Reliving the 2017 Season: Houston Astros Edition | The Process Report

Reliving the 2017 Season: Houston Astros Edition

With the end of the regular season comes a time for reflection for the majority of baseball fans. What went right? What went wrong? You probably have a few ideas where your teams fell short or exceeded expectations, but what about a completely emotionless point of view? Throughout this season I have shown what batter and pitcher production looks like when we regress balls in play to look more like what the players should have seen using exit velocity and launch angle. The offseason will be no different as I take a team by team look at how the season fared for the team, while going a little deeper on a handful of players from each team. The order will mirror next June’s draft slotting so you can expect to find some depression leading to elation here. It’s going to take some time, but I would like to get two to three of these out each week which should allow for every team being covered before our glorious game returns to continue threshing our hearts.

Past:

30 – 21: DET SFG PHI CWS CIN NYM SDP ATL OAK PIT

20 – 11:  BAL TOR MIA SEA TEX TBR LAA KCR STL MIN

10 – 1:  MIL COL NYY CHC ARI BOS HOU

For the first time in their franchise’s history the Houston Astros have won the World Series. It feels good to say that, and I hope I get to say it someday about the team I care about the most. A superstar lineup that could really freaking hit, for half the season, at least, as the team noticeably downshifted after racing out to an enormous divisional lead. Strong performers like Josh Reddick (6/13), Carlos Correa (7/18), George Springer (7/25), Evan Gattis (8/4) and Brian McCann (8/14) spent time on the disabled list, while Yuli Gurriel and Jake Marisnick missed some games in the final weeks dealing with knee and hand issues, respectively.

While many teams sought to game the disabled list last year, the Astros seemed to have dealt with some legitimate injury issues during the latter parts of the season to key players. Of course, they righted the ship, ultimately, but even at their worst they were still playing .500 ball. In the meantime they were able to trial some guys that deserved more than a cup of coffee, but not quite the whole pot. All those banked wins early allowed the team to not have to stretch too far despite having solid depth.

The pitching side saw some of this, too, as you can see by the steadily decreasing effectiveness over the course of the season. Dallas Keuchel missed most of June and July with some overlap in June from Lance McCullers Jr. who also missed all of August and wasn’t used much in September. A somewhat thin staff received a much needed injection when Justin Verlander came over on September first. As remarkable as the gap they were running was it is astonishing to see that much variation for a single team over a season. Both sides saw a good bit more actual production than expected, which could be an issue with the park factors or, maybe, how it is being captured.

Totalling everything up you can see just how good their pitching was last season. Putting up the league’s third best strikeout rate is a fine start, but they also walked people right at the average. When balls were put in play they suppressed contact very well, though observed results did come in a tick higher than the average. I’ve got them around 130 runs better than average trailing only the Yankees, for now.

The bats were equally impressive with their aversion to strikeouts being a strong driver for the performance. They led the league in avoiding the punchout, and like the pitchers, they also ran a near league average walk rate to get there. Similar to the pitchers, the observed results on balls in play showed a large gap between the much lower expected production rate. The model sees them as a little below average on those balls in play. It would seem the low strikeout rate has to be extremely beneficial considering all the extra balls in play. Approaching the average is still better than the big fat zero you get from a strikeout. Altogether the unit was worth close to 60 runs above average, but it sure would have been cool to see how it would look if they hadn’t slowed down in the second half.

The pitchers should get their due, because it seemed like all season folks wanted to talk about how they needed to add a few arms if they wanted to have success. Finding Brad Peacock seems to have gone mostly overlooked, but he had an incredible season even if the walk rate makes you a little uncomfortable at times. Missing a month for Keuchel held his volum back, but he was still quite good. McCullers is kind of in the same boat missing a bunch of time, but not quite on the same level as the former Cy Young winner. Another reclamation project in Charlie Morton looks well worth the investment, and you can plainly see how ridiculously good Verlander was once he came aboard. They got some decent depth from Joe Musgrove and Collin McHugh, but also some important innings for Francis Marte to acclimate to the league. He showed worse than average contact on top of awful walk rates, but the strikeout bailed him out often enough, too. David Paulino looks less promising, but the strikeout to walk is a nice sight. Even Mike Fiers deserves some credit for giving the team some volume that didn’t hurt too much. He was a little worse than average, but soaking up that much work can help the bullpen from being extended too much.

The bullpen was a strength early on when fireman Chris Devenski was fresh, but after some overuse his second half the team had to do a little more work. Closer Ken Giles was mostly a rock all year riding a ridiculous strikeout rate, but also squashing hard contact. Those two and Will Harris, when he could throw, were the real standouts, though several other guys proved serviceable. You can see where another good arm or two in the bullpen could have helped this team, but it feels like a luxury.

Watching a Brad Peacock start isn’t the easiest thing in the world. He walks a bunch of guys, throws a ton of junk out of the zone, but if it’s hard to watch it has to be damn near impossible to be the batter up there. He throws a secondary half the time and when you get a fastball there is a decent chance it is an obvious ball. Making batters uncomfortable with ridiculous stuff is how you strikeout 29% of batters. It’s how you allow well below production when they do manage to put it in play. He was consistently better than average throughout the season, but note that this includes his time in a relief role, as well. He saw massive underperformance later in the season during what should have been some of this best results, but things corrected from there. This guy is going to be in their bullpen next year. Ridiculous.

