Re-visiting the Top 10 Key Items in 2021

Today we revisit a Chipalatta post from the past and how accurate it was in predicting the Astros’ 2021 season….

This was a straight forward post that itemized 10 critical items for the Astros’ success based on how 2020 went and where they were heading into 2021.

So, how critical were these 10 items to how the 2021 season went?

  1. On the Road Again – The Astros had been road warriors from 2017-2019, but were a terrible 9-23 in the COVID ravaged 2020 season. The team turned things around and were a very solid 44-37 on the road in 2021. They went from the 2nd worst road team in the AL (just ahead of the Rangers) in 2020 to the 2nd best road team in the AL (behind the Rays) in 2021.
  2. Working Overtime – The Astros were a very poor 2-7 in extra-inning games in 2020 after going 10-4 in 2019. In 2021, while not quite as good as you would expect from a team that won 95 games, they did improve to a slightly above average 9-8 record in extra inning games.
  3. Pitching Mules – There was a genuine concern heading into 2021, how the pitchers, especially the younger ones, would handle the sudden leap into a full season after the short season in 2020. The Astros were helped out a bit as injuries to both Framber Valdez and Jose Urquidy helped limit the total load they had to carry for the season. Lance McCullers Jr. did not have that assistance and ended up with an arm strain in the post season, which may have tolled the death knell for their championship year.
  4. OPS is More Than an Army Term – The OPS stat is a fair mirror for offensive success as the Astros fell to 16th in OPS (.720) in the majors and 14th in runs scored/game (4.65) in 2020 after being top notch in both categories during their peak seasons. The Astros offense in 2021 ramped back up and scored the most runs / game (5.33) in the majors on the back of being 2nd in OPS (.783) right behind the Blue Jays.
  5. Virus’ Revenge – There was certainly concern across the baseball world relative to how COVID might affect each team. The Astros had a few, but certainly significant bouts with COVID during 2021.
    • New reliever Pedro Baez, who was expected to pitch high leverage innings, was diagnosed with COVID during Spring Training. Then he came down with an arm injury when he returned, perhaps trying too hard to come back from the time he lost and he basically missed almost all the season.
    • In mid-April, a number of Astros missed games due to following the protocol after COVID esposure, including Alex Bregman and Yordan Alvarez, but Jose Altuve was diagnosed positive and the Astros went 4-6 while he was out.
    • Later in the season, Zack Greinke was diagnosed with COVID, missed time and almost concurrently had an arm issue. In his last start in August he finished with a 3.66 ERA. After missing a couple weeks, his ERA in his last three starts ballooned to 4.16 based on giving up 14 earned runs in 11.1 innings. He then only pitched 6.1 innings in the three post-season series.
  6. Swap City – The Astros had made huge pickups in trades in 2017 (Justin Verlander) and 2019 (Greinke), so it was not likely that James Click was going to match that. But the team needed a big boost in the bullpen and that is what Click addressed at the deadline. Trades brought in relievers Kendall Graveman, Phil Maton, Yimi Garcia and Rafael Montero, who all contributed in varying ways to the stretch run for the Astros.
  7. Sophomore Jinx – There was concern that the sophomore jinx would hit the many first time performers from 2020, including Enoli Paredes, Blake Taylor, Andre Scrubb, Luis Garcia and Cristian Javier. And of course, this would be Yordan Alvarez’s actual 2nd season after only playing 2 games in 2020.  Garcia was a legitimate Rookie of the Year candidate, Javier was very effective as a swing man between the rotation and long relief and Alvarez while not quite as transcendent as in 2019, was still a tremendous contributor. Taylor missed time after nearly folding his ankle in half, but pitched fairly effectively otherwise. Paredes and Scrubb struggled to the point that Scrubb is no longer on the 40 man roster and Paredes needs to prove something in 2022 to remain in the conversation.  
  8. Boo Birds – With more fans in the stands, the Astros definitely faced more booing in 2022 than in 2021, but they seemed to thrive on it. There were some big time crowd quieting hits and homers out of Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa among others during the season.
  9. Bounce Back –  Overall, the core of the team bounced back from pretty terrible numbers in the short 2020 season. Altuve, who came alive in the 2020 post season, had a solid year, not up to MVP numbers, but way beyond a putrid 2020. Carlos Correa probably had his best season of combining performance and health and was near the top of baseball in WAR. Yuli Gurriel came back from a terrible 2020 to lead the league in hitting and return to one of the best hitters in a deep lineup. Alex Bregman had decent numbers, but missed significant time and lost his power stroke due to the wrist injury that caused him to have off-season surgery. Kyle Tucker became the hitting terror the Astros were picturing when they protected him from trades in previous seasons and Yordan Alvarez returned as an imposing big bat in the lineup. Michael Brantley teased with .400 for a while, but missed time with injuries and also seemed to lose his power stroke. Overall, the team did bounce back offensively from a forgettable 2020.
  10. The Back End to the Front – With questions about how much the starters will pitch and how much they may pitch in each game, the bullpen moved to the front of the line in criticality. Ryan Pressly stepped up even stronger as the closer for the team, Ryne Stanek became a very effective option in the late game and Cristian Javier moved from the rotation to give the team much needed innings out of the bullpen. As detailed in #6 above, the team had to go get reinforcements when the bullpen struggled in mid-season. In the playoffs, the bullpen held together well as the rotation struggled with injuries and plain worn-out arms.

In general, these were critical areas to the Astros’ 2021 performance, and they performed admirably in showing improvements in almost all of them. There will be another post on this subject when/if we get closer to the start of 2022 season.

