Opening Day is Thursday. The first of 162 of the Greatest Games on Earth. For fans like you and me the other 203 days of the year are largely spent in anticipation of those 162 when the Astros play. So bring it on.
The Astros have won 100 or more games in both of the last two seasons, and have been to the play offs in 3 of the last 4. For 2019 it is almost inconceivable that they don’t repeat as AL West champions for the 3rd straight year.
This is the first of several articles in which we break down the 2019 Astros; how they have improved from 2018, how they may have backtracked, and what are their projections. This article focuses on the position players, an area where there have been few personnel changes for 2019. In upcoming articles we will examine the rotation, the bullpen, the new players, the pitching prospects, and the position prospects.
1B: Yuli Gurriel
2018: .291/.323/.428. 13 HR’s, 107 wRC+, 1.2 fWAR
Steamer projection: .283/.320/.437, 109 wRC+, 0.8 fWAR (in 117 games projected)
There are reasons for both optimism and pessimism about Yuli Gurriel’s progress for 2019. The case for pessimism: he will be 35 this season, not an age when players generally improve. On the plus side, last year Yuli was overcoming hamate surgery, which normally saps a player’s power, and he is still adjusting to the US style of baseball, training and preparation.
Not to exaggerate the importance of Spring Training, but it’s been a good one for Gurriel; 1.036 OPS. More importantly there seems to be a conscious effort to improve plate discipline, a bugaboo for Guriel in the past. In 35 AB’s he has only one K and 4 BB’s, a high percentage for Yuli,
My Projection: I think Gurriel improves slightly on 2018 numbers, more walks and more home runs. He has improved each year defensively at his new position and I see that continue as well.
2B: Jose Altuve
2018: .316/.389/.451 13 HR’s, 135 wRC+, 4.9 fWAR
Steamer: .303/.368/.460, 17 HR’s 130 wRC+, 4.6 fWAR
Yikes! Didn’t Steamer and the other projection services know that Altuve was playing on a bad knee last year that required off-season surgery? Surely they did. Then why project his worst season since he was just a baby, even worse than last year, in his age 28 season? Yes, he was down slightly last year even before his DL stint, but he was probably playing hurt then too.
My Projection: Not another MVP quality year but better than last year; 320 BA with 20 home runs.
SS Carlos Correa
2018: .239/.323/.405 15 HR’s, 101 wRC+, 1.7 fWAR
Steamer: .265/.352/.466/. 23 HR’s 126 wRC+, 4.3 fWAR
My Projection: This is the break out year for Carlos Correa. Using the old eye ball test, the back problems that plagued him last year are behind him. He is hitting the ball more aggressively to left field than he has ever done in his career, and if he stays healthy he will have a big year; .300, 35 home runs.
3B Alex Bregman
2018: .286/.394/.532 31 HR’s, 157 wRC+, 7.6 fWAR
Steamer: .279/.370/.495 25 HR’s, 139 wRC+, 5.5 fWAR
My Projection: I can see why Steamer and others project slightly less production from Bregman this year, since none of them even remotely predicted his break out last year, when he was in the top five in runs, RBI, walks, and OPS. Although his BABIP was a sustainable .289, his WOBA of .396 exceeded his xWOBA by .028.
Despite this, I think Bregman will achieve numbers similar to those of last year. He is obsessed with baseball, madly driven to perfection. If he avoids the slow start that has plagued him in each of his first three years, and early Spring Training returns say he should, this year he could add the .300 BA to the +100 runs, +100 RBI, +30 HR plateau he reached last year. With surgery this off-season on his throwing elbow, I expect fewer throwing errors from Bregs this year, a problem in the past, which could make him an elite fielding third baseman as well.
RF Josh Reddick
2018: .242/.318/.400 17 HR’s, 99 wRC+, 1.1 fWAR
Steamer: .262/.330/.424 13 HR’s 109 wRC+. 1.4 fWAR
My Projection: Reddick had one of his worst seasons last year, but I expect a bounce back, about in line with Steamer. They only have him playing 104 games which makes sense, since he has more left-handed company in a crowded outfield this year, and that doesn’t even include hungry prospects like Kyle Tucker and Derek Fisher.
