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Off the Top of My Hat: Astros Dream Draft Edition

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Pitchers that dress like Care Bears and a draft policy of “Best Player Whose Last Name Starts with B Available” provide the blueprint for Hatter’s own personal Space Force.

1989 MLB All Star Game Photo by Owen C. Shaw/Getty Images

2020 has made us all losers. If the Manfred report and ruling on the Astros’ electronic sign stealing scandal felt like death, then maybe we should have anticipated the pestilence and war 2020 still had in store for us.

Famine now seems imminent.

At least Commodus could give Rome 150 days of games to distract the citizens from the misery, but we don’t even have that. It doesn’t help that my four-year-old boy keeps walking around the house, singing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.”

Since there are no real games, we have decided to pretend there are. We will fantasize about imaginary teams and make- believe matchups, as if we were wide-eyed children during pretend-time, or mentally ill adults who have escaped their padded cells.

The Ground Rules

Five Crawfish Boxes writers were tasked with drafting five All-time Astros teams. I’m lucky I’m even still considered a writer, given that I have contributed a total of one article during 2020.

The rules were as follows:

  • Teams consists of 15 players. 8 of each defensive position, 1 DH which can be any position player, and 6 pitches.
  • Players must have spent at least 2 full seasons with the franchise to be eligible to be drafted. To be eligible at a position, a player must have played at least 2 seasons with the Astros with that position as their primary position.
  • Drafted players as they were during their tenure with the Astros. So if you draft JD Martinez or Miguel Tejada, you get Houston JD and Houston Tejada, not Detroit JD and Oakland Tejada.
  • The draft occurs in snake fashion, with the order of selection reversing every other round. The draft takes place over 3 days, with 5 rounds drafted per day.

Afterwards the teams will “compete” against each other through a variety of means:

  • By TCB reader vote
  • By objective WAR calculation
  • By simulated competition using Out of the Park 21 baseball simulation software

WAR calculation was done, as outlined in a previous article by bilbos, by averaging the top five consecutive bWAR years of a player with the Astros, or if they played less than five years, to multiply their years by the appropriate factor to make it equal five years. I found this method to be problematic, for reasons touched upon in Hebrew Hammah’s team article.

It is easier to have a strong short two year stint with a franchise than to have five sustained years at that level. It is very difficult for any player to have five consecutive years where at least some playing time is not lost to injury.

Using tabulation of WAR also makes this exercise more retrospective, rather than prospective. You become focused on what they’ve already done, instead of theorizing what they might do in this fantasy scenario. You could conceivably draft a team, without knowing anything about the Astros or baseball at all, simply by calculating all the draft candidates’ WARs and then just picking off the top, accounting for position.

So while I do consider WAR values, you’ll find that my draft doesn’t adhere to it strictly. I want a team that will dominate.

The Draft

You can look at Rounds 1-5, 6-10, and 11-15 of the draft using the provided links. Below is my commentary for my own picks.

Day 1: You’re Listening to 106 the HAT, featuring the Best of the 80’s, 90’s and Today

Rounds 1-2: Biggi, Biggi, Breggi, Can’t You See? Sometimes Your Plays Just Hypnotize Me

#2 - Craig Biggio, C-2B-OF - My competitors praised this pick, but if Jeff Bagwell were still on the board, I would have taken him. Bagwell is the greatest player in franchise history, and you don’t pass that up. But since he was taken by Cody with the first overall pick, I went with Houston’s other Hall of Famer wearing an Astros cap. Not because I think he’s the second best, (I think Lance Berkman and Jose Altuve have arguments to be made that they are better offensive players), but because Biggio’s eligibility at 2B, OF and C offers a lot of flexibility for later in the draft.

Also because I feel like there should be some rule that your team has to have players whose last names begin with B on it. I want to have more B’s by the time this is done than Max Headroom trying to sing “Barbara Ann.”

#9 - Alex Bregman, 3B - With Bagwell taken first overall, Altuve taken third overall, and Verlander taken sixth overall, my opportunity to draft a league MVP was over. Or was it?

Did you know that during this offseason, baseball-reference adjusted its method for calculating defensive WAR value and as a result, Bregman now has more bWAR in 2019 than Mike Trout does by a full win?

  • Alex Bregman 2019 bWAR: 9.2 (previously 8.4)
  • Mike Trout 2019 bWAR: 8.2 (previously 8.3)

Easy pick here. I’ll take Alex Bregman, 2019 AL MVP. Because his name starts with a B.

