Thursday, October 13, 2016

The Houston Astros are going to be All Right

Well, the 2016 season ended with a bit of a splutter.  The Astros were eventually unable to overcome two significant slumps, including a 6-15 start to the season, and a 5-14 record between July 29 and August 18.  I guess there is a future post about in-season slumps waiting to be written, but I am guessing that the remaining 2016 playoff teams are unlikely to have had one slump of that degree, let alone two.

The Constable recently wrote another excellent piece about the payroll outlook for 2017.  In it, he mentioned that Colby Rasmus, Luis Valbuena and the universally-admired Jason Castro are all headed for free agency, and it seems a little unlikely that all (or any) of the three will be back.  So let's see what this leaves us as a lineup for 2017.  Here is a guess as to what it may look like to start the season against Felix Hernandez and the Mariners:

George Springer, RF
Alex Bregman, 3B
José Altuve, 2B'
Carlos Correa, SS
Evan Gattis, C
Yulieski Gurriel, DH
Tyler White, 1B
Teoscar Hernández, LF
Jake Marisnick, CF

It's not the worst lineup in the world.  Springer continues to build toward his theoretical career peak, having finished the 2016 season strongly.  Alex Bregman looks like he can contribute with the bat and the glove.  José Altuve may win an MVP one day, unless Carlos Correa takes it from him along the way.  Evan Gattis experienced a resurgence once he donned the Tools of Ignorance part-way through 2016.  Yuri Gurriel looks like he can handle a bat while Tyler White worked things out late in the season, contributing a couple of crucial hits in important at-bats.  Teoscar Hernández reclaimed some prospect status, and didn't look totally lost during a late-season call-up.  And Handsome Jake is a defensive stud who sometimes rakes.  Not the worst at all.

At some point, however, we need to swing back to the title of this article.  Fans of Arrested Development may already have smelt a rat.  The following video will assist everyone else:

That lineup is going to be literally all right.  Each of those players digs in on the third-base side of the plate, and none are switch hitters.  I will agree that the above lineup does not account for any free-agent additions, the triumphant return of Jason Castro, or putting A.J. Reed or MarGo into the lineup, which seems quite likely.  But I also would not be surprised if that lineup, or something very close to it, gets trotted out for Opening Day at MMP.

I am also not sure that an all-righty lineup would be all that bad.  Right-handed power is a valuable commodity in Major League Baseball at the moment, and the top seven of that lineup could all surpass 25 home runs each next year.  Right-handed hitters in the AL last year had a limited platoon split: .762 OPS against LHP versus .746 OPS against RHP.  Compare that to lefty-hitters in the AL, which had a much larger platoon-split: .676 against LHP versus .743 against RHP.  So right-handed hitters actually hit better against right handed pitchers than left handed hitters did.  Bollocks to the theoretical platoon advantage!  So the Astros may have no qualms about running an all-right-handed lineup out there to open 2017.

Let's look to see how each player performs in a platoon role, again using OPS:

Player            Career OPS versus RHP  Career OPS versus LHP

George Springer          .779                   .909
Alex Bregman*            .813                   .735
José Altuve              .753                   .893
Carlos Correa            .838                   .807
Evan Gattis              .772                   .819
Yulieski Gurriel*        .739                   .537
Tyler White*             .591                   .798
Teoscar Hernández*       .632                   .881
Jake Marisnick           .575                   .667

* - less than one season of MLB at-bats

So out of the established players, none of the core of Springer, Altuve, Correa or Gattis has a career threatening platoon split.  Marisnick is not great against pitchers of either hand.  The data for the remaining players is significantly impeded by small sample sizes for at-bats at the MLB level (and accurate MiLB data is hard to come by), but taken at face value, platoon partners for Tyler White and Teoscar Hernández could be in order.  The Astros happen to have A.J. Reed and some Singleton guy as potential platoon partners for Tyler White, and Tony Kemp potentially a a platoon-guy in LF.  If those are prospects that you happen to believe in.

The point of this article is that the Astros have a bunch of right-handed hitters of various talent levels, and all seem to be pushing for a case to play in 2017.  I think that is the main reason that the switch-hitting MarGo is brought back - and perhaps the only reason, because 3.5MM plus for a utility-man with a sub-.300 career OBP would seem a little steep to some.  And perhaps this also brings Jason Castro back into a job-share with Evan Gattis, who also shares DH-time with Yuli Gurriel, Tyler White and A.J. Reed.  Or Colby Rasmus gets signed again for the right price - likely waaaay less than 16MM.

A logical follow-up article would be to look at left-handed hitters that the Astros could pursue.  I will get to work on this over the next week or two.  There will be guys eligible for Free Agency who may be worth a look.  The Colorado Rockies have four LHH outfielders, so perhaps a trade is possible with them.  Lefty-hitting Astros also exist on the farm.  It seems that the logical places to pursue upgrades would be catcher, CF and 1B, because as things stand, the middle infield, third base and RF seem locked down in the short term.

Thanks for reading!