With every start of a season comes expectations. In fact, part of the fun of baseball for me starts in the off season trying to predict which players will become something and which will fizzle out. With the myriad of stats easily available these days we all get a shot to play GM!
The expectations for the Houston Astros as a team we're not high. At the end of last year I dreaded the idea of Astros fandom this year but I found out something through the process of this season that surprised me. With a wide open team, I had a great time reading posts and debating with friends which players we should keep or not. The statistics became more fun than ever and the Crawfish Boxes have been great for bringing that to the surface.
In honor of that, I have compiled a list of 5 players who pleasantly surprised and 5 who disappointed based not just on personal observation but also on the general expectations and debate held both preseason and throughout the season in the Crawfish Boxes. These are my choices. What are yours?
5 Who Positively Surprised
Who knew this guy who was snagged off waivers last year from the White Sox would be the team's ace, provide 2.9 WAR, and look like a solid 3 for years to come? To me he is easily the biggest surprise of the year.
At the start of the season the Astros had pulled a bunch of once promising OF prospects off of the scrap heap to see if they could find something. The general consensus on the board here (and my personal feelings) was that these guys were basically interchangeable. Let's face it - you rarely find something good in someone else's garbage. I certainly don't think too many people saw Justin Ruggiano having the season he had in 2012 with 13 HR's, good defense, 2.8 WAR, and .909 OPS (or .387 woba to show I was reading clack's nice work this week). Sure his babip is unsustainable and his age (30) tells me we made the right move by keeping the other OF prospects we had but is still doesn't take away from the fact that he's had a surprising and amazing season - the best season of any of the OF players we brought in.
I'm sure I wasn't alone over the years in giving up hope that the Rule 5 the Astros snagged so long ago, Wesley Wright, would ever be more than a AAA player. I groaned when he made the team this year. However, not only has Wesley been nasty against lefties this year, he's been good against everyone (3.17 ERA), and one of the lone bright spots in a terrible bullpen. His SO/BB ratio went up a full point while he lowered the HR rate against him by half. Props to Wesley for an outstanding season.
We knew he had power, but this much? We picked up a youngish 30+ HR guy off of waivers. How often does that happen? What's more, with all the talk of his weak arm he surprised by being pretty good defensively in CF. Sure, his SO/BB numbers are terrible but he has provided the third most WAR on the team of the offensive players, 1.7, with only Altuve and Lowrie ahead of him.
5. Carlos Lee
Somehow El Buffalito played well enough to not only get traded but also get traded for perhaps our 3B of the future in Matt Dominguez and a AA starting pitcher to boot. I'm still scratching my head at how this happened. How could something as slow moving as Carlos take us all by surprise? It's only fair to say that perhaps part of it has been that Carlos transitioned to First Base very well defensively (which is harder than it sounds apparently - ask Brett Wallace). Very pleasant surprise.
Top 5 Disappointments
1. Bud Norris
There was a lot of hope this year that Studly Budly was going to transition into the staff ace and a solid number 2 pitcher with that nasty stuff of his. That just didn't happen. Statistically, he is a weird anomaly. His numbers are almost exactly the same from last year in every way except in E.R.A., which is a full point higher. It's hard to say he was unlucky even though he probably pitched better than the results indicate (and his FIP agrees although it was still worse than last year). At any rate, even though it was marginal, his BB, HR, and WHIP rate increased while GB rate declined and the bottom line is that he did not get better. Bud may have a better year next year but with as consistent as he has been statistically, we may be viewing Bud at or near the best of his ability.
2. Matt Downs
There was a point in preseason where there was a movement on the board here that said that basically any number of people could take CJ's place with little noticeable effect. Matt Downs was the name that surfaced the most in these talks with the thoughts that he showed a lot of power last year and was surely a better defender, since my grandma, 2 year old son, *insert any other somewhat feeble sounding person, animal, or object* is better at third than CJ. While Matt was a somewhat better defender, his .619 OPS (.251 woba) was painful. His babip was terribly low, so he probably got a bit unlucky, but my brain can't forget what I saw with my own two eyes when I watched him take terrible AB after terrible AB. I lost count of how many pinch hitting opportunities I watched Matt swing on the first pitch after consecutive walks. Matt did show a bit of power (it still looks like he could hit 20-25 in a season) but he was disappointing this season.
I wanted to put the whole outfield in this list. After all, there were a lot of people, including me, that thought that our outfield had the highest floor collectively of our system and new signings. Wow, the outfield was bad this year. I didn't expect them to be upper echelon, but I expected better than what we saw. Brian is a little unlucky to be here because, honestly, his defense was very good (and his babip hurt him) but he summarizes my thoughts on the outfield this year. I expected him to have the highest floor of these high floor guys. I thought he was a lock to hit .240-.250 (.270 a real possibility) with 15 HR's and good D. His .596 OPS was not even in my peripheral vision at the start of the year. After this season, I'm not even sure he should make the team next year.
There was a lot of hype at the beginning of the season about J.D. having a hard time keeping his weight up during the season and that being the cause of his downward turn last season. I'm not sure how his weight went this year (don't the Astros have a trainer or nutritionist that could fix this anyway?) but JD regressed in nearly every way this year. The lone plus was that he doubled his walk rate. Perhaps most disappointing was his fielding which was much worse that last year. He is only 25 so there is a possibility he may rebound but this season was disappointing.
5. The Bullpen
Remember when we were going to have one of the best bullpens in the league? Remember when we weren't sure who would make the team based on how many good options we had? Ok, so I know trading away Myers and Lyon blew the projections up a little bit, but, wow, our bullpen was not good this year. Anyway you cut it statistically we are in the bottom 5 of the league. Despite that, they only barely make this list because individual FIP's of the relievers seems to suggest that our defense wrought havoc upon their bottom lines. Still, I don't think many of us thought we would perform this poorly. I'll be waking up this winter moaning "Sixth Inning .. no .. sixth inning. Oh no, Fernando Rodriguez is coming out. Noooooooo .... "