Hey whaddayaknow the Astros are good again! It's debatable the last time the Astros were actually good. 2006 wasn't a bad year. 2008 was going really well until Hurricane Ike hit and at least made an endpoint not so arbitrary. So we're back to 2005 when the Astros - of course - were in the World Series for about six days. Comparisons have been made between the 2015 Astros and the 2005 Astros, presumably because it's the last time anyone really had fun watching them, besides being interrupted by a terrible natural disaster. How alike are the two teams? Let's take a look.
Well you can immediately rule out Hot Start, which the 2015 Astros are enjoying. Ten years ago today (May 25, 2005) the Astros started the day 15-30 - bringing out the famous Tombstone edition - but would finish the season 74-43 and make the World Series. These Astros are 29-16 while I watch them play the Orioles.
How about roster construction? The average age of the 2005 Houston Astros was 30.4 years old. Craig Biggio was 39 years old, Jeff Bagwell was 37, Brad Ausmus was 36. The 2005 Astros got 436 plate appearances from 37-year old Jose Vizcaino and 36-year old Orlando Palmeiro. The youngest player on the team was 23-year old Willy Taveras. Chris Burke was 25. Everyone position player who received a plate appearance was 27 or over. The rotation featured a 26-year old Wandy Rodriguez, 27-year olds Roy Oswalt and Brandon Backe, 33-year old Andy Pettitte, and 42-year old Roger Clemens. The youngest relievers were Chad Qualls and Mike Burns (26) giving the Astros' pitchers an average age of 30.5 (Clemens and 44-year old John Franco didn't help the old average).
The 2015 Astros are obviously not veteran-heavy, at least not that veteran heavy. The average age on the team is 26.8 years old. Jed Lowrie is the only position player over 30. Luis Valbuena is the Old Man on the field, in his Age 29 season; Castro, Carter, Rasmus, and Gattis are all in their Age 28 seasons. Marwin is 26, Altuve and Springer are 25, and Marisnick is 24. There are a couple of veterans in the rotation, with Fausto (34) and Feldman (32), but McHugh is 28, Keuchel is 26 and for now McCullers is 21. All of the bullpen is over 30, with Qualls as the reigning sage of the group. So we immediately see that the 2015 Astros team is much younger than the 2005 Astros.
When judging offense, it's important to take into account that pitchers were hitting every 9th plate appearance. That said...
Of course we already have a full season's worth of stats for the 2005 Astros, and the 2015 team is currently playing their 46th game as I write this. What do we see? Nothing new or groundbreaking: the 2015 Astros have sacrificed average for power, and their pitching and defense is solid. So what, right? If we compare the 2015 Astros to the 2005 Astros, though, we see that the offense - including Gattis, Carter, and Springer - is keeping up with, and in some ways exceeding, that of the World Series team.
And the pitching. Well, then. I wasn't expecting this part. While the ERA+ is lower/worse for the 2015 team, the ERA/FIP is right there with the Pettitte/Clemens/Oswalt rotation. The 2015 groundball rate is the best in baseball, much better than in 2005, and the K:BB ratio is half a strikeout better than the 2005 one.
In other words - and maybe this isn't a surprise - but the 2015 Astros have a pitching staff at least in whispering distance of 2005, while the 2015 version has more power (the 2015 Astros' ISO is .184, 32 points better than 2005.
The roster is constructed completely differently - 2005 had what I would consider a more traditional offense - an offense built to win in the waning years of Biggio and Bagwell's careers and getting production from a few key players and positions. Chris Burke and Willy Taveras had an OPS+ of 76 and 75, respectively. Berkman and Ensberg, on the other hand, each had an OPS+ over 140.
2015 is pretty unconventional - built around young, controllable players presumably in their prime (or reaching it in the next couple of years) who are 29-16 despite four starters hitting .210 or under, valuing different aspects of the game entirely - getting groundballs hit into a defense that looks like the end of an electronic football game, with an offense that will swing for the fences and connect just often enough to win most games. Six of the starters have an OPS+ of at least 90, while four sit above 100 (Altuve, Marisnick, Rasmus, Springer). There is production - or at least the promise of production - up and down the lineup. It's not always pretty, but - for now - it's working.