Houston Astros 2017 Team Preview

2016 Recap: 84-78, Third in the AL West. There was a lot of buzz around the young Astros heading into 2016. Ace Dallas Keuchel was fresh off a Cy Young 2015 season, second baseman Jose Altuve proved all his doubters wrong in becoming a real star in the big leagues, and youngsters George Springer and Carlos Correa looked ready to join him among the elite hitters in baseball. However, it was not quite the young ‘Stros time as they got off to a terrible start and were as many as 9 games under .500 late in May. The big problem for Houston was their lack of starting pitching. Dallas Keuchel never reached his 2015 Cy Young form as four of the Astros five starters including Keuchel finished the season with an ERA above 4.30 and the Astros had the third lowest combined WAR from their starting pitchers in the American League. Despite their 2016 issues, the Astros did not do much with their rotation this offseason as they essentially just replaced veteran Doug Fister (4.64 ERA in 2016) with veteran Charlie Morton (career 4.54 ERA) who because of injuries has never thrown more than 171.2 innings in any season. Adding veterans Carlos Beltran and Brian McCann will certainly boost their lineup, but unless they can get some real production from their rotation, they may fall just short of the postseason again.

Offseason Moves:

Significant Additions: OF Carlos Beltran, OF Josh Reddick, OF Nori Aoki, C Brian McCann, RHP Charlie Morton

Significant Subtractions: INF Luis Valbuena, OF Colby Rasmus, C Jason Castro, RHP Doug Fister

Projected Lineup and Breakdown:

  1. CF George Springer
  2. 2B Jose Altuve
  3. SS Carlos Correa
  4. DH Carlos Beltran
  5. C Brian McCann
  6. 3B Alex Bregman
  7. RF Josh Reddick
  8. 1B Yulieski Gurriel
  9. LF Nori Aoki

The Astros were surprisingly below league average in runs scored and team OPS last season, but with the upgrades they made this offseason there is almost no chance they finish in the bottom half of the league in runs scored again 2017. On paper, you will not find a much better lineup top to bottom. The top half of Houston’s lineup is the perfect mix of young talent and quality veteran hitters. The bottom half could also be lethal if second year players Alex Bregman and Yulieski Gurriel can reach their potential that had the entire league talking about them before their debuts last season.

Projected Rotation, Bullpen, and Breakdown:

Rotation –

  • LHP Dallas Keuchel
  • RHP Collin McHugh
  • RHP Mike Fiers
  • RHP Lance McCullers
  • RHP Charlie Morton

Bullpen –

  • RHP Ken Giles – Closer
  • RHP Luke Gregerson
  • RHP Will Harris
  • LHP Tony Sipp
  • RHP Chris Devenski

The backend of the Astros bullpen has the potential to be one of the best in the American league led by righty Ken Giles who found his form over the second half of last year as opponents hit just .202 off Giles the final three months of 2016. The Astros bullpen will need to be one of the better units in the league as they will likely need to pick up the slack of a questionable at best rotation. Dallas Keuchel probably isn’t as bad as his 4.55 ERA in 2016 would indicate, but I doubt we’ll ever see the 2.48 ERA Keuchel posted in 2015 again. When you rely on ground balls and needing hitters to chase outside the zone (opposing hitters swung at Keuchel’s pitches outside of the zone 3% less in 2016 as they did in 2015) as much Keuchel does, you leave yourself with very little room for error. Lance McCullers has all the potential in the world and was the Astros best starter last season. The problem is McCullers has struggled to stay on the mound so far in his young career making just 14 starts in 2016. Colin McHugh is a nice mid rotation guy, but will likely never be anything special and for whatever reason the Astros continue to view Mike Fires as a starter despite the fact he has proven to be a trainwreck in that role. Fires is better suited for the bullpen as he has a 5.27 ERA the third time through the opposing batting order in his career. I would much rather see what youngsters Chris Devenski and Joe Musgrove could do with a rotation spot than trotting Fiers out there every fifth day.

Fantasy Analysis

Stud: 2B Jose Altuve. A lot of people (including myself) have doubted Jose Altuve since he first broke out in 2012. Altuve has always offered great speed and batting average but as long as he was hitting single digit home runs a year, I couldn’t get on board with taking him very high in my fantasy draft. In 2015, Altuve popped 15 homers and then hit 24 more over the fence last season. Altuve is officially a top 10 pick in my book and the number one second basemen this year. Of course now that I am finally on the Altuve bandwagon, this will be the year his power regresses. Sorry in advance to Altuve fantasy owners.

Sleeper: SP/RP Joe Musgrove. Musgrove was an under the radar prospect heading into 2016, he always put up good not great numbers in the minors and was always around a strikeout per inning along the way. Musgrove got his shot in the bigs last season and showed some real flashes allowing 3 runs or less in 7 of his 10 starts, three of those seven starts came against playoff teams Texas and Toronto. As of now Musgrove does not have a rotation spot, but as I’ve already discussed the injury issues of starters Lance McCullers and Charlie Morton plus the fact that Mike Fiers stinks a rotation spot shouldn’t be too hard for Musgrove to obtain. Make Musgrove one of your last picks or keep an eye on him if he goes undrafted and you could be quickly rewarded.

Bust: 3B Alex Bregman. Bregman picked up a lot of steam in the minors during 2016 and when he was finally called up to the big leagues Bregman hit a respectable .264, popped eight home runs and stole two bases in 217 plate appearances. Not too shabby, but also nothing spectacular. Currently Bregman is going as the tenth third baseman off the board so far in draft season. That is just insane. Bregman is currently going ahead of much more established players like Evan Longoria, Justin Turner and Maikel Franco. If I could draft Bregman and not have to depend on him as my starting third basemen that would be a different story, but you are taking a huge, unnecessary risk if you are drafting Bregman this high. The young third basemen has a lot of upside, but there are still major flaws in his game like a 24% strikeout rate for example. I like Bregman’s future, but for 2017, I’ll pass.

2017 Record Prediction: 89-73, Second in the AL West. Wild card team 1 of 2. Despite major concerns about their starting rotation, I cannot ignore the lineup and bullpen the Astros will be throwing out there on a nightly basis. I expect young stars George Springer and Carlos Correa to continue their growth and reach All-Star levels in 2017, which should be enough to carry this team to a Wild Card spot.

-Randy Haines

Check out our other 2017 team previews here.

Photo credit: USA Today

Statistics are courtesy of Baseball reference and Fangraphs

Projected rosters are courtesy of rosterresource.com and accurate as of 2/27

Fantasy ADP data courtesy of STATS.com and The NFBC

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