Rounds 3-4: There was U2 and Blondie and Music Still on MTV. . .

#12 - Mike Scott, RHP - Mike Scott’s 1986 season was the most dominant starting pitching season in Astros history, and his 1986 Cy is the franchise’s most prized. Fight me.

#19 - Nolan Ryan, RHP - I was not planning to draft another pitcher here. I wanted one of George Springer, Cesar Cedeno, Jose Cruz or Jimmy Wynn to anchor my outfield, but they were all taken in rapid succession before my turn came around again. I will be among the first to say that Nolan Ryan, while great, is one of the more overrated pitchers in MLB history. But we’re 18 picks in and he’s still on the table. You have to be kidding me if you think I’m passing on on the pitcher the documentary Fastball determined to have the fastest fastball in major league baseball history.

Round 5: Let Me See That Thon. . .

#22 - Dickie Thon, SS - When Cody Poage drafted Carlos Correa #11 overall, he crushed my dream of having a Puerto Rican shortstop capable of a a 7+ WAR season. If only the Astros had two of those. Oh wait, they do.

Prior to getting beaned in the face in 1984, which left him with permanent eye and depth perception damage, Dickie Thon posted 7.4 and 6.1 bWAR seasons (7.2 and 5.1 fWAR). That’s as good or better than even Correa’s best two seasons of 7.0 and 6.6 bWAR (5.2 and 5.1 fWAR). Pre-injury Dickie was a beast and I want him on my team.

Not the one I was thinking of...

Not a bad first day. 2 genuine offensive weapons, 2 legitimate aces and a dick(ie) move that lets me quote Sisqo in an article.

Day 2 : Bourn to Run

Rounds 6-7: You Can’t Always Get What You Want (But If You Try Sometimes. . .)

#29 - Andy Pettitte, LHP - The problem with a snake draft is that when you’re one from the end, there can be a lot of players removed from the board between your picks. I chose Biggio in the first round, hoping I could get another second baseman later, so that I could put Biggio at catcher or in the outfield. Catcher is a thin position for the Astros’ franchise history, and by the end of 15 rounds, we will collectively have had to have drafted over 15 outfielders to fill our teams when you consider that some will likely be used as designated hitters. After I selected Dickie Thon, I was hoping to draft Joe Morgan, Bill Doran or Jeff Kent in round 6. All of them were taken before it was my turn again, so I switched focus to bolstering the rotation again. Every pitching staff needs a lefty, and 2005 Andy Pettitte is as good any you’ll find.

#32 - Glenn Davis, 1B - Davis played four full injury-free seasons in Houston and finished in the top 10 for MVP voting 3 of those 4 years. He offers much needed power to the lineup and is immediately inserted in the heart of the order.

Rounds 8-10: Josie’s on a Vacation Far Away. . .

#39, #42, #49 - Michael Bourn, OF, Terry Puhl, OF, Luis Gonzalez, OF - Eight rounds in, I began to get a little worried that I didn’t have an outfield. With most of the major second baseman candidates already off the table, it was unlikely I could use Biggio in the outfield.. Bourn offers elite speed on the basepaths and gold glove defense, even if he does strike out more than a court stenographer.

My original intent was to pair him with Hunter Pence, but Cody made sure that wasn’t going to happen. Puhl and Gonzalez are solid pieces for the outfield, but they don’t offer much in the way of power. (Luis Gonzalez in his Houston years was not yet the 57 home run monster he would become in Arizona.)

With only Bregman and Davis sporting genuine 25 HR potential, this team is going to be playing a lot of small ball.

Hopefully better than the above clip. Both decisions to break for third seem like bad judgment.

But maybe not as bad as Bourn batting when it wasn’t his turn. But hey, he’s fast! As you can see in this commercial from his Braves days:

Here we see Michael Bourn’s impressive ability to. . . fly out to center when a position player is pitching, I guess. Whatever, his name starts with a B too.

Look, Ma! Straight B’s!

On to day 3.

Day 3: Oldies, Good Times I Remember

Round 11: ‘Cause She’s Still Preoccupied with 1985. . .

#52 - Joe Niekro, RHP - We got Scott. We Got Nolan. We got Joe. We’re getting the band back together. Clearly, the strategy is to draft 1980’s icons who wore rainbows. If Cheer Bear were eligible, I’d have drafted her too.

Down and out isn’t a pitch location she’s familiar with.

Round 12: There’s a Voice in My Head That Drives My Heel. . .

