2018 Astros: A preview of the defending MLB champions


We interrupt our review of the Astros’ divisional rivals to slide in a look-ahead for the local good guys prior to the season opener on Thursday.

2017 Astros

  • 101-61 Record (99-63 Pythagorean) – 1st Place in the AL West; 1 GB of Indians for best record in AL, 3 GB of Dodgers for best record in baseball…..oh, and World Series Champs
  • Offense – .282 BA (1st in AL) / .346 OBP (1st) / .823 OPS (1st) / 896 Runs (1st) / 238 HRs (2nd) / 98 SBs (4th)
  • Starting Pitching – 4.03 ERA (3rd) / 1.26 WHIP (3rd) / .243 BA against (3rd) / .721 OPSA (3rd) / 115 HR (2nd best) / 309 BB (5th most) / 931 K (3rd)
  • Relief Pitching – 4.27 ERA (10th) / 1.28 WHIP (7th) / 68% save % (4th) / .234 BAA (4th) / .719 OPSA (7th) / 77 HR (7th most) / 213 BB (7th most) / 662 K (1st)

Summary of 2017

It is hard to remember that the 2017 Astros did not set the record for the best season record in team history. That honor goes to the Randy Johnson led 1998 version that put up a great record of 102-60. However, all fans will take the 2017 team’s 11-7 post season record over the 1-3 crash of that earlier team. Looking at the stats with some time, distance and perspective a few things stand out. The Astros’ offense was almost flawless. Along with all the 1st in ALs, which were also 1st in the majors they did this while making a sea change in strikeouts. The Astros struck out 365 less times in 2017, an insane 25% improvement over 2016.

It is interesting to see that even with all the injuries to the starting rotation, that group ended up in the top three in the league, while the bullpen had overall mediocre numbers. These two items are linked. The bullpen suffered when Brad Peacock entered the rotation. This put more of a load on Chris Devenski and others and gave opportunities to folks like Francis Martes in the bullpen, who was a whole lot better as a starter than as a reliever. The Astros save percentage was not affected by these moving parts because Ken Giles did a solid job during the regular season and did not fall from that role until late in the playoffs.

2018 Astros Offense

There are a number of changes in this season’s offense that may help or hurt certain areas as the team moves forward:

  • The weak link in the Astros’ 2017 offense was 40-year-old Carlos Beltran, who finally played like his age at the end of a wonderful career. Using Evan Gattis as the main DH should improve that output which was near the bottom of the AL. However…..
  • It is likely that the weak link for the offense will now be the catcher position. Brian McCann and Gattis were a great tag team and together put up the best combined catcher numbers in the AL (87 runs/ 33 HRs / 102 RBIs). McCann may start slipping down as his age slides up and Max Stassi will probably not fill Gattis’ offensive shoes in the backup C spot.
  • It would not be a surprise if Josh Reddick and/or Marwin Gonzalez regressed after career years by both in 2017. MarGo in a contract year has a lot hanging on this season, but if they are both 90% of their 2017 production, that will be plenty in this lineup.
  • Jake Marisnick put up 16 homers in only 230 ABs and ended with a very good .815 OPS. His 90 Ks in so few ABs is a red flag that he may not have the consistency to repeat 2017.
  • The Astros are hoping that Carlos Correa, like George Springer before him, finds good health for a whole season (not just 109 games) and stretches that terrific .315 BA/.391 OBP/ .941 OPS over 600 plus ABs.
  • Alex Bregman and Yuli Gurriel now have a whole season at the major league level under their belts. Some improvement, especially by Bregman can be expected this season.
  • If Derek Fisher and J.D. Davis extend fine springs into fine regular season performances the Astros may have a much better bench than they showed last season.
  • Can Jose Altuve add anything else to his arsenal? Will he walk on water in 2018?
  • And waiting restlessly in the wings is Kyle Tucker who showed a lot this Spring training and will be busy polishing his skills until he is needed by the big club.

Starting Rotation

The Astros on paper look like the team with the best starting rotation and the most capable spot starters in baseball.

  • Mike Fiers started the most games for the 2017 Astros and was 8-10 with a 5.14 ERA in 28 starts.
  • Joe Musgrove was great in the bullpen, but as a starter was 4-8 with a 6.12 in 15 starts.
  • Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole should suck up those 43 starts and throw much better numbers in place of Fiers and Musgrove. Cole was 12-12 with a 4.26 ERA, but is young and just a few years away from competing for the Cy Young. Verlander was brilliant after coming to the Astros last season – 5-0 and 1.06 ERA and while he won’t repeat those insane numbers, he could easily be in the conversation for the Cy Young this season.
  • Dallas Keuchel is pitching for a purpose; a potential huge payday in the next off-season. He should bring a lot of value to the team and himself this season.
  • Except for one bad pre-season start, Charlie Morton has looked like the regular and post season hero he was in 2017, heading into 2018.
  • Lance McCullers is the wild card here. Can he turn into a dependable 6-7 inning starter or will he continue to be dominant in small spurts?
  • Behind the starting five, the Astros are strong with Collin McHugh, who won 43 games between 2014-2016 and Brad Peacock, who was 10-2 with a 3.22 ERA as a fill-in starter in 2017 on the 25 man roster. Oh and they have Francis Martes and David Paulino who are a year more mature (we hope) and Cuban Rogelio Armenteros waiting in the wings if needed.

