“You can’t predict baseball” is a famous quote that has been around for several generations. There’s even a website and a twitter handle that discuss the oddities that happen in this game. Different companies and organizations have developed highly sophisticated algorithms for predicting a player or team’s performance based on historical similarities. Here I will try to predict the Astros’ win-loss record for the 2014 season.
Jeff Luhnow often receives most of the credit for the recent rapid development of the minor league system. However, the rebuild was initiated in the Ed Wade period with the Hunter Pence trade that netted Jarred Cosart, Josh Zeid, Jonathan Singleton, and Domingo Santana. This trade marked the “all-in” moment for the organization in regards to acquiring, and most importantly, developing quality prospects.
Jeff Luhnow (Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports)
The data I used in this study begins at the 2011 season. Each of the classified affiliates win-loss records was recorded and then some basic statistical measures were compiled. The teams involved include the Oklahoma City Redhawks, Corpus Christi Hooks, and Lancaster Jethawks. The Advanced Class A league might be less than standard indicator. The 2013 season marked the first season the Astros had been affiliated with the Midwestern League Quad Cities River Bandits. For the first two years, 2011 and 2012, the Astros were in the South Atlantic League with the Lexington Legends.
**Please note that the teams involved are only the full season minor league affiliates. In order to promote consistency only the 140-game season teams were included.
Between the 2011 and 2013 seasons, each affiliate has improved. The AA level affiliate surprisingly was the most improved. The Hooks team had a 31 game swing from 50 wins in 2011 to 81 wins in 2012. They were able to repeat the success in 2013 with an 83 win campaign. These results were a tad bit curious to me. Due to the infusion of young and talented players from the amateur draft, I would have expected the A-level affiliates to demonstrate the most improvement. The AAA Oklahoma City Redhawks were able to fulfill that concept as the upper levels would remain dry of significant contributions to their rosters and subsequently have less improvement. That affiliate has averaged 7 wins improvement during the time under study.
The rapid development in Corpus Christi might yield some hope for the major league team. A 30 win improvement from 51-111 would bring the team to .500 status again. But, unfortunately, minor league improvements are vastly different than major league improvements.
Let’s take a brief look at recent 100 game losers in the majors and their next season. The 2012-2013 Cubs lost 101 games then lost 96 games in the 2013 season. The Pittsburgh Pirates could be a good indicator for the Astros as they lost 105 games in 2010 but improved to lose only 90 games in 2011, 83 games in 2012, and eventually making the postseason with a 94-68 record in the 2013 season. Could the Astros improve similarly to the Pirates organization? 2016 seems like a long time to wait for a postseason run and I certainly hope they are able to improve on a quicker pace.
One look outside of the Astros former division takes us to the development of the Washington Nationals. Obviously Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper were selected 1-1 in the 2009 and 2010 drafts following the Nationals’ back-to-back 100 loss campaigns in 2008 and 2009. The 2010 season saw them improve to only 93 losses and the Nats nearly drew a .500 season in 2011.
So what can we expect from the Astros this season? Everyone is hoping for the team to improve. Will they be able to avoid a fourth consecutive 100 loss season? The optimist in me says yes. But 100 losses could be inevitable. The team is still very young. What happens when the ground falls out from underneath the team? Do the six-game losing streaks become dreadful 15-game streaks after critical life vests are traded away? It’s hard to think about another horrendous campaign. But it is definitely a possibility.
The Pirates lead the charge with a 15 game improvement while the Nationals are the monkey in the middle at 9 games with the Cubs lagging at a 5 game improvement. The Astros’ organization, the four minor league teams, improved on average 12 wins per season. Ultimately the major league improvement rests just above 9 wins while the minor league sits at 12 wins.
Minute Maid Park (Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports)
Together these numbers provide a rough estimate of 10 wins improvement for the 2014 season. This would place the Astros at a 61-101 record. I hope that they are able to improve. These statistics are somewhat of a blind prediction. Hopefully the x-factors coupled with performances on the field push the club to be better than 100 losses. This offseason was about the Astros beginning to compliment their foundation. The wave of significant minor league talent is coming. Perhaps the collective group contributes sooner rather than later to help the organization.