Why the Astros are here to stay

When a team explodes on the scene like the Astros have this season there are numerous explanations that need to be explored. As the Cubs will attest, awesome success does not always follow you from season to season. Sometimes serendipity is the best explanation there is. Still, that won’t stop all of the pundits from exploring different reasons why the tide has suddenly changed.

 

Mind you, I did the same thing in this space last time and there is certainly some truth to the fact that they’ve become a team that makes more contact and therefore scores more runs. A team that routinely led the league in strikeouts is now the second best team in baseball in terms of making contact. That didn’t happen on accident. It also isn’t an accident that they are second in the big leagues in runs per game.

 

However, it would be simplistic to say the new additions have put them over the top. Between last season and this season the Astros had five players return that played prominent roles in the regular lineup. They added four prominent players that are also serving prominent roles. IF we Yuli Gurriel that makes five. Mind you, this doesn’t count Evan Gattis or Jake Marisnick because they technically not regulars, but they are pretty darn close.

 

  2016 bWAR 2016 fWAR 2017 bWAR 2017 fWAR
Jose Altuve 7.6 6.7 7.8* 6.9*
Carlos Correa 6.0 4.9 7.5* 6.9*
George Springer 5.0 4.5 6.6* 6.0*
Marwin Gonzalez 1.2 0.3 4.8* 5.1*
Alex Bregman 1.8 1.0 0.9* 0.6*

* Projected

 

A lot has been made of their new depth and there certainly something to say for that, but when you consider the six combined wins above replacement that Evan Gattis and Jake Marisnick are on pace for them you see that these holdovers are projected to be nine wins better by themselves. Add in the resurgence of Dallas Keuchel and Lance McCullers and it is just as likely that they would have been the overwhelming favorite in the division had they done nothing.

 

This is the scary part of the equation. All of these players are either in their prime or are approaching their prime. So, it is conceivable that they will be the standard bearer in the AL West for some time to come. Of course, the Cubs could have said that going into this season and they have had their issues. No one can predict the future and that is the main reason why Jeff Luhnow went for it late last season and into the offseason by adding key veterans at key positions.

 

  2016 bWAR 2016 fWAR 2017 bWAR 2017 fWAR
Yuli Gurriel 0.2 0.1 0.6* 0.3*
Brian McCann 0.9 1.3 2.1* 2.1*
Josh Reddick 2.6 1.2 2.7* 2.7*
Carlos Beltran 2.0 2.3 0.3* 0.0*
Nori Aoki 1.5 1.2 0.6* -0.9*

*projected

 

There are a number of different ways to look at this. The traditionalists will point out that all of these players are on the wrong side of thirty and so the Astros made a trade-off of absolute production for veteran leadership. Depending on which source you want to trust, the projected results will come close to the past ones. So, you could say that Luhnow and company are getting their money’s worth even if none of these guys is tearing the cover off the ball.

 

Breaking things down by position is crucial though. The Astros are in effect replacing their center fielder, left fielder, catcher, first baseman, and designated hitter. So, it is instructive to take a look at what those positions did in 2016. So, you will see the customary slash lines along with their OPS+

 

C: .231/.306/.454/114+

1B: .232/.299/.381/73+

CF: .210/.270/.355/67+

LF: .227/.283/.366/76+

DH: .218/.299/.378/76+

 

Keep in mind that Evan Gattis mashed as a catcher and flopped as a designated hitter. So, Brian McCann may not have been as crucial as the other four, but even if those players produce league average OPS+ figures (100) then that is a significant step up at those spots. In other words, they can continue to be steady and unspectacular while the young pups above continue to dominate.

 

The end result is the second-best offense in baseball and the best offense in the American League. Baseball is a fickle game. What is clicking today could turn into the slump of tomorrow. That being said, the Astros have built a deep team that has a few guys on their bench that could end up playing every day for most every team. That’s why they’ve avoided prolonged slumps up until now where they were so susceptible to those same slumps a year ago.

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