Updated: Aug 30, 2021
I have been thinking a lot about how the Astros should set up their ALDS roster. You might think it's too early for this discussion, but that is what we do at LarryTheGM- think ahead about things.
Let's start with my answer. This is how I would lay out the 2021 ALDS roster assuming all of the following are healthy:
Let's start with some general thoughts about the position players.
Every plate appearance is critical, and a team cannot afford to give up opportunities to score runs. One consequence of this is that the Astros are likely to pinch hit for their catchers at RISP opportunities. As shown the Astros two starting catchers have 0.603 and 0.653 OPS. Possible pinch hitters have OPS greater than 0.800.
The Astros currently have TEN Players hitting greater than 0.780 OPS but none is greater than 0.879. There is no other team with more than eight players greater than 0.780 OPS (50 PA min). The AL league average is 0.728. This group of strong hitters gives the Astros maximum flexibility to match potential batter's strengths with the starter’s weaknesses.
Diaz is essentially a multiple position starter, and this should allow Dusty Baker to pick the best batters to start.
Similarly, if Meyers can continue his hot start, the Astros can start McCormick or Meyers depending on the pitcher profile.
Here are some general thoughts about the post season pitching staff. I also wrote about this earlier (https://www.larrythegm.com/post/evergreen-astros-postseason-pitching-staff)
There are off days in the postseason. Especially in the ALDS, the Astros will only need four starters and should be able to fully utilize their bullpen and may only need 12 pitchers. I will project a roster with 12 pitchers and 14 position players for the ALDS. In an ALCS, it is very possible the team might go with 13 of each.
Expect the Astros to continue to manage innings pitched and be especially careful with Luis Garcia and Cristian Javier.
Upon the return of Urquidy soon, the Astros may also deploy a six-man rotation at least part of the time during a 17 straight day stretch from September 10th to September 26th.
It’s also possible that Garcia and/or Javier could go to the IL for ten days essentially to rest them for the postseason.
Expect also that starts may look more like postseason starts (shorter) when the Astros have both Javier and Urquidy available as long men in the bullpen. In essence, I am saying expect Urquidy to start some and be a long reliever some in the weeks to come.
Let's look at the probable roster position by position
Catchers- Maldonado, Castro, Stubbs- it is likely that the Astros will call up Stubbs and carry three catchers in the ALDS. I expect Castro could start one ALDS game that possibly Garcia starts especially if that game is vs. a RHSP. Diaz, Meyers, and possibly Jones will be used to pinch hit for the catchers if there is a RISP opportunity.
First Base- Gurriel- Expect Gurriel to start every ALDS game unless he is slumping. Diaz and possibly Jones are the backups here. Diaz could spot start if the pitching match-up dictated. After a relatively slow July and a visit to the IL, Gurriel has seemingly returned to his earlier season form.
Second Base- Altuve- Expect Altuve to get some more rest in the rest of August and September. His August split has not been good (OPS 0.634). If he is continuing to struggle into the ALDS, expect Diaz to give him a spot start.
Shortstop- Correa- Expect Correa to play every day in the ALDS and shine chasing the huge contract he desires. Both Diaz and Bregman can back him up if needed but don't expect either to start in the postseason.
Third Base- Bregman- Alex Bregman is back! Something to watch is how Bregman performs down the stretch. If we get MVP caliber Bregman, the Astros should roll into the post season. If we get the early 2021 relatively struggling Bregman, expect Diaz to share time with him in the ALDS.
Left Field- Brantley- In the ALDS, I would expect Brantley to start four games in Left Field and Alvarez to start one. I would expect to see this in each postseason series so that Alvarez is ready to play in a National League park World Series game. The Astros have plenty of backups for LF. McCormick, Diaz, Meyers, and Jones could all play there.
Center Field- McCormick- Right now I would expect McCormick to start most ALDS games; but if Meyer keeps hitting while McCormick is out, their roles could reverse.
Right Field- Tucker- Expect Tucker to start all ALDS games. Brantley and McCormick can also start here.
Starters- McCullers, Garcia, Valdez, and Greinke. Based on performance, I expect these four to be the starters in the ALDS. Exactly what order they start in may be determined by park factors.
Long Relief- Javier, Urquidy- If the four I listed are the starters; then Odorizzi, Urquidy, and Javier are the long men in the bullpen. It is hard to imagine a scenario where more than two long relief pitchers are needed. Based on performance, I believe the two long relievers will be Urquidy and Javier. Urquidy may be specifically deployed in innings where multiple LHH are expected.
Closers- Pressly, Graveman- The closers are set with Pressly as the primary closer and Graveman as the primary setup and backup closer.
Middle Relief- Stanek, Yimi Garcia, Taylor, Raley- The competition for the last spots on the ALDS pitching staff are likely to be quite interesting. At least five other possible middle relief options exist- Baez, Montero, James, Maton, and Abreu.
Baez might be done for 2021 with a shoulder issue.
Montero is currently injured as well. His performance would need to improve to be considered
James is likely waiting for a possible September call up.
Maton has 5.23/ 4.91 ERA/ FIP in his time with the Astros.
Abreu needs more innings to compare with other options and has not pitched since returning to the Astros on 8/24
Whether the Astros have both Taylor and Raley may depend on the team the Astros face in the postseason. The White Sox appear to be RHH centric for example. Against them Abreu may be the ALDS 12th pitcher instead of Raley. In general, I suspect they will want both LHRP.
Here is something shocking. Stanek is as bad vs. LHH (wOBA 0.353) as Raley is bad vs. RHH (wOBA 0.357). The middle relief that Click supposedly addressed STILL has major flaws as most have massive platoon splits. Expect one of Urquidy and Javier to pitch almost every ALDS game.
8/29/21 Update (IP/ ERA/FIP)
Baez (4.1/ 2.08/ 4.55) was active for 14 days. It sure looks like he is done for the season
Abreu (36.0/ 5.75/ 4.36) completely blew up on 8/29 after not pitching for a week
Those Probably Out
Montero (49.1/ 6.39/3.86) has been out since 8/20 and only pitched 6.0 IP since the trade
James- still has not pitched above AAA this year- 1.72 ERA in 16 games (15.2 IP)- He will need to pitch a lot in September to prove he is ready
Those In (Pitchers #9, #10)
Stanek (55.0/ 3.93/ 4.33)
Yimi Garcia (45.0/ 3.60/ 3.83) I suspect Yimi may be the default 7th inning guy by the postseason
Neither of these two is good against LHH
Those on the Bubble (pick 2 - Pitchers #11, #12))
Taylor (33.0/3.55/ 4.08)- one of the worst in the league vs. RHH, does the opponent have enough LHH to support two LHRP
Raley (37.0/ 5.35/ 3.11) went out for COVID 7/8 and returned on 7/25 since then (3.18/5.11)- I honestly don't know what kind of pitcher Raley is and if he is better than Taylor
Maton (52.1/ 4.82/ 3.40) has blown up 3 times in 11 games
How much do you believe in FIP vs. ERA? How many LHH does the ALDS opponent have? These two questions probably determine the decision.
The final spot on the roster is likely to come down to Jones and adding a 13th pitcher. Because I expect the Astros to pinch hit liberally for their catchers starting as early as the fifth inning in the ALDS, I believe the answer here is Jones. Whoever is not used as a PH in say the 5th and 7th inning will be the remaining defensive replacement for that day. Jones can play both LF and 1B, so there is incentive as having him in this role or to have a speedy Meyers available as a critical PR in extra innings.
There you have it. This should be the Astros 2021 ALDS roster.
Let me know what you think of this projected roster.