Your loyal servant, Dan P, touched base with all the Astro experts he knows. They were all busy, so I will answer my questions today.
Q: How does the loss of Justin Verlander compare to the other losses of big-time players in the last few seasons, such as Charlie Morton (after 2018), Gerrit Cole (After 2019), George Springer (After 2020) and Carlos Correa (After 2021)?
A: Obviously, we don’t know yet. The Astros survived and thrived after the loss of the others listed, as they have been to the ALCS in each of those seasons, to the WS in three seasons, and won in 2022. The worst of the losses was probably Cole, but that was only because Verlander went down in 2020, along with about half the pitching staff. That is probably the key for JV leaving in free agency. This could be a very tough loss if the Astros face a tough pitching season for injuries in 2023 (Lance McCullers Jr. plus ???). But the team can survive if the pitching staff holds together decently.
Q. The Astros have 14 players (including 12 major leaguers) playing in the World Baseball Classic. The 12 MLB players are the second most of any team in the majors, right behind the 13 from the St. Louis Cards. Is this a plus or a minus for the team?
A. There are pluses and minuses in this situation.
- On the minus side, there is more exposure to these players to injury. The positional players and the starting pitchers will likely be putting on much more mileage in these games than they would back in Spring Training, where they won’t play as often or as much as they will in the WBC. To a lesser extent, they will also not have as much time to build rapport with their teammates who are elsewhere.
- On the plus side, unlike other seasons, they should be more than ready when the season starts. There are real pluses for these players emotionally as they are filled with the pride of representing their home nations. They are also playing against much higher competition than they would be in an average Spring Training.
Bottom line – this is a plus situation. Dusty will give them the rest they need during the season. They don’t need to spend much time with their teammates because there has been so little turnover this season. And it will be nice to see the players a little more battle ready when the season starts. (Now, if anyone gets hurt, I will claim someone hacked into this blog and then deny everything written above).
Q. How will the 2023 team compare with the 2022 team?
A. There is a good chance that they will be a lesser team at least in the regular season. They should be a better offensive team with Jose Abreu manning first base and potentially a whole, healthy season of Michael Brantley. Being honest about it, there is just no way to fill in behind Verlander and his 18-4 and 1.75 ERA regular season without some fall-off. On the other hand….his 5.85 ERA in the 2023 postseason can be replaced. And this team knows how to win in the postseason. So, I am saying they may fall off in the regular season, but as long as they make the playoffs, they have a solid chance to go deep.
Q. What is Must See TV for you in 2023?
A. I will be watching as much of this team as possible, especially when they are at bat. But for me the three players I want to see the most are Yordan Alvarez, Kyle Tucker and Cristian Javier. As we have seen, Alvarez can come through any time and has the type of raw power that few players have ever flashed in the majors. Kyle Tucker, whether in the field, on the base paths or at the bat, can entertain the fans in more ways than any other player on the team. Cristian Javier may not be able to throw a complete game, but man – he is a no-hitter waiting to happen most times out.
Jose Altuve, Alex Bregman, Jose Abreu, Jeremy Pena, Michael Brantley, Framber Valdez, Ryan Pressly, Ryne Stanek, Rafael Montero and Bryan Abreu…they are so good too. And Maldy and Chas and Neris and Luis Garcia and Jose Urquidy …..oh Hunter Brown should be fun and….My DVR will be catching it all for when I may miss an inning or two….
Q. OK, where do you fall on Dusty?
A. Yes, he is lucky that he inherited such great players. Yes, he drives me crazy the way he gives hot streaking guys days off or sits Chas McCormick in lieu of Dubon. Yes, he does not always seem to even use the most obvious cyber-stats in his in-game decisions. But the players love him, ran through walls for him, and I’ve grown to appreciate what I always have known. Managers have to make a ton of decisions, and there is no way I will agree with all of them and no way they all work. I appreciated A.J. Hinch, but he may have made a decision or two that cost us a World Series championship (camera pans to Gerrit Cole ready in the bullpen as the Nationals put the Astros away).
You are welcome to answer these questions yourself or ask this expert anything else that may be bugging you today.
Chip Bailey passes along that former Astro – Jesus Alou has passed away.
