Astros 2020: A couple of points for discussion

As the off-season oozes on like a snail caught in molasses, today the blog will offer a couple points on which you fine readers may chew or opine…

Whose Rebound is More Important for 2020 – Alex Bregman or Jose Altuve?

Alex Bregman was second in the AL MVP voting in 2019 to Mr. Everything Mike Trout. He was without question the Astros best player in 2019. Jose Altuve was the AL MVP in 2017 and was coming off 2019 where he had flashed much more power with less, but still very good, hitting prowess.

Bregman went from a brilliant 2019 (.296 BA/ .423 OBP/ 1.015 OPS/ 122 runs/ 41 HRs/ 112 RBIs) to a mediocre 2020 (.242 BA/ .350 OBP/ .801 OPS/ 19 runs/ 6 HRs/ 22 RBIs in 42 games). Altuve went from a very good 2019 (.298 BA/ .353 OBP/ .903 OPS/ 89 runs/ 31 HRs/ 74 RBIs) to a personally abysmal 2020 ( .219 BA/ .286 OBP/ .629 OPS/ 32 runs/ 5 HRs/ 18 RBIs in 48 games).

Bregman’s hamstring injury and his perhaps too early return from it moved a solid 2020 to a below-average 2020. Altuve’s problems seemed to be less physical and more mental as he more than any other player seemed to suffer from trying to prove himself after the Astros’ cheating scandal. While he has never been much of a ball taker in the same area as Bregman, he was channeling his inner Joaquin Phoenix (go watch “Signs”) by getting himself out swinging at anything, and everything tossed up there.

It is probably critical that both players bounce back with George Springer and Michael Brantley likely playing elsewhere in 2021. But if only one of them bounced back in 2021, who would you pick? If Altuve moves back to the leadoff spot with Springer gone, he becomes an even more critical cog in setting the pace and kickstarting the offense. And he arguably fell off more than Bregman did in 2020, though his strong 2020 playoff surge gave everyone hope that Jose Altuve had exorcised the trash can demons in his head. On the other hand, Bregman’s fall last year seemed to take the swagger out of the whole team. Undoubtedly, their swagger would have been reduced as they showed remorse after the scandal emerged, but they looked like sad, broken ponies in 2020. Bregman after his return from injury in 111 ABs down the stretch including the postseason, hit poorly (.225 BA/ .331 OBP/ .691 OPS) with very little power (4 doubles and 3 HRs).

If you have to pick one to rebound, I think it has to be Bregman as he should be shifting into the prime of his career with another potential MVP run in the works. But again, they sure could use a return to the norm for both these two great players.

Who Will Be the Astros Best Starting Pitcher in 2021

This will be a fascinating story to watch with no certain answer. There could be a scenario where any of the five likely starters in this rotation, Zack Greinke, Lance McCullers Jr., Framber Valdez, Cristian Javier and Jose Urquidy, could turn out to be their ace.

Zack Greinke – By pedigree, Greinke should be considered the Astros ace as he is a likely Hall of Famer and had been one of the top pitchers in either league between 2013 and 2019. And on top of this, he is owed $35 million (about $10 million by his former team the D’Backs) for the 2021 season. He had a down year in 2020 (who didn’t) and while not bad, his 3-3, 4.03 ERA year was statistically the worst of the five starters. A spring back to his numbers from the previous 7 seasons would put him at or near the top of the rotation.

Lance McCullers Jr. – Even with his great stuff, it is hard to picture McCullers as the ace of the team. He has battled injury and never thrown a full major league season. His emotions seem to derail him at times, where he has problems pitching through errors behind him or errors by the home plate umpire. But if he is going to finally fulfill his promise, this would seem to be the year. He was solid in his return from Tommy John surgery with a 3-3, 3.93 season. He is 27 years old, which is prime time for pitchers, and most importantly this is last season of control by the team. He will be pitching for the big payday in free agency and can solidify that with a top-notch healthy season.

Framber Valdez – Framber bloomed in front of our eyes and was arguably their best pitcher during the regular season with a 5-3, 3.57 ERA season. But the most critical number for him was his walks per 9 innings which dipped from a poor 5.6 to a very good 2.0 per 9 IP. He followed the regular season up by being the Astros best pitcher in the 2020 playoffs going 3-1 with a sparkling 1.88 ERA. Framber’s curveball seemed unhittable at times, and if he can continue to control it in 2021, he has as good a chance as anyone to be the Astros’ ace.

