2015 Season Previews: Houston Astros

Over the next several weeks, The Baseball Haven will be creating season previews for all 30 MLB teams. You’ll find their projected records (based on PECOTA records from Baseball Prospectus, as of 2/15/2015), each team’s top three players (based on Steamer WAR projections from FanGraphs), and some valuable notes on each team, including likely bounce-back candidates, potential breakout players or fantasy sleepers, as well as a look back at offseason transactions which led to each team’s projections. Stop back frequently to see where your favorite team ranks! 

Houston Astros

Courtesy: MLB.com
Courtesy: MLB.com

2015 Projected Record: 77-85 (5th in AL West, 24th in MLB)

Manager: A.J. Hinch (1st season with Houston, 89-123 in two seasons overall)

Top Three Players: 2B Jose Altuve (3.2), LHP Dallas Keuchel (2.8), OF George Springer (2.5)

Bounce-back Player: OF/DH Evan Gattis

Gattis doesn’t really make sense in a bounce-back spot due to posting an .810 OPS in 2014. After all, he hit 22 home runs in just 108 and 401 plate appearances. However, people seemed to sour on the slugger due to his ineffectiveness behind the plate, as he allowed 53 stolen bases and threw out just 20 percent of would-be base stealers (league average was 28 percent). Gattis, though, was likely miscast in that role anyway, and his move to the American League presents the opportunity to DH, especially with the Astros having Jason Castro, Hank Conger, and Max Stassi as options at catcher. Gattis will likely play left field a majority of the time, keeping Chris Carter at the DH spot, but this will allow Gattis to play every day. Based on his power numbers, you’re looking at a left fielder with 30 or more home runs in a quickly improving Astros lineup. While he may not be “bouncing back”, Gattis will certainly be jumping forward with his most productive season, as he is in his prime (age-28 season) and will get plenty of at bats.

Singleton/Springer the new Bagwell/Biggio?  Courtesy: sportsonearth.com
Singleton/Springer the new Bagwell/Biggio?
Courtesy: sportsonearth.com

Fantasy Player to Watch: 1B Jon Singleton

Some fantasy fans will be scared off from Singleton due to his .168 batting average and the fact that he struck out in 37 percent of his at bats in his 2014 season; however, you can take advantage of his faded future stardom by others jumping off of the bandwagon. There were several positives in his atrocious .168/.285/.335, mainly his 13.8 percent walk-rate and his .168 ISO, which would have matched Adrian Beltre and Hunter Pence for right about 55th in MLB (if he had enough plate appearances to qualify). Additionally, Singleton’s .238 BABIP showed quite a bit of bad luck, and some of those balls may fall (or fly out of the park) in 2015. Plus…Singleton had a 20.7 percent infield fly ball rate, which would have led MLB – if that is something that someone actually “leads”. He won’t turn 24 until the middle of September and he has a ton of power, patience at the plate, and a team willing to play him despite the strikeouts (see Carter, Chris) – if they don’t go away.

Offseason Overview: The Astros were able to get 3B Luis Valbuena and RHP Dan Straily from the Cubs for Dexter Fowler, while acquiring OF Evan Gattis from the Braves for a package of solid prospects (3B Rio Ruiz, RHP Michael Foltynewicz, and RHP Andrew Thurman). They signed OF Colby Rasmus and SS Jed Lowrie, and, suddenly, the team has another fresh look. The Gattis trade may go down as a steal for the Braves (Ruiz is very good and Foltynewicz has the arm to be an elite reliever if he doesn’t make it as a starter), but Matt Dominguez still has four seasons of team-control (including this season), and the club acquired Colin Moran from the Marlins last season, so the depth was there. The deals that they made provided a lot of depth, as Houston has three very good options at catcher, Dominguez and Valbuena can share third and be productive, while Rasmus appears to be a bench player if he is unable to beat out Jake Marisnick for the job in right, as Gattis should be in left and Springer will be in center. We will see if the philosophy that Jeff Luhnow has developed ends up working, but this winter definitely improved the roster.

