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A First Look At The 2024 Astros

Updated: Nov 5, 2023

Buckle in Astros fans! It is the off-season or as I like to call it Larry The GM season. I assure you that you are in the right place. If you haven't looked at the offseason outline, I strongly suggest you start there to understand where we have been and where we will be going in the next few months.




Wednesday, we looked back at the 2023 season to understand what we thought about that team last year before the season and how that team met those expectations. You might want to read that first or go back to that after you read this.

Now, we are going to focus forward to the 2024 season with this thorough assessment of team strengths, weaknesses, and needs.


As discussed the data here IS PRELIMINARY. It has already changed and Neris and Maton are still both being shown in the Astros data on Fangraphs. In a few more days I expect that the Free Agent tables will be right, and I will update the numbers. The conclusions are still correct, and the RANKINGS are still very close.


Included here will be:

  1. The current heat map of the projections for 2024- This will be very fluid and updated.

    1. Strengths

    2. Weaknesses

  2. Comparison of the current 2024 projections with the 2023 projections

  3. Projected playing time and opportunities / needs

Get ready because I am about to hit you with a ton of numbers. This is my first look at the 2024 Astros. I think you are going to like what you see.


The current heat map of the projections for 2024


The data on this heatmap will probably change every day as players opt in and out of options and teams release players they no longer want to keep and sign new players. I will try to update the data here at least once a week. However, there are some FASCINATING facts already showing on this chart as MOST significant players seemed to have been processed by Fangraphs.

Yes, Astros fans I teased in the 2023 WAR year in review that I had good news for you. Here it is.


The Astros currently are SECOND in the MLB in 2024 projected WAR. They are FIRST in the American League.


Wait, What? The numbers here are PRELIMINARY. Almost all teams have more FA loses than the Astros do.


BUT


Overall, I have deep dived into these numbers and even adjusted playing time. I will show you my similar numbers for the Astros at the end of this article, but right now I think their WAR projection is in the ballpark.


Strengths


Look at all of the red. The Astros project to be top 5 WAR in SEVEN of the ELEVEN positions listed. That is incredible!


Weaknesses


The most startling statement I would make wrt the first set of number is that there is NO significant weakness position wise. We have not been able to say that at this point in the offseason. There is no blue on their line; NO other team can say that. The worst projected position is first base at 15th.


Now, when we dive deeper into the numbers, we will discover some opportunities.


Comparison of the current 2024 projections with the 2023 projections


Let me show you what has actually CHANGED.

The first set of numbers is the same as above. Notice as per the 2023 WAR article we REALLY focused on the RELATIVE RANK of these numbers.


The second set of numbers is the final actual 2023 WAR by position.


The third set of numbers is the 2023 projections before the season started. As I discussed THIS set of numbers made me concerned for the 2023 season.


The fourth set of numbers is the 2023 projections at the same time last year. THIS is actually the fairest comparison. This was before the Astros had signed free agents or where we are now.


Notice these significant changes:

  1. Diaz instantly makes the catching position an above average WAR position compared to the WAR wasteland it has been.

  2. Abreu is projected to be better than he actually was last year but not as good as we thought he would be.

  3. Despite what we may think about SS, Pena delivered and is projected to deliver above average WAR in rank. This is an improvement over last year in RANK but not in actual WAR.

  4. Left field is good because Alvarez is allocated significant time there in the model.

  5. Center field is a strength now after McCormick's 2023 season. This is a massive improvement in projections.

  6. Starting Pitching gets a Verlander boost.

  7. Relief Pitching is curiously improved too. Neris is still in the Fangraphs projection. The RP would lose 0.7 WAR without Neris and rank 12th. A RP or two is likely needed. Some of these innings may be filled by players who started in 2023. More on this later.

This table summarizes the differences (remember red is good, blue is bad).

Summary


The Astros are projecting to be significantly better in several positions in 2024 than they were projected to be at the same time last year for the 2023 season- most notably catcher and center field. The starting pitching is also expected to be significantly better with Verlander all year.


Projected playing time and opportunities / needs


When looking at this type of data, one REALLY should study the playing time allocations that drive the results. When looking at the Fangraphs playing time distributions, we see some opportunities.


Hitters


Here is the Fangraphs PT distribution for the hitters w/ their WAR and a model calculated wRC+ from their projected wOBA:

You can see that LF and DH are incomplete. FG is telling us they expect the Astros to sign an OF that can DH and I agree. They project Salazar to get 237 PA at catcher. I think that the Astros will sign a FA catcher and/or that Berryhill would get more of those PA than Salazar. So, based on this data there are two opportunities - FA OF and FA backup catcher.


I think the PT shown is way too high for the top 5 players and Pena. I made my own PT distribution which factors in more rest and possible injuries. I also included the FA OF and FA backup catcher I expect the Astros will sign. Here is my playing time distribution.

Altuve, Bregman, Alvarez, Abreu, McCormick and Pena all get 10% plus reductions from the FG PT allocation. Altuve, Alvarez, and McCormick are still playing more in this model than they did in 2023.


Diaz, Dubon, Singleton, and Kessinger all increase PT significantly in my model.


Julks, Hensley, and Berryhill get limited PT instead of zero in my model.


My FA OF would likely be a player who would platoon and focus on starting vs. RHP. You may expect more than that but I am factoring in the payroll constraints I wrote about. We will discuss why later. My FA backup catcher gets about 30% of the PT.


One note - I do not have Meyers in my PT distribution. I think he will be traded likely for some of the pitching help I will discuss.


The impact of these PT adjustments drops the projected batting WAR from 32 to 31.1. This does not change their overall batting rank. I'm sure if one did this to the other teams that their WARs would drop too. This will fix itself as we get closer to opening day.


Pitchers


Let's do a similar exercise with the pitching staffs. Here is the Fangraphs PT distribution for the pitchers w/ their FIP and WAR.

Frankly, I don't think it is possible with how the game is managed today for Verlander, Valdez, nor Javier to hit these IP numbers.


I also think that Astros fans see Garcia and McCullers pitch in 2023.


I think Bielak and Martinez will get innings too. As stated earlier, I expect Neris will be taken out of their projections for the Astros,


Fangraphs has Maton in their PT distribution. He is a free agent as of today. I did not show him here.


Overall, I expect this PT distribution to be fluid and settle on something that will look more like this. I added two FA pitchers that I expect will be LHP. These also might be acquired in a trade and we will discuss that soon.

As you can see, I also zeroed out Urquidy because I expect him to be traded this offseason.


This overall PT allocation nets a 17.3 WAR down from the 18.6 in the overall table and the 18.3 in the FG PT distribution (again Maton related). This would drop the pitching to be 6th overall which may be more accurate.


So, based on this data there are two opportunities - LHSP and LHRP.


The overall playing time corrected WAR table would then look like this.

In short, the overall message would be the same, but the margin of error would be. reduced.


This 48.4 WAR includes the addition of

- a backup catcher that would be an upgrade over Salazar or Berryhill (NOT Maldy- he would hurt this WAR)

- a starting LHH OF that is strong vs. RHP

- a LHSP that can pitch at least 100 IP

- a good LHRP


Now we have our shopping list. Next time we will explore options.


Summary


The 2024 Astros currently project to be the second highest WAR in the MLB. We will monitor this as teams add Free Agents including the Astros.


The Astros have NO MAJOR positional weaknesses. They have four opportunities to pursue to get better that is built into the 48.4 WAR quoted.


P.S.- If you want to get even more excited, the way too early to quote projection for record based on WAR numbers would put the Astros at 94 +/- 3 wins in 2024. This is what having no weaknesses does for a team.



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