CF George Springer
2018: .265/.346/434, 22 HR’s, 119 wRC+, 2.9 fWAR
Steamer: .263/.354/.460, 25 HR’s, 127 wRC+, 3.8 fWAR
My Projection: Springer, like many other Astros, had his worst season last year, after posting his best season the year before. Steamer has him improving to career average, which seems like the best guess to me.
LF Michael Brantley
2018: .309/.364/.468 17 HR’s, 124 wRC+, 3.5 fWAR
Steamer: .282/.344/.446 16 HR’s, 120 wRC+, 2.2 fWAR
My Projection: Steamer has Brantley hitting slightly below career averages, perhaps due to his age (31), but he still projects 20% better than league average. I still think he will hit over .300.
Brantley is a huge key to the success of the Astros line up in 2019 and one reason why I project so many of the other hitters better than Steamer does. As Brad Johnson of Fangraphs put it: “Brantley is a line drive hitter with a nose for avoiding soft contact. Now with the Astros, Brantley is poised to make their murderers’ row even more… murdersome.”
This lineup will wear out pitchers. With a left handed contact hitter with decent power in the middle of the line up it is within reasonable possibility that positions 2-6 could end up with .300 BA’s. That is: Altuve, Bregman, Brantley, Correa, Gurriel. Taking each one separately the odds that all of them would hit over .300 seems remote, but when you put all of them together in a line, most pitchers gotta think, “when is this gonna end.” Only one of these five strikes out more that 15% of PA’s. The sum of this line up, Brantley included, is greater than the parts of the whole. Two through six all hitting .300? It could happen.
And, of course, whether or not all these players actually hit the irrelevant magic number of .300, this remains an intimidating gauntlet, followed by another plus hitter with good contact skills, Josh Reddick, and sluggers Tyler White and Robinson Chirinos. Only Chirinos projects as a sub-100 (100 being average) wRC+ hitter in the entire lineup, and I think that is too low.
One more possibility. All nine of this starting lineup could hit 15 or more home runs, and seven could conceivably hit 20 or more. That’s got to be some kind of record.
C Robinson Chirinos
2018: .222/.338/.419 18 HR’s, 103 wRC+, 0.0 fWAR
Steamer: .201/.297/..380 11 HR’s 90 wRC+, 0.2 fWAR
My Projection: If Chirinos hits as badly as Steamer predicts, it will be the first time since 2014 he hit below league average. Steamer and Depth Charts projections are below the other major projection services, and THE BAT and ATC have Chirinos hitting above league average. Furthermore, Steamer has the starting catcher of the Astros playing only 70 games. Perhaps they are concerned with his age, 35 in June.
Along with our own Hebrew Hammah, I think Chirinos’ bat plays well at Minute Maid Park and that he could reach 20 home runs with enough playing time and a 100 wRC+. He is considered a relatively poor defensive catcher and pitch framer.
DH Tyler White
2018: .276/.354/.533 12 HR’s, 144 wRC+, 1.5 fWAR (237 PA’s)
Steamer: .249/.329/.436 19 HR’s, 113 wRC+, 1.1 fWAR
My Projection: In the months of April 2016 and August 2018 Tyler White was among the greatest hitters in baseball. Outside of that he has generally not been very good. So with Tyler White the question is always: which Tyler White do we get this month? Since he has not established himself as a consistent threat, his Spring Training performance this year carries some weight: .654 OPS.
If Tyler White does not have a strong start to the season, he may have trouble finding playing time. Both Tony Kemp, who has had a strong Spring season and who looks like he added upper body strength, and defensive wunderkind Jake Marisnick, who shortened his stroke, improved his contact skills, and also had a strong Spring, are waving their arms saying “hey, look at me.” White needs a strong start or he will lose at bats quickly at DH. And if so, Tony Kemp is another plus wRC+ hitter with excellent contact skills who drives pitchers crazy and who would slot beautifully in the nine-hole as DH in front of George Springer and Co.
White is the hardest player on the team to project, both as to performance and playing time. (He should see playing time at 1B as well.) I won’t dispute Steamer, and I should point out that Steamer had the worst projections for White of all the others on Fangraphs.
The Astros will slug.
Will they be the best in the league? The Yankees and Red Sox may have something to say about that.
Will they hit better than the 2017 Astros, one of the best hitting teams in all History? Maybe.
Tell us what you think below.
Who will be the best hitting team in the American League?
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Which position player is most likely to win MVP in 2019
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Will the 2019 Astros out-slug the 2017 AStros?
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