#59 - Doug Rader, 3B - For some reason, I got obsessed with Rader’s defense and his 5 consecutive gold gloves to go along with 20 HR, 85 RBI power. That was dumb on both fronts. Gold gloves and RBI are both poor indicators of actual performance. Jose Altuve was a Gold Glove finalist last year, despite being the statistically second worst defensive second baseman in the majors in 2019.

A 5-time Gold-Glover, you would think Rader would man the hot corner and push Alex Bregman to designated hitter. Except that Rader never actually had a season in Houston where he accumulated more than 1.0 defensive WAR. In fact, one of the years he won a Gold Glove, he actually had negative dWAR. Meanwhile, last year Alex Bregman just posted a dWAR of 1.9 in 2019, second in the league only to Matt Chapman (who might be the greatest defensive third baseman of all time) and his ludicrous 3.9 dWAR.

Well at least Rader can be a productive designated hitter, then. Not really. He might have racked up RBI’s, but his .720 OPS as an Astro is nothing special. In fact, he has an OPS+ of 104 as an Astro which is barely better than the average hitter.

Picking Rader caused me to miss out on drafting Art Howe as a second baseman to salvage Biggio as a catcher, or at the very least drafting Jason Castro, who had a legitimate All-Star caliber 2013 as my backstop.

I didn’t really need Rader. There were still other good DH options to be had like Derek Bell. This is what happens when you deviate from the “Best Player Whose Last Name Begins with B Available” draft plan.

I got the Red Rooster. Needed a Bed Booster.

Rounds 13-14: The Funk of Forty Thousand Years Pitches. . .

#62, #69 - Darryl Kile, RHP, Turk Farrell, RHP - With all the marquee closers and relievers in franchise history already off the board, I elected to fill my bullpen with starting pitchers instead. It worked for the 2017 Astros in the World Series. So why not draft a couple of dead pitchers, and end each game with the zombie apocalypse?

Round 15: Mountains sit in a line, LEONARD BERNSTEIN. . .

#72 - Brian McCann, C - So while everyone thought I had drafted my catcher in the first round pick, in actuality it was now the last round and I still needed my catcher. And maybe 2017 Brian McCann doesn’t stand out in measurable metrics, but he brings leadership and clubhouse presence. (I’m sure those things get factored into simulations, right? RIGHT?)

Strategically, this is a pretty terrible pick, but stand up if you’ve caught a major league team to a World Series Championship. Yeah. Didn’t think so. He’s on the team.

Also Brian starts with a B. Welcome aboard, Brian BcBann.

Round 16: Clean Shirt, New Shoes, and I Don’t Know Where I’m Goin’ To. . .

#78 - Colt 45 Uniforms/Colt Stadium - Wait! The draft’s not over? Nope. The final round we drafted which uniforms and stadiums our Astros teams would play in. The options were:

  • Colt 45’s Uniforms in Colt Stadium
  • Tequila Sunrise Rainbow Uniforms in the Astrodome
  • Late 90’s Blue and Gold Astros Uniforms in the remodeled Astrodome (post 1995)
  • Brick Red/Pinstripe Uniforms in Enron Field with Tal’s Hill
  • Today’s Uniforms in Minute Maid Park without Tal’s Hill

As bilbos forfeited his pick, I chose third, with Today’s uniforms and Tequila Sunrise off the board already. Easy choice. I’d pull a Chris Sale before subjecting my players to wearing the blue/gold or brick red uniforms again.

Sure, this means I will instead be subjecting my fans to the swarms of mosquitoes that plagued outdoor Colt Stadium, but that’s a risk I am willing to take from inside my air-conditioned fantasy owner’s box.

The Final Remix

The Lineup

  1. Craig Biggio, 2B
  2. Terry Puhl, RF
  3. Alex Bregman, 3B
  4. Glenn Davis, 1B
  5. Dickie Thon, SS
  6. Doug Rader, DH
  7. Luis Gonzalez, LF
  8. Brian McCann, C
  9. Michael Bourn, CF

The Pitching Staff

  • Mike Scott, RHP
  • Nolan Ryan, RHP
  • Andy Pettitte, LHP
  • Joe Niekro, RHP
  • Darryl Kile, RHP
  • Turk Farrell, RHP

Uniform: Colt 45’s

Ballpark: Colt Stadium

Enough talk, time for action. And by action, I mean imaginary games.

(Hatter Postscript: If you can identify all the song lyric references in this piece, I anoint you TCB’er of the Year. We’ll call you TCBY the FroYo.)