As you may know, Fangraphs put together power rankings for each position, ranking every team from 1-30 in regards to the overall value at each position. I thought this would be a good way for us to take a step back, take a holistic look at the team as we look at areas for improvement as the season continues.
Catcher – Rank 18
Probably not a surprise to anyone, the depth chart of Chirinos getting 384 Pa, Max Stassi getting 224, and Garrett Stubbs getting a small taste at 32 – all resulting in 2.3 WAR is not awe-inspiring. The range in WAR was from 5.4 to 1.0, with the Astros firmly in the middle of the pack. The position is tied with the Indians and is only 0.1 away from the Rays at #14.
1st Base – Rank 22nd
I was slightly surprised by this ranking, not only because Yuli has been a solid-average type performer, but their depth chart includes AJ Reed (albeit for only 7 PA). Technically tied for 20th, it seems like an area which could easily be improved, but with Yordan Alvarez banging on the door, we may have an internal option they didn’t consider if he is forced to 1B instead of the outfield. Additionally, I think Yuli could bounce back a bit this year with power returning after his hamate surgery.
2nd Base – Rank 1
Altuve is the best second baseman in baseball. I don’t think this should surprise anyone. They have Diaz, Kemp, and Gurriel rounding out the depth, which seems more than sufficient for the position. There is a solid .8 WAR difference in the projections to the next closest team – I think it’s safe to say – we love Altuve.
3rd Base – Rank 2
Another spot where the Astros are a dominant force. It’s a shame to see Bregman be overshadowed by Jose Ramirez but it is understandable. Diaz and Gurriel round out our depth options, and with some solid options in the minor leagues, the position should be well covered.
Shortstop – Rank 3
This was the position I was the most unsure in how we would be ranked. Coming in at #3 is more than respectable, as the enviable talent oozing out of Correa is something most teams dream of. He is outpaced by Lindor and Seager. Bregman and Diaz rounding out our depth also provides a valuable boost to the position.
Left Field – Rank 15
Admittedly, I was a bit surprised by this ranking, with Brantley owning the majority of the PA. It seems tempered largely due to Brantley’s injury history and usage at other positions. The depth has a myriad of options, spreading the gamut with a list including Kemp, Tucker, Reddick, Fisher, and Straw.
Center Field – Rank 9
George Springer takes the bulk of the PA (364) but it has Marisnick carrying a significant load as well (210), which helps temper the WAR expectations. Fangraph noted that the only reason the Astros did not rank higher was the play time and the significant step down to Marisnick. They did not seem to hold his defensive value as high in WAR standards which was slightly surprising to me.
Right Field – Rank 12
With a nearly equal split of Reddick getting 350 PA vs Springer’s 280 PA, it makes sense that the Astros were propped up a little bit. I was curious where this ranking would fall, especially with considerations to Reddick’s struggles last year. The depth is rounded out with Fisher and Tucker in line for 35 PA each.
Starting Pitchers – Rank 3
With all the turmoil and discussions over the season about the Astros’ losses in the rotation, they still held a very respectable ranking of 3rd. Verlander and Cole of course carrying the majority of the value with 10 WAR estimated between them, the power rankings list 11 pitchers with the following WAR: Verlander (5.2), Cole (4.8), McHugh (2.0), Miley (1.0), Peacock (1.3), James (1.0), Valdez (0.4), Whitley (0.3), Bukauskas (0.2), Rodgers (0.1) and Armenteros (0.1). Fangraphs noted the remarkable depth, that they were 6 deep before even mentioning the #1 pitching prospect in all of baseball.
Relief Pitchers – Rank 2
This was not surprising at all to me, the Yankees built a powerhouse of a bullpen buying almost every elite name reliever this past off-season. Additionally, Osuna and Pressly take the top spots in the Bullpen WAR with Will Harris continuing to be a rock-solid above average performer. The bullpen seems to be one of the most important elements in a successful playoff run. With the Astros depth in pitching in the minors it’s unlikely they would pursue any type of outside help. With that said, it’s hard to ignore that one of the game’s most elite closers is still a Free Agent in May. If he holds out till after the draft, Kimbrel would lose the compensation pick attached to him, and although I still find it incredibly unlikely would provide an immediate boost to an already stacked bullpen.
Designated Hitter – Rank 6
I was curious where the Astros would rank in this regard as well. Remember this ranking is out of 15 vs every other position is out of 30, so the Astros are just a hair over the middle of the pack here. Tyler White (455), Brantley (210) and AJ Reed (35) are the projected Astros DHs.
Fangraphs had a surprisingly optimistic note in regards to White that I thought was worth adding here:
The Astros continue to churn out so many talented young players that it’s easy to forget just how good Tyler White actually is. White made a mockery of the minor leagues, finishing with more walks than strikeouts at five separate minor league stops. The only time White didn’t have a wRC+ of 109 or better was in 2016 in the big leagues, and his next-worst mark was 127 in a 2017 MLB cup of coffee. So whilst it might have looked like the 28-year-old came out of nowhere last year, he really didn’t -- his 144 wRC+, .257 ISO, .377 wOBA, and 10.1% walk rate were all well within his minor league career norms. In fact, White might still have some upside; his 20.7% strikeout rate was higher than any he’d posted before in the minors and suggests there’s room for improvement. There’s also some room for regression here -- his .330 xwOBA dovetails nicely with his .334 projection for 2019 -- but that might be overly pessimistic. Statcast spits out Gleyber Torres and Kris Bryant as comparables for his batted ball profile.
Overall, despite a brutal start to the season, the Astros are stacked. Nothing here came as overwhelmingly surprising but I was happy on the strong projections for both White and McHugh.
If the team was looking to improve, an addition of someone like Kimbrel is an obvious “easy-button”, potentially adding almost 2 WAR and matching the Yankees (although it would be prorated depending on when he signed.) Of course, I also think this is pretty unrealistic given the rumored salary demands for a player who was not quite himself last year.
I did find it interesting that Yordan Alvarez didn’t find a way to break into any of the depth charts in either left or 1B given the broad range of players they had listed here. Adding him into the first base depth could have buoyed that position a bit.
I don’t think anyone will be surprised by the Catcher’s projections, but I really do believe Chirinos will take advantage of the Crawford Boxes and surprise some people.
Tell me what you think of the rankings? Did Fangraphs get it right? Get it wrong? How do you disagree? If you were Luhnow, how would you pursue improving the team?