The Houston Astros enter 2018 on top after beating the Dodgers in the World Series for their first ever title. The Astros are the complete package after 101 wins and 11 more in the playoffs. They have build from the ashes and now have a really solid chance to repeat. Young consistent hitting, veteran consistent pitching, and speed. Tough combo to beat. They don’t strike out in a time where K’s are King. They get a full season of Justin Verlander and traded for Gerrit Cole and they return pretty much their entire lineup that got them a ring. Things are going very well in Houston.
Hector Rondon, RHP
Joe Smith, RHP
Gerrit Cole, RHP
Mike Fiers, RHP
Tyler Clippers, RHP
Carlos Beltran, OF/DH
Why they can win: Having the best roster in baseball will DEFINITELY help. The lineup features studs all over the place like Altuve, Bergman, Springer and Correa and literally everyone could hit 20 HR if they stay healthy. They get on base; their OPS was 71 points higher than the AL average (.823 to .752). They do it all at the plate and their “weak spot” just added two top of the line starters in Cole and Verlander and relief help with Rondon and Smith. They can and will win a ton of games.
Why they can lose: Injuries? Honestly, there is no reason this team should lose but if they can’t stay healthy then they will run into issues. Even then, they have guys to pick up where those guys left off. They were an average fielding team last year, but I’m just pulling stuff out of left field now.(pun)
Bottom Line: This roster is awesome. They’re fun, young, experienced and talented. Deep all over the diamond and probably better than last year. They should win the AL West and make a run at the World Series again. It’s a great roster to repeat after having gone through a long playoff, gain experience but still being young and having the energy to go through a full 162. Bregman and McCullers enter what figures to be huge years and they have the second best player in baseball, Jose Altuve.
Major4 Numbers Game:
Stud: Jose Altuve, 2B
Tuve is an animal, while standing 5’6. He posted a ridiculous 8.3 (Baseball Reference) and 7.5 (Fangraphs) WAR, which was first and second in the MLB on each respective site. So yeah, baseball nerds love the guy. Oh so you prefer traditional counting stats: he also hit 24 jacks, scored 112 runs, stole 32 bases, and lead the majors with a .346 batting average. He isn’t a statcast darling with a below average exit velo and slightly suboptimal launch angle (9.8 degrees), but he is a throwback who sees the ball, hits it, and can add pop when the situation calls for it. He has a crazy high zone contact rate (91.7%), and has a strong 7.8% swinging strike percentage.
Sinkhole: Yulieski Gurriel, 1B
There isn’t a true weakness on this team, as they are above average at every position. This is truly nitpicking, but Gurriel is probably the weakest player on the roster. He did post a solid 118 wRC+ (Fangraphs) and .299 average, but he had a horrific 3.9 BB% and at 33 years old, his approach is unlikely to change. He doesn’t have an elite contact rate (83.1%) to matchup with his production from last year. Yuli was also a sieve defensively (-5 DRS), and he is one of the rare right handed batters who struggles against lefties (86 wRC+). As mentioned at the beginning, he’s a solid but unspectacular player on an otherwise ELITE squad.
Regression Candidate: Marwin Gonzalez, UTL
Gonzalez had a massive breakout year, posting career highs in nearly every offensive category, more than doubling his previous career high in WAR (4.1, Fangraphs). He was absurdly valuable at a multitude of positions. He was the Astros version of Ben Zobrist. While we believe he will still be a valuable piece, it is difficult to expect him to maintain his all star numbers after a breakout during his 28 year old season. He did nearly double his BB%, up to 9.5%, while cutting his K% by 4 points which is extraordinary. Why we think he may regress is due to his batted-ball profile was nearly identical to the previous year, and actually had a higher rate of soft contact (18.6%) than 2016 when he posted a 88 wRC+. He should still be an above average player for the ‘stros, but it will be very difficult for him to repeat his incredible 2017. Hot take: Gonzalez cuts his WAR by 1.5 points and posts a WAR <2.5.
Impact Acquisition: Gerrit Cole, SP
As if the Astros staff wasn’t good enough during their World Series season, they added former #1 overall pick, Gerrit Cole, for what most experts deemed to be peanuts. Just to put this into perspective, their top pitcher by WAR: Brad Peacock, looks like he is out of a rotation spot. Their 5th/6th starters appear to be as valuable as the majority of teams 2 and 3 starters. But back to Cole, he is coming off a bad year by his standards: 12-12 W/L, 4.26 ERA, 1.45 HR/9. There are positives in his peripherals that point to him bouncing back with the Astros. His BB% was down and his K% was up, and he gained half a tick on his elite velocity (96.4 MPH). He had never posted a HR/FB rate over 10% until last years wild 15.9%. The Astros have had success manipulating better results through repertoire simplification, and Jeff Zimmerman of Fangraphs wrote a great article highlighting how Cole and Houston could go about this process (https://www.fangraphs.com/fantasy/utilizing-changes-in-pitch-mix/).
Major4 Prospects, (Top 100):
Forrest Whitley, RHP (9)
Kyle Tucker, OF (16)
JB Buskauskas, RHP (76)
Yordan Alvarez, 1B/OF
Why We Love Them: They’re the best team in baseball. They play with swagger and they have so many likable players. 5’6 and maybe the best player in the MLB? A SS who has over 20 HR in his first three seasons? A monster leadoff hitter who had 9 leadoff dingers? A stud who comes from Pittsburgh to a WS contender? They have it all, not to mention they have maybe the best color scheme going, an unreal ballpark (RIP Tal’s Hill) and Orbit is a hilarious mascot. They only reason to not like them is because you’re jealous that they’re going to be good for a long time.