AL West Primer: Houston Astros

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For a second consecutive offseason, the Houston Astros have misplaced a top-25 participant in MLB with out including a confirmed alternative. Does this loss sign the start of the tip for a corporation that’s reached 5 consecutive AL Championship Sequence? Or will the Astros stay Kings of the AL West?

We’ll focus on these questions and rather more. Earlier than doing so, let’s replicate on Houston’s 2021 marketing campaign.

They Had been Actually Good

The Astros completed atop the AL West division with a 95-67 report and a cushty five-game lead over second-place Seattle. Sadly for Dusty Baker and his squad, they fell wanting the final word prize dropping the World Sequence to the Braves.

Houston’s run manufacturing was arguably the perfect within the majors. Eight Astros with 250-plus plate appearances had an OPS+ higher than the league common – Kyle Tucker (147), Yordan Álvarez (136), Carlos Correa (131), Yuli Gurriel (131),  Jose Altuve (127), Michael Brantley (119), Alex Bregman (113), and Chas McCormick (107).

On-base Plus Slugging Plus (OPS+) is a normalized model of OPS that adjusts for park and league circumstances. OPS+ is scaled so 100 is all the time league-average. Consequently, an OPS+ of 150 means a hitter was 50-percent extra productive than the typical participant. An 80 OPS+ could be 20-percent beneath common.

On the pitching aspect, there weren’t as many family names as earlier seasons. Nonetheless, Houston’s employees collectively delivered excellent outcomes with the group rating top-10 in a number of classes.

The group’s most recognizable starter – Zack Greinke – appeared to put on down close to the tip of the season. However the supporting solid behind the 38-year-old carried out fantastically. All instructed, the rotation had 4 pitchers with 20-plus begins and an xwOBA higher than the league-average – Lance McCullers Jr. (.285), Framber Valdez (.301), Luis Garcia (.305), and José Urquidy (.307).

Anticipated Weighted On-Base Common (xwOBA) makes use of high quality of contact (exit velocity and launch angle) to find out what ought to’ve occurred to batted balls. A key benefit to xwOBA is protection (good or unhealthy) doesn’t affect it. This offers us a more true sense of how a hitter or pitcher is performing. MLB league-average xwOBA final yr = .316

The bullpen was additionally efficient for Baker, though not as stellar as in seasons previous. Nonetheless, there have been a whopping 10 relievers possessing a better-than-average xwOBA. The venerable skipper most frequently turned to nearer Ryan Pressly, Ryne Stanek, southpaws Blake Taylor and Brooks Raley, plus in-season acquisitions Phil Maton and Kendall Graveman.

Talking of Graveman and Maton, their acquisitions price the Astros infielder Abraham Toro and Myles Straw. Toro and Straw aren’t the one 2021 contributors not with the membership.

Notable departures: Carlos Correa, Zack Greinke, Kendall Graveman, Brooks Raley, Yimi Garcia, Garrett StubbsMarwin Gonzalez

Not A lot Has Modified

For some purpose, the Astros haven’t made a serious acquisition since proprietor Jim Crane fired common supervisor Jeff Luhnow in January 2019. Essentially the most notable exterior additions this offseason: relievers Héctor Neris, Zac Rosscup, and Adam Morgan, infielders Niko Goodrum and Franklin Barreto, and outfielder Lewis Brinson.

It’s price noting that present GM James Click did add Rafael Montero and Phil Maton to his bullpen final July by way of the Toro and Straw trades. Houston additionally re-signed starter Justin Verlander, who missed final season after present process Tommy John surgery.

Place Gamers

Primarily, Houston added across the edges retaining its core with one exception – Correa, who not too long ago signed with the Minnesota Twins. Administration intends on the group’s number-four prospect – Jeremy Peña – changing the two-time All-Star at shortstop.

Key Place Gamers
1B – Yuli Gurriel
2B – Jose Altuve
SS – Jeremy Peña*
3B – Alex Bregman
LF – Michael Brantley
CF – Chas McCormick
RF – Kyle Tucker
C  – Martín Maldonado/Jason Castro
DH – Yordan Álvarez
INF/OF – Aledmys Díaz
INF/OF – Niko Goodrum
OF – Jose Siri
1B/LF – Taylor Jones
IF – Franklin Barreto

*Rookie
Offseason Acquisition

The 37-year-old Gurriel gained his first batting title producing a .319/.383/.462 slash-line with 31 doubles and 15 house runs. Furthermore, his very good 11.2% strikeout fee was fifth lowest amongst 132 certified big-league hitters.

