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Houston Astros: 3 Bold Predictions for the 2016 Season

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Oct 11, 2015; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Astros right fielder George Springer (4) hits a double against the Kansas City Royals during the sixth inning in game three of the ALDS at Minute Maid Park. Astros won 4-2. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 11, 2015; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Astros right fielder George Springer (4) hits a double against the Kansas City Royals during the sixth inning in game three of the ALDS at Minute Maid Park. Astros won 4-2. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports /
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Ken Giles will make a huge impact — but only if he’s used right.

Sep 8, 2015; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia Phillies relief pitcher Giles (53) and catcher Cameron Rupp (29) celebrate a victory against the Atlanta Braves at Citizens Bank Park. The Phillies won 5-0. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 8, 2015; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia Phillies relief pitcher Giles (53) and catcher Cameron Rupp (29) celebrate a victory against the Atlanta Braves at Citizens Bank Park. The Phillies won 5-0. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports /

The 2015 Astros were 70-5 when leading after seven innings, and 73-1 when leading after eight. These numbers are very good, but not uncommon for good teams who have competent closers, which Luke Gregerson was. As Yankees GM Brian Cashman noted after his similarly-successful bullpen added Aroldis Chapman — it’s hard to improve on those numbers.

But look deeper. Maybe the Astros can’t get any better at protecting leads, but what was their record when they were tied after seven innings? A horrific 8-17. Nine games under, a shocking outlier for a playoff team.

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The pressure now falls on Hinch. If he uses his bullpen as he did in 2015, when his third and fourth best relievers (or worse, Chad Qualls) would often pitch in the eighth and ninth innings of ties, then having a star “closer” will mean very little. The truth is that any halfway decent pitcher will convert the overwhelming majority of one-inning save chances as defined in the rulebook. But if Hinch is willing to learn from his team’s horrific failure to win even one-third of their eighth inning ties in 2015, he will use Giles in unconventional ways to maximize his impact.

Does Hinch want to manage like a competent paint-by-numbers conservative with an effective touch in the clubhouse — basically a low-impact Joe Torre — or is he a metric-based progressive like his boss? The answer to that question will go a long way to deciding how much value the Astros get out of Giles, their flashy and costly new toy. Giles gives Hinch a tremendous tool for growth and improvement, and we are about to find out if he’s inclined to use it.

Next: Houston Astros: Why A.J. Reed needs to be at first base on Opening Day

Like any good prediction column, it ends with a hedge.

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