Astros – The Off-Season Strategy Session - Part 1

Larry The GM on Nov. 8, 2018

It is the offseason. When every hardcore baseball fan transforms from Manager of the Year (in their mind) to Executive of the Year (again in their mind.)

I am no different. In fact, the boys at “Talking Stros” know me as LarrytheGM because this is my time of the year where I have the plan to restore the Astros to the rightful place atop the baseball world.

This year, rather than fill your Twitter feed with ideas, we will submit them for the record here at Houston Preeminence. Hopefully, this will serve as your roadmap and guide until pitchers and catchers report in February. Here, I am released from the tyranny of 280 characters, so buckle in for deep analysis here.

My passion is our team- the Astros, so let us take this systematic approach to go through the decisions already made and the decisions ahead:

  1. Review the strengths and relative weaknesses of this roster and what are the priorities for an upgrade
    1. Looking backward at 2018
    2. Projecting forward in 2019
  2. Contract decisions - who are the free agents leaving, option opt-ins/ outs, arbitrations, qualifying offers
  3. Rule 5 draft and the roster- Who will be on the 40-man roster?
  4. MLB Free Agents
    1. What are the biggest needs?
    2. Who can the Astros REALISTICALLY resign
    3. Who the Astros should target to sign and why
  5. Payroll Management- what does the likely payroll project to grow to over the next 3-4 years
  6. What does the LarrytheGM Astros 2019 roster look like
    1. What are the strengths and weaknesses of this 2019 roster
    2. What are the key contingencies to reinforce the potential weaknesses
  7. Predictions for LarrytheGM 2019 Astros

The following sections will serve as your roadmap to the offseason and help you understand why the Astros are doing what they are doing.

This information is separated into two sections. Sections 1-4 are below. Sections 5-7 will be presented next week.

Strengths and Weaknesses of the 2018 roster

What if we could evaluate the Astros roster position by position to get OBJECTIVELY a sense of where the roster was strongest and weakest? My method evaluates the wRC+ each team accumulated at that position and rank that relative to the other teams in MLB. To do this, I used the Fangraphs.com output of team statistics by position in ranking to the other 30 teams. Players are sorted into their primary position for this analysis. For example, the Astros had 86 wRC+ from the catchers in 2018, and this was ranked 14th in the MLB.

Methodology note:

I will address a potential flaw in this analysis. The wRC+ stat does not account for the effect of defense on the value of payers at a position. I would prefer to use WAR and I will in the forward-looking 2019 analysis. WAR is a counting stat and the way Fangraphs sorts the data the Astros actually would rank low at Shortstop because the games Marwin Gonzalez and Alex Bregman played at SS are counted into their primary positions. Given this data sorting, I have chosen to use wRC+ to look back at 2018 and WAR for projecting 2019.

To simplify the value of each position, I took the ranking (14th for a catcher in the example) and reframed on a rating scale of 1 to 10 as such:

Larry 1.png

Therefore, the catching position would be scaled a 6. The table illustrates this wRC+ methodology for each position and for pitching based on ERA. For context, one can compare the Astros with the other LCS teams here, and you can see the 2018 Astros compare very favorably.

Larry 2.png

What is interesting to note is that the Astros had no REAL weaknesses. The lowest rating score is Left Field at 5. The other LCS teams all had at least one position that ranked in the bottom 3 in the MLB. This balance for the Astros helped make them an EXCELLENT regular season team and reflects the depth they had at all positions.

However, as we project forward to decide how to improve the team for 2019, this balance makes it somewhat challenging to decide what areas must be addressed first. If every position is average or above, how you take the average and make them better everywhere? THIS is the challenge the 2018 roster would provide us if we assumed EVERYONE would return for 2019. Since that will not happen, the next step is to project the relative performance by position in 2019 given who is committed to the roster currently.

Strengths and Weaknesses of the current projected 2019 roster

We will address the likely roster decisions in the next article, but for this analysis, we will utilize the projected Depth Chart rosters (under the team's tab) in the Fangraphs.com. These projections are very much fluid as teams make options decisions and either sign or release players. A similar ranking methodology will be deployed but using the projected WAR as the basis.

Larry 3.PNG

This analysis highlights that Catcher, First Base, and Left Field are the positions that project to lag at average or below. Again, the Astros roster projects to have no positions that are bottom of the league weaknesses. I am not positive I believe that.

Catcher- Projected currently as Stassi and Stubbs (backup). It is likely that the Astros will do SOMETHING to replace McCann. As it is today, I would consider the Astros catchers to be at or near the bottom of the MLB. This is a key priority for this offseason.

First Base- Projected as Gurriel and White (backup). As Gurriel ages his contract also contracts ($10MM in 2019 and $8MM in 2020). The playing time between Gurriel vs. White at 1B may shift more to White especially if Gurriel deploys more as a utility backup. More on that later.

Left Field- Projected as Kemp and Tucker (backup). I believe Kyle Tucker starts during most of 2019 to prove he is the top prospect and future star the Astros hope he is. Therefore, I expect the roles to be reversed here with Kemp playing a utility outfielder role or possibly packaged in a trade.

Almost shockingly, the Fangraphs projection still frames the Astros Starting Pitching (without Keuchel, Morton, and McCullers for about half the year) as the number TWO starting pitching staff. The projected staff includes Verlander, Cole, James, McCullers, Peacock, Valdez, Whitley, Bukauskas, and Rodgers. Clearly, they believe Josh James will be given every opportunity to succeed. Interestingly, McHugh in this projection lists still as a Relief Pitcher. I expect that will change. I believe the Astros will get at least one experienced pitcher to add to this group and the last Starting Pitcher will come from the list of the last 5 pitchers listed.

With the look back at 2018 complete and understanding what some project for 2019 in mind, let’s look at the overall likely roster changes for 2019.

Check back for part 2 soon.

***Stats from Baseball-Reference and Fangraphs***

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