As we look back at the past 2 seasons, it’s tough to argue that the Astros were not one of, if not THE best team in baseball. With that said, they had a few holes to fill through the departures of players like McCann, Marwin, Keuchel, and Morton. Those are some big shoes to fill, and you have to wonder if the Astros could continue to improve.
1.) Astros Sign Michael Brantley to a 2 year / $32 Million Contract
The Astros signed 3-time All-Star Brantley to a what many considered an excellent deal, with MLBTradeRumors estimating a 3 year / $45 Million dollar contract. (Especially surprising when compared to McCutchen’s deal)
So who is Brantley? A career .295/.351/.430 hitter, with excellent walk (7.8%) and strikeout (10.7%) rates, who flashes some good speed (118 SB, and never less than 10 in any season with 30+ games played). Offensively, Brantley is well above average, clocking in at 114 wRC+ for his career.
Defensively, Brantley is limited to left field, and may transition to more of a DH role with the versatility to play left as our prospects continue to knock on the door. But the biggest limitation has been injuries in his career.
Steamer - .282/.344/.446 - 16 HR for a 120 wRC+ and 2.2 WAR
I think Steamer is a bit light on their batting average/OBP, I’m hoping for him to repeat his 2018 numbers - .309/.364/.468, it appears that Steamer normalized for a slightly below average BABIP compared to him keeping a .314 across his career.
Overall, he’s a great addition that solidifies a line-up that is already in discussions for the best in the league if everyone is healthy.
2.) Astros sign Wade Miley to a 1 Year- $4.5 Mil (with 500k in incentives) Contract
In 2018 by the first glance, Miley had a dominant year pitching to a 2.57 ERA across 80 2⁄3 IP. The advanced stats were not as pretty (4.30 xFIP / 5.58 K/9 / 3.01 BB/9)
For his career, Miley has been an innings-eater but not overly exciting pitcher. Only breaking 3 WAR once in his career. His 4.26 ERA across 1,236 innings in his career may tell a bit of the story. Here was what MLBTradeRumors had to say about his 2018 turnaround:
“He averaged only 5.6 K/9 with 3.0 BB/9, but generated a robust 52.8% groundball rate and allowed only three home runs on the year.
In some regards, Miley was not a substantially different pitcher last year than he had been over the prior seven seasons. His swinging-strike rate sat just a half percentage point above his lifetime 8.6% mark; his average fastball velocity sat right at his career mean of ~92 mph. But that only tells part of the story, as Miley drastically revamped his arsenal in a manner that obviously paid dividends.
In particular, Miley ramped up usage of his cutter, which became his most-used and most-effective pitch, while burying his sinker and slider in favor of enhanced usage of a curve and change. He surrendered much more pull-side contact than before, but with a career-high 2.24 GB/FB rate, the shift-savvy Brewers were able to gobble up quite a few of those well-struck balls. Miley also induced weak contact on 19.5% of the balls put in play against him and ended the season with a career-low .269 BABIP-against.
That last figure — batting average on balls in play — is an interesting one to consider. Any change in Miley’s fortunes in that area, or in the number of balls that leave the yard, could reverse his turnaround. First, though, opposing hitters will have to find a way to solve Miley’s two favorite new offerings; they managed sub-.200 batting averages and sub-.300 slugging percentages against both his cutter and curve last year. Statcast was duly impressed, as it credited Miley with a .300 xwOBA that largely supports the weak .283 wOBA mark he held batters to.”
Steamer - 8-7, 4.59 ERA across 122 IP with 6.91 K/9 and 3.45 BB/9
I think I’m far more reluctant to get on board with Miley than most others on this board. I think he’s a solid innings eater, but his pitch profile doesn’t seem to align to the Astros standard operating model. I think Steamer’s projections are in the ballpark of where mine would be with him as a Starting Pitcher. If he sticks there for the full season, I’d estimate him to be a 200 IP @ 4 ERA type pitcher. Which still has a ton of value.
I am hopeful that there’s something I’m not seeing in Miley’s profile and he absolutely dominates both Steamer and my projections.
3.) Astros sign Robinson Chirinos to a 1 Year / $5.75 Million Contract
This signing was a bit of a let down, the Astros were in on every news article, particularly for JT Realmuto. But if Realmuto fell through, we had plenty of backups with Grandal and Ramos etc all looking for a homes. It seemed like perfect timing for our gap in Catcher. Then we got someone cut by the Rangers?!
So who is Chirinos? And why did the Astros sign him?
There are 2 elements that I believe drove the Astros interest in Chirinos. Let’s look at the statistical profile first.
The 34 year old catcher, is noted as a poor defender, particularly when it comes from the pitch framing perspective. But offensively, Chirinos has been a solid force, particularly from a power and patience perspective. His .233/.337/.456 line over the past 4 years is good for a wRC+ of 106 (JT Realmuto was 112 for comparison). Chirinos’ power aligns extremely well with the Crawford Boxes, here was a very unscientific but interesting view of his hits
Here is Robinson Chirinos’ spray chart from 2017-2018 overlayed on Minute Maid Field. It’s not scientific, but it’s fun.— BatFlip Crazy (@batflipcrazy) December 4, 2018
Chirinos is a strong pull hitter on hard hit FB. His 2018 HHPFB% was his lowest in two years and still ~7% better than MLB average.#FantasyBaseball #Astros pic.twitter.com/ft49E5lriK
On the softer side, Chirinos actually was close friends with Jose Altuve, playing baseball with him back in Venezuela
Steamer - .201/.297/.380 - 91 wRC+ for 0.2 WAR
In our ridiculously Bold Predictions, I put a .240+/.350+/.500+ with 20+ HR for a 120 wRC+. Those predictions obviously have some rose colored glasses to them, but truthfully are within the realm of possibility. He hit that in 2017 without the benefit of the Astros line-up protection (I know there’s debate on it’s validity), and more importantly not having the Crawford Boxes to take advantage of.
4.) Astros trade for Aledmys Diaz
This feels almost like a forgotten move at this point, partially because of the timing (occurring in mid-November) and partially due to the challenges finding a spot for Diaz. It was met with mixed emotions as it all but spelled the departure of Marwin, though Diaz seems to be a solid back-fill.
Diaz has flashed the ability to be a star level player, breaking into the majors with a .300/.369/.510 season good for 2.6 WAR in 2⁄3 of a season. Unfortunately, he has not been able to repeat that success with a disappointing 2017, and a basically league average 2018. Even still his career .275/.325/.458 (108 wRC+) line, while still only being 28 years old means that he can be an above average contributor that helps fill the gap of the recently departed Marwin Gonzalez.
Defensively, Diaz is not an elite, but has been competent at multiple positions, which is where his value truly comes in for the Astros.
.263/.312/.435 for 0.8 WAR (49 games) for 105 wRC+
First to note that Diaz’s offensive projection outpaces Marwin’s results last year (.247/.324/.409 - 104 wRC+). This trade still feels like a major steal to me, how often do you get an all-star 28 year player with the ability to play a passable SS for a prospect ranked 24th in your farm system. I do think he has the ability to outperform his projections if he gets the chance.
I think the Astros got better offensively. If you pair that with a few of our key players returning to health, we could have the offensive juggernaut churning again. There will be a step back in our rotation, but a rotation anchored by Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole is dangerous enough to begin with. Add in that we have the #1 Pitching Prospect in baseball that should be able to break in and hopefully add a third ace to that list. Although I’m not as high as others on Miley, I do believe that Peacock and McHugh can solidify the back-end of the rotation with well above average starters.
Let’s hope we can get our new Astros some jewelry!