Monday, March 24, 2014

Houston Astros 2014 Team Breakdown

HOUSTON ASTROS:  51-111 (Last in the AL West)

Projected Starting Lineup/Batting Order:

CF        Dexter Fowler
2B        Jose Altuve
C          Jason Castro
DH       Chris Carter
3B        Matt Dominguez
1B        Jesus Guzman
RF        L.J. Hoes
LF        Robbie Grossman
SS        Jonathan Villar

Projected Starting Rotation/Key Bullpen Arms:

SP        Scott Feldman
SP        Jarred Cosart
SP        Brad Peacock
SP        Brett Olberholtzer
SP        Jerome Williams
RP       Chad Qualls
RP       Matt Albers
RP       Jessie Crain

The Astros were, quite simply, the worst team in baseball last year.  In fact, they have been the worst team in baseball for perhaps the last 5 years.  That’s not easy to do.  So congrats.  But all kidding aside, this team has been making moves, cutting salary and building up their minor league system.  They are saving money and are about to get a major T.V. deal.  That should make them even more money, especially with Houston being the fourth largest market in the United States.  So the Astros’ overall future is bright, even if this year looks to be another colossal disappointment.

The offense is flawed.  Flawed is too weak a work.  The offense is bad.  Jose Altuve is an all star at second.  Dexter Fowler can play.  Jason Castro was a surprise and Chris Carter has some power.  That’s literally all the good news for Houston’s offense.  What’s the bad news?  Everything else.  But let’s break it down intelligently.  The Astros traded for Dexter Fowler this offseason.  In 119 games last year he hit 263 with 12 HR and 19 SB.  Outside of Coors Field, expect his power numbers to drop.  And it wouldn’t be a surprise to see his AVG fall a bit now that he can’t count on the cavernous Coors outfield to give him spots to drop hits in.  His speed is great, but he’s not an All Star.  I’ll start him at the top of the lineup, though Altuve may be better suited there.  But if his power drops like I suspect it to, then he will be the leadoff man.  If somehow it climbs or stays the same, they may move him to third.  Altuve is the best hitter on the team and will hit second.  He hit 285 last year with 35 SB.  His OBP isn’t great, which is why they’ll let Fowler have the first shot at leading off.  But don’t be surprised if he takes the top spot back at some point.  But that’s it for him.  No power and his R scoring opportunities are tied to his teammates, so that’s bad news.  I’m thinking another 280 season with 30+ SB.  His R total will be between 50 and 70, depending on where he hits in the lineup.  The other good news from last year was the emergence of Jason Castro.  He hit 276 with 18 HR.  That’s very good, especially for a catcher.  I’m putting him third in this lineup for now.  He may drop off a bit, but he’s got the potential to be their second best offensive piece.  DH Chris Carter does one thing well, and that’s hit HR.  He had 29 HR to go with 82 RBI last year.  But that also came with a 223 AVG.  I’m putting him cleanup, but not expecting a lot.  I have him dropping off a bit with maybe a 25 HR/75 RBI season.  Good, but not what a major league cleanup hitter who hits below 240 should do.  Matt Dominguez was solid last year.  For that, he gets to hit 5th.  He had a 241/21/77/56 line last year while playing third in Houston.  It was his first full year and right on par with what most people expected.  He hit more HR than previously thought, so that was a nice surprise.  This guy won’t be a star, but he’s a solid hitter.  And he’s the last hitter we know much about in Houston.  I have Jesus Guzman playing first and hitting 6th after Dominguez.  He had 9 HR and a 226 AVG in 126 games.  That’s not good.  L.J. Hoes hit 284 and swiped 10 bags.  But that was only in 47 games.  That’s almost all of his big league career (49 games) so who knows what he does.  Robbie Grossman hit 268 in 63 games last year while Jonathan Villar hit 243 in 58.  That’s the bottom third of the lineup.  Actually it’s 6-9.  Not great.  It’s not that they couldn’t become great, but there is so little experience we really don’t know.  Houston will be good eventually, but the bottom of this lineup will struggle next year.