As previously mentioned, Dallas Keuchel missed some time this year, and you can see that after he came back he wasn’t quite as good as his strong start. he would close on a worse note, but that shouldn’t overshadow the troughs where he profiles as one of the better pitchers in the game. He saw outsized worse results during the middle of the season, but also spent plenty of time over performing. Something he might be uniquely suited to doing thanks to how weak of contact he generates. After all, the model doesn’t factor in spray, and he seems to get so much downward, weak trajectory. To wit:

It would seem that when he struggles it is due to the higher end contact. Pitching through pain isn’t easy, and I’m sure he’s dealing with as much as most. Perhaps that is being captured here. With so much depth in the coming year it might make sense to monitor something like this. When the exit velo starts trending up again it might be time to give him a breather, whether in fantasy or real life.

The rocket-like ascension of Lance McCullers Jr. from coveted high school arm plucked out of the draft in 2012 to pitching important postseason innings in 2018 isn’t the norm. Most 23 year olds are pleading with their boss to let them off early from the Home Depot not making grown men look silly at the dish. The middle of his season was an incredible stretch. Candles that burn twice as bright, last half as long, though. You can see how the arm injury that ultimately led to him going to the disabled list affected his performance as he crossed over into the badlands. The late season rest allowed him to be a curveball throwing force in the post-season, and something the team should be commended for rather than having the lad continue to slog through poor performance.

Shedding the Searage shackles Charlie Morton was able to throw harder, while continuing to lean heavily upon his very good curveball. It wasn’t all rosy, but this is fine performance from a back end starter, on a contender, or otherwise. There was a good bit of volatility here that left him either looking pretty good or a little worse than average, and rarely stabilizing betwixt the two. Striking out over a quarter of batters and suppressing hard contact allowed him to have this kind of success, but between the volatility and the somewhat lack of volume it is hard to see him having a ton of demand in fantasy.

In the last review I looked at the Washington Nationals who boasted four incredible hitters. The Houston Astros had nine (9!) guys get more than 300 plate appearances and put up above average production. Correa and Springer are absolute stars who walk a bunch while hitting the ball really hard. Running an even better K-BB% allows Jose Altuve to put the ball in play a ton, and when he does it’s just magic. More on him below.  The team got better than average production out of Reddick, Alex Bregman, both catchers, super utility Marwin Gonzalez and first baseman Yuli Gurriel. That’s shortstop, centerfield, second base, rightfield, third base, catcher, all over and first base. An entire lineup without a hole. Must be nice.

On the downside they gave too much time to Carlos Beltran and Nori Aoki might be somewhat of a model breaker it isn’t to a meaningful extent. Derek Fisher might have been seen as a disappointment during his trial, but he walked a bunch and showed league average production on balls in play. Joining his teammates in walking and then running away from the strikeout should allow him to be a strong player. If he can get on the field.

When November first rolls around the season is done and it is time to start putting together the list for Santa. Across the nation boys and girls of all ages have Carlos Correa at the very top. Calling him a passable defender at shortstop would unnecessarily distract from how incredibly gifted he is as a hitter. Most guys don’t hit the ball this hard without making a massive whiff trade off, but Correa strikes out at a lower rate than the average. He doesn’t get there by hacking, either, as he ran a well above average walk rate. Looking at the leaderboard below he had the same xwOBA* as Bryce Harper and Paul Goldschmidt. He can passably play shortstop. Every team wants one of these. You can see a noticeable falloff over the second half due to the thumb injury, but when he is healthy there might not be another guy in the game you would want to build around.

While he was only on the disabled list a short time you can see that things weren’t exactly right with George Springer’s ankle over the second half. That shouldn’t overshadow the strong start going to incredible heights for much of the season. Much like Correa, he isn’t a strong defender in centerfield by any stretch, but the bat at his position, and the one you can play further down the line, more than makes up for the trade off. When him and Correa were right you saw this offense push into the stratosphere. Here’s hoping he can keep his feet under him this year.

As a fan of the game, Altuve is just so incredibly fascinating to me. He is absolutely the unicorn that breaks models like these that don’t take into account the player’s speed or their ability to spray the ball laterally. You can see average to good performance throughout the year, though he close fairly meekly much like the team, overall. However, you consistently see outsized production that ranges from good to great. He is so very good with the bat in his hands even during his worst stretches from an expectations-perspective. It was good to see him win the MVP, but past is prologue. We care more about the future where the second half downturn might be a little scary, especially when you look at his exit velocity trends:

I would guess that Altuve was playing through something there leading to the diminished results. Maybe if some other key players weren’t also ailing or if he wasn’t in MVP consideration he would have hit the shelf to get some rest, but in either case I wouldn’t be lowering his star for next year.

Spending less than two full seasons in the minor leagues got Alex Bregman to the bigs for his 23 year old season a whole lot like McCullers Jr. In addition to Correa, you can see how quickly a team can turn it around when they strike absolute gold in the draft. His youth shouldn’t be the sole focus, however, as Bregman has shown a fairly solid ability to hit in the Show. You can see how he wore down a little bit over the course of the season, but contrasted with his incredible actual production this looks like it might have been a period where he adjusted to what pitchers were doing to him even if it wasn’t going to lead to the absolute optimum he could do at the plate. If that is the case, pitchers eventually caught on so that things feel back in line a little bit worse than average. Without the outsize performance I would chalk the downward trend to fatigue, but more likely is that it was a combination of both. In leagues where he qualifies at shortstop he should be in absolute demand as this type of production from the position is very strong even if it makes him a little less valuable in real life.

Leaderboards

Here you will find the top and bottom 20 hitters and pitchers over the course of last season. Below that are the team aggregate ranks and then finally the combined xwRAA rankings where the Astros are firmly planted at the top. With only two teams left will that remain the case. Tune in next time to find out.

 



Leave a Reply

#layout { padding-left:20px; }