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Astros: Are They Better? Read THIS

Does signing Michael Brantley REALLY help the Astros be a World Series Favorite?


Many Astros fans THINK that the moves the Astros have made this Offseason have made them the shoo in for the World Series in 2023. Is this true?


People ask why I focus so much on WAR especially at this stage of the season. Let's review where the Astros were at the END of the 2022 Season in WAR.


End of 2022 WAR- 56.6

Average team's final 2022 WAR- 33.3

WAR above average- 23

Projected Wins- 81+23 = 104 wins

Actuals 106 wins


Did you know it worked that closely? It usually does.


So, the trick is PREDICTING a team's WAR BEFORE the season. Last year the team that ended up with 56.6 WAR was projected to have 47.9 in April. Terrible Right? The Average WAR in April was 37.9. That means the 106-win team would have been predicted to win 91 games in April. That is why I predicted that in April because I thought the projection was close.


At this point you have probably completely soured on predicted WAR as a prediction of record but HANG ON. That 47.9 WAR was the THIRD HIGHEST in the MLB. So, the Astros by this method would be predicted to be in the ALCS.

It is the predicted WAR relative ranking that is really the most important.


In case, you are curious, here is the detail of how the 2022 WAR data was before and after the season. As you can tell, this is data I monitor a lot.

I could go off on many tangents on that data, but I will do just one.

I have shown you in the table to the left the pre-season projected WAR for each player and the ACTUAL WAR.


You can see where the projection systems failed.


- Maldy was worse

- Castro was a train wreck

- Gurriel was a plane crash

- Altuve found the fountain of youth and produced a year that not only was beyond expectations but beyond what anyone should project forward

- Pena way exceeded projections especially defensively

- Brantley got hurt

- Meyers stayed hurt and seemingly was rushed back

- McCormick shocked some and honestly 2023 may be his last chance to produce 2 WAR from a playing time prospective

- Alvarez had a monster season BEYOND the monster season one would have expected. The season was so good he may equal it but don't expect him to better it.

- Verlander had a monster year that NO ONE could reasonably expect, and I don't think at 39 he produces ever again.

- Valdez had easily his best season and it's 50/50 if we see that again

- Javier had 0.7 WAR in 2021 and 3.4 in 2022. So that was awesome. Do we see it again?

- Odorizzi pitched like a #3/#4 starter for the Astros and like a #6 for the Braves. He won't pitch like 1H Odorizzi ever again

- McCullers was hurt

- Neris had a career year

- Stanek had a career year

- Montero had a career year and more. Listen to me now and hear me later. You are not seeing 2022 Montero again. I hope I am wrong.

- Abreu came from nowhere (actually from being injured a lot). Abreu is young and may have finally been who he is talent wise. I have more hope for him to continue to outperform than any of the others.


For me, there are at least 6 career years here. More precisely, 6 years we will never see again- shaded in orange. There are another 5 years that I think are 50/50 at best whether we see those years again- shaded in yellow.


Vazquez and Mancini full year WARs are shown here because they actually more reflect the true talent of two players that were not allowed to deliver for the Astros what they have done for many years.


What does it all mean? This team is losing 10 WAR that was delivered in 2022 (some for other teams due to trades.) That is a big hit, but I don't think it is even the right way to look at it as we look forward to 2023.


At this point you either don't care because you think this is all bogus or you are ready to hear about the 2023 data.


From this point forward, this is going to be about PROJECTED WAR and relative ranking.


This is why you all have me. I follow the projected WAR closely at this time of year because I want my team to win as many championships as possible and I want to highlight their strengths and weakness here for you. Folks, I am concerned where this team sits this year.


Why?


I showed in the Looming Payroll Armageddon article that IF the team made the wrong choices (spent inefficiently or ineffectively) that the ramifications of that might impact this team from being able to extend Bregman or Altuve. The team has avoided that hole so far which is good.


BUT

As shown, after the season, the World Series Champions shed a lot of players that delivered a lot of WAR in 2022, BUT those players are projected to deliver even MORE WAR in 2023. Here is the detail.


The Astros lost seven players from the World Series team that IF all of them had been retained they are projected to produce 11.1 WAR.


That is again a LOT of WAR to lose.


Immediately you should say, well they didn't lose it all and they ADDED Abreu. Absolutely.


Abreu, Brantley, and Montero are projected to produce 4.5 WAR COMBINED. Surprised?


Well, it's not my data. As all of this data it comes from Fangraphs.com. Argue with them.