Altuve might not contend for MVP awards. However the 31-year-old nonetheless managed to hit a powerful 32 doubles, 31 house runs with a .278/.350/.489 slash final yr.

Bregman’s numbers relationship again to 2020 are nicely beneath what followers have come to count on from the 27-year-old. Actually, his mixed 2020-21 slash-line and OPS+ had been 20-plus factors decrease than his first 4 MLB seasons. The more than likely trigger to this current decline – well being. Leg accidents sidelined the LSU product for many of 2020 and for 3 weeks final season. Bregman additionally wanted wrist surgical procedure after the 2021 World Sequence.

Proper subject belongs to Tucker. The 25-year-old clobbered 30 house runs with a .294/.359/.557 slash-line in his first full season. Tucker’s emergence helped offset the lack of free agent outfielder George Springer in the course of the earlier offseason.

Bradley and Álvarez possible share time in left subject when not serving because the Baker’s designated hitter. Nonetheless simply 24-year-old, Álvarez led his group with 34 house runs and 104 runs batted in. He additionally completed second to Tucker in doubles, SLG, OPS, and OPS+.

Brantley’s .311 AVG was second finest within the AL behind Gurriel. He too was adept at avoiding strikeouts with a ten.4% strikeout fee that was third-lowest in MLB. General, the 35-year-old slashed .311/.362/.437 with a 119 OPS+.

With Jake Meyers on the mend after offseason shoulder surgical procedure, McCormick tasks to begin in middle subject. As a rookie in 2021, the 27-year-old slugged 14 doubles and 12 house runs with a 107 OPS+ in 108 video games. Nonetheless, it’s essential to notice he did strikeout much more than most well-liked (32.5%).

Martín Maldonado returns because the beginning catcher with Jason Castro serving within the backup function. Maldonado was a Gold Glove finalist final yr, however had a beneath common bat (58 OPS+). Conversely, Castro delivered a 118 OPS+ in part-time motion, though superior metrics didn’t take care of his pitch framing or total protection.

As with many golf equipment, interchangeability is central to Baker’s bench. That’s the place the flexibility of Aledmys Díaz and Goodrum ought to come into play.

Díaz has struggled with accidents in current seasons. However he’s able to enjoying all infield positions and has 15 profession begins in left subject. Moreover, the right-handed hitter’s 103 OPS+ in 4 years with the Astros recommend he can assist along with his bat.

With a profession 88 OPS+, Goodrum doesn’t undertaking as an offensive weapon. Nonetheless, the switch-hitter has made 10-plus profession begins at each place aside from pitcher and catcher. He’s additionally stolen 10-plus bases in three of his 5 big-league seasons.

Till Meyers returns, extra outfield depth needs to be supplied by former Seattle farmhand Jose Siri, plus Díaz and Goodrum. An alternative choice is Kent, Washington native Taylor Jones, who’s able to enjoying left subject and first base.

Rotation

Final season, Houston tied with the A’s and White Sox for fewest starters used (9) in MLB. However the Astros start this season with McCullers, who made 28 begins in 2021, nonetheless recovering from a flexor pressure suffered within the ALDS.

Projected Rotation
Justin Verlander
Framber Valdez
Luis Garcia
José Urquidy
Jake Odorizzi

Potential Rotation Depth
Cristian Javier
Peter Solomon
Brandon Bielak
Jonathan Bermudez
Tyler Ivey
Hunter Brown
Forrest Whitley

Based on restricted Statcast knowledge, Verlander’s fastball velocity has been averaging 94.8 MPH throughout Grapefruit League motion, which mirrors his pre-surgery ranges. Nonetheless, it’s affordable to wonder if the group locations workload restrictions on the 39-year-old, not less than early within the season.

With a .301 xwOBA that was thirty first finest amongst starters dealing with 500-plus batters, Valdez could also be one of many extra underrated starters in MLB. From a standard standpoint, the 28-year-old recorded a rotation-best 3.14 ERA in 22 begins. I gained’t be shocked if the Dominican Republic native turns into a breakout star in 2022.

Garcia delivered wonderful leads to his first full season, which led to a runner-up end in AL Rookie of the Yr voting behind Randy Arozarena. The 25-year-old logged 155.1 innings in 30 appearances (28 begins) with a 3.48 ERA. His .305 xwOBA ranked simply behind Valdez at number-35.