Relief Pitching

The bullpen was the shakiest part of the Astros in 2017, which was totally exposed in the playoffs. But there are reasons for potential improvement in 2018.

  • The Astros added experience to their bullpen in picking up Joe Smith (3-0, 3.33 ERA in 59 appearances in 2017) and former closer Hector Rondon (4-1, 4.24 ERA in 61 games in 2017). Rondon had 77 saves for the Cubs in 2014-2016 and may be here to give the Astros another option at the end of games.
  • First option closer Ken Giles is back after a strong regular season (2.30 ERA and 34 saves) and a crash and burn playoffs (11.74 ERA with a 2.217 WHIP). Was it nerves? Was it the “playoff” baseballs that hurt slider pitchers? He has something to prove in 2018.
  • Will Harris was solid in 2017, but a step down from his outstanding 2015 and 2016 seasons. The Astros are hoping he can avoid the injury bug that slowed him in 2017.
  • How will manager A. J. Hinch use his potential multi-inning weapons out of the pen – Peacock, McHugh and Chris Devenski? Will any of these three float towards a late inning, single inning set-up man? Will any of them be used in “tandem” situations like those faced in the playoffs where they might throw 3 or 4 innings to close out games? It will strengthen the Astros’ bullpen if Peacock can stay out of the rotation for the year.
  • Tony Sipp – will Tony come back from two lost seasons where he was relegated to non-leveraged situations?

Predictions for the 2018 Astros

The Astros all-World offense may regress a tad, but the starting pitching should be stronger and the bullpen has the potential for improvement also. How many wins they hit may depend on how many wins they need and how much they rest their veterans down the stretch.

2018 Prediction – 103-59 and heading deep in the playoffs again.

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108 comments on “2018 Astros: A preview of the defending MLB champions

  1. 2nd game of the year….don’t panic!! I’m more nervous about McCullers pitching tomorrow than Keuchel’s, start tonight. BUT…..the bases loaded *TWICE* and getting no one home, is not acceptable.

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    • one of the reason we did so well last year was the ability to wait on the right pitch. Guys look like they can’t wait to swing at the pitch no matter where it is. It’s obvious we can hit a fast ball but the breaking stuff and off speed is another story. let’s hope we adjust. That’s two games with the bases loaded twice and nothing to show. I believe we’re better than that. Where’s that new guy, “Ted”?

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  2. Skyped with my son in Australia tonight so just finished watching this game at warp speed which was the best way to watch it I guess. Looks like they are going to keep throwing us breaking pitches and changeups until we show we can do something with it.
    Oh well, tomorrow is another day and they need to do a better job.

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    • So far, their pitchers have been able to throw junk for strikes consistently, while ours have not. That’s one of the problems of focusing so heavily on ‘spin’ – higher rates of spin are harder to control and command. Their best hitters [Andrus, Beltre, and Choo] have also been doing a good job of laying off the breaking stuff and making solid contact with the pitch they want. [Of course, since we are in their park, I suspect they are also stealing our signs, so it helps that they always know exactly what’s coming].

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  3. Encouraging things from our first loss of the year:

    1. we got a hit – a double no less – from our DH, who is notoriously a painfully slow starter;

    2. we got an RBI double from Max Stassi – a guy that I wasn’t counting on for any offensive help at all.

    3. Rondon got his job done without any damage.

    4. We reduced our offensive strikeout number from 13 to 6.

    5. Gurriel is one game closer to returning to the #5 spot in the lineup.

    Okay, we’ve got our ‘we lost to the Rangers’ T-shirt for the year. Enough is enough.

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  4. Additional observations about the first two games:

    1. To my chagrin, i think the Texas Rangers baseball club is going to be much, much better than people predicted.
    2. Elvis Andrus is an absolute beast – proving so far to be unstoppable by Astro pitching.
    3. We somehow managed to make Doug Fister look like Corey Kluber for a night.
    4. Adrian Beltre’ may be getting long in the tooth, but he is still playing like he is in his prime.
    5. The Rangers’ bullpen is suddenly looking significantly better than ours.
    6. J.D. Davis and Derek Fisher are wide-eyed schoolboys getting humiliated as the Rangers’ pitching staff schools on how a man’s game is played. I smell AAA.
    7. Alex Bregman is a tremendous athlete but is probably never going to win a gold glove at 3B.
    8. D.K.’s velocity is down yet another tick to start the year, and it does not bode well for him in his ‘walk’ year.
    9. Josh Reddick, we need you.
    10. Our offense will eventually answer the bell for 2018 -but we are probably going to need Gurriel back in the saddle for that to happen.

    Liked by 1 person

      • Dave, I never said the sky is falling. I just recognize that this team has significant flaws as well as amazing strengths, and that right now the flaws are being manipulated masterfully by a worthy opponent. Eventually our offensive powerhouses will find a way to adjust -but unfortunately the smartest and craftiest adjuster on our roster is presently serving a suspension.

        Liked by 1 person

    • Well, Dave, one day when you wake up to the fact that [a] aliens really have abducted Jose Altuve, [b] that a vampire really has shape-shifted into Carlos Correa’s girlfriend and executing a strategy to weaken him by sucking at least two pints of blood out of his neck each day, all the while pretending to be giving him a ‘hickey’, and that [c] Josh Reddick has joined the cast of the walking dead and is being groomed to play a major role in the imminent zombie apocalypse, you’ll thank me for sounding the alarm.

      Til then, could you pass me another beer?

      Liked by 3 people

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