Here is some more about that
How does losing Justin Verlander compare to other losses? Well, in addition to losing Morton, we also lost Dallas Keuchel after 2018, but improved from 103 to 107 wins in 2019. That year we had a solid contribution from Wade Miley, full seasons of Roberto Osuna and Ryan Pressly, career-best ERAs from Will Harris and Joe Smith, picked up Zack Greinke at the trade deadline, and we had a ROY named Yordan Alvarez.
So who will step up this year? I anticipate continued greatness from Framber and Javier, but will Hunter Brown give us more of the same of what he did last year? Will Luis Garcia be consistently good all year? Will Jose Urquidy lower his HR rate? Will JP France, Seth Martinez or someone else give us quality innings as the next man up during the LMJ rehab?
On offense, 2023 Jose Abreu has to be better than 2022 Yuli Gurriel. Will Michael Brantley and Kyle Tucker thrive without the shift? Will Jordan stay healthy all year and break the team HR record? Will Alex Bregman and Jose Altuve return to MVP-caliber peak production? Will Jeremy Pena avoid a sophomore slump and continue to improve?
Forbush-Man says if even a few of the answers to those questions are yes, then we are in good shape. As usual, it is going to take a team effort.
1. We’re not losing the Verlander that went 18-4 in 2022. We’ll have to see what kind of number he pts up in 2023. Maybe Lance will be out long term and Hunter will struggle at the ML level. But I think the 40 year old 40 million guy will have to regress somewhat. And it is time to see what Brown can do. It could be a 10 starter season for us. Don’t forget that in 2017, Fiers led the club in innings pitched with 153. I think we used 14 starters that season. In comparison to 2017, I think we’ve got better pitching both in the rotation and the pen. And we’ve again got a very solid offensive team.
I hadn’t given the pitch clock too much thought, but it’s a rule change that could really hurt Verlander. He’s ranked near the bottom of the league in time between pitches over at least the last five seasons in which he has pitched.
2. I don’t think the WBC is a plus for us, especially when more than half the team is involved. The pitch clock is screwing with some guys. Trying to get used to it, then going and playing old time baseball and then coming back to the clock could lead to a slow offensive start for a few guys. And the potential of injuries aside, our pitchers will be airing it out for their countries before they normally would in March. I understand MLB’s support for the event, but I’d rather they take two weeks off in July right in the middle of the season to play this event every four years. Yeah, skip the All Star game.
When comparing the 2022 team and the 2023 team, I’m just looking around trying to figure out how good we’ll be in the post season. We likely won’t win 107 games, and we might not go into October with the best record in the American League.
But if we’re heathy at that point, gosh, it’s a good club, maybe better than 2022. Abreu at first is a significant offensive upgrade. Maybe Y. Diaz becomes a contributor. Maybe Dirden is a solid outfielder on the big club this summer. Maybe Hensley really does become our next Aledmys, but not so fragile. And if the arms stay healthy, even with a late arrival from Lance, we’ll be tough to beat. We don’t need what Verlander provides in the fall.
So many guys to watch! The question marks: Hensley, Y. Diaz, Dirden down the road? Jake, is he going to make a comeback? Can Chas take ownership? Hunter Brown, big, big factor one way of the other. Does Maldy slowly give up starts to Lee and or Diaz? And then the rotation. Do they all give us what we’ve seen from them previously or can a guy like Urquidy get more consistent?
Dusty, if the team is winning, we’ll all be pretty happy. This could be it for him.
Dan, why did you have to bring up Cole sitting in the pen, unused by Hinch? I’ll never change my mind on this. I would have given Grienke a huge hug for 6 magnificent innings and had Cole out there to start the 7th. Easy to say now, but I really thought that’s what was going to happen as I watched that game.
Do we know if that was Hinch’s decision or was Luhnow involved? We think the Astros wanted to bring Cole back. It’s possible Luhnow handcuffed Hinch not wanting Cole to have a Bumgarneresque performance that would have increased his demanded salaries in negotiations even more. In other words, Luhnow always thought he was the smartest man in the room and in fact was really just as smart as your average Enron executive. Couldn’t we see him outfoxing himself here?
In WBC action, Luis Garcia for Venezuela dominates the Dominican Republic with 3 no-hit innings and 7 strikeouts, while Machete Maldonado for Puerto Rico goes 2 for 4 against Nicaragua and cuts down a runner at second.
