The Astros farm system is turning a corner. Several years of bad drafts culminating in the apocalyptic 2007 debacle are finally starting to fade into the rearview mirror. The 2008 through 2011 Bobby Heck drafts; the 2010 and 2011 Ed Wade trades; and a few off-season Jeff Luhnow pick-ups are coming together nicely to provide some sorely needed hope for the Astros future. And that doesn't even count the virtual cornucopia of talent added in the 2012 draft.
How do I know that the farm system is turning a corner? The proof, as they say, is in the pudding. It's a little thing called winning. The full-season teams just recently passed their halfway point for the season. I looked at the first half 2011 results vs. the first half of 2012 results and what I found was very encouraging.
The first thing I looked at was simply win percentage for the teams. (All of the stats are for the first 70 games of this season vs. the first 70 games of last season, except for Oklahoma City which is based on the first 72 games.)
Oklahoma City - .583 in 2012; .417 in 2011
Corpus Christi - .529 in 2012; .343 in 2011
Lancaster - .529 in 2012; .400 in 2011
Lexington - 557 in 2012; .500 in 2011
The overall win percentage for all full-season teams through the first half of 2012 is .550 as opposed to .415 for 2011.
The next thing I looked at was run differential. For three of the four teams, the difference between last season and this season is dramatic.
Oklahoma City - +44 in 2012; -58 in 2011
Corpus Christi - +20 in 2012; -80 in 2011
Lancaster - +25 in 2012; -78 in 2011
Lexington - +27 in 2012; +6 in 2011
As you can see, the swing from last year to this year is 100 or more runs for three of the four teams. Lexington's isn't as dramatic but they were actually a .500 team through the first half of last season so I wouldn't expect a dramatic improvement for them.
Finally, I wanted to know how the first half pitching and hitting stats stacked up against last year's but minor league splits are rare to non-existent. So I reached out to Mike Fast from the Astros front office and he graciously pulled some raw data that I was able to use to see where these teams showed the most improvement from one season to the next. Except for Oklahoma City, the short answer is pitching.
- Oklahoma City is the outlier in that ERA and WHIP are substantially the same this season as last season and it is their increased offense, particularly slugging percentage, that appears to have driven their improvement.
- Corpus Christi's offensive output is very close to last season's, but team ERA improved from 5.09 to 4.34 and team WHIP improved from 1.488 to 1.408.
- Lancaster's offensive numbers are down slightly with the exception of slugging percentage which is up slightly. But again, ERA improved from 6.12 to 5.08 and WHIP from 1.591 to 1.426 and the walk rate has improved significantly.
- Lexington's offensive numbers are definitely down somewhat this season, particularly slugging percentage, but their ERA has improved from 4.58 to 3.92 and WHIP from 1.399 to 1.310, and strikeouts per nine went from 7.3 to 8.2.
These figures are from the first half only. Obviously, we will need to see the various teams build on their strong first halves, but improvements in pitching and strong winning records give them a foundation on which to build. Nothing succeeds like success. Oh, and by the way, the three short season teams that just started play last week? As I write this, they are all either in first place or tied for first in their respective divisions. The future is looking very bright.
But since I have a tendency to be more optimistic than some, I wanted an opinion from outside the Astros system. I contacted Jonathan Mayo of MLB.com and this is what he had to say, "I think the Astros have made some serious strides in rebuilding a farm system that was pretty barren not that long ago. A good amount of it has been via the Draft – and the Astros should be commended for not loading up on safer, conservative college types to make things look better faster. Some of their selections may take a while, but you’re already seeing improvement from guys like Foltynewicz and DeShields. And, of course, some of the talent came from trades. Not everyone from those deals has performed this year, but it added top-end talent AND depth. You never want to have to trade good big league players, but let’s face it, the Astros weren’t winning titles with those big leaguers, so it was time to kind of blow things up. And I think they’re very much headed in the right direction."