Updated: Oct 23, 2021
The 2021 Astros will wrap up their fourth American League West division title in the last five years within a week. The 2020 season was lost to a global pandemic and some terribly harsh injuries to their pitching staff. Even so, the Astros have gone to four straight ALCS including that subpar 2020 season. They have their doubters based on false narratives built around them being unique cheaters of electronic sign stealing in the 2017 and part of the 2018 season. The 2019 and 2021 teams have proven that the core of the Astros players are truly champions.
Jeff Luhnow TOLD us when he was the Astros GM that his goal was not a single championship but to build a sustainable winner. We are still seeing the fruits of his labor to do that. James Click has made targeted moves to sustain this champion level performance and the 2021 Astros appear to be headed to at least the second-best record in the American League.
The other champions of the 2015-2019 era have all fallen off significantly.
The Royals hampered by the inability to compete financially are one of the league’s worst teams.
The Cubs were generally good in 2017-2020 but had no postseason success after the 2017 NLDS. During the 2021 Trade deadline, Cubs management traded away most of their stars.
The Red Sox dropped into mediocrity in 2019, were one of the worst teams in 2020, and appear likely to gain a wild card spot in 2021.
The Nationals dropped significantly in 2020 and appear to be starting a rebuild already
Relative to the champions in the two preceding and the two following years, the Astros have done the best to maintain excellence. Their five-year winning percentage (0.594 over 2015-2019) is higher than the similar championship window winning percentages of the others. The Astros bounce back in 2021 may be the sign of Luhnow’s dream playing out.
Only the Dodgers have been able to do something similar in recent years and it is safe to assume they will use their massive payroll to remain at the top of the MLB for at least the next few years.
So how are the Astros doing it? How could the Astros maintain the excellence of these championship years? The blueprint has been in place for years.
It may be best to consider the Astros roster and the recent history and the future in terms of generations from the beginning of the championship window shown above based on when they have made or are projected to make a significant contribution to the Astros. The top 25 prospects as rated by fangraphs.com are added to the list of players that have already appeared for the Astros and few other minor leaguers I think may make a difference (Bermudez, Barefoot, Perez).
Generation Zero- pre-2015- before the championship window- Altuve is the only member of this group still on the team
Generation One- 2015 to 2018- the players that assembled to win the World Series in 2017 and play in the ALCS in 2018. This group is represented by Correa, McCullers, and Bregman.
Generation Two- 2019 to 2021- the players that have been added and made a difference to the roster after the 2018 ALCS, many of these players are the core of the current team. This group is led by Tucker, Alvarez, and Valdez. Sixteen of the 25 players in this group were acquired (drafted, signed, traded for) by Luhnow. Click has had the biggest impact in the bullpen with trades and free agent signings.
Generation Three- 2022 to 2024- these players are the next wave of prospects, some of these prospects have already appeared on the Astros while others are imminent to make a difference. The top of this group includes Siri, Pena, Lee, Leon, Hunter Brown, and Solis. Perhaps surprisingly, 19 of the 23 players were also acquired by Luhnow.
Generation Four- 2025+- this group are the furthest away and may not actually make it to the Astros. This group includes Perez, Barber, Tyler Brown, and Santos. Seven of the twelve players in this group were acquired by Luhnow.
Part of the challenge the Astros have recently is the lack of a first or second round pick in the 2020 and 2021 drafts. This is balanced by very productive international prospect classes in 2015, 2016, and 2017. It may be interesting to see the impact of these international signings as a group.
It is incredible to consider that Urquidy, Valdez, and Javier were all signed in 2015 for next to nothing financially. Luis Garcia was signed for $20K in 2017. These four signings are possibly the greatest prospect achievements of the Luhnow era. Ask anyone that wants to talk about the Astros tanking leading to their draft success about these four international signing.
The Astros started to dominate in Generation 1 with the players that remain from that time and the others that made up those teams. The Gen 2 players are supplementing those players and leading to the very good performance of today. Gen 2 continues the story of what I believe we will look back on as the dynasty Luhnow had hoped for. The Astros are remaining near the top of the MLB four seasons after winning the World Series. There is an underreported story about the impact of rookies on the 2021 Astros and how this may lead this team into Generation 3.