Hunter Brown with 3 shutout innings and 3 Ks
Korey Lee with a couple hits a homer and 2 RBIs
Hensley with a couple hits
Yuli hasn’t played so far
Astros up 3-1
Diaz with 3 hits – run scored and an RBI – spring average up to .333
Our catching prospects are hitting. Diaz has 6 hits, 5 doubles. Lee has an OPS of 1.198. Even C.J. Stubbs is 6 for 12.
And nice to see Dirden, J.J., Hensley and Wagner getting on base.
Well they got this right
Lance McCullers played catch yesterday and Yordan Alvarez started swinging against soft toss. Baby steps.
17 days to Opening Day. Seems that Yordan might not be ready, with Brantley definitely delayed. I’d like to think they’d find a place on the 40 man for Dirden’s lefty bat if we end up down two of our lefty bats on March 30.
* The Astros waited six weeks for Michael Brantley to have shoulder surgery last season and now he’s not ready. The blame for that goes right to the Astros front office decision maker at the time.
* Does anyone know if Dirden is MLB ready. Does anyone know that he’s not.
* If Alvarez and Brantley aren’t ready for Opening Day, I would think Yainer Diaz should be the DH. And they ought to have Dirden and Hensley playing some LF for the rest of spring training.
* It’s not surprising that the extension talks with Astros players have been stopped. When you start talking you find out who is interested and who isn’t.
* After the end of the 2024 season, Jeremy Pena will enter the extension discussion. By that time, there will be no doubt about where the Astros stand with Alex, Jose, Framber and Kyle.
* Whitley, Dubin, Record, Wagner and France have been sent to minor league camp.
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– The only question with Dirden is who they would take off the 40 man and expose that player (I’m not sure if anyone could get moved to the 60 day IL)
– If Diaz is your full time DH are you keeping Lee as your backup catcher?
– We knew that the extension talks were a shot in the dark, especially if the team is stuck on number of years
– Man do we have to talk about losing Pena already? (Yeah I know you are talking about extending him – but that is one step from losing him).
I don’t understand how the Astros could be working on extensions for Tucker or Valdez. The luxary tax is calculated on AAV rather than current year cost. They could be testing the waters to give them a better idea how much money each wants and what moves need to be made next winter though. The MLBPA probably dropped the ball on this as it puts both players at a bit of a risk.
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I stole this info from across the way. The Athletic has rated 201 ML starting pitchers. A whole bunch of data was used, not all of which I was willing to delve into.
The Astros come in as follows:
I think Framber should be a bit higher, but I’m really encouraged to see Brown at 62 and of our “worst” starter is raked 91 out of 201, then we’re in pretty good shape. And I like the fact that we’ve got 5 guys that are pretty young and historically sturdy.
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It is two weeks until our season opens. Yordan Alvarez has not swung a bat against live pitching yet. Lance McCullers, Jr. has not thrown a pitch against a live batter. Michael Brantley hasn’t even been in camp until today. It is time to consider the possibility that none of these three guys will start the season on the active roster.
While LMJ’s absence due to this or that injury is something we have just come to accept as the norm, and something we have the depth to absorb, we do not have the depth (currently on the 40-man, at least) to absorb the loss of outfielders Brantley and Yordan. We need Dirden on the 40-man – so it may be time to give Dirden his shot and cut ties with either Frenchy Dubon [.238/.273/.559 in 21 AB this spring] or Jake Meyers [.267/.313/.646 in 15 AB this ST]. While I am by no means a fan of Mssr. Dubon, he can also play infield (albeit not all that well); he strikes out less that Jake (I guess even pitifully weak contact is better than no contact); and he seems to be far better at staying healthy than Mr. Snake-Bit, I guess I would vote for the Frenchman to stay around and Meyers to go.
Maybe 30 yr old Matt Gage instead or putting someone like Parker Mushinski on the 60 day??
A Mushinski stint on the IL is a legitimate option. We should not need Parker to rush his recovery anyway. Gage? He hasn’t thrown much for us, of course, but in the 3 IP he has tossed he has actually looked pretty good. If I had my way, he’d get an inning in every other game for the rest of ST – to give him a chance to see if he’s someone we just can’t do without.
Still, I guess the bottom line is I have given up on Jake Meyers. I have liked Jake since he stood out at Quad Cities, and had thought he was going to be ‘George Springer Lite’. After he got hurt in the playoffs in 2021, I had hoped he would come back strong last year. He didn’t. In fact, he was completely over-matched. With Dirden ready and Drew Gilbert in the pipeline, he just doesn’t seem to have a ‘path to success’ H-Town.