There were two moments on a great Twitter Space last night that led directly to this article. I asked:
"Do you all think THIS team is winning the World Series THIS year?" My tone and inflection made it clear I did not.
"What three things do you think the Astros need to do to REALLY have a chance to win the World Series?"
We broke down question one earlier today. Here is the link for that.
In THIS article I will give you four of my five KEY moves I believe the Astros must make to be in a position to win the World Series.
(You aren't ready to hear number five. I am not ready to tell the world it either. I will share that with my Patrons here.
More on that below.)
I know. The Astros won their seventh game in a row just now. If you aren't concerned with how the A's series just finished, then just bookmark this and come back to it in a couple of weeks. Listen to me now or hear me later.
What DO the Astros need to do to REALLY have a chance to win the World Series?
Let's pick up the conversation from Part 1 with this table right here.
This table shows the WAR by position so far this year, the WAR projected for the rest of the season (ROS), and the total WAR. We then compare those first two numbers to their relative MLB rank.
I then averaged these by 1/3 (YTD) + 2/3 (ROS Projection). We will talk about the position numbers later.
Our goal is to be on average a top 5 WAR team. We can be fifth in pitching and fifth in batting or ninth in one and first in the other.
This is our heat map methodology. Some quick conclusions from this table:
Overall, the batting has been atrocious - 22nd in the MLB
There are too many weaknesses to expect a top 5 offense. The projections have them seventh for the ROS. The Astros need to target two real spots to fix.
The pitching is good, but with the hitting, it may have to be 2022 or 2019 GREAT for this team to win a World Series.
With this in mind here are the four things that I will call tasks.
Task 1- Get another high leverage pitcher
Knowing the Astros pitching may have to be elite means the first task will be set out to do just that.
Here is the Astros pitching staff from a wOBA / xwOBA data view.
You may look at this and think We get Urquidy and McCullers back and we are good. The WAR numbers don't agree with you. I know how hard to fix the batting is, so I say the answer is to get at least one more pitcher the team thinks can seriously help.
My prototype for this as you have seen elsewhere is Alex Wood (who got hit hard today LOL). I want a pitcher - preferably a lefty that can start if needed or be a long relief pitcher in the postseason.
Alex Wood projects to have 1,5 WAR for the rest of the season. His innings would displace others though, so I project adding Wood would only add 0.9 WAR net. He has negative trade value due to his contract and him being a rental.
This might be enough to move the Astros to the third best pitching WAR. This helps.
Task 2- Fix Jose Abreu or Minimize his negative impact
Theory 1- It's the eyes/ vision
It feels like the entire fan base is aligned on this one but HOW to get Abreu right is the answer no one has. I want to reshare an updated version of data I gave you before.
I have heard repeatedly that Abreu is not getting around on the Fastball. His 6.7 mph drop in exit velocity since last year is alarming. I am more concerned about Abreu vs. Breaking pitches. His xwOBA is half of what it was last year. WHY?
I have a theory that we also have discussed in Twitter Spaces. Let me ask it in a question.
What would it look like if Jose Abreu was having trouble seeing the ball. What if his vision has gotten worse? I think it would look like:
Abreu not being able to pick up on the rotation and recognizing curve or slider.
Jose guessing that it's a fastball.
Psychologically knowing he is guessing, he is NOT as sure as he swings. He is more tentative. Because 56.2% ARE indeed fastballs he makes contact but it is weak.
Because 38.7% are breaking pitches, he has no chance. He looks lost.
I don't know about you but that sounds like 80% of the swings I see Abreu taking.
I will say it again. SOMETHING is wrong. It is physical. The physical is now become physical AND psychological.
I think he needs a vision test. It should be easy to do,
Theory 2- It's the Ballpark
My friend Suzy has a great podcast- Bourbon and Baseball. She has repeatedly asked about one thing- Minute Maid Park. Mike Trout has repeatedly said he does not like playing at MMP because of the batter's eye.
Notice the list of ballparks to the right and Jose Abreu's career OPS at those parks. notice what park is down near the bottom of the list - Minute Maid Park.
What would you say if I told you Abreu's OPS this season at MMP is 4 points HIGHER than his career OPS at MMP?
Career- 197 PA- 0.594
2023- 97 PA- 0.598
I would say he is like Trout and does not really like hitting in Houston.
How do the Astros fix that? Well hopefully they figure it out.
What if the Astros can't "Fix" Abreu? Then what?
Abreu has a -1.0 WAR right now. NO player has a lower WAR. He is hurting the team's offense. So, if you can't "fix" Abreu you have to minimize that damage. What does that mean? In priority order:
Abreu can no longer bat 4th or 5th. More on this later.
Abreu cannot start against breaking pitch dominant pitchers.
Play Diaz more at 1B.
The Astros need to promote LHH Matijevic or Madris. Both are doing very well in AAA. They can't be worse than Abreu vs. RHP.
Jan 4-"In short, I think Madris and Matijevic compete to be the first option to be called up from the minors at 1B/LF in case of injury. Hensley is the likely the first MLB roster backup option at 1B but if he struggles perhaps Madris gets the call."
I was questioned why I wrote this at the time- "Astros: Who is Bligh Madris"
If Brantley CAN return AND CAN play 1B, Brantley becomes the defacto starter at 1B.
Bench Abreu and relegate him to PH vs. LHP status only.
I DO NOT think the Astros will get to level 6 on that list. I think steps 1-4 are mandatory unless there is a reason to believe Abreu is fixed (vision issue corrected.)
You may think this is irrational. It probably is. I am tired of seeing an Astros 1B destroy rallies.
Here is my challenge. I can't tell you how much WAR this is worth. All projection systems say Abreu will deliver 1.0 WAR. If he does, that might beat anything I can project for anyone else at 1B.
I THINK this strategy if properly executed to give the best matchup COULD net +1 WAR over where the projections are now.
Task 3- Play Yainer Diaz More
This will surprise no one that has read this website for any time. The projected PA split has Maldonado playing 67% of the time at catcher. So far this season it has been 72% Maldy. What if the playing time was evenly split? I am not going into the entire case for this here. It is all over the website.
In short, this would add about 0.5 WAR at the catching position.
Task 4- Fix the Batting Order
We have discussed possibilities in this article.
I think the Astros should immediately try THIS batting order and the alternatives I show here.
Quantifying the WAR this would improve is hard. I am just going to leave it at zero but know this lineup scores more runs.
IF the Astros made ALL of these moves I think it adds 2.5-3 WAR. Is that enough?
The reason I am writing this NOW is that I would push for this NOW, so that the Astros have time to determine what other trades could be made (in addition to an Alex Wood type) at what position that could really push this team to the top.
This may not be enough. I know you all want to win it all and so do I. Stay tuned.
At some point I will share my fifth task. The fan base IS NOT ready to hear that one yet and I am tired of fighting. The Patrons can get number five here.
P.S. - Stay tuned to Drew Gilbert in the minors. If the Astros need or CHOOSE to trade McCormick or Meyers it may mean they are ready to turn centerfield over to Drew Gilbert. This is the potential bonus task.
Folks, I have never asked for money but SEVERAL of you said I should be paid for what I do. Here is your opportunity to do that at a nominal cost. This support will help me continue to provide you what I do- objective analysis of your teams.
This is completely VOLUNTARY.
The details are available at Patreon.com.