The Verdict: PECOTA sees the Astros falling back into the AL West cellar, and with the rotation that they have, that seems likely, but they’re also predicted to win SEVEN more games than they did in 2014. While they’ll still have one of the lowest payrolls in MLB, the organization appears ready to make moves necessary to improve the team, even dealing away pieces of their future due to the tremendous amount of depth that has been created within the system. Slowly but surely, the Astros are getting there. We’re another season away from seeing RHP Mark Appel, SS Carlos Correa, RHP Vincent Velasquez, and OF Brett Phillips in major roles for the big league club, and once they are there, the rebuild will officially be on the verge of taking the leap to contention. Until then, it’s another season to hope for positive gains and see if the Astros make a run at some of the huge names who will be available next winter.

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Fantasy Baseball’s Fabulous First Half Figures

With the All-Star break starting after Sunday’s action, there are some baseball fans who are feeling like a train ran over them, weeping at the thought of discussing their fantasy baseball teams due to horrific production, numerous injuries, and running their squads with their hearts instead of their heads – sitting in last place. The cellar isn’t so bad until all of the wine is gone, but some of us have players to thank for tremendous starts to the 2014 fantasy baseball season. Not all of us can have Mike Trout, Andrew McCutchen, Felix Hernandez, and Troy Tulowitzki, so these are the players who are helping to separate the contenders from the pretenders in the first half of the season:

Jose Altuve, 2B, Houston Astros

Year Age Tm G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS TB
2014 ★ 24 HOU 91 410 380 47 128 27 2 2 27 41 23 28 .337 .376 .434 .810 165
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 7/12/2014.

Altuve is having a career year, on pace for over 220 hits and 70 stolen bases. In an era of huge swing and miss on the offensive side of the game, Altuve lacks patience but makes consistent contact, putting the ball in play to utilize his speed. He leads MLB with his 128 hits, with 20 of those coming on infield hits. With Jon Singleton and George Springer joining him in Houston this season, a glimpse into the Astros’ future is upon us.

 

Indians OF Michael Brantley
Indians OF Michael Brantley

Michael Brantley, LF, Cleveland Indians

Year Age Tm G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS TB
2014 ★ 27 CLE 88 382 343 62 112 22 1 14 62 10 30 31 .327 .387 .519 .906 178
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 7/12/2014.

“Dr. Smooth” has already eclipsed his previous career-high in home runs (10 in 2013) this season, and will easily surpass his career bests in several other categories, and if that wasn’t enough, he is tied for the MLB lead in outfield assists (10, though he has negative defensive value). You likely don’t earn anything for those throws, but Branley’s bat has kept an up-and-down Indians club in the AL Central race all season. His career contact rates suggest that this breakout is legit – not bad for the player to be named later in the C.C. Sabathia deal, huh?

Dee Gordon, 2B, Los Angeles Dodgers

Year Age Tm G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS TB
2014 ★ 26 LAD 89 384 351 51 104 14 9 2 25 42 27 56 .296 .348 .405 .753 142
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 7/12/2014.

To think that Gordon was “in the mix” for the second base job this spring after the Dodgers signed Cuban infielder Alex Guerrero seems absurd when looking at his offensive impact this season. The speedster has obviously assisted fantasy players with the league-leading 42 stolen bases, but getting on base (formerly a problem) has allowed him to be driven in by Matt Kemp, Yasiel Puig, and the other Dodger hitters. Sometime you just need a long-term look to show what you have. The Dodgers committed to him, and Gordon is rewarding many people so far this season.

Billy Hamilton, CF, Cincinnati Reds

Year Age Tm G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS TB
2014 23 CIN 88 348 323 45 92 18 6 5 38 37 16 63 .285 .318 .424 .742 137
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 7/12/2014.

I wasn’t much of a believer in Hamilton given his struggles in Triple-A last season, but he has certainly proven me wrong. While he isn’t leading the league in steals, he has certainly given the Reds an dynamic defender in center and a threat to score at will. The power is just icing on the cake for fantasy owners. His recent tear (.344/.375/.574 over the last 15 games) has not only increased his numbers, they have helped put the Reds back in contention in the NL Central.

