It feels like critiquing Miss Universe because she has a few freckles on her arms or because one eyebrow is slightly higher than the other, but the World Champion Houston Astros had a few problems last year that they can hopefully address this off-season or during the 2018 season. Some of the problems are obvious; some are not.
Lefty in the Pen
Even when Tony Sipp was pitching well (and doesn’t that seem like ancient history) the team seemed lacking in this area. With Sipp pitching poorly as he has the last couple of seasons, this seems like a desert with no oasis in sight. Yes, they have right-handed relievers who do well against left-handed hitters. Still there is something about a lefty throwing across the hitter that is just so intimidating. The problem is availability. It does not seem like there is a lefty close to the top in the minors, so this will likely be filled (if at all) by FA signing or trade.
Help from Youngsters
It seems wrong to complain about the lack of help from the youth when you have Alex Bregman and Carlos Correa, both only 23 y.o. in your lineup and youngsters like Lance McCullers Jr., Joe Musgrove and Francis Martes on your pitching staff. . But the moves that the team made the last couple of years in signing Yuli Gurriel, Charlie Morton, Carlos Beltran and Josh Reddick and trading for Brian McCann and Justin Verlander has made the team older. They were 28.8 y.o. on the offensive side (6th oldest in the AL) and 28.5 y.o. with the pitching staff (8th oldest in the AL) in 2017. On the offensive side, the newbies who played significant time were Derek Fisher (.212 BA/ .303 OBP) and J.D. Davis (.226 BA/ .279 OBP) and they were below average. A.J. Reed, Colin Moran and Max Stassi barely got a shot glass of coffee in their small time in the majors. On the pitching side almost all the youngsters that saw time showed poorly. Francis Martes (5.80 ERA) and Michael Feliz (5.63) showed flashes of good, but Reymin Guduan (7.88), David Paulino (6.52), Jandel Gustave (5.40) and Jordan Jankowski (12.46) mostly did not. As the team continues to age, they need to be able to mix in young contributors along the way.
Help from the DH
It is rather ironic that the best offense in baseball had some of the worst contributions from the designated hitter. They were 14th in the AL in BA and OBP and dead last in OPS from the DH spot. This should be a little bit of addition by subtraction. Beltran will not be here and it is hoped that whoever they use in this spot will improve those numbers significantly. Will it be the streaky Evan Gattis? Will a Colin Moran or some other youngster pick up some ABs here? Will they pick up someone from the outside? It will be one of the more interesting decisions by the team headed into the 2018 season.
Add a Little Grey to the Bullpen
With the fall-off of veterans like Sipp, Luke Gregerson and the injury to Will Harris, the Astros bullpen was led by youth, especially Ken Giles and Chris Devenski. In the playoffs having to rely so heavily on youngsters showed itself as a big chink in the armor. It was obvious that adding some gravitas to the starting rotation (Verlander) lifted the starting five down the stretch and in the playoffs. Maybe picking up a grey beard or two who is still effective might help the folks in the ‘pen.
Smarter Base running
They were a very aggressive base running team, and were lucky a few times in the playoffs when the other team missed some easy outs at the plate. But the Astros were only 98 of 140 (70%) in the SB department for the season. That is just too low a percentage and begs for them to either lower their attempts or raise their success rate. The Yankees with a 90 out of 112 ( 80%) success rate would be a good team to model after. This is an area where Jose Altuve (32 of 38) and Alex Bregman (17 of 22) were good, but George Springer (5 of 12) was definitely not.
So, what are your thoughts about the “flaws” on this great Astros team?