It’s been a year since the Houston Astros Sign Stealing Scandal came to light. Think about that. It feels like a century ago we were discussing A.J. Hinch’s suspension, and looking to José Altuve and Carlos Correa to answer for their transgressions.
We didn’t get that. Instead, the Astros limped into the playoffs with an under .500 record, and still made it all the way to the ALCS. The Houston Astros know how to play postseason baseball, but how will they fare during a full-162 game postseason.
The Houston Astros
2020: Record: 29 – 31
2020 Finish: 2nd in the AL West, 8th in the American League
Surprises in 2020
The Houston Astros lost Gerrit Cole to free agency ahead of the 2020 season. Later in the year, they’d lose Justin Verlander after just one start. With Lance McCullers and Zack Greinke holding down the fort, things looked bleak for the Astros postseason hopes.
Just kidding, the Astros called up Christian Javier, promoted José Urquidy and Framber Valdez to the full-time rotation and they all were absolutely sensational. Seriously. This Astros rotation was close to absolutely cratering, and yet their young arms saved them.
Valdez and Javier alone were enough to float this rotation without Greinke and McCullers, with both pitchers putting up incredible numbers. Valdez’s 5-3 record, 3.57 ERA, 1.118 WHIP and his 9.7 K/9, all added up to a 126 ERA+ in 2020.
Javier was another story completely.
By the numbers, Christian Javier was the best pitcher for the Astros in 2020, no matter how you slice it. For a rookie pitcher, he put up some veteran numbers. Case in point, his sub-1.000 WHIP. In a time when the Astros seemed destined to spin their wheels in the mud, Javier stepped up and proved he has elite stuff.
Within that eliteness, however, is a home run problem. Javier gave up 36 hits over 54.1 innings in 2020. On those 36 hits, opposing teams scored 21 earned runs. One-third of those hits were home runs, and two-thirds of his earned runs came off home runs.
That’s not great. In a game where the longball reigns supreme, Javier’s one blindspot was a big one. However, finishing third in Rookie of the Year voting isn’t something to slough off, that’s an accomplishment in any year, and even moreso this season.
Disappointments in 2020
José Altuve went into the 2020 season with a dark cloud hanging over his head, and really only two possible outcomes. Either A) Altuve shuts down the haters and naysayers with a season that proves his 2017 and subsequent seasons were on talent and ability, or B) He absolutely craters and only digs himself deeper into the hole of doubt surrounding him.
Altuve’s 2020 season wasn’t great. His .219/.286/.344 slash and his .629 OPS were significantly lower than his previous seasons. In just 48 games, the former MVP struck out 39 times, almost half of his full season average of 83. Across the board, his numbers failed to live up to his standard of play, and non-Astros fans everywhere rejoiced.
Now, it is completely fair to yell “Small Sample Size” at these numbers. But the optics are not good.
Altuve saw his average drop almost 70 points and his OPS drop by .274. For a player who averages an OPS+ of 1.24, a shortened season at .74 has to raise some eyebrows.
But in reality, almost all of Houston’s stars saw their numbers dip considerably in 2020. I’m not saying this is evidence of nefarious activity in previous seasons, but it’s alarming. The Astros had a chance to put their talents on display and quiet all the naysayers from this past offseason. And much like a hitter who didn’t hear the trash can bang, they whiffed big time.
Looking Ahead to 2021
The best thing the Astros have done this offseason is keep Dusty Baker. There is no better coach for this team, and we saw that on display in 2020. With their former superstars attempting to regain their footing, Baker is ushering in a new crop of stars ready to blast off in Houston.
Kyle Tucker is poised to become a bigger deal in 2021, and we’re all still anxiously waiting for the arrival of Forrest Whitley. The Houston Astros are getting younger, and that’s a good thing for the franchise. They can distance themselves from scandal, all the while staying near the top of the struggling AL West.
Hate it all you want, the Astros aren’t going anywhere and they’re still getting stronger.
Projected 2021 Finish: 2nd in the AL West, 85-77
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