The 2020 regular season was a downer for the Astros, but due to an expanded playoff, they were able to sneak into the postseason and make some noise. But even with that, it is impossible not to stare back at those 60 game regular stats and say there are some areas where the 2021 Astros better improve.
Flash Better Slash. Offense was down in general in 2020. The American League average slash line went from ,253 BA/ .323 OBP/ .762 OPS in 2019 to .243 BA/ .319 OBP/ .733 OPS in 2020. The Astros, however, took a much more precipitous drop than the average AL team from a league-leading .274 BA/ .352 OBP/ .848 OPS in 2019 to a slightly below average .240 BA/.312 BA/.720 OPS.
It will be a challenge to do this when they are likely losing two of their best slashers in George Springer (.265 BA/ .359 OBP/ .899 OPS) and Michael Brantley (.300 BA/ .364 OBP/ .840 OPS). Losing Josh Reddick (.245 BA/ .316 OBP/ .693 OPS) should allow them some opportunity for better production from that “other” outfield spot.
The keys will be getting a healthy and stroking Yordan Alvarez back in the lineup and frankly getting improved production from the underachieving quartet of Jose Altuve (.219 BA/.286 OBP/ .629 OPS in 2020), Alex Bregman (.242/.350/.801), Carlos Correa (.264/.326/.709) and Yuli Gurriel (.232/.274/.658). If these four guys could just get back to their average numbers for their previous three seasons, it would be a huge shot in the arm for this offense. It also would help if they could re-sign Brantley or bring in an above-average outfielder through free agency or trade.
Cut the Freebies. In 2019, the Astros bullpen gave up a reasonable 3.2 walks per 9 innings pitched. In 2020 with a bunch of innings picked up by newbies and youngsters this rose to an unacceptable 5 walks per 9 innings pitched. The bullpen worked around this in most cases, but it certainly added to the overall stress on the ‘pen and led to some easy runs at times by the opposition. This needs to get throttled back in 2020.
Focus on Close and Late. The 2020 Astros were only 10-14 in one-run games and a pitiful 2-7 in extra-inning games. They never seemed to adjust to the new extra-inning rule with a runner starting off at 2nd base and stranded way too many runners.
This was a team that had been a solid 67-52 in one-run games over the previous three seasons and a 19-14 in extra innings in those three years. Some of this was due to a very young relief core and perhaps some of it due to a lack of mojo for a team that was coming off an off-season facing the cheating scandal. Either way, top clubs get it done close and late, and the Astros need to show the mental toughness to do this again.
Return of the Road Warriors. The Astros were pristine on the road previous to 2020, going 53-28 (65%) in 2017, 57-24 (70%) in 2018 and 47-34 (58%) in 2019. One of the biggest reasons this team fell below .500 in 2020 was a terrible 9-23 (28%) on the road in 2020.
This points again to a bit of a weakness in character, mojo, concentration or maybe too much being asked of young players. Last season was one where a team on the road had a problem being a team as they were mostly isolated in their hotel rooms during the long hours before and after the games. The Astros did not adjust well to these difficulties. They need to turn that around in 2021.
Where do you want this team to improve in 2021?