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?
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.