Updated: Mar 29
Join me today and I will run through this article and see what additional questions you have. Click here to join in on YouTube at 11AM for a Special Opening Week Edition of Astros Lunch with Larry.
Over the offseason we have brought you some of this content in several versions. THIS will be my last refresh of the data to update the data accounting for the roster due to current injuries.
EVERY significant question being asked about the 2023 Astros can be answered with the data in this article. I not only answer those questions, but the data here shows you WHY.
Opening day projected roster (position players and pitchers) and possible options- including the LGM grading system
Batting order and how it could adjust when Brantley and Altuve return
Pitching rotation and bullpen roles and how they may adjust to McCullers return
Strengths and Weaknesses via the heat map methodology
Will the Astros win the AL West
Two trades I would make as soon as the other team is ready.
I am about to show a season projection grade for each of the active roster players. I like to call this the report card. As shown in other off-season articles here that is based on the Fangraphs projections for wRC+ and FIP for these players. My grade is just a way to simplify that projection to something familiar. These grades are not MY PROJECTION. They are my grades based on the best projections we have. Argue with the computers how they project the players not me on my grades.
Opening day projected roster
Here is how I expect the Astros will deploy their players defensively as the season begins with Altuve and Brantley out. (Note updated per announcements)
At second, as I showed in my Altuve article, Dubon will time share with Hensley as the primary starter.
The other interesting starter point may be that I expect that Alvarez will start and play almost exclusively DH until Brantley returns. I think that Meyers will therefore start most of this time in CF and McCormick will start most of the time in LF.
The bench leads to the most interesting decisions the Astros will make. I suspect we will hear in the next 24 hours what the decisions will be. Dubon is the lock for his versatility and ability to play the infield if for nothing else.
At catcher, Lee and Diaz have both done well this spring. Both probably deserve a spot on the roster, but I THINK they will pick one and have the other start 80%+ of the time in AAA while playing catcher and the other backup roles they might have (1B/LF). During the early season do not be surprised if Lee and Diaz timeshare the MLB backup catcher role and the AAA Starting catcher role. If one is excelling, the MLB job will become theirs. If there are more injuries, both may stay in the MLB. I will stay this, however. The odds of keeping both have risen as the season draws nearer.
Basically, there are three spots on the position player roster after Dubon and Hensley. The backup catcher is at least one. Here is a comparison of the last roster spot candidates.
My three as of 2AM on 3/28/23 are Diaz, Dirden, and Matijevic.
Diaz just keeps hitting. I THINK he is making it impossible to keep him off the opening day roster.
Dirden and Matijevic provide LH potential PHs that could be used in a spot if Dubon is playing 2B or for Maldonado.
Adding Dirden would however require a roster spot be made available. This can be done by moving Altuve to the 60-man IL near term. Dirden will have to be added after the season anyway or he would be taken in the Rule 5 draft. Why not add him now when you need him?
All of the players I listed as longshots are possible trade possibilities too. Madris and Bannon will have to produce in AAA to retain their roster spots in 2023.
UPDATE: As I wrote this, I KNEW the Astros would be making THEIR decisions in the next 24-48 hours. They chose a different path. I have spent the evening discussing WHY the Astros chose to select Diaz, Julks, and Salazar on my YouTube Channel and in Twitter Spaces. I decided to put a tighter version of that discussion in a video here.
Here are the basic points.
As discussed above Diaz did indeed win the roster spot.
The Astros value his bat so much - especially in an environment without Altuve and Brantley- that they want to deploy that bat REGULARLY possibly at DH and well beyond what one can does with the backup catcher.
Given that the Astros DECIDED to run with three catchers. THIS was the critical decision. Most of us figured that they would keep both Diaz and Lee of the roster. The Astros were not satisfied that Lee could continue to develop in the extremely limited playing time he would get as a third catcher. THIS is why they chose to keep Lee in AAA and deploy Salazar as the emergency/ third catcher.
I pointed out the far-right column in the video, but I did not write about it here too. Notice that for 2023 Salazar and Lee basically have the same projected OPS. The organization expects Lee will significantly develop, but in 2022 if the expected performance is the same then why not use Salazar?
Also consider the far right column for Julks, Matijevic, and Dirden. All are basically statistically equal.
Now focus on the 2022 PA numbers
Matijevic 317 PA (MLB/AAA- 78% at AAA)
Julks 523 AAA PA
Dirden 477 PA (AAA/ AA- 73% at AA)
Julks and Matijevic were statistically the same.
The organization TRUSTED the repeatability of Julks's numbers in 2022 more for 2023.
Julks also played 38% of his games at 3B last year. This IF/OF flexibility will be a real asset for lineup options.
Overall message being sent- performance WILL be rewarded. There is not a next up mentality. You MUST earn your opportunities. I think that is a good message.
Also, do not discount that the Astros MAY be working a trade with some of these players. Stay tuned. Are they showcasing Julks and Salazar? Or do they already have a trade for Matijevic and/or Dirden?
Here is how I expect the Astros will deploy their pitchers as the season begins with McCullers out.
