Can the 2019 Astros actually improve over the 2018 version?


Every generation normally shares one wish for their children. They wish that the next generation has it better than they had it.

In the realm of baseball, season to season, this is a wish that is difficult, if not impossible to fulfill over time. In fact, it is not always clear whether it has occurred. Were the 2018 Astros better than the 2017 Astros? Over the regular season – Yes. Over the vitally important post-season – No.

At this point in the Astros development, a point where they put together the two best seasons back to back in team history, what are they trying to do? It would be easy to say their goal is to create a team that wins the World Series, but what does that even mean? Do they build a team that they believe is even better during the regular season than in 2018 and hope that translates into a better postseason result? Do they try to build one to specifically address failings they’ve identified in the 2018 post-season version of the team? Do they go into 2019 with some question marks in the lineup or the rotation or the bullpen and then address the questions that are not answered before the trade deadline?

Here are some thoughts about the way forward here……

Starting Pitching

It would be darn near impossible for the Astros to maintain what their rotation did in 2018. The starting rotation was 1st or 2nd in the majors in wins, ERA, WHIP, Ks, IPs, Batting average against, OBP against, and OPS against. The five starters coming out of spring training, Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole, Dallas Keuchel, Charlie Morton and Lance McCullers Jr. started 152 out of 162 games for the Astros. Note… in their World Series year the 5 pitchers who started the most games, only started 119 of the 162 games. Now add-on the fact that McCullers will not pitch this season, Keuchel is very, very likely elsewhere and that Charlie Morton is a question mark for ultimate destination and it is very difficult to see starting pitching as a possible area of improvement.

In 2018, Verlander and Cole were in the Top 5 in starting pitchers in the AL with Morton in the Top 10 and Keuchel in the Top 20. Can JV and Cole repeat their spectacular 2018’s? Can the Astros fill in adequately behind Morton (if necessary) and McCullers and Keuchel? If they find the free agent costs for pitchers and the prospect costs for trading for pitchers too steep, do they stay with internal choices like Collin McHugh, Brad Peacock and Josh James? Do they wait for the trade deadline and chase their next Verlander?

The gut feeling is that the best that may happen here is that the Astros have a rotation that is 90 – 95% as effective as they were in 2018, resulting in a top 5 instead of a top 2 rotation.

Bullpen

The Astros bullpen had the best ERA in the majors (3.03) which was .34 better than the next best team, the A’s. However, in the area of save % they were a pedestrian 68.66%, which was a middle of the pack 12th in the major leagues.

It is not likely that they will improve much on that bullpen ERA, but it is possible, especially with the addition of Ryan Pressly and Roberto Osuna in the back-end of the bullpen that they can improve on that save percentage.

A wild card here is who will be pulled from the bullpen to the starting rotation and whether the Astros go grab more bullpen help before the season or not. Without adding any more help and assuming that McHugh, Peacock and James fill the rotation, an eight-man bullpen could look like this – Pressly, Osuna, Hector Rondon, Joe Smith, Will Harris, Chris Devenski, Framber Valdez (or Cionel Perez) and Dean Deetz.

Bullpen production is generally unreliable year to year and tough to predict. The Astros would be lucky to produce at the same high level in 2019 as in 2018.

Every Days – Offense

If there is going to be real improvement in 2019 over 2018, this is going to have to be the area that leads the way. In 2018 the Astros were a decent, but inconsistent offensive team after being the very best team in 2017. The keys here are pretty simple:

