Constructing the Houston Astros Dream Lineup in 2023

World Series - Philadelphia Phillies v Houston Astros - Game Six
World Series - Philadelphia Phillies v Houston Astros - Game Six / Rob Carr/GettyImages
facebooktwitterreddit

Building the Astros lineup for 2023

The Houston Astros have a problem. It's a good problem, but a problem nonetheless. How do you construct a lineup for a team as deep as this one, all the while ensuring your best bats get the most possible plate appearances?

They won the World Series last season, but their lineup is even deeper for 2023 with the addition of Jose Abreu and the return of Michael Brantley.

When Uncle Mike came back, we penned a piece on who should bat second: Brantley or reigning ALCS and World Series MVP, Jeremy Peña. In hindsight, the answer to that question is neither.

If Dusty Baker hopes to roll out the best lineup night in and night out in 2023, barring injury of course, this should be the lineup:

1) 2B Jose Altuve
2) 3B Alex Bregman
3) RF Kyle Tucker
4) LF Yordan Alvarez
5) 1B Jose Abreu
6) SS Jeremy Peña
7) DH Michael Brantley
8) CF Chas McCormick
9) C Martín Maldonado

Altuve batting leadoff isn't in question, but there are likely some raised eyebrows seeing Bregman in the two-hole. And I get it--he should have won MVP in 2019 batting cleanup and regained 2019 form in the same spot this past season. Why move him?

Upon further inspection, the move makes too much sense to not take place.

Jose Altuve is no doubt one of the best leadoff men in the game of baseball, but he swings at an astoudning amount of first pitches. In 2022, Altuve swung at 38.9% of first pitches. This was actually a slight drop from his career average of 41%. The league average is only 29.5%.

Jose rarely works counts and is one of the free-est swingers in the game. And in the nature of baseball, the batter is still retired the overwhelming majority of the time, even one as good as Altuve. Too often we see Jose go down on one pitch and then the aggressive Astros went down 1-2-3 in 8 pitchers (a byproduct of having Yuli Gurriel in the two-hole for much of the year).

Bregman is an entirely different hitter than Altuve, though just as dangerous. Altuve butters his bread with an aggressive approach, whereas Bregman works counts and looks for a specific mistake to drive. Alex swings at only 24.1% of first pitches for his career, a below league-average amount.

He almost never expands the zone. Bregman finished 2022 in the 99th percentile of chase rate and carries a career mark of 18.8%, 9.6% lower than league average. Because of his discipline and patience, he finished 94th percentile in walk rate.

His approach makes him the stereotypical two-hitter. Don't strikeout and work quality at-bats. But rather than the outdated "move the runner over" mentality, he also brings 30+ home run power and an elite ability to get on-base.

If Jose goes down on one pitch, it's easy to imagine Breggy resetting the inning after working an eight-pitch walk ahead of the three-hitter.

And when Jose hits one of his infamous first-pitch doubles, here comes Bregman either waiting to capitalize on a mistake, or again working a patient AB to go first and second, nobody out in front of the heart of the order.

With Bregman back to full-health, his mechanics in line, and sandwiched between Altuve and Kyle Tucker, we'd likely see a full return to 2019 form.

Speaking of Tucker, he has to get more at-bats. That was one of our resolutions for the Astros. He's already one of the better hitters in the game. With the elimination of the shift, prepare for King Tuck to go to new heights.

We've said it before and we'll say it again, Tucker's .463 xwOBA when not shifted was higher than that of AL MVP Aaron Judge's .458. Judge of course hit 62 home runs, but Tucker's xwOBA when not shifted was higher. The guy makes consistently hard contact and almost always puts the ball in play, finishing 85th percentile in strikeout rate.

Batting immediately behind Altuve and Bregman may lead to a ludicrous RBI total for Tucker in 2023, somewhere in the 115-130 range. And with arguably the best hitter in baseball batting cleanup in Yordan Alvarez, teams would have to pitch to him.

The case for Yordan cleanup is short and simple: take a look at his Statcast profile: 96th percentile or higher in average exit velocity, hard hit rate, xBA, xSLG, xwOBA, barrel percentage, max exit velocity and walk rate. He finished 2022 with a 1.055 OPS in the cleanup spot.

Don't overthink it, bat the big man fourth.

Fifth through seventh is a bit of a toss-up. I like Abreu fifth, Peña sixth and Brantley seventh. This keeps the lineup balanced and ensures we get a quality at-bat in the bottom third.

For as great as Peña was in October, he still has some swing and miss in his game that he can stand to refine. Much of his success came in the two-hole because of the protection he was afforded.

Abreu doesn't have the same whiff rate and provides a more consistent AB to protect Alvarez. His Statcast profile is also elite: 98th percentile in xBA, 97th in hard-hit rate, 96th in xwOBA, 92nd in xSLG and 82nd in strikeout rate. He ensures Yordan will be pitched to.

I anticipate Peña's late-season surge carrying over after he refined his appraoch. Batting him between Abreu and a walking .300 hitter in Michael Brantley ensures he sees a steady diet of fastballs rather than slider after slider.

And Brantley in the seven-spot gives Houston an all-star caliber hitter in the bottom third. The Astros got a .233 batting average and .674 OPS out of the seven-hole in 2022. Brantley immediately elevates those numbers through the roof.

McCormick gives you a league-average to just above league-average bat with good speed and 20-home run power in the eight spot. And Maldy bats ninth as he is in the lineup for his work behind the plate.

The Astros depth is a good issue to have. Dusty Baker could likely trot out any combination and score a tremendous amount of runs with good at-bat after good at-bat in 2023. But the Astros success over the years has come from an absolute allergy to striking out and a team approach built around passing the baton.

In order to do this best, the Astros' Opening Day and beyond batting order should be:

1) 2B Jose Altuve
2) 3B Alex Bregman
3) RF Kyle Tucker
4) LF Yordan Alvarez
5) 1B Jose Abreu
6) SS Jeremy Peña
7) DH Michael Brantley
8) CF Chas McCormick
9) C Martín Maldonado

facebooktwitterreddit