1. Welcome! Please take a few seconds to create your free account to post threads, make some friends, remove a few ads while surfing and much more. ClutchFans has been bringing fans together to talk Houston Sports since 1996. Join us!

[Insider Request] Why the Astros will win the AL West

Discussion in 'Houston Astros' started by Dmo for 3mo, May 20, 2015.

  1. Dmo for 3mo

    Dmo for 3mo Member

    Joined:
    Mar 31, 2015
    Messages:
    376
    Likes Received:
    46
  2. J.R.

    J.R. Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Jun 30, 2008
    Messages:
    62,247
    Likes Received:
    36,610
    The rebuilding of the Houston Astros has been one of baseball's longest-term projects. Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow, upon taking over the reins after a nine-year stint with the St. Louis Cardinals, was not brought in to do touch-ups or some routine maintenance, but rather to lead a complete overhaul of the franchise's organizational structure.

    Three-and-a-half years later, Houston stands atop the AL West as we near June, a feat that has happened a bit earlier than expected in the rebuilding cycle. But is Houston's current first-place status a mirage, or will this team be in the thick of things in September?

    Houston's overhaul

    The Astros turned out to be a complex rebuilding job, as Luhnow was given free rein to repair what had become one of baseball's most dysfunctional organizations. Houston was in dire straits following a 2011 season in which they finished 56-106, their fourth sub-.500 seasons in five years. Not only was the major league roster mostly stripped of the talent from the Craig Biggio/Jeff Bagwell/Lance Berkman years, but the minor league system was weak as well. Keith Law ranked the team's farm system 27th in baseball going into the 2011 season.

    Houston took the long road, building the organization from the bottom up, not taking any shortcuts such as throwing a few hundred million dollars at mediocre free agents. So while it was an organization that has looked like one of the best long-term bets in baseball -- last year's 70-92 record was one of the more promising 90-loss seasons I can remember -- sitting at first place in a division in which every other team had a non-crazy argument for being a legitimate contender going into the season is a surprise.

    Prior to the 2015 season, the ZiPS projection system saw the team continuing its 2014 upswing, with a final preseason projection of 77 wins, a 4 percent shot at winning the division and 10 percent chance of making the playoffs. Hey, the future is uncertain, and a big part of ZiPS is knowing how often it's wrong. While none of the other teams were projected to win more than 86 games, it was likely that the Mariners, A's or Angels would beat their mean projection and hit an upside scenario.

    Where they're at

    Projecting the rest of the season through Tuesday night's games, you can see how April and May changed a lot of things. Leading after 40 games isn't like leading after the first week of the season; it's a significant chunk of time, and there are real consequences for the playoff odds of teams. ZiPS now projects the Astros to be the favorite to win the AL West, with a mean win total of two wins more than the Angels and four wins more than the Mariners in one million simulations.

    <PRE>ZiPS Mean Projected Standings, AL West
    TEAM W L GB PCT DIV% PLAYOFF%
    Houston Astros 86 76 -- .531 50.7 65.3
    Los Angeles Angels 84 78 2 .519 26.4 42.8
    Seattle Mariners 82 80 4 .506 18.8 32.8
    Oakland Athletics 76 86 10 .469 2.9 3.3
    Texas Rangers 74 88 12 .457 1.1 2.6</PRE>

    If all the teams in the division played 100 million games, ZiPS still projects the Astros to have only a .494 winning percentage, fourth in the division behind Seattle (.529), Los Angeles (.522) and Oakland (.515). But the beauty of the situation the Astros are in right now is that they don't need to be the best team in the division to win it at this point. They simply need to avoid being too much worse than the teams behind them over the remaining 122 games.

    In a way, it's tempting to compare Houston's division leadership to last year's Cinderella team, the Milwaukee Brewers, another team that had an unexpectedly hot start and then needed to play just well enough to hold off the better teams in the division. But in that case, ZiPS saw the Brewers as a worse team than the Astros are now, and both the Cardinals and Pirates as better teams than any of Houston's current rivals. Even in a tougher situation, Milwaukee did manage to hold on to first fairly regularly until September, when a 9-17 month knocked them completely out of the playoff hunt.