  • Carlos Correa needs to be a lot more 2017 CC (Top of the heap SS – .315 BA/ .391 OBP/ .941 OPS / 24 HRs/ 84 RBIs ) than injured 2018 CC (Middle of the road offensive SS – .239 BA/ .323 OBP/ .728 OPS/ 15 HRs/ 65 RBIs)
  • Josh Reddick needs to come back from his worst offensive season (.242 BA/ .318 OBP/ .718 OPS / 47 RBIs) to get back nearer his best one (.314/.363/.847/ 82 RBIs)
  • The catcher spot between Brian McCann, Max Stassi and Martin Maldonado was very below average on the offensive side. Robinson Chirinos may assist in this, but the fans are hoping for him to be a backup behind J.T. Realmuto or Wilson Ramos or Yasmani Grandal.
  • Between Tony Kemp, Marwin Gonzalez and a bit of Kyle Tucker – left field was a bottom third in the majors offensive spot for the Astros. The Astros either need to obtain a left fielder (or perhaps this is where Aledmys Diaz will end up) or hand the spot to Tucker and hope that his early struggles were temporary like those of George Springer and Alex Bregman when they were first brought up (at much older ages).
  • They need Tyler White to build upon his promising 2018 and prove over a season that he is the answer or part of the answer at the DH spot.
  • The new hitting instructors will be under real scrutiny heading into 2019.

If the Astros can get 3 of these areas clicking they should be a much better offensive team in 2019.

Every Days – Fielding

An area of concern with the team is where they end up in both fielding and in catcher specific pitch framing, base stealing prevention and handling of pitchers.

  • If they are only adding Chirinos behind the plate, they have weakened this area, because he is a much better offensive catcher than defensive, especially compared to Brian McCann and Martin Maldonado. On top of this, it seemed like the pitching staff lost faith in Stassi down the stretch.
  • There is no way that Aledmys Diaz will match what Marwin Gonzalez brought to the fielding side as he moved around the diamond. It is very rare for an infield first player to do what Marwin did in the outfield.
  • If Tucker is the answer offensively in left field, he will need to work hard on his fielding as he looked lost and tentative out there in 2018.

The bottom line is that the best way for the Astros to improve in 2019 will be to try to hold as close as they can to their 2018 pitching and get much more production from their hitters. Now whether that is from improvements back to the norm by the hitters already here or by adding a few bats to the mix, remains to be seen.

So do you think this team can improve in 2019 and what does improvement mean to you?

Advertisements

99 comments on “Can the 2019 Astros actually improve over the 2018 version?

  1. We can win 100 games with the guys we have now. Ours is no longer the toughest division in MLB. That does not mean our present group will be prepared to go deep into the post season. But there is no need for Luhnow to overreact now. If anything, we see how guys like Tucker and James and Valdez and White and Osuna react. If need be, things can get done at the deadline.

    Right now, perhaps oversimplifying, our rotation can’t be as good can it? At the same time, I see bounce back years from several bats.

    So that I might contradict myself now, I still think Luhnow has a couple of significant things he wants to get done. He’s in a good position though. He does not have to make a move now.

    Liked by 2 people

    • You are thinking like I am thinking daveb. They play 76 games against the division. The Rangers and Angels seem like train wrecks. The M’s are re-tooling (gutting themselves). The A’s were very good last season, but the pitching was a bit of smoke and mirrors. The 5 guys who started the most games for them (98 starts) won only 36 of their 97 wins. They had 15 different guys start games. The bullpen won 45 games. Some of this seems unsustainable.
      Anyways – I think Luhnow is not going to overpay in $$ or prospects for anyone here and if it means he goes to war with some guys who have to prove themselves then a) he will learn what he has in some of the young guys and b) he can always fill in with what he needs during the season

      Like

      • And it might be a fun year too. If Tucker becomes the guy most experts think he will be, that will be wonderful to watch. James has really teased me. What if nephew settles in and starts approaching his AAA numbers at DH? Maybe Straw becomes a dynamic 4th outfielder. Maybe Valdez throws more strikes. Heck, he’s got much more interesting stuff than Keuchel.

        I think we’ll see in house talent much more in 2019. And I’m pretty confident at least a couple of them will provide a real spark.

