Hold on to your slide rules, Astros fans, because you are about to read the least objective, most absurdly optimistic article about the upcoming 2019 season that you ever dreamed of.
And if you aren’t dreaming in absurd optimism at this time of year, when hope spring-trainings eternal, well then, grit your teeth and mock the rest of us. Just know that we’re having way more fun than you right now.
It is 2019 and pitchers and catchers hath reportedeth. Projection systems like Steamer and PECOTA have been released, and they universally think the Astros will be one of the best, if not the best team in the major leagues.
They’re both falling far short of reality.
How this is going to work
You see, projection systems err towards the median. Meaning, when you see a player or team projection, that is the average result of umpteen gazillion simulations, where half of the simulations had the team/player being better than the published projection. And we’re not worried about the other half, because the Astros just aren’t going to be worse.
Projection systems are weighted and biased (for good reason) based on the most recent season’s accomplishments, playing time, injury history, and hair style. They also mathematically consider the previous two seasons and figure that into the simulation’s equations.
As such, they have inherent bias against players who missed time due to injury (or were recovering from injury), and they can have a very wide range of outcomes for players with erratic or uncertain statistical history. Such players would include prospects recently called up or about to be called up and players who will likely see full-time play after several seasons of part-time.
Smart people put a lot of work into taking such things into consideration to reduce the amount of variability in the simulations, but there are lots of things a computer just can’t know (like they can’t predict how the Angels will trade Mike Trout to the Astros for Tony Kemp before the trade deadline).
So in this post, I am going to break down the Houston Astros in detail and tell you exactly why each and every player is going to be better than their PECOTA projections.
Because I can. And because context matters, and the stupid machines don’t understand that.
Here we go.
Catcher: Robinson Chirinos (PECOTA: .234/.334/.418 with 12 home runs in 328 PA, 0.7 WARP) and Max Stassi (PECOTA: .220/.302/.379 with 8 home runs, 1.2 WARP)
Why PECOTA is wrong: It’s hard to quibble too much with that batting average and OBP, but the slugging percentage is way too low. Chirinos’ 2018 .419 slugging percentage is the worst of his career since 2014, and that’s even higher than his projection. In 2017, he slugged .506. Yes, that was in Arlington’s band box, but you’d be surprised to learn that Chirinos has had a higher slugging percentage on the road than at home for his career in Texas.
Also, that low WARP is due to indifferent defensive value. But we’ve seen the Astros teach good pitch framing to Jason Castro, Brian McCann, Stassi, and even Evan Gattis. If they can, there’s no reason Chirinos can’t at least improve to adequate levels while under Houston’s tutelage. He’s not going to suddenly become a threat to base runners unless the rest of the league is pinch run for with Bengie Molina (who at 44 years old is even slower than he used to be). But he’s going to be better than PECOTA thinks.
Is there another major league player who has been as snakebit as Stassi for the last several years? Injury after injury after injury after injury. Stassi debuted in 2013 and still has played only 132 games—88 of which came last year.
So his projections are going to be FUBAR. Every speck of his projected slash line is silly, particularly taking into account his acceptable 100 wRC+ last season. And Astros fans know that he batted .293/.363/.543 through June 1st last season, so we at least know that he is capable of raking. No reason to think he’ll be as bad as PECOTA is projecting now that he’ll finally get a decent amount of playing time.
Chirinos: .235/.335/.460 with 16 home runs
Stassi: .240/.330/.450 with 12 home runs
First Base: Yuli Gurriel (.272/.320/.415 with 13 home runs in 561 PA)
Well, ok, I can’t really argue with this Projection. It’s a small step back in batting average, but he’s probably due.
But it won’t matter since he’ll be losing the everyday job to:
Tyler White (.252/.329/.452, 10 home runs in 236 PA)
Now this projection is stupid. White projects to be the everyday DH to start the season, and even this projection prorates to 24 home runs in the same number of plate appearances as Gurriel is projected to get. The Astros won’t keep an inferior hitter on the bench.
And White is going to be the biggest whiff from projection systems this year. Maybe in the major leagues. White has had sporadic playing time over the last two seasons due to various blockages and things. But when he has played, he’s hit the ball stupid hard.
From his call-up in July of 2017 and all through 2018, White batted .277/.349/.531 and 140 wRC+ with 15 home runs in 304 plate appearances, and he did it with a perfectly normal .311 BABIP. He fizzled a bit at the end of 2018, or else his overall line would be even more ridiculous. That batting line is nearly AL-MVP worthy. Among first basemen with 300 plate appearances or more during the past two seasons, that is the fifth-highest wRC+ in the major leagues.
Gurriel: .272/.320/.415 with 8 home runs in 450 PA
White: .270/.345/.510 with 30 home runs in 550 PA split between DH and 1B.
Suck it, PECOTA.
Second Base: Jose Altuve (.311/.389/.474 with 17 home runs and 25 SB)
This projection is based on heavily weighting Altuve’s injury-ridden 2018 season. That’s understandable how the algorithm can come up with that, but Altuve’s all better now.