Cristian Javier – While Valdez was always going to be in the mix for a starting spot in 2020, Javier received his chance thanks to the injury to Justin Verlander and the illness of Jose Urquidy, which left the Astros scrambling to replace behind them after also losing Gerrit Cole and Wade Miley in the offseason. The 23-year-old responded brilliantly with a 5-2, 3.48 ERA regular season. He then pitched out of the bullpen during the playoffs without a peep and contributed to the Astros run to the ALCS. If he takes a step forward in his second season as many pitchers do, he could be the top pitcher in this rotation.

Jose Urquidy – Urquidy missed a big chunk of the season, likely to COVID, though never confirmed. Just like he did as a rookie in 2019, Urquidy pitched at the end of the season and acquitted himself well in 5 starts with a 1-1, 2.73 ERA stat line. He then performed decently in the playoffs, except for one tough outing against Oakland and again could be the best of the bunch when 2021 works itself out.

This will be a fascinating area to watch in 2021 as the Astros could have multiple aces dueling for the top spot in their rotation.

 

22 comments on “Astros 2020: A couple of points for discussion

  1. If 2021 approaches anywhere near a normal season, as to length, timing, normal spring training, etc. I think both Altuve and Bregman will thrive. But an Altuve resurrection is bigger. He’s at an age where he could still have plenty of good years left, but another dismal season really raises the possibility that he’s soon over the hill. Plus, as you point out Dan, he had the bigger fall off last year. And especially if Jose leads off he will be that much more crucial to the team’s success.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I like that line of thinking RT – that Altuve maybe needs this rebound this season more critically for his career arc and considering he is owed $116 MM over the next 4 seasons. I also believe they will both bounce back and look forward to what that means to the offense along with adding Alvarez back in, Tucker continuing what he started and Correa playing for the big bucks. And if Gurriel gets back to near what he was….

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    • The beautiful thing about baseball is that we can debate just about everything. I might argue that World Series MVP George Springer earns the top spot based on his postseason performances. It conflates team success a bit with individual, but the Astros only won three series (2004 NLDS, 2005 NLDS and NLCS) during Biggio’s entire career. In the regular season, Biggio received votes for MVP 4 times and his highest finish was fourth. Springer has received votes 3 times across his 7 year career with his highest placing being 7th. He likely will not have the longevity that Biggio did, but then again how many people do?

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  2. Bounce back more important? I guess that’s a good question between these two, for my part because they are way over-paid to have turned in last year’s report card. Guess I’ll say Bregman since a 3B is supposed to have more power xBH generally than a 2B. Trying to figure out what happened to Altuve’s reg season batting; or Bregman in ALCS has truly stumped me, without making unsubstantiated accusations.

    Best Starting Pitcher is another very tough call. I’m inclined to go bold and say, Whitley. But I’ll final answer Framber because of his ability to generate weak batted ball outcomes, and his stamina. If he’s healthy I expect him to win the IP battle. One could make a case for the 2nd full year after Tommy John for LMJ. A case for Greinke pitching to extend his own career. Urquidy based on the best control. Javier for his dynamic novelty — teams had no idea his 93 seemed more like 98.

    You’re absolutely right to project multiple aces dueling. Not many have the guts to write that, well done!

    On our best draft pick, my mind always goes to the ones we missed instead. I’m still a little nicked up about Dawson over Alonso, and Jake Rogers over Shane Bieber in the 3rd/4th round of ’16 draft. So, I have to train myself to see the blessings of Pressly and Alvarez as big wins instead. No doubt Biggio and Bagwell teams in the playoffs made fandom in HOU pretty putrid. Re: sour grapes, ’18, ’19 and ’20 weren’t much better finishes.

    Quick shoutout to Diane Becky and Sandy. Hope you ladiess are all doin’ alright! Christmas in nearly upon us, and wishing all a happy (as can be expected) one.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I’ll go with Altuve because I don’t want the 2020 playoffs to have been just a teaser.
    I believe both guys faced something that they couldn’t handle and I hope they bounce back.

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  4. I’m taking Bregman’s rebound for granted. I really believe his leg was bad for most of the exhibition season and into the playoffs.

    I’d love to see Altuve reinvent himself as an invaluable guy at 1 or 2 in the lineup. I want the .400 OBP. If he’s willing, he can do it again.

    I see both guys wanting to prove something in 2021.

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  5. Off subject, I guess
    Some have read me talk a little about McKee. He was R5 this year that thankfully got passed over. Not much fanfare for him mainly because he’s not a big velocity guy. He does however have some tremendous strides recently reporting over 2900 spin rate. Here he describes his gameplan after he was getting ahead in the count. He should be a solid reliever in Sugar Land.

