Houston Astros: Who Says They Don’t Have The Talent To Win?

May 24, 2016; Houston, TX, USA; The Houston Astros celebrate Houston Astros shortstop Carlos Correa (1) game winning RBI hit against the Baltimore Orioles in the fourteenth inning at Minute Maid Park. Mandatory Credit: Astros won 3 to 2. Thomas B. Shea-USA TODAY Sports
May 24, 2016; Houston, TX, USA; The Houston Astros celebrate Houston Astros shortstop Carlos Correa (1) game winning RBI hit against the Baltimore Orioles in the fourteenth inning at Minute Maid Park. Mandatory Credit: Astros won 3 to 2. Thomas B. Shea-USA TODAY Sports /

How many superstars does a team need?

Several readers recently commented that at least one of us at Climbing Tal’s Hill is overestimating the Houston Astros level of talent. That leads to the questions: Does a team need Hall of Fame talent to get to and win a World Series? How many so-called superstars does a team need to win a title?

Reader comments included:

“I am not sure why people think this team has a lot of talent.”

“It’s not like anyone past the #3 hitter could hit the side of a barn.”

Do you believe that a Major League team must be a group of future Hall of Famers, or superstars to contend for or win a World Series? My contention is that is not necessarily true, so I looked back at some recent World Series winners.

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A Look at Past World Series Teams

How many future Hall of Famers were on the 2015 Kansas City Royals? Eric Hosmer? Edinson Volquez? Lorenzo Cain or Mike Moustakas? I don’t think anyone outside of Kansas City would disagree that none of those guys are projected to be Hall of Fame caliber players, nor are they in the superstar category.

What about the 2014 champion San Francisco Giants? Madison Bumgarner is a premier pitcher. Matt Cain and Tim Lincecum were very good pitchers and perhaps superstars in their prime, but likely not Hall of Fame material. The best of the rest of that Giants team were catcher Buster Posey and outfielder Hunter Pence. Posey is above average, and probably close to superstar consideration, but he is a long way yet from being Hall of Fame material. Former Astro Pence is a solid, better than average player, but not a superstar.

The 2013 Boston Red Sox had some very good players, some solid performers, a few promising young players, and one man probably destined for the Hall of Fame. None of the pitchers had especially great seasons, with Jon Lester the top winner at 15. Dustin Pedroia, Shane Victorino, and Jacoby Ellsbury had good seasons at the plate while likely future Hall of Famer David Ortiz was the offensive team leader. Any superstars there? Possibly Ortiz, and that’s about it.

The 2011 St. Louis Cardinals had the biggest group of outstanding players in recent years, led by Albert Pujols and Yadier Molina. They also had good seasons from David Freese, Matt Holliday, and former Astro Lance Berkman. How many of those men are considered superstars? Pujols for sure, and possibly Berkman and Molina. The others were solid performers, but not elite major leaguers. Even their pitching was not exceptional that year. Kyle Lohse was the big winner at 14 games, and of their starters, Lohse had the lowest ERA at 3.49. Hall of Fame caliber? No. Superstars? No.

Even a team as vaunted as the 1984 Detroit Tigers, who won 104 regular season games and went on to win the World Series, had only one regular who hit over .300 (shortstop Alan Trammell, .314). They had three players who hit twenty or more home runs; one of those (catcher Lance Parrish) hit 33. They had no twenty game winners on the pitching staff. Paul Swydan of Fangraphs, in January 2014, wrote about the ’84 Tigers, noting that not a single man from that team was elected to the Hall of Fame.

Detroit fans will surely argue there were several deserving men on that squad (most notably pitcher Jack Morris who won 19 games that season) but did they have any superstars? How about second baseman Lou Whitaker, outfielder Kirk Gibson, or DH Darrell Evans? Were any of those men better than Jose Altuve, George Springer, or Carlos Correa? I saw all of them play, and I would pick the modern Astros core group without a second thought because I think they are better than those long ago Tigers.

What about the Astros talent?

The point is, of course, if you think that you must have a Murderer’s Row assortment of Hall of Fame caliber superstars to make the playoffs and hope to win a World Series, it is simply not true. If you think you need three or four twenty game winners, a bunch of 30 home run guys, and half of your lineup hitting .300, or better, look back at history because those things rarely happen. Some team wins the World Series every year (except, of course, for 1984 when they all got stupid and the Fall Classic was canceled). The last team standing is not always the best team, the team with the highest batting average, or the most home runs.

What it takes is for the right things to happen at the right times. Teams that get the key hits and pitching performances that make the difference in games are the ones who finish on top. It doesn’t have to be superstar performances to get there; it just needs to be consistently good play over the course of a season. Even a team of superstars won’t win a championship if they don’t play together and make the plays most of the time.

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As for the Houston Astros, right now they aren’t playing well, nor are they playing consistently. However, as I told Ed Kasputis of Baseball PhD when he interviewed me on his recent Houston Astros podcast, the 2005 Astros began that season just as badly as the 2016 team, yet that group went to the World Series. That team had no one who hit better than .293, one twenty-game winner (Roy Oswalt), and one 17 game winner in Andy Pettitte.

The 2016 Astros are by no means out of it. They are not out of it because they have men who have the potential to play consistently good baseball. They have the players in place who can give the Astros what they need to be at the top at the end of the season. They don’t need to be overpowering at the plate or on the mound; they need to be consistent.

I put All-Star, MVP caliber Altuve up against most of those mentioned above. If Springer, Correa, Dallas Keuchel, and Collin McHugh play up to their potential, then that gives the Astros what they need to be competitive. If others step up and produce when needed, players like Colby Rasmus, Jason Castro, Michael Feliz, Doug Fister, Evan Gattis, and more, the Astros have as good a chance as any of the teams mentioned above to be World Series winners.

As for the cynics, check the history books, and you will see that not every championship team was filled with superstars and future Hall of Famers. Many World Series winning teams surely had similar skeptics – those who thought those teams had no talent or not nearly enough. People who didn’t realize that even if no one beyond the number three hitter could “hit the side of a barn,” they still won it, because, although they weren’t necessarily superstars, they played consistently, got timely hitting and pitching, and caught a few breaks.

Next: Astros Bullpen: Giles and Feliz have arrived

The 2016 Astros have the potential to play good baseball; to be contenders, and they can do this regardless of their perceived abilities. If they get their act together and play consistent baseball, then it doesn’t matter how many star caliber players they have or how anyone assesses their talent level.

**Statistics provided by Baseball-Reference**