All this puts extra pressure on a pitching staff that doesn’t need to be dealing with a lot of pressure to begin with.   The Astros biggest acquisition this offseason was Scott Feldman who they gave $30 million to over 3 years to be their ace.  Despite all the jokes about Feldman being overpaid, he wasn’t that bad last year.  He went 12-12 with a 3.86 ERA over 30 starts with the Cubs and Orioles.  There was one troubling trend as his ERA jumped about 80 points while with the Orioles, and that’s the same league he will be pitching in full time this season.  And the AL West is much tougher than the AL East (how crazy would that sentence sound 5 years ago?).  But his BAA was about the same, so cutting out some walks will go a long way.  He’s not a strikeout guy, but he’s a capable starter.  Perhaps a number 4 on the best teams, a number 3 on others, but a solid number one for Houston, though Sandy Koufax he ain’t.  Their number 2 man is probably Jarred Cosart who went 1-1 in 10 starts with the Astros last year.  He’s not a big strikeout guy (33 in 60 IP) but had an impressive 1.95 ERA to go with a 220 BAA.  But his 35 BBs in 60 IP were a huge issue, which led to a 1.35 WHIP.  If he can stop walking people, this guy could be good.  But with 10 games under his belt, we still don’t know yet.  It gets a little more dicey after that.  Brad Peacock went 5-6 with a 5.18 for the Astros last year.  He missed all of 2012 due to injury, so the Astros hope his 18 starts last year were just him making his way back.  Prior to that he had 3 games of experience with the Nationals, including 2 starts.  His ERA there was under 1, but he also had 6 BBs in 12 IP.  And that was in 2011.  So he’s another unknown quantity like Cosart, except that his body of work last year wasn’t as impressive.  Brett Oberholtzer is another unsure quantity in this rotation, but, like Cosart, was impressive in limited duty.  He turned in a 4-5 record with a 2.76 ERA over 10 starts.  Both his WHIP and BAA were well below the MLB average.  He’s not a strikeout guy, but he gets outs.  And the number 5 spot in the rotation will likely go to former Angel Jerome Williams.  He appeared in 37 games for the Angels last year, 25 of those games being starts.  He’s not a great starter with a 9-10 record and 4.57 ERA last year.  His WHIP and BAA were not very good, but not awful.  He’s a career 4.35 pitcher who pitched within his means last year.  The good thing about Williams is that he’s a known quantity.  He may not be the best, but he won’t kill them.  And with sentences like that, you know the Astros may be in trouble on the mound.  Their bullpen isn’t overly exciting either, though they did add Jesse Crain, Chad Qualls and Matt Albers.  Crain will likely close, but he’s out for a few months to rehab.  So maybe they let Qualls do it.  Or Josh Fields.  Either way, there isn’t a lot to write home about when it comes to bullpen depth or talent.  The best thing I can say is that maybe Qualls, Albers or Crain really kills it back there, in which case the Astros can package them to a team with a chance of winning this year to continue to stockpile prospects.  They may hang on to Crain, but the others would be good trade bait.  Either way, the bullpen has some veteran experience, which is more than most of the team can say.


Well it’s not good this year.  The outlook for the future has promise, but is still murky.  I know people applaud the Astros for committing to the re-build and having essentially 0 salary commitments coming into this year.  But what choice did GM Jeff Luhnow have?  They are, have been and will continue to be the worst team in baseball.  They have to re-build.  So they are.  The good news is, they committed to it, which is often hard to do, and should be getting a lot of money from their local TV deal soon.  So the long-term outlook is good.  But with a lot of these prospects still wet behind the ears, this is indeed a LONG-TERM outlook.  Bad this year, probably still bad next year.  They are playing for the year after next.  And remember, they’ve been rebuilding for about 4 years already.

They will once again be the worst team in the league this year.  They will finish last in the division and win about 60 games.  That’s about 10 games better than last year.  But I still have them losing 100.  There’s always next year (really the year after) Houston!

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