        Like

    • 100 wins, like politics, ain’t beanbag. Given the vicissitudes and vagaries of baseball (not to mention possibly vagrants in LF and catcher), I think the FO has a lot of work to do. Fortunately, there are many opportunities at the moment. So, Luhnow has his work cut out and I think he will get much of it done. It’s really too early to tell about 2019. But as a general observation, it seems unlikely that the Astros will live up to either the historically great hitting they had in 2017 or the historically great pitching they had in 2018.

      Like

      • Thriller, vagrants in left field? Watch it, Grayson might be coming after you. But I get the drift. I’m still hoping for a quality right handed bat that can play a serviceable right and left, in case Tucker, and his other homeless associates do not impress.

        Like

      • Oh my . . . ‘Vagrants in left field’. That may just be too nifty a line to pass up! I just can’t decide if it’s a CCR kind of thing, patterned after ‘Travelin’ Band’:

        Vagrants in left field, Jake’s gone, oh well . . .
        come on, come on, can’t you run a better route . . . . .

        OR if it’s more of a Dylan kind of thing, patterned after ‘Subterranean Homesick Blues’:

        “Vagrants in left field, ‘Tuve’s knee never healed;
        JV’s so stong-willed that AJ’s gonna get him killed;
        look out Cap’n, Bregman’s lips are flappin;
        wishin’ for pennant aint-a-gonna make it happen!”

        What do you think, guys and gals?

        Liked by 2 people

      • How about Steve Miller?

        Well I don’t know why I came here tonight,
        I got the feelin’ that somethin’ ain’t right,
        I’m so scared in case I fall off my chair,
        And I’m wonderin’ how I’ll get down the stairs

        Vagrants in LF,
        Joker’s to the right,
        Here I am Stuck in the middle with you

        Like

      • Grayson – that’s Stealer’s Wheel’s “Stuck in the Middle” – though it is a song that has “joker” in it like Steve Miller’s Joker

        Liked by 1 person

      • I can’t compete with you 70’s buffs, and your Houston music scene. With Austin Memphis and New Orleans, who knew Houston had more than GIlley’s?

        Like

  2. I’m not at all an optimist when it comes to the 2019 ‘Stros, so I’ll stick to songwriting. Theme for 2019: Billy Joel’s ‘Goodnight Saigon’.

    Like

      • Sometimes we swung for the fences;
        sometimes we piled up the Ks;
        Sometimes we ran bases like we were brain dead;
        & turned every rag arm into an ace.

        Evan & Will, good night!
        MarGo & McCann, good night!
        Good night, D.K., and
        Good night, Big Jake
        Here’s a song . . . for old times sake.

        Like

      • Remember Charlie . . . remember Batman . . .
        Remember Keuchel . . . I smell a rat, man . . .
        Correa’s Back? Altuve’s knee [knee, knee, knee]?
        And hey, at 36 what’s left of old JV?

        Can Bregs hit sliders? Will White hit dingers?
        Can Kemp take clean routes . . . like Jake’s and Springer’s?
        Devenski’s change . . . is dull and flat [flat, flat, flat];
        and Peacock’s body’s looking old and getting fat.

        Half of our coaches . . . took off for new clubs,
        and with Marwin gone now . . . we have no super sub.
        And behind the plate . . . we’re pretty lame [lame, lame, lame];
        Watch out for passed balls and wild pitches every game!

        And we will all go down, together!
        Yes we will all go down, together!

        Liked by 1 person

  3. I like being conservative also and seeing what some of these youngsters can do. If the Stros can be patient with Tucker and his youth, I think that we’ll be rewarded with a real asset. I say give him left field for an extended period. The kid, like Bregman just has to much potential and he has no reason now to stay in AAA. I believe McHugh will do well (probably as well as Kuechel) and I think James is here to stay. I have some doubts mostly concerning Peacock. Whitley just may take his spot. Correa and Altuve being healthy will be huge and Reddick just has to have a better year than last year.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I wonder how many offers he will get – there will be some teams that want longer commitments from their FAs, but there are others who will say “Great – a 35 year old who doesn’t want a 5 year contract….”

