After a season that came up 8 outs short of the trophy, it is time to hand out the ChipalattAwards for the 2019 Houston Astros. As always, this is one person’s opinion and all other voices are welcome.
Best Position Player. Alex Bregman.
It is easy to pick on Bregman in retrospect. His playoff performance did not match his regular season. He hit only .250 with runners in scoring position during the regular season (though his OPS was still a solid .889). He had another slow start to the year….he was still only hitting .259 BA through the end of July. Yes, if he ever starts hitting a little earlier he will be unbelievable. Yes, if he hits better with RISP (like he did in 2018) he will be even more awesome. Yes, if he would not stand there and stare at his HRs in the playoffs, the baseball gods might not bring bad karma on his and the Astros’ heads.
But the man was only 25 this season and he led the Astros in runs scored (122), HRs (41), RBIs (112), walks (119) and OBP (.423). Down the stretch he was incredible putting up a slash of .372 BA/ .486 OBP/ .750 SLG/ 1.236 OPS the last two months of the season. He has had to carry the load while Altuve, Correa and Springer missed time the last two seasons. Maybe if there is more health around him, he will take another step in his development in 2020.
Runner-up. George Springer.
This was George’s best season only tamped down by the 122 games he played due to injury. His .292 BA/ .383 OBP/ .974 OPS was the best slash of his career. If you projected his 96 runs/ 39 HRs/ 96 RBIs to 156 games (the number of games Bregman played this season) he would be at 122 runs/50 HRs/122 RBIs and he would have been the guy challenging Mike Trout for MVP this season.
2018 Best Position Player – Alex Bregman / Runner-up Yuli Gurriel
Best Starting Pitcher. Gerrit Cole.
First of all this pick has nothing to do with the post season. But honestly, if someone gave this to Justin Verlander instead (which may happen in the Cy Young Award race), I would not have heart burn over this. Cole trailed Verlander by one win with 20 wins, but had a better winning percentage (.800). He had a slightly better ERA (2.50) and of course his 326 Ks and 13.8 Ks/9 IP led all of baseball. The biggest reasons to give this to Cole have to do with him settling in after a few poor starts and not losing from the end of May to the end of the season and also how many dominating starts he had. He had 6 starts where he gave up 0 runs, 13 starts where he gave up 1 run and 7 starts where he gave up 2 runs. JV was good at this too, but a few games less than Cole.
Runner-up. Justin Verlander.
If you wanted to give JV this award there were certainly good arguments for it. He won one more game, pitched more innings (223 to 212.1) and had a better WHIP (.802 to .895) than Cole. And of course he had the totally dominant no-hitter late in the season. The Astros were fortunate to have the two best pitchers in baseball in their rotation this season.
2018 Best Starting Pitcher – Justin Verlander / Runner-up – Gerrit Cole
Best Relief Pitcher. Ryan Pressly.
Pressly gets the nod here over the runner-up for two reasons. One is that he pitched in the most high leverage situations of anyone on the staff. Two is that he was just so unhittable for so much of the season. He gave up 14 runs on the season and 7 of those were in two games towards the end of the season where he was likely fighting his leg issues.
Runner-up. Will Harris.
It is a shame that Harris’ season ended with the taste of giving up two homers in the last two games of the season, because at 34 years old, this was his finest season. 4-1, 4 saves, 1.50 ERA, 0.933 WHIP and he became the solid 7th inning set-up man and even slid back into the 8th and 9th inning down the stretch.
2018 Best Relief Pitcher – Ryan Pressly/ Runners-up – Collin McHugh and Roberto Osuna
Most Improved Player. Will Harris.
Considering Tyler White won this spot last season this may be the kiss of death. Harris more than halved his ERA from 3.49 to 1.50, knocked down his WHIP from 1.094 to 0.933 and had 4 saves as opposed to 0 the year before. And most importantly he became a constant in the higher leverage parts of the game.
Runner-Up. Yuli Gurriel.
Yuli was probably the most improved from early in the year to the end, but he also was one of the guys who had a much better 2019 than 2018. In 2018, he hit for a good .291 BA, but his power numbers were down across the board. In 2019, he set career highs with 85 runs, 31 HRs, 104 RBIs, .343 OBP and .884 OPS. Remember that before his discussion with new Mets manager Carlos Beltran in early May he was hitting a nasty (in a bad way) .234 BA/ .289 OBP/ .650 OPS. Don’t be surprised if the Mets are one of the most improved hitting teams in baseball next year.
2018 Most Improved Player – Tyler White/ Runner-up Alex Bregman
Biggest Surprise. Yordan Alvarez.
Yordan was one of the top prospects in the organization, so it was not a surprise that he was called up after tearing up the minors the first half of the season. The surprise was that he treated major league pitching much like he did the minors. His .313 BA/ .412 OBP/ 1.067 OPS slash was stellar while putting up 58 runs, 26 doubles, 27 HRs and 78 RBIs in only 87 games was incredible.
Runner-up. Jose Urquidy
It was a small sample, but the young man came up and pitched with terrific poise in some pressure packed situations with the Astros looking for help with the Wade Miley melt-down. His 2-1 record with a 3.95 ERA and 1.098 WHIP in 41 innings puts him towards the front of the pack for one of the open starting slots in 2020.
2018 Biggest Surprise – Tony Kemp/ Tony Sipp
Rookie of the Year. Yordan Alvarez.
Nothing more to say….
2018 Rookie of the Year – (Tie) Framber Valdez and Josh James
Most Disappointing. Tyler White.
Some guys lose their chance through an injury or through some bad luck along the way. Tyler was given a “tee the ball up in the middle of the fairway” chance to be the solution to the Astros’ DH situation and blew it by not being in shape. Being thrust into the middle of a lineup where you are not expected to carry the load, plus having so many good hitters around you was a perfect situation, but he punted it. (I wonder how many non-baseball sports metaphors I can fit in here).
Runner-Up. Max Stassi.
Max did not have to be an offensive force to hold down the backup catcher spot, but his hitting was so bad (.167 BA/.235 OBP/ .446 OPS) that it was almost like having a pitcher hitting on days he caught. Well a pitcher not named Zack Greinke. It was not a surprise when he was sent packing and Martin Maldonado was brought back to catch behind Robinson Chirinos.
2018 Most Disappointing – Carlos Correa / Runners-up Josh Reddick and Ken Giles
Top Coach. Brent Strom.
Maybe we should retire this award, but he continued to get most of his minions to pitch out of their gourds in 2019. It helps when you have Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole to work with, but both those gentlemen, plus Wade Miley, Ryan Pressly, etc. pitched better on his watch than for their previous teams.
2018 Top Coach – Brent Strom
2019 Biggest Distraction
In 2018, injuries derailed the team at he wrong time. In 2019, they had the Brandon Taubman meltdown occur at the very worst time as far as distractions go. Will they let Roberto Osuna go to head off any continued hot media attention on this issue? Stay tuned.
2019 Under the Radar. Michael Brantley.
We just did not know how good this guy is. Jose Altuve is another one like Brantley where you tend to take him for granted. Of all the money spent to sign on Free Agents last off-season, the pickup of Brantley may have been the biggest bargain. A professional hitter who gives the team great ABs every time up.
Now it is your turn. Any disagreements with the awards above? Any additional rewards you would like to hand out. It is your turn….