So, Kris Bryant is now a major league third baseman. He’s not 4-for-4 with four home runs after one game, but I’m sure he’ll be bashing them out of the Friendly Confines soon.
Carlos Rodon is in AAA and on the verge of the majors, so far pitching well at AAA for the White Sox organization.
No disrespect to Luis Valbuena, but what if Bryant had been the top pick in 2013 instead of Mark Appel? And what if the Astros had picked Rodon (college experience) instead of the high school kid with the bum elbow in 2014?
Right now the Astros would be promoting Bryant to fill in for Marwin Gonzalez who had been filing in at third while Bryant passes that magical contract day, and Rodon would be on the verge of the Astros’ rotation. Meanwhile, some other team would be happy with Appel at AA and while a third team would be dealing with whatever decision it had made on Brady Aiken and his elbow.
The organization would be better. This team would be better.
In the end, Appel may end up being a great pitcher, fitting in nicely alongside Dallas Keuchel and Collin McHugh in the Houston rotation. And maybe whoever the Astros get with that second pick this summer will be a better choice than Aiken and his aching elbow.
Observations Thus Far
All that said, this is still a good-looking team. But, yeah, there are problems.
As of Friday morning, the Astros have struck out 90 times in nine games. I think we can all do that math. And if that rate holds, Houston is looking at 1,620 Ks on the season. That would shatter the old record. Shatter it hard. (Good news update, only 5 Ks Friday night.)
That, combined with the lowest batting average in the majors, has led to some ugly offensive games. At the same time frame, Houston is tied with Milwaukee with the fewest runs scored (23). But Houston is tied for 5th with 11 home runs and is pretty middle-of-the-pack on total bases (107 at 21st place).
So, how has Houston been winning? Well, a team ERA of 2.75 (6th) certainly helps. While the starters are posting a 3.53 ERA (10th), the Houston bullpen is allowing 1.59 runs per nine innings (3rd best) against the league.
Yes, the bullpen has improved.
And while I doubt Houston’s staff can keep it up at these rates, I also doubt the offense will continue its miserable ways. Chris Carter will start hitting at a sustained .250 clip, knocking homers every three or four games. George Springer will probably hit even better. I’d expect both to break out at any moment. I can’t believe Jose Altuve won’t be a .320 hitter by the time the season ends, which means he’ll be on a tear for months eventually.
The bigger question is this: What kind of hitter is Jake Marisnick? JFSF isn’t just beating out slow rollers and dinking singles in front of outfielders. He’s hitting the ball with authority. He’s got a homer, a triple and a double already. All that and his defense.
As Dan asked on the Free Blog Weekend, how do we feel about Keuchel and McHugh?
The other day, Fangraphs ran an article on Keuchel about how he’s essentially the ace Houston has been looking for. But the fact is, McHugh is every bit as effective and solid as Keuchel. If Scott Feldman can be a bit more consistent, and either Brad Peacock, Brett Oberholtzer or Asher Wojciechowski can man those last two spots (I think Roberto Hernandez doesn’t make it out of May for Houston), then the rotation can hold up its end of the bargain.
What We Will See
So, as we march toward the end of April, here are a few questions:
1. Does anyone miss Dexter Fowler? Some saw him as Houston’s big offseason loss. But if Marisnick can keep hitting with some authority, keep his average around .290 or so, Springer can get on track and Rasmus can be about what we all thought he’d be, then this will be an amazing outfield. Good to great on offense. Excellent defense.
2. Are Keuchel and McHugh aces in your books? Name me a staff where Keuchel would not be, at least, the second-best starter. Washington maybe? Detroit when everyone is healthy? Name me a staff where McHugh wouldn’t be a standout. Frankly, he’d be the ace in many places, I think.
3. Are you worried about the offense? Which is more sustainable, the Astros’ bad offense or its great pitching? Which is in line for a bigger correction? (In other words, when Houston’s offense finally starts hitting, will its pitching turn as bad as the offense was?) Are the Ks a real problem?
4. Has all the early season honoring of Altuve been a part of his problem? Awards every night, movie premieres. Now that all the fanfare is dying off, do you expect Altuve to start looking like the guy who deserved all that hoopla?
5. After nine games last season, the Astros were 3-6. Is 4-5 really that much better? They are now 4-6 (morning update). How important are these next two games for a successful April?
6. Two things that have happened twice are bugging me. Twice, Altuve has been picked off leading off a bag. Twice we’ve had runners dead to rights at home plate only to see them magically slide around a tag. How does this happen at the Major League level? Is this bad coaching, that stupid plate-blocking rule or just dumb bad luck?
7. Do we even make that trade for Valbuena and Dan Straily if we have Kris Bryant … and Carlos Rodon? Would you be happy with an outfield of Fowler (LF), Marisnick (CF) and Springer (RF)?
8. And finally, is it fair to look back on those drafts with 20-20 hindsight? The thing that amazes me is that we hear all about how Luhnow and Co. were thinking of Colin Moran over Appel. Now Moran was the No. 6 pick, so it’s not like he shouldn’t have been in the discussion, but does that mean the Astros totally — TOTALLY — overlooked Bryant? And did Luhnow let Rodon’s senior year, when he was merely great and not superhuman, lead the Astros to pick Achin’? It’s odd how Luhnow can go from the non-safe pick (Carlos Correa) to the safe pick (Appel) to the non-safe pick (Aiken) from year to year to year.
9. Does Mike Trout rise to the level of Pujols-ian hate for you?