      Like

    • I like Charlie a lot and I’d hate to lose him. No doubt he’ll get better offers than what Luhnow will pay. Hopefully his comfort level here in Houston will help him decide in our favor. How many guys are 29 and 10 over the past two years? But I’m sure his agent is doing everything possible to convince him to leave town and make a big score.

      Like

  4. If the two guys who occupy the #3 and #4 spots in the lineup are healthy, the Astros are a better team.
    If Stassi and Chirinos are healthy, they are going to be better than a broken McCann, Stassi and Federowicz were last year.
    If Reddick is the career-average Reddick, he will be better than he was last year.
    If Gurriel is 100% over his hand surgery , he will be better than he was last year.
    If Tyler White hits like he hit last year, and is in the lineup from the beginning of the year to the end of the year, they are going to be better at DH than they were last year.
    If Diaz ends up being a utility guy and not a regular, they are better off than last year, when our utility guy had to bee a starter.
    If they get a good hitting LFer, they will be better than last year when they didn’t have a good hitting LFer.
    If Colling McHugh is his normal self, he is an equal replacement for the Dallas Keuchel we had last year.
    If Osuna is better than Giles, we are better in the ninth inning.
    If Pressley is better than Rondon was last year, we are better in the seventh and eighth innings.

    Like

  5. Things I think I think:
    -Hudgens did not get hired away as a hitting coach. Is his loss really a loss?
    -Trevor Cahill is an under the radar addition I would take a look at. He’s a guy whose fastball is 3mph faster at 30 years old than when he broke into the major leagues. He was an absolute steal last year for Oakland.
    -When Fangraphs projected all the Astros hitters to take a tumble last season, I reacted like “they’re crazy”! Now that they are projecting all of them except Bregman and Altuve to make jumps upward, I’m going “are they crazy”?
    -Everybody says “I told you so” after talking about a WS hangover for the Astros. Anybody talking about a WS hangover this year?
    -After all the managerial interviews, why is Joe Espada still the Astros bench
    coach?
    -After spending two weeks in bed with a bad cold, my sciatica is so much better. Is it ok to wish for Carlos Correa to get a bad cold?
    -I thought it was fascinating reading Elias’s comments about Luhnow. He said Luhnow is a guy who craves improvement through change and innovation. He said that during his time with Houston they were open to suggestions and new stuff and virtually nothing was off the table as far as what they could do analytically to improve the performance of players legally. He said analytics went all the way down to the DSL in the Astros organization. He intimated that the organization made the moves necessary to get analytics to everybody in the organization and that today Luhnow is willing to expand on everything they have in the way of technology.
    -That might be why Luhnow goes in many different directions, depending upon the situation. He does not stand in one place or stay the same. He is always thinking ahead and looking at the future from every angle. I think Luhnow learned as much from Mejdal as Mejdal learned from Luhnow.

    Like

    • Along the lines of Boston not taking any criticism for a hangover, why haven’t the Cubs with Addison Russell taken even half the PR hit the Astros did with Osuna? It’s almost as if tainting the Cubs is like tainting MLB brand, while being critical of a mid market is ok!

      Like

  6. Cahill was terrible on the road. How might he be at Minute Maid? Bad first inning guy, but his best inning was the 5th. He only averaged 5 innings a start, but was generally well below 100 pitches. I’m sure he could be stretched out. But I think I’d rather give a guy like Armenteros a shot at fifth starter. Or Valdez. Or Peacock if he’s still around.

    Like

  7. One of my friends, who now works at another company in town is Venezuelan and still has family back there – was just there in November. He has to pretend that he does not live in the US when he goes back – too much crime and kidnapping.
    He says he knew Castillo – says it was just a great loss.
    This has to be hard on fellow Venezuelans like Altuve and Chirinos

    Like

  8. OK – a combination of Mr. Bill’s fine writing and some Jefferson Airplane in the background led me to write this – dedicated to the folks like AC45 who have lost their off-season patience.

