For long suffering Astros fans like me, it has been a long time in the wilderness. Of course, getting Biblical is a bit much considering they were in the World Series less than 10 years ago. Philadelphia Phillies fans could ask their grandparents what it was like before the Whiz Kids in 1949. They averaged 100 losses a season over a 20 year period. Of course, the Pittsburgh Pirates just came out of the fog a few years ago after having more than 20 consecutive losing seasons.
I could wax poetic about how much we have suffered here in Houston. Sure, we haven’t suffered as long as those two fan bases, but the suffering has been acute in recent seasons. They’ve had one winning season since 2006 and have averaged 104 losses in the last four seasons. At first blush, such a retrospective may have little to do with fantasy coverage. Fantasy sports are an individual endeavor. Those that would say such things ignore the little things that come with team sports.
How many Astros have been prominent players in your league? Jose Altuve? Maybe Chris Carter in the second half last year? For most fantasy players, Dallas Keuchel and Collin McHugh were afterthoughts a year ago. A funny thing has happened this offseason. The Astros have graduated from being a vast river of sadness and have become a real team. Mind you, the playoffs may still be a year or two away, but with relevance in the standings comes relevance in fantasy terms. Instead of only three or four fantasy prospects, there may be as many as seven or eight when you consider the added relief pitching added in the offseason. However, let’s focus our attention on the everyday lineup and the changes. We will compare the 2014 results with the 2015 projections. I’ll also include Baseball Prospectus’ total average (from 2014) as a reference.
To understand the bleakness of this lineup you must understand total average. According to Baseball Prospectus, a .260 total average would be considered average. Obviously, most regulars would comfortably be better than that, but when we look at last season’s results, we see three players significantly below average and two players that hovered around average. That doesn’t make for a good offensive team.
The transformation has been two-fold. First, the Astros have replaced some of the average and below average players with improved players. Secondly, they are hoping for progress from a couple of younger players. If they get both, their offense could be one of the most improved units in baseball history. Obviously, there were only three players worth owning last season. That might very well double next season. Now, we look at the Steamer projections for next season.
The Big Red Machine they ain’t, but this is a much improved offense over a year ago. If Jason Castro and Jonathan Singleton improve at all (and their total averages with it), then you are looking at a lineup where everyone is virtually average or better. It’s great news for Astros fans, but important news for all fantasy players. When you put more competent hitters in the lineup then you have more run scoring opportunities and more RBI opportunities.
Of course, that wasn’t the only place where the Astros saw significant improvement in the offseason. Over the last several years, no team has done more to disappoint their fans in the late innings than the Astros. We could focus on blown saves and other similar statistics, but let’s look at some more substantive data. Below are the Astros collective bullpen runs allowed per game, saves percentage, and bullpen WAR.
- 2014: -3.0 WAR (26th), 55% SV PCT (29th), 4.46 RA/G (25th)
- 2013: -5.1 WAR (29th), 52% SV PCT (30th), 5.23 RA/G (30th)
- 2012: -2.4 WAR (22nd), 62% SV PCT (26th), 4.90 RA/G (26th)
- 2011: -5.4 WAR (30th), 50% SV PCT (30th), 4.91 RA/G (28th)
Runs allowed per game is obviously similar to ERA, but obviously includes unearned runs. You get the collective essence of relief pitching here. The runs allowed per game and save percentages tend more towards traditional statistics while WAR includes an allowance for variances in team defense and park factors. Collectively, you cannot say anything other than the fact that the Astros bullpen has sucked during the time when they’ve averaged 104 losses a season. Go figure.
This offseason, the Astros added Luke Gregerson of the Athletics, Pat Neskek of the Cardinals, and Will Harris of the Diamondbacks. None of them are established closers, but it will add to the depth in the bullpen. They already had solid performances from Chad Qualls, Tony Sipp, and Josh Fields. Add those together and you get the makings of at least an average bullpen. Average may not be anything to write home about, but average might be enough to win an extra half dozen games. Add that to another half dozen games from the offense and you have the makings of a team that can dream about .500 again.
As you might suspect, predicting win-loss records is never as easy as adding wins here or there. You often lose some as you gain in other areas. Dallas Keuchel and Collin McHugh were revelations last season. They may very well take a step back next year. Still, especially when you look at the new lineup, you have to stand up and take notice of the new Houston Astros. You can’t ignore them anymore.