Now that “other” sport is dead and gone for another year (Unbelievable Super Bowl – but did anyone else think it was an almost WWE fixed final half of the game?), the folks who don’t watch basketball can get revved up for the return of baseball. The Houston Astros’ pitchers and catchers report a week from Wednesday (Yaaaayyyy!) with the position players reporting a week from Friday (Yaaaayyy!!!). And while the Astros go to camp with plenty of professional parts to mix and match in 2017, there are definitely open questions for them to hopefully address before opening night against the Mariners on April 3rd. Here are ten questions the fans hope are answered heading into the season.
- Will Dallas Keuchel V.2015 or V.2016 show up? Keuchel was insanely good in 2015 and pretty bad in 2016, dropping sharply in almost every important category (2.48 ERA to 4.55) / (1.017 WHIP to 1.286) / (8.4 K/9 IP to 7.7) / (4.24 K/BB to 3.00). Was it the nondescript “injury” he hid or was it the change in strike zone by the umpires?
- Can young Lance McCullers Jr. stay healthy? He looks to have TOR stuff with a high velocity fastball and a devastating curveball, but he can’t throw either while on the DL.
- Who’s on first? In 2016, the Astros’ first basemen were last in the AL in RBIs (62) and next to last in HRs (19). With Luis Valbuena gone, the biggest holdover at 1B is Marwin Gonzalez, who is not going to help those numbers by playing a lot of 1B. So, will this be the regular spot for Yulieski Gurriel, who has 5 games at 1B under his belt? Or MarGo? Or more of A.J. Reed and/or Tyler White?
- Who’s first? George Springer was in the lead off spot for 116 games for the Astros and had solid numbers (.261 BA/.362 OBP/.816 OPS). Jose Altuve was lead off for 44 games and was terrific (.330/.415/1.000). Will the Astros do the right thing and get the best hitter in the majors the most ABs possible?
- Can Devo whip it up again? As a long reliever strategic weapon Chris Devenski was tremendous. His stats as a reliever only …. 1.61 ERA/ 0.813 WHIP / 6.92 K per BB / .194 BA against were nails. So, the question is – will the Astros try to move him into the starting rotation or keep him in the ‘pen and hope for more of the same.
- What does closing time look like? Ken Giles was brought here to close and after some early season floundering he did just that. Will he be THE closer? Will they rotate him with whoever might have a hot hand like Luke Gregerson or Will Harris?
- Will youth be served? The Astros had a broad range of players make their major league debuts in 2016, which covered a broad range of results from Devo great to A.J. Reed smelly. Alex Bregman, Joseph Musgrove, Gurriel (OK only a yute in that he had not made the majors before), Devenski, Tyler White, Reed, Tony Kemp, David Paulino, Jandel Gustave, Brady Rodgers, James Hoyt, Colin Moran and Teoscar Hernandez all appeared in games in 2016. Most of these folks will not start the season with the big club and some of them will never get another shot this season. Who will bring value to the Astros? Which other kids will get a shot at the big club?
- What’s left? The Astros’ LFs were poor offensive performers in 2016. This season promises to have some kind of combination of Nori Aoki, Jake Marisnick or Teoscar Hernandez or Preston Tucker or even some spot starts from half octogenarian Carlos Beltran. Will it be better or just different in 2017?
- Can Gattis be Evan better? Evan Gattis‘ stats for 2016 seem to be begging for him to be used a certain way. His numbers as a catcher (.295 BA / .992 OPS) were far superior to his numbers as a DH (.219/.709). Similarly he was much better against lefty pitching (.288/.886) than he was against RHPs (.230/.795). With lefty catcher Brian McCann getting the bulk of the starts as a catcher and Beltran as a DH will the Astros more judiciously use Gattis?
- Who fills out the rotation? The best guess is that Keuchel, McCullers and Collin McHugh lead off the rotation. Who will take the 4th and 5th spots from among Musgrove, Mike Fiers, Charlie Morton, Feliz and Devenski?
What do you think about these questions and what are you most looking forward to finding out during spring training?