    When the Sox win out, each fan sighs And all the joy within you dies
    Don’t Jeff want somebody to sign,
    Don’t Jeff need somebody to sign,
    Wouldn’t Jeff love somebody to sign,
    Jeff better find somebody to sign

    When Keuchel, Morton and Marwin have fled, yes and
    Your mind, your mind is so full of dread
    Don’t Jeff want somebody to sign,
    Don’t Jeff need somebody to sign,
    Wouldn’t Jeff love somebody to sign,
    Jeff better find somebody to sign

    Diaz, I say your bat may hit like his
    Yeah, but in left field, Aledmys, I’m afraid you don’t know where it is
    Don’t Jeff want somebody to sign,
    Don’t Jeff need somebody to sign,
    Wouldn’t Jeff love somebody to sign,
    Jeff better find somebody to sign

    Chirinos is coming to Houston town and that ain’t no jest
    But the pitchers, baby they treat him like a pest
    Don’t Jeff want somebody to sign,
    Don’t Jeff need somebody to sign,
    Wouldn’t Jeff love somebody to sign,
    Jeff better find somebody to sign

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Brian McTaggart makes a couple statements that made me raise my eyebrows here:
    https://www.mlb.com/astros/news/astros-2018-winter-meetings-preview/c-301576486

    1) He says the DH spot is open – does he know something we don’t know about Tyler White?
    2) He says the Astros are not likely to sign either Keuchel or Morton, but Gonzalez is still a possibility

    That is not how I’ve been seeing it – but it does not mean I know anything – maybe he has some inside scoop here.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. He talks about Tucker being “unavailable” but Straw is. What if Straw turns out to better than Tucker? Id like to see what he can do but I’m not running the team. I was impressed by Straw, Tucker not so much, despite what the pundits think.

    Like

  11. I think if Miami wanted Tucker in the Realmuto deal, Luhnow would do that.
    I believe it’s what Miami wants in addition to Tucker that Luhnow won’t pay.

    Like

  12. Nothing I read right now means much, even by McTaggart. But if some club wanted White or Straw bad enough to get a larger deal done, Luhnow would not hesitate. Nephew still might have his best shot at 500 AB’s with a not so good club. Zanuda, Straw looked slick out there for his 9 at bats, but he’ll never hit dingers regularly and that has pretty much become a requirement in Houston. Obviously I like Nephew and I like Straw much more than Jake. I’d sure miss Morton. And I think I will. Does anyone really see Marwin coming back with Diaz signed already? I suppose Diaz could be traded right back out of town. But back to McTaggart. Every baseball writer wants to be right. So they all throw bunches of crap (or scraps) out there. The more conjecture, the better the odds of getting one right.

    Like

  13. In a 7 game series, with all healthy, I believe the 2018 Astros win over the 2017. But they were not healthy in 2018. 2019 team right now, doesn’t win a series against either team. But I have been told to have “patients” so I will.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. I’m kinda late to the party, but I read about Valbuena on the computer early this morning….and I’ve been in a bad mood all day. I remember how much he wanted to stay with the Astros, and how sad he was when Luhnow let him go. He was a good teammate, and there are some BIG questions about the accident. NOW
    I don’t have to tell you how unhappy I am reading the Rays are talking to Charlie. That organization is so screwed up its not funny. The rotation they had last season was upside down. Traded everyone but Blake Snell…..and he’s the only guy they have left. I would hope Charlie would give us another year or two since Strom and Verlander have helped him improve greatly. But, hey we have a $5 million dollar catcher, so we should all be happy with THAT move.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. I’m going to finish my day listening to the soundtrack suite from Pearl Harbor. I will never forget what this day meant to the world and I keep this day locked in. Tomorrow is my 70th birthday, but it means little compared to December 7th.
    I’ve spent all of my adult life as an Astros fan and whatever they decide to do about their 2019 team is fine with me because I had November 1, 2017. That is all I ever wanted from them. They repaid everything they owed me that day. Everything else, is gravy.
    Let’s be patient/patience with each other and try to see the joy the Astros have for us this winter and how it develops in the spring.
    Goodnight, my friends.