Urquidy additionally delivered very good numbers – 3.62 ERA and .307 xwOBA. However shoulder discomfort despatched him to the IL twice limiting the 26-year-old to only 20 begins. Whether or not Urquidy can stay accessible for a full season is price monitoring.

The McCullers damage opens a rotation spot for Jake Odorizzi. Three years faraway from an All-Star season with Minnesota, the 32-year-old is trying to rebound after performing beneath expectations in his first season with Houston.

Bullpen

Pressly is an elite reliever and continues because the group’s nearer. The first aid arms anticipated to get the ball to the two-time All-Star are Stanek, Neris, Maton, Taylor, and Cristian Javier. After that, names listed beneath develop into interchangeable.

Key Relievers
Ryan Pressly
Ryne Stanek
Héctor Neris
Phil Maton
Blake Taylor
Rafael Montero
Pedro Báez
Adam Morgan
Cristian Javier
Josh James
Bryan Abreu
Enoli Paredes
Seth Martinez
Andre Scrubb
Zac Rosscup

Offseason Acquisitions

Based mostly on the group’s current historical past, any starter who’s not a part of the rotation may see time as a reliever. Javier is an efficient instance of that follow. In some unspecified time in the future although, the bullpen might have to be upgraded. However that doesn’t essentially must occur earlier than Opening Day.

Starting Of The Finish?

Whether or not 2022 is the yr there’s a altering of the guard within the AL West possible is dependent upon the well being and continued success of Houston’s growing old veterans.

Ages of Key 30-One thing Astros*
Justin Verlander (39)
Yuli Gurriel (38)
Michael Brantley (35)
Martín Maldonado (35)
Jason Castro (35)
Jose Altuve (32)

*Age on July 1, 2022

To be clear, I’m not suggesting this group collectively falls off a cliff in 2022. Maybe age-related regression doesn’t wreak havoc on these veterans. However what if some start demonstrating indicators of decline similar to decrease manufacturing or decreased availability?

The Astros’ lineup does have some insurance coverage with Álvarez, Tucker, and Bregman. Subsequently, slight drops in manufacturing by Gurriel, Brantley, and Altuve most likely wouldn’t essentially sink the offense. However prolonged or a number of absences may show problematic.

Maybe essentially the most urgent space of threat is behind the plate.

Maldonado and Castro are getting into their age-35 seasons. Not best for essentially the most bodily demanding job on the sector. Maldonado has been injury-free in current seasons, which is nice information. However Castro had two IL stints final yr as a result of proper knee discomfort and Achilles tendon soreness. It’s price noting the tenth overall draft pick in 2008 missed almost all of 2018 with a proper meniscus tear.

Doubting the Cooperstown-bound Verlander isn’t advisable. Nonetheless, the Old Dominion alum is getting back from Tommy John surgery, which could be difficult for any pitcher no matter age or talent stage. Subsequently, it’s affordable to be cautious when contemplating what Verlander may present in 2022.

Potential  considerations aren’t unique to Houston’s senior residents.

Bregman simply turned 28. But, the two-time All-Star has appeared in simply 60% of Houston’s video games in 2020-21 as a result of accidents. To assist offset the lack of Correa, the Astros want the wholesome model of Bregman from 2018-19 when he was a top-5 vote-getter for AL MVP.

McCullers’ standing is considerably unclear. Contemplating accidents have prevented him from ever making 30 begins since his debut in 2015, taking a wait-and-see method in the direction of the 28-year-old’s availability is advisable.

The arms of Houston’s inexperienced starters additionally advantage a watchful eye. Valdez and Garcia each set skilled profession highs for begins and innings pitched – after a truncated 2020 no much less. Furthermore, final yr represented Urquidy’s largest workload since 2016 and we all know he missed time twice for shoulder discomfort.

In actuality, the best problem the Astros will face this season is the well being and stability of its roster – not a division rival. So barring unexpected circumstances, the Kings of the AL West aren’t lifeless, but.

Particularly with a postseason pedigree no division rival can match.

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Luke Arkins

Luke is a local New Yorker, who grew up as a Mets fan. After the US Navy moved him to the Pacific Northwest in 2009, he determined to make Seattle his house.

In 2014, Luke joined the Prospect Insider group. Throughout baseball season, he can usually be discovered observing the native group at T-Cell Park.

You possibly can observe Luke on Twitter @luke_arkins

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