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.
- 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.
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.
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.