Digging back into the Writer’s Block post, here is a question and conversation starter from friend of the blog, Tim.
“How do we avoid the dreaded World Series hangover that the past 4 champions have experienced? They showed the records of the past 4 champions at the ASB and I think the Cubs this past season at 45-43 was the best of the bunch.”
Well to begin to address this question, let’s take a look at those last four champions before we look at our beloved Astros and see if we can discern a pattern to what went wrong.
2016 Chicago Cubs. 103-58 regular season — best in baseball — WS Champs
2017 Cubs. 92-70 — NL Central Champs (12 GB back of Dodgers for best record in baseball) — Lose in NLCS 4-1 to the Dodgers
Quick Synopsis. The overall numbers for the season were not that far off from 2016 during the 2017 season. They were 2nd in runs scored in the NL both years. The starter’s ERA was 4th in the NL in 2017 vs. 1st in 2016 (though it was more than a run higher than 2017). The relievers ERA was slightly higher, but ended up 3rd in the NL.
Editor’s note: ERAs were up across the board last year.
But the overall numbers don’t tell the whole story. Whether it was a WS hangover or not, the Cubs were slow rolling for the first half of 2017. At the end of June they were a mediocre 40-40, but were 52-30 the last three months of the season. Before the All-Star break they were scoring 4.53 runs per game and giving up 4.53 runs per game. After the break they amped it up as they scored 5.71 runs per game and only allowed 4.00 runs per game. For the season, the three elders of the pitching staff, Jon Lester, John Lackey and Jake Arrieta, along with Kyle Hendricks all had inflated ERAs from the season before. The team missed having Dexter Fowler at the top of the lineup as Kyle Schwarber struggled and in the end they put up a good season, but not a great season.
2015 Kansas City Royals. 95-67 — AL Central Champs – Best record in AL — WS Champs
2016 KC Royals. 81-81 – 13.5 GB of Cleveland in the Central – 8 GB of Wild Card – No playoffs
Quick Synopsis. The 2016 Royals fell off in all aspects of the game. They went from 6th in runs scored (724 R) in 2015 to 13th (675 R). Their starting pitching’s ERA went from 5th in the AL to 12th in the AL. The relief pitching ERA rose from 2.72 (1st) to 3.45 (2nd).
A look at the drop-off shows a combination of things led to their downfall. Their lineup, which was not that deep to begin with was hit by injuries as Omar Infante, Mike Moustakas and Lorenzo Cain all missed significant time. Both Edinson Volquez and the late Yourdana Ventura had inflated ERAs and deflated won-loss records and Johnny Cueto moved on to the Giants and put up 18 wins in 2016. Closer Greg Holland left in free agency and while the bullpen led by Wade Davis was effective, it was a little less deep.
The Royals in 2016 runs scored trended down as their runs allowed trended up and a .500 record was the result.
2014 SF Giants. 88-74 (Wild Card) — 6 GB of Dodgers in NL West — WS Champs
2015 Giants. 84-78 – 8 GB of Dodgers in NL West – 13 GB of Cubs for Wild Card – No playoffs
Quick Synopsis. The Giants only suffered a small drop off in wins in 2015 after their WS year. Statistically they were about as good or better as they scored 31 more runs, their starting pitcher’s ERA went from 10th to 7th in the NL and their bullpen ERA stayed solid as 3rd in the NL both seasons.
Basically, what happened to the Giants is they did not improve in a season where slightly above average was not rewarded. In 2014, they comfortably made the playoffs as they were 6 games ahead of the 82-78 Brewers for the Wild Card. Their 84-78 record in 2015 would have made the playoffs in 2014, but with the NL Central going bat guano crazy in 2015, they were nowhere close to the playoffs. The Cards won the Central with 100 wins, while the Pirates (98 wins) and the Cubs (97 wins) picked up the two WC spots. The Giants played just above average and never sniffed the playoffs in 2015.
2013 Boston Red Sox. 97-65 – AL East Champs – Best Record in AL – Tied for Best Record in Majors – WS Champs
2014 Boston Red Sox. 71-91 – 25 GB of Orioles in AL East – 17 GB of Wild Card – No playoffs
Quick Synopsis. The 2012-2014 Red Sox were a unique team. They were the first team in MLB history to go from last place to first place to last place in a three season suite. They are a tough team to analyze. Was 2013 just an anomaly? What happened in 2014? Their run scoring fell through the floor from 853 runs (1st in AL) to 634 runs (11th). Their starters’ ERA rose like a rocket from 3.84 (4th in AL) to 4.36 (13th). Their relief pitchers’ ERA actually improved from 3.70 (10th) to 3.33 (6th in AL).
Looking more closely, the offense was a hot mess. They let C Jarrod Saltalamacchia go and his replacement A.J. Pierzynski could not replace his 14 HRs and 65 RBIs. Shane Victorino, who was huge in 2013 played only 30 games in 2014 and Jackie Bradley was a .198 BA/.531 OPS disaster in replacing free agent Jacoby Ellsbury. Only ancient DH David Ortiz kept up his numbers in 2014. On the mound, Clay Buchholz went from 12-1, 1.74 ERA brilliant to 8-11, 5.31 ERA stinky. Brandon Workman and Jake Peavy (before he was traded to the Giants) combined for a 2-19 record. Even solid years from Jon Lester and John Lackey could not keep this ship afloat.
In the end, performance issues more than anything else told the tale of the Sox drop from the top.
2017 Houston Astros. 101-61 – AL West Champs, WS Champs!!!
2018 Houston Astros. ?????
What could go right:
- Carlos Correa only played in 109 games – George Springer in 140 games
- No returning starter (other than Verlander) had more than the 25 starts from Charlie Morton. Dallas Keuchel, Lance McCullers Jr and Collin McHugh all missed significant time last season along with Morton.
- Justin Verlander should give the Astros more than the 5 great starts he served up in 2017.
- Mike Fiers is gone.
- Alex Bregman and Yuli Gurriel now have a full season of baseball under their belts and they looked better and better as the season went along.
- Carlos Beltran is gone.
- Joe Smith and Hector Rondon bring two more solid arms to the bullpen.
- Joe Musgrove takes it to another level after his move to the bullpen.
- Youngsters like Francis Martes and Michael Feliz improve after their 2017 exposure.
What could go wrong:
- Marwin Gonzalez and Josh Reddick could return towards their career norms.
- WS Fatigue.
- Ken Giles and Chris Devenski lose confidence over their post season woes.
- No matter how good they pitch, Brad Peacock and Morton are not likely to combine for a 27-9 record in 2018.
- Evan Gattis continues to not be a good hitter when DH’ing
- Justin Verlander and Brian McCann, who share the same birthday, Feb. 20th – start showing their ages – 35 and 34 respectively.
- The fact that a number of Astros have switched over to Scott Boras signals a me-first in these guys that has not appeared before.
- The fact that a play here or there could have derailed this team on the march to its 2017 championship.
The plus is that the Astros had areas where they could improve and Jeff Luhnow has already started addressing those. They also have the most complete team they have ever brought to a Spring Training in the life of the franchise. And I think it is important to know that this is the type of club that mentally was able to move forward last season despite having their whole rotation in dry dock and losing two of their most important hitters for extended periods of time. This was a special team and the hope is they did not lose that in the off-season.
- Are there lessons to be learned from the last four non-repeating champions?
- Is this team vulnerable to being big headed or not ready for 2018?
- Do you have any other concerns?
- Does winning the 2017 championship make 2018 easier or harder?