Houston Astros

Houston Astros: What went wrong/right | 2020 MLB Expert Analysis

Written by on October 26, 2020

The Houston Astros were heavy favorites this season to win a fourth straight AL West title, but Houston finished second to the Oakland A’s. However, the Astros did still make the playoffs for the fourth year in a row, the first time they’ve done so in franchise history. Only the Yankees and Dodgers have also played in the last four postseasons.

Houston Astros | 2020 MLB Expert Analysis

Astros hitters combined for the fewest strikeouts in the majors with 440 on the season. The club also had the fewest strikeouts in the AL in 2017 and 2019, while finishing with the second fewest in 2018. The Astros led the AL in 1st-inning runs, posting a healthy 47 runs in their 1st innings, besting the Yankees (42) and Mariners (42) in that category. Outfielder George Springer was the catalyst for this, posting a 1.008 OPS in his 50 1st-inning plate appearances this season, which included three leadoff homers.

Springer now has 39 regular-season leadoff dingers, which ranks eighth all-time in MLB history. A total of 11 of Springer’s leadoff homers have come against the Rangers, the most hit by any player against the Rangers in their franchise history. The only player to hit more leadoff homers against any single opponent was Hall of Famer Rickey Henderson, who hit 12 in his career vs. Cleveland.

The Astros matched the Marlins by using an MLB-high 15 rookie pitchers in 2020, including five rookie starters. Of those 15 rookies, 10 made their Major League debuts. Prior to this season, the most rookies to pitch for the Astros in a single season in club history was 13 back in 2011.

Houston upset the AL Central champion Twins in a Wild-Card sweep and then knocked off Oakland in four games in the ALDS before losing in seven games to Tampa Bay in the ALCS. The Astros became the 39th team in MLB history to go down 3-0 in a seven-game series, just the fourth team, out of the 39, to force a Game 6 and just the second team out of that group to force a Game 7. The only other team to force a Game 7 after being down 3-0 in a series was the 2004 Red Sox, who went on to win that Game 7 of the ALCS against the Yankees en route to a World Series title.

Dusty Baker became the first manager in MLB history to take five different teams to the postseason, also the Giants (1997, 2000, 2002), Cubs (2003), Reds (2010, 2012-13) and Nationals (2016-17). Baker will be back in 2021. Baker was hired in January to replace AJ Hinch, who was fired by the team after he and general manager Jeff Luhnow were initially suspended for one year by Major League Baseball for their roles in Houston’s sign-stealing scandal. Luhnow also was fired.

Houston’s two biggest free agents this offseason are Springer and fellow outfielder Michael Brantley. Even after the Astros’ sign-stealing scandal came to light after the 2019 season, Springer had a productive 2020, slashing .265/.359/.540 with an .899 OPS in 51 games. Even with COVID-19 suppressing revenues, Springer’s market will still likely be robust. Unless Springer decides to take a one- year deal, he is likely going to command well over $100M deep into his 30s.

The Astros don’t have any outfield prospects who will be ready to take over as starters if Springer leaves. Brantley, 33, remains one of the best pure hitters in the game and could return for much less than Springer. In 824 plate appearances as an Astro, he’s put up a robust .309/.370/.497 slash line (134 wRC+). He remains one of the league’s tougher batters to strike out and his all-fields approach has helped him sustain strong batting averages on balls in play.

On a lesser scale, Josh Reddick and Brad Peacock are also free agents. Justin Verlander is likely out for the season as he’ll be recovering from Tommy John surgery. A right-hander who turns 38 in February, Verlander has a $33 million salary next year, then is eligible for free agency. The reigning AL Cy Young Award winner made just one start this season, pitching six innings on July 24 in a win over Seattle on Opening Day before being placed on the injured list with a strained right forearm. He is 43-15 with a 2.45 ERA and 640 strikeouts in 74 starts in Houston.

The Astros open the 2021 season on April 1 in Oakland.

 
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