    Liked by 3 people

  16. Thanks for the BD wishes.
    My fantasy lineup for today is only considering the guys who are still available:
    Bregman 3B
    Altuve 2B
    Harper RF
    Correa SS
    Springer CF
    Realmuto C
    White DH
    Gurriel 1B
    Reddick LF

    Liked by 2 people

  17. OK. This is important, so listen carefully. My kids put off buying their new John Deere farm tractor until last evening. They put it off because Mercury was in retrograde.
    So, now you know why the Astros have been waiting to make a big move.
    Apparently it is now ok to resume spending.
    Jeff, fetch!

    Like

    • So are you saying they owned an old Retro Mercury Sable that wasn’t up to grade or are you talking about some planetary hooey (yes I used that word twice in one week).
      Well, we can hope the Astros’ computers are in syncs with your kids…,

      Liked by 1 person

      • I will try to be patience until you are able to grasp this concept…that I am clueless about.
        Bill, this is not the time to make up new words for The Age of Aquarious.
        Qr, is it?

        Like

      • i think MR. B is working his way through the fourth dimension, but i have no doubt he will soon reach out with the fifth dimension. and uh 1 and uh 2 …. oh wait thats more like Lawrence Welk

        Like

      • No work whatsoever.
        Spoiled the grandkids
        Music and Chipalatta
        Army/Navy
        Bacon for breakfast and for lunch.
        Huge fried chicken dinner for 15 people in my little trailer in an hour and a Hallmark Christmas movie tonight with anyone who wants to watch.
        24 hours straight of rain.
        Two birthdays to celebrate tonight so I wanted Apple pie and ice cream and my daughter in law loves strawberry cake. We will have both.
        Tomorrow, I pay dearly, and then watch the Texans.
        This is a good day.
        Thanks, to all of you.

        Liked by 2 people

  18. I’ve run out of patience. Time to call the Doctor.
    Doctor, Doctor, Doctor, Doctor. (KPax)
    Doctor My Eyes have seen the years….(Jackson Browne)
    Doctor, Doctor, tell me the news, I’ve got a bad case of loving you (Robert Palmer)
    Doctor Robert (Beatles)
    Doctor, doctor, can’t you see I’m burning, burning (Thompson Twins)

    Liked by 2 people

  19. Happy 70th OP…….you are almost a month older than me. My 70th will be January 5th. Glad you had a festive birthday celebration! I apologize for being rather snippy about Chirinos. I’ll let it go, it only makes me appear petty. My only hope right now, is not losing Charlie to the most disfunctionional baseball team in the MLB. Becky⚾

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m just glad you are here, baby sister! You fight the battles. I’m hoping that Chirinos does something great for us next season and you adopt him.

      Like

    • becky i think after all you have been through the last couple of years you have the right to be snippy any time you like. and an early happy birthday to you!

      Like

  20. Thanks OP.
    The police have arrested 4 men in connection with the awful car accident in Venezuela yesterday. Caught them yesterday with the personal belongings of all 4 of the guys in the car. This news should not surprise any of us, watching the complete destruction of their country, both guys were really good teammates.

    Like

  21. As one who went past his 70th birthday a few years back, we forget how blessed we are to have seen all we have seen – and then we read about Luis Valbuena cut off at such a young age. It has been said that after 3 score and ten, we are on borrowed time. So let’s enjoy it because those that left early can no longer.

    Like

  22. Speaking on sportswriters again and their tendency to throw crap (scraps) out there hoping for a match, some guy by the name of Conner Byrne has suggested the Astros have an interest in Josh Harrison, infielder with the Pirates. Don’t be ashamed if you don’t know the name. I didn’t. So what could we possibly want with a guy like Josh Harrison? Back to the Texans now.

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s