I will say if you demand that Abreu will deliver more WAR, I will remind you these are his WAR numbers in the last five FULL seasons he has had.

2018- 1.7

2019- 1.6

2021- 2.7

2022- 3.9


Yes, 2020 was Abreu's career year that produced 2.9 WAR in 60 games. Do you want to claim that would have been a 7.0 WAR year? It could have been. That is part of the great thing with Abreu. Are we getting ~2 WAR or 4+ WAR in his age 36 season? No one knows. At least we aren't getting -0.7 WAR at 1B like we did last year.


If we accept the comings and goings of players and their WAR, we expect the WAR to be 46-48 right now. The reality is the WAR increase is probably NOT what you think it is.


Let me show you the projected WAR changes in FANGRAPHS (NOT ME- Argue with THEM) at three points

- All FA released and Before ANY Free Agent was signed - 11/11/22

- After Abreu and Montero- 12/15

- After Brantley- 12/18

As we predicted the WAR of the team was 46.4 on 11/11/22. Remember, the RELATIVE WAR is as important or more important here. On 11/11, The Astros had the 5th best projected WAR and projected 89 wins. You can see it position by position. Also notice on 11/11/22 the average team's PROJECTED WAR was 38.3. The average actual WAR was 33.3 at the end of 2022 and as the projection system looked forward, the algorithms tend to project more to the mean. This is also why the RELATIVE WAR ranking is most important.


If you examine that list, you may be shocked to see 1B at 2.3. I told you in the Roster Assessment at the beginning of the offseason that the projections like Matijevic to produce more than you do. They also had Yordan at 98 PA at 1B. Someone had to play there, I guess.


Adding Abreu added 1.0 WAR to the offense. Why just 1.0 WAR? Well, someone else was projected to produce WAR in those ~600 PA so you AREN'T adding 2.5 WAR. You are adding the WAR above the guy(s) Abreu is replacing. Adding Abreu actual pushes Yordan more to LF and the biggest bump in WAR is in LF.


Adding Montero only added 0.2 to the projected WAR of the pitching staff for the same reasons.


Yes, I know I just told you something no one else will when they make a MASSIVE deal about

FA signings. You actually have to reallocate the playing time to see the true effect. I do this with the projection changes when the Astros sign a FA. What does this look like?


This is the Astros current batting allocation table.

Therefore on 12/15, the Astros WAR increased 1.2 WAR for $31M AVV. You know what that is? That is terribly inefficient FA spending. Abreu is going to help. It's just not cheap help. The more troubling issue that led me to be pointedly critical of the Astros was that in that same five-week period the rest of the league improved more. The average projected WAR on 12/15 was up from 38.3 to 40.4. So, while the Astros improved 1.2, the league improved 2.1. That means the Astros then projected to win 88 games! More troubling, the Astros fell to 8th best projected WAR.


You may be saying this is a nonsense. Go ahead. I am telling you that LAST YEAR on opening day they were third and on 12/15 they were eighth. It matters.


Then Brantley signed and all of Astros Twitter Celebrated as if they had secured the World Series. Me? No, I knew I had to do this analysis to see how much it would help.


Adding Brantley and allocating his playing time led to a ----- 0.7 WAR increase. Yep, that's it. That means another $12+M for 0.7 WAR and we didn't spend on catcher where the REAL opportunity to improve was/is.


Now the Astros sit at 48.3 projected WAR. That is seventh and projects to 89 wins again.


You might look back at the first table and see that the current 48.3 is better than the 2022 preseason 47.9. You would be right.


BUT


The 47.9 WAR was 3rd highest. The 48.3 WAR is seventh highest.

The 47.9 WAR projected to 91 wins because the average projected WAR was lower.

The 48.3 WAR projects to 89 wins. They are 4th in the AL behind the Yankees, Rays, and Blue Jays.

Don't buy those 2023 World Series tickets yet.


What about the rest of the AL West?

Mariners are 13th- 43.6 Projected WAR- 84 Projected Wins

Rangers are 16th- 40.9 Projected WAR- 82 Projected Wins

Angels are 18th- 40.3 Projected WAR- 81 Projected Wins

Athletics are 27th- 30.1 Projected WAR- 71 Projected Wins (too high)


The rest of the division projects to be close except for the A's.


So, now I have worn you out with numbers.


Are the Astros better than last year? They are CLEARLY not better than the team that won the World Series. They are not better from a relative talent level than the team that started last season.


What can the Astros do to make a difference and REALLY improve their chances?


We will discuss that more as we project options. Hint- it is NOT Yuli Gurriel.


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