs with plus induced vertical break as the next person, but the continued decline in fastball velocity does raise concerns with me regarding Javier’s effectiveness in a starting role for a couple of reasons. While it is correct that increases in induced vertical break and other movement characteristics lower the bar for how much velocity a four-seamer needs to be effective, Javier is moving close to a velocity threshold where these plus movement characteristics will matter much less. If Javier were to lose another tick or two of velocity due to unfavorable conditions or fatigue, then Javier essentially becomes a two-pitch pitcher with a 90 mph fastball and below-average command.

This is not to mention that Javier is a fly ball pitcher due to his frequent use of the upstairs fastball and is due for some serious home run regression in the future with a HR/FB currently at 2.6%. Second, this continued decline in fastball velocity does raise some questions as to how well Javier will age in the future. This is the second straight season in which Javier’s fastball has dipped in average velocity, and while there is still plenty of season left to get the average velocity back up to ~93 mph, it does raise questions about Javier’s long-term outlook as a starter.




The biggest adjustment that Javier made to his pitch arsenal this season has been the increased usage and improved shape of his changeup. While Javier has been previously known for his fastball-slider-curveball pitch mix in the past, the increased usage of his changeup has provided him with a new offering to utilize against left-handed hitters.

Cristian Javier: Changeup (2022-2024)

As shown by the table above, Javier has dramatically increased usage of his changeup this season, utilizing the pitch 26.6% of the time compared to a 4.1% usage rate in 2022 and 2023. In addition, Javier altered the shape of his changeup, now inducing more drop with the pitch which creates more separation from his four-seam fastball. Pitch modeling metrics love the adjustments that Javier made to the changeup, with Stuff+ now grading the pitch as 137 and PLV as 5.35.

While the addition of a changeup will theoretically provide Javier with a weapon to use against left-handed hitters, Javier has struggled to see an improvement in performance against the opposite-handedness this season, producing a 13.6% strikeout rate and 15.9% walk rate against 44 left-handed hitters faced.

44 hitters is a very small sample size and these results can change very quickly early in the season, however, I would have expected to see better performance with such an effective platoon-neutralizing pitch added to Javier’s pitch arsenal. Perhaps this is tied back to Javier’s longstanding command issues, as changeup effectiveness is often connected to how well the pitch plays off of the primary fastball. Overall, the revamped usage and shape of the changeup has been a positive development for Javier early in the season, and the pitch could be an even more effective offering if he can improve the command of his four-seamer to left-handed hitters, allowing for the changeup to play off the pitch better and generate more swing-and-miss.


Slider + Curveball


Javier has made some minor adjustments to his breaking ball usage in 2024, with the primary change being the near-elimination of the curveball from his pitch arsenal. Javier’s slider has added some horizontal movement from 2023 which should make the offering more effective against right-handed hitters, however, the pitch has also lost a tick of velocity similar to the four-seam fastball.

Cristian Javier: Slider (2022-2024)

As shown by the table above, Javier added just over two inches to his slider over the offseason, while the pitch’s average velocity has declined a couple ticks from 79.5 mph to 77.9 mph. Pitch modeling metrics are split on the effectiveness of this adjustment, with Stuff+ grading the pitch as 104 and PLV as 5.39. While Javier has maintained his slider usage at around 30% over the past two seasons, the curveball has been almost entirely dropped from his arsenal in 2024, with the pitch being utilized only 14 times so far this season.

The increase in horizontal movement on the slider should allow for Javier to see improved results against right-handed hitters, and he is currently producing a 23.5% strikeout rate and 7.8% walk rate when facing hitters of the same handedness. With the improvements to the changeup, it is easy to envision Javier primarily relying on his fastball and slider to right-handed hitters and his fastball and changeup to left-handed hitters moving forward. While the slight drop in velocity on the slider is a bit concerning, even for a pitch with that much horizontal movement as it might make it easier for opposing hitters to identify, this is still an effective adjustment to Javier’s slider and he should see his results improve on the offering throughout the season.


Command + Quality of Contact


Cristian Javier is at a crossroads entering the 2024 season, as his performance during the first half of the season will likely determine whether Javier belongs in the starting rotation moving forward, or if his future belongs in the bullpen. While Javier has experienced a bit of early season success in the run prevention department, I believe that he is due to experience a large amount of regression due to his continuing command issues and positive batted ball luck.

Cristian Javier: Command and Batted Ball Quality (2022-2024)

Using Zone% as a proxy for command, Javier has seen his command decline each year since 2022 and has declined 1.4% at the start of this season. Given the little control pitchers have over opposing hitter’s exit velocities, it appears that Javier’s low Hard Hit Rate allowed will also regress in the future, as a 27.3% Hard Hit Rate is much lower than the batted ball quality he has allowed in the past. Combined with the inevitable home run regression that I mentioned earlier in the article, I believe that Javier will soon meet the regression monster and hit a rough patch in the near future.


Concluding Thoughts


The main question of this article is whether or not Javier belongs in the rotation or the bullpen moving forward, and the answer to this question is quite complicated. The declines in velocity do make me a bit nervous that Javier has a long-term future in the starting rotation, and I am hopeful that he could regain a couple of ticks of velocity if he was moved to the bullpen and pitched one max-effort inning at a time. A move to the bullpen may also help Javier mask the persistent command issues that he has experienced as a member of the starting rotation.

The primary reason why Javier will stay in the starting rotation for the near future is because the Houston Astros currently have a much bigger need for starting pitching than they do for their bullpen. With the equivalent of a whole starting rotation currently on the injured list, the Astros need Javier to be in the starting rotation, and it seems unlikely that Houston would easily move Javier to the bullpen given the significant financial resources they have spent in this area of their roster.

Perhaps there will be an opportunity to move Javier to the bullpen once Luis Garcia, Lance McCullers Jr., and Justin Verlander return from the injured list, and Javier could be a very effective arm in an already deep Houston bullpen. It is still very early, sample sizes are small, and a lot can change between now and the midpoint of the season, but I believe it is more likely that Cristian Javier’s future belongs in the bullpen than in the Houston Astros starting rotation.

Adam Salorio

Adam Salorio is a Going Deep Writer at Pitcher List, and a lifelong Boston Red Sox fan. When he's not talking about or researching baseball, you can probably catch him at a Bruce Springsteen concert.

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