What to expect from A.J. Hinch in 2015


September 6, 2014; Oakland, CA, USA; Houston Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow before the game against the Oakland Athletics at O.co Coliseum. The Athletics defeated the Astros 4-3. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Unless you live under a rock, you should know the Astros named A.J. Hinch their manager for 2015 almost immediately after the end of the season. After reading comments and analysis on numerous websites, I figured it might be time to give some realistic expectations for the new skipper. I’m not here to talk about his past and where he came from, that’s what Wikipedia is for. People can look at his record all they want, but the fact is this guy only had a little more than a calendar year to get something going with the Diamondbacks.

Those D-Back teams reminded me a lot of the Astros from 2009-2011. They had guys like Mark Reynolds, Justin Upton and Chris Young put up some productive numbers in the lineup. On the pitching staff, they had a mixture of veterans like Jon Garland and Edwin Jackson mixed with younger guys in the rotation like Ian Kennedy and Dan Haren.

Thinking of those Astros years I mentioned, they had guys like Lance Berkman, Carlos Lee, and Hunter Pence do well in the lineup. The rotation was mixed with veterans like Roy Oswalt and Brian Moehler with young guys like Wandy Rodriguez and Bud Norris. Remember everybody there? Man those were the good ol’ days.

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Okay, not really. But I bring up those rosters for a reason: were either of those teams really supposed to win? At least the Astros gave Cecil Cooper and Brad Mills longer than a year to get things going, unlike the Diamondbacks did with Hinch. He came on in May of 2009, and got the boot in July of 2010. Kirk Gibson took over for Hinch, and he even had trouble with that group of guys going 34-49 the rest of the season.

The following year, the Diamondbacks ended up making the playoffs with a lot of the same guys from the lineup, but a rotation that had a breakout season. In fact, the rotation carried that team to the playoffs. Even though the lineup had a lot of similar guys, they simply were not a very good hitting team in 2011 compared to 2010.

And that brings me to now, where A.J. Hinch is joining a big up-and-coming team with a pretty good rotation that is only expected to get better. The fact of the matter is that Hinch is a “Luhnow Guy,” somebody who understands analytics and who could fit right into the Nerd Cave. Bo Porter was the exact opposite; he could not take every move of his being looked at under a microscope, or being told which players to play and not to play. Porter is a more traditional baseball guy, and that’s why he was never going to fit into the Astros long term plans. With Hinch, Luhnow knows he has somebody that isn’t going to mind when he gets involved with the lineup or tell him when to do a defensive shift. You can expect him to be Luhnow’s second hand.

Hinch comes in right after the Astros ended a streak of three 100-loss seasons, and in a season where people expect them to officially turn the corner to potentially become playoff contenders.  I’ve been a fan of “The Process” since day one, back in the Ed Wade days because I knew it would mean the Astros would one day put together a very good team for years to come. Winning 70 games almost felt like the Astros won the World Series in 2014, and for Hinch to be successful in his first season at the helm, they need to get one step closer to actually winning a World Series: a winning season for the first time since 2008.

That is not unreasonable to think he can do it. He is getting a young club that is expected to be a force in this league sooner than later. Yes, we all want the Astros to end the decade-long playoff drought, but for his first season to be considered a success, they need to win a minimum of 82 games in 2015.