Looking forward to the Astros lineup of 2020!
By Karen Watson
1st Base – Advantage Astros
In 144 games in 2019, Yuli Gurriel had the highest batting average among all qualifying first basemen in the entire MLB. According to MLB.com, the very often overlooked 35-year-old is one of MLB’s best 1st basemen. He ranks as the #1 offensive 1st baseman and second defensively behind only Paul Goldschmidt. Luckily, he has agreed to a new contract worth $8.3 million for 2020, becoming a free agent at the end of this season.
Gurriel defected from Cuba with his brother, Lourdes Jr., and signed a five-year contract with the Astros in 2016. In four seasons, his offensive numbers have impressed, but his 2019 slash line of .298/.343/.541 and .884 OPS, as well as a career-high of 31 HRs, was BY FAR his best offensive season in every way save his 2017 batting average of .299.
The Yankees combined three players to cover first base in 2019 — Luke Voit, Mike Ford, and Edwin Encarnacion. Voit played the most with 118 games for a batting average of .263 and 21 home runs. At .842, his OPS was 11th in the Yankees lineup. It is comforting to note that in 81 starts at 1st base, Voit was charged with seven errors. And while Gurriel also had seven errors in 2019, he was only charged with three errors over 104 starts at 1B.
Like a fine wine, Gurriel seems to be improving with age. “La Piña,” as he is known by beloved Houston fans, will likely be very difficult to replace in 2021.
2nd Base – Advantage Astros
With only 124 games in 2019, José Altuve ranked 4th overall offensively and tied 14th defensively in the MLB. His BA of .298 was 4th in the league among 2nd basemen. He ranked 2nd with 31 HRs behind only Mike Moustakas of the Brewers and ranked 1st both in slugging percentage (.550) and OPS (.903), striking out only 82 times.
Comparatively speaking, DJ LeMahieu, in 145 games, had a league-leading average of .327. And while his OPS was ranked second (.893), 26 HRs ranked him 5th and his slugging percentage of 518 put him at 3rd.
Altuve had 119 starts at 2nd with 11 errors and a fielding percentage of .972. With less than half as many starts at 2B than Altuve, LeMahieu may have a slight defensive edge on Altuve with a fielding percentage of .993 and having only two errors charged to him in 66 starts at 2B.
For me, the Astros have the advantage at this position, and I concur with rumors that Altuve is likely going to be a contender for the AL MVP in 2020.
3rd Base – Advantage Astros
Playing in an astounding 156 games and placing 2nd in the race for AL MVP in 2019, it probably comes as no surprise that Alex Bregman is MLB’s #1 offensively ranked 3rd baseman. And while he did not have the highest average of 3rd basemen in the Majors, at 1.015 and .423, respectively, Bregman did have the highest OPS and OBP along with a career-high of 41 HRs.
Also unforgettable is that he had the most walks of any other player, and he was also one of less than a handful of players with a lower number of strikeouts than walks.
Defensively speaking, Bregman was no doubt the Astros 2019 MVP starting 91 games at 3B and 59 at SS. His fielding percentages are nothing to shake a stick at with .966 at 3B and .986 at SS, and charged with only eight errors at 3B and three at SS.
For the Yankees, Gio Urshela played 132 games at 3rd. Even though his .314 average was better than Bregman’s, Urshela homered only 21 times with an OPS of .889 and an OBP of .337. With 109 of his starts being at 3B, Urshela had a fielding percentage of .954 but he also committed a notable 13 errors at 3B.
Entering his age 26 season, I give this one to the Astros and personally predict Bregman will again be in contention for the 2020 AL MVP award.
It’s such a great time to be an Astros fan.
SS – Advantage Astros
It could come as quite the surprise for most Astros fans that among all shortstops, even though he didn’t play enough games (75) to be among the “qualifiers” at this position, MLB ranks Carlos Correa 4th in OPS and 5th in OBP. Correa achieved a slash line of .279/.358/.568, a .926 OPS, and 21 HRs.
On the other hand, even though he went yard 38 times, Gleyber Torres played 144 games in 2019 and had a slash line of .278/.337/.535 with an OPS of .871.
Defensively, Correa definitely has the advantage over Torres. Torres only started 73 games at SS and committed 11 errors in that position with a fielding percentage of .961. Correa started all 75 of his games at SS and only committed two errors with a fielding percentage of .993.
Imagine how many home runs we might have seen from Correa had he played just 25 more games. Here’s hoping we finally get a full season out of a healthy Correa in 2021.