    Trade targets, outlook

    Given Houston's position in the AL West, I think it's time for the Astros to change gears a bit and, in a role-reversal from recent years, be one of the teams scavenging the basement-dwellers for valuable down-the-stretch additions. Adding four wins to the average expectation bumps up Houston's projected divisional chances by more than a third, up to 68 percent for the division and 83 percent for the playoffs. Both numbers would be the highest for any AL team (making the Astros a slight favorite to represent the AL in the World Series).

    Suddenly Cole Hamels looks like an interesting fit for the Astros. While I'm fairly certain that Houston knows that its rotation depth is one of its bigger holes if the Astros are in win-now mode, you can't just go down to the Hamels Store and pick up a six-pack. You must convince the Philadelphia Phillies to finally pull the trigger and part with him, convince Phillies GM Ruben Amaro Jr. to not take all your team's top prospects, and convince Hamels himself to waive his no-trade clause (Houston is one of the 20 teams he can veto).

    But with 3 WAR projected for the rest of the season (2.9 to be exact), Hamels projects the best of any pitcher possibly available in the not-too-distant future. After that, there's Johnny Cueto (2.7 WAR) if the Reds finally fall out of the race, Jeff Samardzija (2.4), Mat Latos (1.9), and even ancient Aaron Harang projects at 1.7 WAR the rest of the season. Scott Kazmir is another possibility; his 1.4 WAR is only so low because of his injury history, and while the A's are in the same division, A's GM Billy Beane tends to be a realist.

    There are other places for the Astros to upgrade, but it's a bit harder in the lineup considering most of the team has been at least adequate and the players who haven't been -- Chris Carter and Evan Gattis, most notably -- are good bets to play much better the rest of the season.

    While I would agree that Carlos Correa should be untouchable, outside of an absolutely crazy return, there's nobody else in the system who should be off the table in the right trade. Even if Lance McCullers proves to be more durable than expected and ready to excel in the majors, that still leaves a team that is getting innings from mediocre starters Scott Feldman and Roberto Hernandez.

    Thanks to April and May, Houston is the current favorite to take the AL West. Now Luhnow and Co. face their next challenge in pushing the team into more of a win-now mode than they've needed to in the past. Whatever happens, it's a fun time to be one of the Astros fans who stuck with the team through some awful seasons.
     
    1 person likes this.
  3. kaleidosky

    kaleidosky Your Tweety Bird dance just cost us a run
    Supporting Member

    Joined:
    Mar 20, 2002
    Messages:
    14,940
    Likes Received:
    1,225
    should've known JR would beat me. deleted
     
  4. Joe Joe

    Joe Joe Contributing Member
    Supporting Member

    Joined:
    May 3, 1999
    Messages:
    13,665
    Likes Received:
    1,797
    I am still skeptical that the Phillies GM and Luhnow will find a deal that would work. Hamels would be nice for this year even if his contract does pose a risk.
     
  5. kaleidosky

    kaleidosky Your Tweety Bird dance just cost us a run
    Supporting Member

    Joined:
    Mar 20, 2002
    Messages:
    14,940
    Likes Received:
    1,225
    I like seeing the WAR numbers and realizing that Samardzjia would likely be just fine as an alternative
     
  6. LonghornFan

    LonghornFan Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Sep 16, 2002
    Messages:
    14,988
    Likes Received:
    1,480
    I read on Fox Sports that the 'Stros have been scouting Samardzjia already. I'm not really a fan of his but it was interesting to read.

     
  7. msn

    msn Member

    Joined:
    Dec 31, 2002
    Messages:
    10,707
    Likes Received:
    347
    Yes. Yes, it is.

    #1994alloveragain
     
Loading...

Share This Page

  • About ClutchFans

    Since 1996, ClutchFans has been loud and proud covering the Houston Rockets, helping set an industry standard for team fan sites. The forums have been a home for Houston sports fans as well as basketball fanatics around the globe.

  • Support ClutchFans!

    If you find that ClutchFans is a valuable resource for you, please consider becoming a Supporting Member. Supporting Members can upload photos and attachments directly to their posts, customize their user title and more. Gold Supporters see zero ads!


    Upgrade Now