As winter draws to a close, temperatures rise—Ann Arbor aside—and Spring Training gets underway it can only mean one thing: Baseball is (almost) here! Welcome back to M-SABR’s Season Preview 30 Teams in 30 Days series, where our staff writers share their insights on what to expect from your favorite team and players in 2018 and get you ready for that very first first pitch. Today AJ Janetzke takes on the Houston Astros. Enjoy!
by AJ Janetzke
2017 Record: 101-61
2017 Payroll: $149,964,177
All player projections for 2018 from Steamer
- CF George Springer, 0.274 AVG/0.367 OBP/0.503 SLG, 4.4 WAR
- 3B Alex Bregman .276/.346/.472, 3.8 WAR
- 2B Jose Altuve .309/.369/.478, 4.4 WAR
- SS Carlos Correa, .291/.372/.516, 5.4 WAR
- RF Josh Reddick, .277/.341/.453, 2.1 WAR
- 1B Marwin Gonzalez, .262/.321/.433, 1.1 WAR
- C Brian McCann, .235/.318/.428, 1.9 WAR
- LF Tyler White, .240/.311/.413, 0.0 WAR
- DH Evan Gattis, .254/.309/0.485, 1.1 WAR
- RHP Justin Verlander, 204.0 IP/3.86 ERA/1.20 WHIP, 3.8 WAR
- LHP Dallas Keuchel, 202.0 IP/3.69 ERA/1.31 WHIP, 3.9 WAR
- RHP Gerrit Cole, 175.0 IP/4.19 ERA/1.26 WHIP, 2.8 WAR
- RHP Lance McCullers Jr., 137.0 IP/3.61 ERA/1.29 WHIP, 2.9 WAR
- RHP Charlie Morton, 130.0 IP/3.83 ERA/1.29 WHIP, 2.5 WAR
- RHP Brad Peacock, 94.0 IP/4.13 ERA/1.30 WHIP, 1.0 WAR
Offseason Recap & Season Preview:
As we all know, the Astros just won the World Series in 7 against the Dodgers. Now, they’re looking to become back-to-back champions. The Astros are a powerhouse in their rotation and offense, so if the bullpen comes together, they should more than live up to their unprecedented 101-win ZIPS projection.
Down in the farm, highly touted pitching prospect RHP Forrest Whitley may have seen some action this year out of the bullpen, but after his 50-game suspension for PEDs, he will probably stay in Double-A and/or Triple-A for another full year. Another righty who is no longer a prospect but is only entering his age-22 season, Francis Martes, has great potential in the bullpen and could possibly become a starter in the future. He has a fastball that can touch triple digits at times and a 12-6 curveball with insane downward movement and speed at about 87 mph. His control is his only worry, as he has high numbers in the walk column, but has great potential out of the bullpen. He is currently working on a changeup that could provide a great arsenal along with his fastball and power-slider. Meanwhile, Kyle Tucker is still waiting in the wings, as well. The Astros may have given up RHP Franklin Perez, OF Daz Cameron, and C Jake Rogers to Detroit for Justin Verlander, but they still have a nice farm system.
Going back to the bullpen, it was clearly the weak spot of the Astros in 2017. During the final two series of the postseason, AJ Hinch decided to use McCullers, Morton, and Peacock in relief to compensate. Ken Giles was awful in the postseason and Liriano and Gregerson didn’t help at all and are out the door with Liriano joining the Tigers and Gregerson to the Cardinals. Despite all of this, however, the bullpen is shaping up to be very solid in 2018. Ken Giles should still be good in the regular season, and Chris Devenski, Joe Smith, and Will Harris are all solid arms. Further, they’re being joined by Collin McHugh and, when the full rotation is healthy, Brad Peacock, who posted an extremely impressive 3.4 fWAR in 132 IP last season. And, as mentioned, Francis Martes is a high-potential guy, as well, who is oftentimes forgotten on this incredible roster. The Astros wouldn’t be projected for 101 wins without incredible depth and an all-around great team, so it’s reasonable to expect a big year from the bullpen.
The Astros rotation is losing a starter and is still seven pitchers deep. Mike Fiers, who shockingly led the team in innings in 2017, left the Astros to go to the Tigers. Fiers is coming off a very poor season, so it’s probably for the best that he is parting ways with the starting rotation. Besides, the team is about to get a full year of Justin Verlander, who forms a three-headed dragon with Dallas Keuchel and Gerrit Cole. Lance McCullers Jr., with his wicked curve, Charlie Morton, with his analytical approach, Brad Peacock, and Collin McHugh are the remaining starters on this roster. This is a special rotation.
As for the offense, the Astros are losing Carlos Beltran, who announced his retirement after 20 years in the Majors, but that shouldn’t be an issue after he posted an 84 OPS+ in 2017. They will also have to make due without Yuli Gurriel for the first six weeks as he is coming off surgery on his left hand. On top of that, he will have to serve a five game suspension for his offensive gesture during the World Series. Other than that, the Astros offense will look just about the same as last year, and if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Altuve is under the control of the Astros until 2020, Springer won’t be a free agent until 2021, and Correa is under contract until 2022, so yeah, this team is loaded. The Astros did sign deals with Jake Marisnick that will provide depth for their outfield, but he isn’t listed on the starting lineup as of now.
The Astros are the World Series favorite for 2018, clear as day. The offense will be as good, if not better, than last year, and we all know what kind of numbers they were able to produce even with a struggling bullpen. Now as they add new names for their relief pitching, it looks as if they will have an almost unstoppable roster top to bottom. It may not be another impressive 100 win season, but it would be very surprising if they don’t build their home on the top of the AL West yet again. The Astros are a very good example of how a rebuild should look and the years of losing are paying off tremendously.
Projected Record: 104-58
Player to Watch: Alex Bregman
At only 23 years old, Bregman has proven himself as a future star in the MLB. He has shown he has what it takes to play up to level of highly established players. At 3rd he is a brick wall, making clutch plays when the team needed him the most, especially in the postseason. He posted a 0.284 AVG in his 2nd season with the Astros along with 19 home runs and 71 RBIs. He is definitely living up to the #2 overall pick by the Astros in the 2015 draft. He brings enthusiasm as well as intensity to the team which has a noticeable effect on the team. As he continues to develop, his appearance at the plate can turn out to be a complete nightmare for opposing pitchers.
Player to Watch: Forrest Whitley
Whitley played last season in Double-A. He will be 20 years old for the upcoming season, but his 6 foot 7 body doesn’t look that way. He is currently projected to make his debut into the Majors in 2019, but we could see an early entrance this season depending on how the season turns out (though, as mentioned, the PED suspension does not help). His strikeout numbers are insane. In Double-A, he put up 26 Ks in 14 ⅔ IP and will likely start there this year with a promotion to Triple-A later in the season. If all goes according to plan, Whitley will be ace-caliber by the time the Astros lose JV to free agency in a few years.
Player to Watch: Justin Verlander
As a JV fan, it would hurt me to leave him out. Justin did not look very hot leaving the Tigers, but he has found a home in Houston. He pitched lights out in the playoffs and into the World Series. He was named the starter for Opening Day on March 29 and will more than likely put on a show. To finish off the end of last season, JV started 5 games and had 5 wins along with a 1.06 ERA and 43 strikeouts. He is getting older, but we can only expect continued success from JV moving forward (especially since he now is officially married to Kate Upton, though we have no numbers to support this sentiment). JV is a Cy Young candidate in 2018.