Charlie Blackmon, OF, Colorado Rockies

Year Age Tm G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS TB
2014 ★ 27 COL 91 373 341 52 101 17 1 14 50 16 21 46 .296 .343 .475 .818 162
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 7/12/2014.

Blackmon is an All-Star. He barely had a grasp on the starting left field job when spring training started, so that is about all that you need to know; however, I will share his home and road splits because I’m not so sure his value is legitimate unless you play him during long home stands –

Split G GS PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS TB
Home 46 42 199 180 37 61 10 1 11 34 10 13 22 .339 .394 .589 .983 106
Away 45 37 174 161 15 40 7 0 3 16 6 8 24 .248 .285 .348 .633 56
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 7/12/2014.

 

Cincinnati Reds 3B Todd Frazier
Cincinnati Reds 3B Todd Frazier

Todd Frazier, 3B, Cincinnati Reds

Year Age Tm G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS TB
2014 ★ 28 CIN 92 390 353 55 102 17 1 17 48 13 31 79 .289 .351 .487 .839 172
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 7/12/2014.

Todd Frazier is the second most valuable third baseman in baseball in 2014 (based on WAR, 3.5), ahead of the likes of Evan Longoria, David Wright, and Adrian Beltre. He’s hitting for power, he’s running, and, the best part, nothing in his numbers truly suggest a regression. With the hot months ahead of us and Great American Ballpark being a notoriously friendly environment, we could easily see 30 home runs and 100 RBI next to his name at the end of the season.

Garrett Richards, RHP, Los Angeles Angels

Year Age Tm Lg W L ERA GS CG SHO IP H R ER HR BB SO FIP WHIP H9
2014 26 LAA AL 11 2 2.55 19 0 0 123.1 88 35 35 4 43 127 2.68 1.062 6.4
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 7/12/2014.

Perhaps we should have seen this coming after Richards had one of the top fastball velocities in baseball in 2013. After all, if you consider that his average fastball was 94.8 mph in 2013, he would have ranked in the top four in baseball behind Matt Harvey, Stephen Strasburg, and Jose Fernandez. Good company. Better results.

Alfredo Simon, RHP, Cincinnati Reds

Year Age Tm W L ERA GS CG SHO IP H R ER HR BB SO FIP WHIP H9
2014 33 CIN 12 3 2.70 18 0 0 116.2 94 36 35 14 28 75 4.32 1.046 7.3
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 7/12/2014.

Simon is leading MLB in the all important WIN. Ugh…the win…well, it still matters in fantasy. The FIP suggests he could see regression, but the bigger question is the number of innings he will log, as his career-high for innings was in 2011 when he reached 115.2 for Baltimore. He will likely spend some time in the Reds’ bullpen to limit those down the stretch, or a burnout is likely.

 

A's LHP Scott Kazmir
A’s LHP Scott Kazmir

Scott Kazmir, LHP, Oakland Athletics

Year Age Tm W L ERA GS CG SHO IP H R ER HR BB SO FIP WHIP H9
2014 ★ 30 OAK 11 3 2.38 19 1 0 117.1 88 33 31 10 27 108 3.18 0.980 6.8
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 7/12/2014.

His career was nearly over in 2011 due to shoulder issues, he missed all of 2012 and then the solid return in Cleveland was special…but this is incredible. Kazmir deserves this success after overcoming so many obstacles, and the A’s look intelligent, as always, in their wise investment – as do fantasy owners.

Henderson Alvarez, RHP, Miami Marlins

Year Age Tm W L ERA GS CG SHO IP H R ER HR BB SO FIP WHIP H9
2014 24 MIA 6 4 2.63 19 3 3 120.0 129 43 35 7 22 73 3.34 1.258 9.7
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 7/12/2014.

Alvarez has a heavy fastball that he can’t blow by many, but it manages to keep the ball on the ground and in the park. That has helped him take a big step forward in his production on the mound this season. At 24, he is a strong dynasty option. He really knows how to pitch and his command will keep him relevant if and when he loses his velocity.