Numbers and statistics can be misleading. Some tell better stories than others and some are absolutely meaningless. Still others can be manipulated or twisted to support most any story. That’s why there are varying interpretations and arbitrators, and that’s why reasonable people reach different conclusions.
When you look at the Astros over the past few years, the numbers aren’t great at all. When you look a little deeper, it becomes a bit unsettling, if not horrifying.
I’m a champion of establishing a long-term plan, sticking to the plan and making a commitment to personnel. Of course, part of the success of that philosophy is finding good personnel, investing in them, sticking with them and providing good support. In other words, give them all the tools to succeed and set them up for success. For example, I’d be quite happy if Gerry Hunsicker and Larry Dierker were still in charge. I’d be good with Bill Brown and Jim Deshaies calling TV and radio.
But since 2000, the Astros have not done a good job building that foundation and establishing long-term viability and stability. Instead, the organization has moved from crisis to crisis. And it started long before Jim Crane and Jeff Luhnow showed up on the scene. The plans, the maneuvers, the personnel decisions, the relationships, the goals and the philososphies have been all over the map. Thus, the horrid numbers, stats, timelines, releases, trades, firings, empty seats, lawsuits, restarts, steps back and, of course, on-field losses.
Here are some of the numbers, both startling and certainly eye-opening. These are the numbers since 2000:
- 18: First round draft picks.
- 10: Number of managers, including interim.
- 9: Opening day shortstops, and none back-to-back since Miguel Tejada (2008-09).
- 8: Opening day starting pitchers, with Roy Oswalt the only repeat (8) performer.
- 7: .500+ win seasons.
- 6: Top 10 draft picks.
- 6: First round draft picks who have made it to the majors (out of 18).
- 5: GMs since 2000.
- 5: Times a manager has been fired mid-season.
- 3: Radio teams.
- 3: 100-loss seasons.
- 3: Playoff seasons.
- 2: 90-win seasons.
- 2: Owners (3 if you count Drayton I and Drayton II).
- 1: Division titles.
And the staggering numbers continue. Regardless of how the outfield settles in, it will likely be the fifth consecutive completely different opening day outfield. Fifth. Consecutive. Completely. Different. Think about that. That means that 12 different players have started in the opening day outfield since 2011. Not a one of them has stuck to start the next season.
- 2011: Hunter Pence, Michael Bourn, Carlos Lee.
- 2012: J.D. Martinez, Jordan Schafer, Brian Bogusevic.
- 2013: Chris Carter, Justin Maxwell, Brandon Barnes.
- 2014: Robbie Grossman, Dexter Fowler, L.J. Hoes.
- 2015: Likely Evan Gattis, Colby Rasmus, George Springer.
Only Grossman and Hoes have a chance to break the string, but that’s slim.
Only Jason Castro (3), Jose Altuve (3) and Matt Dominguez (2) have consecutive opening day streaks alive. As for All Stars, the last time an Astros’ pitcher was named to the team was 2007. The last time more than the obligatory, required one player made the team was 2009 (Pence, Tejada).
Taking in all of these numbers, it’s a bit disconcerting to note that some of these trends may continue for another 2-3 years. The outfield will likely change again to start next season, though George Springer should be a back-to-back representative. There’s a good possibility that shortstop will see its eighth consecutive different opening day starter in 2016 if Carlos Correa reaches Houston.
Of course, there have been highlights. There was a World Series, Houston added a member to the Hall of Fame (Craig Biggio) and featured its first batting title winner (Altuve) last year.
Still, the Astros need to build stability and foster an atmosphere of growth and a trend upward. But spring-boarding off Dan’s weekend post on Luhnow’s risk factors, here are a few key areas where the Astros should focus to establish stability.
- Television. This must be Crane’s top — if not only — priority. If he has no other “wins” in 2015, this one should be it. If it is the only one, most fans would be thrilled. Spreading the TV “wealth” to all of Houston and other markets will appease fans and it will provide Luhnow with the cash to build the product.
- Manager. Luhnow must work overtime to make A.J. Hinch successful. All things equal, Hinch should be the Astros manager into the next decade.
- Build the nucleus and the image. As of today, there is no future nucleus, unless you count Altuve. At least a nucleus that is in place long-term. Within the next 2-3 years, Houston needs to create the image of the organization. Other than Altuve, who will the organization build around for the next decade? Remember the Killer Bs? Remember Mike Scott and that ’86 team? Determine the face and lock into it.
- Share the plan. Fans and media aren’t bought in primarily because they don’t know what they’re buying into. Obviously, it’s not productive for Luhnow to show all the cards, but a general road map would start to build that needed relationship. This is actually an area where Luhnow has improved over the past 18 months.
- Stay the course. Don’t get trigger happy. Don’t get scared. Crane has done this with Luhnow and he should continue to follow that course. Luhnow must build/repair his reputation as a trigger happy — sometimes gunshy (Brady Aiken, Ryan Vogelsong) — GM. Spend more time on building the relationships than running the numbers.
They say you can tell where a man or a team is going by looking to see where they have been. If you take the past 15 years, there’s a mixed bag of numbers, statistics and anecdotal narratives. The next five years will tell whether the downward spiral has been completely reversed or if the dark ages will continue for Houston baseball.
What say you?
- Are you shocked by these numbers?
- Which is the most shocking?
- What’s your 3-or-5 step plan to reach stability?
- Which players would you project as the nucleus (along with Altuve) for 2017 and beyond?
- Which of these is more significant to creating stability: Crane, Luhnow or Hinch?