Altuve: .325/.400/.485 with 24 home runs and 30 SB
Third Base: Alex Bregman (.271/.358/.459 with 22 home runs and 12 SB, 77 RBI)
This is a joke, right PECOTA? Maybe the algorithm thinks all the commercials and community appearances is going to make Bregatron suck at baseball? Too much emphasis in the algorithm to a 2016-2017 performance. He has evolved into a higher Pokémon form now, but the software doesn’t know it.
Bregman: .285/.390/.525 with 30 freaking home runs, 10 SB, and 110 RBI
Shortstop: Carlos Correa (.264/.358/.440, 20 home runs)
Correa has missed time to injury for the last couple years and it has affected his batting, particularly in 2018. The computer really should know better. A healthy Correa heading into his age-24 season is going to be a monster.
Correa: .295/.400/.540 with 37 home runs and an MVP trophy.
Left Field: Kyle Tucker (.271/.332/.489 with 13 home runs in 290 PA) and Michael Brantley (.274/.338/.412 with 11 home runs in 498 PA, split with DH)
Honestly, that projection for Kyle Tucker isn’t so bad. But this is a fun exercise, and PECOTA is totally underrating the guy who hit .332/.400/.590 in 100 games at Triple A last season. I have a fever, and the cure is more Tucker.
The Brantley projection is a head scratcher for sure. Brantley was fully healthy in 2018, and sure that was his first healthy year since 2015, but he is healthy. And the dude has a career line of .295/.351/.430 and it’s not like he’s suddenly turned into a decrepit limp noodle at age 31. Such a weird projection, and very likely too low (in all seriousness).
Tucker: I’ll take that line, but with a few more plate appearances, he’ll reach 18-plus home runs.
Brantley: .295/.370/.475 with 20 home runs in 590 plate appearances
Center Field: George Springer (.258/.354/.441 with 24 home runs and 92 runs in 650 PA)
I’m sensing a theme. Let’s take a great, proven hitter, known for hitting huge bombs at a high rate, and rpedict inexplicable regression across the board. That PECOTA projection would be Springer’s worst season since...well, 2018. But before then, his worst full season ever. Last year Springer had a “down” year, but it was just a fluke. The dude’s only 29 years old.
My favorite part of this projection is the 92 runs despite hitting in front of Altuve, Bregman, Correa, Brantley, and White. Let’s just ignore that his lowest run total in a full season was 102 last year, and that was in only 140 games. Let’s forget his 112 in 2017 and 116 in 2016. Silly.
Springer: .270/.365/.500 with 32 home runs and 120 runs scored
Right Field: Josh Reddick (.274/.340/.424 with 11 home runs in 438 plate appearances)
Fewest plate appearances since 2014? Check. Fewest home runs since 2016? check. PECOTA is too heavily weighting a .258-BABIP stink fest from Reddick in 2018. No reason to think he can’t bounce back a bit. The slash line is actually more optimistic than most of the other players on this list, but he’ll still knock fifteen home runs or more if he reaches the projected 438 PA. Which he will.
Reddick: .274/.340/.450 with 15 home runs in 500 PA.
Other: Aledmys Diaz (.256/.313/.419 with 11 HR in 351 PA); Tony Kemp (.266/.332/.410 in 210 PA); Jake Marisnick (.220/.289/.376 in 122 PA)
It’s like PECOTA said, “We don’t know anything about these guys” and regurgitated random numbers. Diaz holds a career batting line of .275/.325/.458 and PECOTA is all like, “this guy is going to suddenly be worse despite going to the best lineup in baseball.” Pishaw.
Kemp’s OBP is far too low for a guy who’s maintained a 10% walk rate throughout his major league life. And PECOTA clearly doesn’t know about Marisnick’s tweaks that led to a 2nd-half line of .263/.368/.509 with a completely sustainable .293 BABIP last year (shh small sample!).
Diaz: .280/.335/.460 with 16 HR in 370 PA
Kemp: .266/.350/.410 in ??? PA
Marisnick: .250/.335/.480 with 12 home runs in 230 PA
You’ll note that I didn’t look at the pitchers. I think the case is already pretty clear that the pitching staff will follow the same trend (3.50 ERA for Justin Verlander? 3.77 for Will Harris? Please.)
And maybe I have too many projected plate appearances across the board.
It don’t matter one speck.
PECOTA is missing low on almost all of the Houston Astros’ batters for 2019, for reasons that a computer algorithm can’t even fathom. Recovery from injury. Bounce-back from aberration 2018 seasons. More playing time. Swing changes. Higher forms of evolution.
The question isn’t going to be, “Who comes in second after Correa wins the AL MVP award?”. Rather it will be, “Who comes in sixth in the AL after Correa, Altuve, Bregman, Springer, and White?”
It’s going to be an absolutely epic season for the 2019 Houston Astros.