Looking Back and Looking Forward – Evaluating the Houston Astros

mmitchell
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2015: What Went Right

1. Carlos Correa is a star.

How soon we forget, but entering the season, there was legitimate doubt surrounding Correa. He had hit .325 in a half-season in High-A Lancaster, but with only six home runs in the hitters’ paradise. In late June, he broke his leg and missed the rest of the season. Jed Lowrie was signed to a 3-year, $23M contract that was supposed to include at least one, and likely two, full seasons as the starting shortstop. We now know that Correa is a true franchise player, a solid-average defender with an elite bat at a premium position. Entering his age-21 season with six years of team control remaining — the next three at the league minimum — he may be the most valuable asset in baseball.

2. Our starting rotation is deep, talented and cheap.

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The Astros will enter 2015 with likely Cy Young winner Dallas Keuchel (2.91 FIP), 22-year old phenom Lance McCullers (3.26 FIP), Collin McHugh (3.58 FIP), Mike Fiers (4.03 FIP), Vincent Velasquez (3.46 FIP) and Scott Feldman (4.32 FIP) all under contract. Only Keuchel and Feldman, at a combined salary of about $15M, will make more than the league minimum, giving the Astros six legitimate Major League starters for a total of less than $20M.

Some fans may want to add a big name starting pitcher via free agency. Assuming 180-190 IP workloads for McCullers and Velasquez, I see no need to allocate limited resources to the rotation. Even during a tumultuous September swoon, our rotation remained a stabilizing force.

3. A.J. Hinch and The Clubhouse

Team chemistry is not a prerequisite for success — winning teams have it because winning makes everyone feel better. But Hinch has clearly created an environment where players feel they can be themselves, and the glowing reviews of the 2015 season by several veterans following a loss to Kansas City speak to the quality of the atmosphere. This has tangible value — Luhnow’s first three seasons created a reasonable perception that the Astros treated players as chess pieces, with no respect for the individual player as a person, only as an asset.

This perception likely made it more difficult to sign free agents, such as Andrew Miller, who the Astros lost to an inferior bid by the Yankees. It also may have played a role in Cole Hamels vetoing a trade to Houston in July. The image around here is changing, though, and Luhnow’s problems recruiting players who have options may be a thing of the past.

Next: 2016: What Has to Happen

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