25 comments on “Re-visiting the Top 10 Key Items in 2021

  1. Looking back, it seems like the Astros took care of business in all those areas and had a good year.
    This coming season, they had added Verlander to the rotation and Neris to the bullpen. There is still some work to do.
    Between Covid and the lack of an agreement by baseball, this year could turn out bad for us fans.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Not to overtly brag, but I have been finding things to write about while…..
    https://www.mlb.com/astros
    The official Astros web site has not posted anything since Christmas and not posted anything Astros specific since Dec. 14th….

    On a more serious note – we have a very large music ministry at my church where I sing. There has been an outbreak there of Covid affecting a couple of the choirs – not mine, but keep my fellow singers and musicians in your prayers, there are couples sick with young children and it is a tough illness. We sang on Christmas, but we are on suspension right now.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. In a totally un-sports related note – Betty White died today at 99 – seventeen days short of her 100t birthday. She was the last of the Golden Girls still alive. She was the last of the major cast of Mary Tyler Moore show still alive. My son pointed out that when she was on MTM she was the oldest of the core cast

    Liked by 1 person

    • I can only see this working in the offseason if another club wants to offload a bad contract on Chicago or the White Sox want to send way more money than Houston get in the Greinke deal. Regardless, a key item for 2022 should be avoiding fatigue related dropoff. I mention it every postseason, but extending an extra month beyond the regular season puts the team at a competitive disadvantage because the players have less time to rest their bodies before beginning to get back in shape for the grind of 162 game season. The upside for Houston is that Verlander didn’t pitch in 2021 and might have some spring in his step, most of the starters were young, and they have a good number of arms in the pen. The concerning factors are LMJ and whether he can pitch in 2022, Brantley’s deteriorating health as the year progressed, Bregman returning from surgery, the increasing age of our catchers, and my general fear that we see a number of elbows blown out each spring training…so counting on everyone to stay healthy isn’t guaranteed anyhow. I could see the Astros being in a position to use that Swap City item during the summer to bring in a guy to eat innings who has little chance of pitching in the postseason. I don’t think there will be room in the budget to absorb someone like Keuchel though.

      Liked by 1 person

    • I read the article and never gave “Keuchel to the Astros” a second thought.
      For me, Keuchel leaving the Astros was like having the remote in my hand during a game in which Joe Buck was the announcer. Adios.
      Keuchel without Strom was like Timmy without Lassie. Must Not See TV.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I never thought Strom had a lot to do with it, statistically his decline started with the Astros under Strom. He has lost almost 3 MPH off his primary pitch. He has adjusted some, seeing its usage rate drop, but he still threw over 1000 sinkers last year. Turns out if you are already a low velocity guy and you lose even more it can be a real challenge to keep getting big league hitters out at a high clip.

        What was smart about the Astros under Luhnow was how they could read the tea leaves. The advanced metrics suggested Keuchel’s last year in Houston – the first of his big velocity dip – was his decline. It’s not really similar to Correa’s situation now given Correa’s age and the idea that he is probably entering his prime, but the one similarity to me is this – you would end up having to give a guy a contract on past performance that may not be earned in future seasons and that’s how you hamstring a mid-market franchise. Obviously Correa is set to perform as an above average hitting SS capable of gold glove caliber defense for years to come, but if he really is looking to enter into Troutland salary wise he needs to be there production wise, otherwise we won’t be able to have that conversation with Tucker or Alvarez, both of whom are better hitters than Correa has ever been.

        Like

    • Happy New Year to all. I see some items on YouTube videos about Correra and other teams but not really interested in passing it on. Meh… Last week 72 degrees and on the golf course; today rain, high winds and now it’s snowing. One just never knows about the weather. Hope to hear movement on the CBA or it’s going to be a dull Spring and Summer.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Do you really want to know?
      There is a new pig. He is the yearly one acquired for pork.
      Weren’t getting many eggs. New set of hens.
      The heifers who are fixing to calf have been moved to the ten acres right next door along with one bull and three heifers who are of breeding age. Close proximity, easy to feed, plenty of water and enough cover for them to hide their babies where we can find them.
      Ten degrees Saturday night and 15 last night. Lots of animal prep.
      My son and I worked on fences for hours last week on the warm day. We then moved the herd onto that 150 acres that hasn’t been grazed for two years. That acreage is our deer hunting spot and hunting season has ended and we have our venison. So our cattle can now enjoy that pasture which was hayed in September and kept growing until mid November.
      Sold and delivered 50 round bales last week to supplement one of my kid’s unexpected layoff. They found another job in one day, but a lot less pay.
      Yellowstone’s season finale last night. All stop for that.
      The only NFL and NBA interest for me is how much my Rockets and Texans can lose and get high draft picks without being #1. Both are following that plan perfectly.
      Keeping up with the Cougars in men’s basketball and football. Couldn’t believe they beat Auburn in Birmingham. Then the basketball team loses their two best players for the season and flies to Temple and beats them with only seven players.
      Burned out on Hallmark Christmas movies! Never figured out why anyone needs five Christmas trees in their home and 20 wreaths.
      Been looking up some Astros info and will share that soon.

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      • OP – I wish the CBA negotiators were as busy as you down to earth farm folk. Always interesting to read what is happening.
        It was a gut punch for my Coogs hoopsters to lose two top players last Thursday. They will have to tough it out.
        Yeah we have watched a ton of Hallmark movies and every other Christmas related movie along the way.
        I miss singing with my choir. It is funny. After about 25 years singing in the choir I was getting burned out. Then the pandemic hit and I did not sing for about a year and a half. Went back and was enjoying it, but now the latest wave has cut us down again.

        Liked by 1 person

      • OP, your report is far more interesting that Billy Fred signing with Korea, and Tommy Bob signing with Japan. So keep posting readable info, please. Wishing you and yours along with everyone else here a prosperous New Year.

        Like

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