I believe the schedule has enough off days that a five-man rotation will not be overtaxed until May 26th. On May 26th through June 11th, the Astros play 17 straight games with no off days. Someone will need to be a sixth starter or opener by that point.
I believe Blanco has won the long relief slot over Bielak. (Confirmed) Bielak may also need to start regularly in AAA to make sure he is ready by May 26th.
Watch how Gage, Taylor, and Muchinski (after returning from injury) do in AAA as LHRP. This will determine if they step in for Martinez or Maton and if the Astros trade for a LHRP in 2023.
Batting Order through the season
This is what I believe will be the Astros batting order at the various stages of the season barring any other major injuries.
Update: Note: This table shows the competition looming when Brantley returns and then when Altuve returns.
- Will the Astros still keep the three catchers? How well is Diaz covering 1B/ LF as alternate positions? How is he batting? Is Salazar performing OK?
- Is Julks or Meyers optioned to AAA? Or is Dubon DFAed? Again, it will largely depend on how each is doing.
Update 3/29- I tried to allocate PA by positions.
This exercise led to many questions.
Yainer Diaz played 3 innings of 1B for the Astros this spring- THREE. If the plan for Diaz is to have him available as a backup 1B, then why not play him at 1B more?
Corey Julks NEVER played 3B this spring for the Astros. If the plan is to have Julks partly because he can play 3B, then why not play him at 3B at least a couple of innings?
Pitching Staff Through the season
This is what I believe will be the Astros pitching staff at the various stages of the season barring any other major injuries.
Strengths and Weaknesses via the heat map methodology
Here is the heat map and how each team compares at each position based on projected WAR. I grouped these by division.
The Astros project to have the SEVENTH highest WAR. I know many are predicting the Astros will rage their way through the MLB once again. Let this table be your warning that things will not be as easy as some of the recent years.
The Astros project to have the sixth best batting WAR
The Astros project to have the TWELFTH best pitching WAR.
Starting pitching projects to a very average 14th best
Relief pitching projects to be a good (not 2022 great) 6th best
The MLB average WAR is projected to be 40.6. Therefore, the Astros project to be 7.6 wins above average; and therefore, this system would project them at 89 wins in 2023. The system does predict the Astros will win a relatively tight AL West.
Again, these are NOT my numbers, but this is the SAME system I have used in 2018 and 2019 to predict the Astros would win over 100 games. You and I may disagree with these projections. The front office is evaluating if moves are needed.
Strengths- Left Field at 2nd, Right Field at 2nd, DH at 2nd, Third Base at 3rd, and Relief Pitching at 6th.
Weaknesses- Catcher at 29th, Center Field at 23rd, and Shortstop at 20th
I have more hope at CF and SS than I do at catcher. I think the future will be bright at catcher with Diaz and Lee but not in 2023.
My Official Predictions
Projected record- I think the Astros will beat the models and go 92-70
Will the Astros win the AL West- I think the Astros will win the AL West by 4-8 games
Postseason predictions- I still believe the Astros will lose the ALCS
Batting MVP- I bet on Tucker on my trip to Vegas and I am sticking with that. Alvarez will be a beast too.
Pitching MVP- Ryan Pressly will shine as the closer and be needed to close out many close games.
Surprise Player- Blanco will be a budding star in the swing starter/ long relief role. Maybe that isn't a surprise today.
Best Rookie- The easy pick here is of course Hunter Brown but I am going with Hensley who does a great impression of 2017 Marwin this year. Hensley will be better than anyone expects. Take that projection systems.
I WANT the Astros to win the World Series again just as much as you do. THIS is why we are discussing what it might take to actually do that. My predictions are what I think WILL happen not what I HOPE happens.
Two trades I would make as soon as the other team is ready.
I think the projections are right about the Astros SP. They need another arm that can eat innings and compete, and I think they will still want a LHRP.
Giants- Alex Wood and $4M for Joe Perez and Bligh Madris
When the Giants are ready to give up, I go get Wood before another contender does. He only has one year left so it would be a rental. I ask the Giants to help pay his salary and I reward them with Joe Perez and Bligh Madris.
Wood is a LHP and can give the postseason Astros flexibility they might need. This also clears a 40-man roster spot. I'd make this deal today if I thought the Giants would.
Baseballetradevalues.com says this is an Astros overpay. They list Wood with a NEGATIVE 6.5 Value.
Boston- Bleier for Matejevic
Assuming none of the backup plans for LHRP work, I say the Astros go get Bleier from Boston after it's clear to them it is time to sell. I send them Matijevic because I think by then the backup 1B will be covered by Hensley and Diaz/Lee.
Baseballetradevalues.com says this is a fair deal.
Let me know what you think. Share your predictions below.
Congrats! You are now ready for the Astros season.
The Astros Season Prediction Show
Wednesday, it will be YOUR turn! Clint will join me on YouTube at 7pm. EVERYONE come join and BRING YOUR PREDICTIONS!
Call YOUR SHOT and get it documented on our YouTube chat.
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On Thursday, I will give you the Chicago White Sox scorecard and how that matches up with the Astros for the first series.
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