Sometimes when we think of this year’s Houston Astros’ team as it readies itself for the 2015 season we think of improvement as what happened since they last played in September 2014. The team has certainly improved during the off-season, but this post will look at where they are now vs. the first week of 2014.
Looking back at the box scores from the first 10 games of 2014, it is impossible to not see vast improvement in the likely roster that will leave Florida and head to Houston as outlined in Chip’s post on Sunday.
Here is a quick thumbnail discussion of the various positions in the first 10 games of 2014 vs. 2015:
First Base. Jesus Guzman and Marc Krauss shared first sacker duties and the thought was that Guzman would shine once removed from the pitcher’s park at Petco. Oops! Guzman (.520 OPS) and Krauss (.601 OPS) were very bad, and it will be in better hands with some combo of Chris Carter, Evan Gattis and Marwin Gonzales now that Jon Singleton has been sent down. Big upgrade offensively.
Second Base. This was Jose Altuve, but remember it was basically Altuve on probation. His 2013 season was a disappointment and there were as many people thinking he would play himself into a trade as he would improve in 2014. No one was saying he would go nuts and win the batting title. While the same player is manning the spot this season, there is complete confidence that a great player is manning it this season unlike where we were opening day last season.
Shortstop. Sorry Becky, but Jonathan Villar was the starting SS coming out of spring training last season. Even coming off a bit of a down year, there is no doubt that Jed Lowrie (career .741 OPS) is an upgrade over Villar.
Third Base. There were 77 AL players with the minimum 502 ABs to be considered “qualifiers” for statistical comparisons. Matt Dominguez was 77th in OPS (.586) and OBP (.256). He was 76th in BA (.215) and SLG (.330). Almost anyone with a pulse should be better and Luis Valbuena (.776 OPS) has one heck of a better pulse than Matt Dominguez – another upgrade.
Catcher. Jason Castro was the starting catcher last season and is again. The hope is that his true sea level as a hitter is somewhere between his excellent 2013 (.276 BA/.350 OBP/.835 OPS) and his poor 2014 (.222 BA/.286 OBP/.651 OPS).
Designated Hitter. It is hard to say who was the DH starting last season as four different players (Carter, Dominguez, Castro, Krauss) started at DH in the first 10 games of the season. But just for arguments’ sake let’s say it was Carter last season and Evan Gattis this season. Frankly if you look at Gattis’ 162 game average (33 HR/89 RBI/.791 OPS) vs. Carter’s 162 game average (35 HR/88 RBI/.772 OPS) these guys are cut from the same cloth.
Outfield. Last year’s outfield at opening day would best be called out as Dexter Fowler (CF) Robbie Grossman (LF) with L.J. Hoes and Alex Presley (RF) though other folks like Guzman and Krauss also saw time in the outfield. The best guess this season is that the opening day OF is Jake Marisnick (CF), George Springer (RF), Colby Rasmus and Grossman (LF). Fowler leaving is a loss, but with his injury time off, not a crippling one. Just having Springer in there every day makes the new outfield better. There certainly could be a bomb out by Marisnick, Grossman and/or Rasmus, but there is no more chance of that than there was last season with Grossman, Hoes and Presley. Springer is a game changer.
Starting Rotation. The 2014 opening week rotation was Scott Feldman, Jarred Cosart, Brett Oberholtzer, Lucas Harrell and the fifth starter was …. Dallas Keuchel. The likely five-man rotation in the beginning of 2015 is Keuchel, Feldman, Collin McHugh, Asher Wojciechowski (with Brett Oberholtzer on the DL) and Roberto Hernandez. Last season Harrell and Keuchel were both coming off poor 2013 performances, while Cosart and Oberholtzer had pitched well in 10 game debuts. There is a lot more expected this season and a lot more fear that Feldman, Keuchel and McHugh were a mirage and that some back slide is bound to happen. But this is a better rotation….
Bullpen. The seven-man bullpen starting 2014 was Chad Qualls, Matt Albers, Josh Fields, Josh Zeid, Jerome Williams, Anthony Bass, and Kevin Chapman. The ‘pen for 2015 looks like Qualls, Will Harris (with Fields on the DL), Luke Gregerson, Pat Neshek, Tony Sipp, Sam Deduno and Joe Thatcher. Even if Albers had stayed healthy, that bullpen was nowhere as deep as this season’s bullpen.
Bench. The normal bench last season would have been Carlos Corporan, Marwin Gonzalez, Marc Krauss and L.J. Hoes. This season it will be Hank Conger, Gonzalez, Villar and Grossman. I like this version better, but only a bit.
Slight Advantage: 2015
Comparing the team likely starting 2015 with the one that started 2014, one would be hard pressed to say any particular area from last season is superior to 2015.
1. Is there any area (or position) where you would argue the team started off with a stronger contingent in 2014 than 2015?
2. Which area (or position) is the most likely to improve in 2015 over 2014?
3. Which area (or position) is the most likely to regress in 2015 vs. 2014?
4. Not counting Fields or Peacock who could be on the DL to start 2015, there are 12 players who will not be on the opening day roster this year that were on the opening day roster last season (Guzman, Krauss, Dominguez, Corporan, Fowler, Hoes, Chapman, Albers. Williams, Bass and Zeid). How many do you think that are on this year’s opening roster will not be on next year’s opening day roster?