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  6. Both Altuve and Bregman will have bounce back seasons. There were simply too many stops and starts in the 2020 season, and it played on everyone’s minds. They were away from their families, worried sick that one of their wives or kids would get this virus. That alone would have put any one of us over the edge. The replacements did an outstanding job of keeping this team going until the guys made it back during that awful season.
    My vote for Ace is still Greinke, he knows EXACTLY what he’s going to throw and EXACTLY how fast (or slow Lol) he’s gonna throw it! I hope Valdez, Javier, and Urquidy are taking mental notes when he pitches. Not sure how to take this, but Verlander said he intends to pitch in 2021 even if it’s out of the bullpen. He’s been seen with Crane regularly since this season was over.
    GoStros1…I’m doing as well as can be expected, still having to use my walker tO get around but I’m hopeful I can try to walk by myself (using a cane) soon. My children will be with me for Christmas, and that’s my biggest present….I couldn’t deal with all this nonsense about not seeing my kids.
    Merry Christmas to all of you and for those of us in that are over 65 I’m gonna be first in line when they tell us to get the vaccinations for this horrific virus. I’m thinking about buying stock in Amazon since everything I’m getting my family has come to my front door with a “prime” sticker on it! You fellas take care I’m always reading!! Becky

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m no stock expert, Becky, but Amazon is almost double what it was a year ago, however it has been basically flat since August. You would think if the vaccine actually works, people will be able to go out shopping and not buy quite as much thru Amazon. Of course that is if there are any places to go shopping anymore.
      Any stock experts out there?
      Verlander out of the bullpen? Would we have found the closer we’ve been looking for?
      Glad to hear you are getting around ok Becky and that you will have family for the holidays. Human contact cannot be overrated.

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      • As a friend of mine once said there’s not a lot of difference between playing the stock market and playing the tables at Las Vegas. We like to think we have all the information needed at our finger tips but there are so many variables to throw in that most of the average investors are at a disadvantage. I did make one buy at back during the summer, International Paper (IP) that is up 43% since I bought it. I figure with all the home delivery that it should go up and I guessed right. Unless you are really good at the game I suggest you find an investment advisor that you trust and keep up with your account. Most brokers charge about 1% of the portfolio value and some only 1/2%. Any more than 1% is something to stay away from IMO. My guy for the most part has kept me out of the big names like Google, Facebook, Amazon, Tesla, Apple, etc. Oh and please read my disclaimer in microscopic print below.

        I’d like to wish all on the blog a very special Merry Christmas, a Happy New Year, and prayers and hope for a better 2021. Hopefully Santa may bring an ongoing present starting in the Spring for our Astros, another World Series Trophy.

        Hopefully, Bregman and Altuve will bounce back. I think it more important for Bregman but one never knows. As for the pitcher, the moneys on Greinke but any of the others could have a breakout season save for LMJ. I just don’t see him as a TOR pitcher but I could be wrong.

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  7. Lance McCullers. Not on the top of any lists right now. He’s got all the tools. Can look so dominating at times. I’m taking him to at least put up an excellent, consistent season. But if we’ve got the five starters above, without a whole lot of missed time, we don’t need an ace. Unfortunately, I’m going to assume a dozen or so starters will get utilized by the end of 2021. But that does not mean we’ll be in trouble. If our top five guys enter the post season healthy, I’ll like our chances. Does not look like anyone is going to get a chance to throw close to 200 innings.

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  8. Assuming they are healthy, Altuve & Bregman will both rebound. I think more importantly than either of them will be if Yordan can rebound from his knee surgeries.

    Just for comparison of OPS+, Yordan in 2019/2020: 173/152; Bregman: 162/116; Altuve: 131/71.

    Best Starting Pitcher: My guess is Urquidy, as he will be healthy most of the year.

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    • I had re-tweeted that Inge video the day it came out too.

      On the FG article, honestly didn’t get a lot out of it, beyond my own comparisons YoY of his Statcast/FG stats. And as is so often the case even now on Fangraphs, all the speculation surrounding pitch tipping/stealing signs is nauseating.

      My own nutshell analysis is that he was unfairly being called for high strikes early in counts, so he had to expand at bad pitches more often than in yrs’ past, but because he learned to hit bottle caps with broomsticks, has always had good contact numbers. His K:BB was actually improved.

      I believe he absorbed a lot of the criticism. Keep in mind, he’s not a player with known pedigree — he seems to wear heart on sleeve in this regard. This is a bigger mystery to me, since Tony Adams’ research showed Altuve Kemp and Reddick were the least to get trash can bangs!

      I’d like to say ’20 was his outlier, but I am very concerned with some of his trends forward. Plus, I like his potential replacements coming down the pike, who should be ready to go a year before Jose’ last (Kessinger Nova Pena). Not a fan of Luis Santana’s lack of exit velo, but there’s no denying he has *exceptional strike zone command ETA 2023.

      Hope I’m wrong about Altuve’s 2021 bounceback.

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