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The Miracle Astros

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Let’s put their success in perspective

2020 Houston Astros Photo Day Photo by Mary DeCicco/MLB Photos via Getty Images

Since 2015, we Astros fans have come to expect nothing less than a team that competes at the highest level and goes deep into the playoffs. And the AL West? They are our bitches.

So it is with some dismay that the Astros actually trail the Oakland A’s by 3.5 games, and “only “ have a 15-11 win loss record.

There’s a disturbance in the Force.

Dudes and dudettes. The Astros at 15-11 is a miracle. The 15-10 record they had after 25 games is the same as last year after 25 games. They are doing it without the contributions of these Top 12 WAR producers from last year:

Cy Young Justin Verlander

Cy Young runner-up Gerrit Cole

ROY Yordan Alvarez

Closer Roberto Osuna

Former All Star and chief set-up man Will Harris

Catcher Robinson Chirinos, who had a career year with 3.8 bWAR.

Defensive outfield super-hero, Jake Marisnick

These are by no means the only losses to injury or free-agency this year, only the most dramatic. Over a whole season these losses alone amount to 26.4 bWAR subtracted from the Astros win total from last year.

But folks, that’s not all!

Michael Brantley, George Springer and Ryan Pressly have missed considerable time due to injury, Alex Bregman started slowly, as usual, and just as he seemed to be getting untracked, he pulled a hamstring, missing the last three games with more MIA’s to come.

And of course, the abysmal sub-replacement level performance of former MVP Jose Altuve thus far has also really been a drag, man.

So how is this team on the same track as last year’s?

Well, to be fair, Yordan wasn’t playing the first 25 games of last year’s season, so there’s that. Zack Greinke wasn’t either, and he’s tied for tenth in MLB in bWAR among starters, so that helps. And Framber Valdez is tied for 11th. Yes, thank you Framber. We needed that.

Martin Maldonado at catcher has not replaced the WAR that Chirinos provided last year, but his hits have been clutch, and he has 17 RBI, one behind...wait for it...Kyle Tucker for the team lead.

But as most of you already know, the bulk of the replacement value that has kept the Astros competitive this year has come from rookies, especially rookie pitchers. None of these rookies ever made a pre-season Top 100 list, and they came from a system rated recently by MLB.com as 29th in the league.

We Astros fans have all been pleasantly surprised by the emergence of guys like Blake Taylor, traded for Marisnick, Andre Scrubb, traded for Tyler White, and home grown products like starters Brandon Bielak (2.45 ERA), Cristian Javier (3.55 ERA), and soon to be everyone’s favorite Astro, the ever-smiling and wonderful reliever, Enoli (Canole) Paredes.

These five guys are all in the Top 12 of Astros bWAR so far in 2020. They account for 4.1 bWAR total. (Scrubb 1.1, Taylor .9, Javier .8, Bielak .8, Paredes .5) All the veteran players on the team together account for 4.3 bWAR, (including those with negative WAR ratings).

If you add up the entire bWAR of each player on the team including negative WAR ratings, the total is 7.4. The team rookies account for 3.1 of those, and the Big Five account for 4.1, more than half the team total. The total WAR of non-rookies among the Top 12 WAR producers, Zack Greinke, 1.3, Framber Valdez, 1.2, Yuli Gurriel, 1.1, Carlos Correa, .9, Alex Bregman, .6, Martin Maldonado, 3, and George Springer, .3 equals 6.3 WAR. The Big Five rookies are about 40% of that.

(Is it a coincidence that these five over-achieving rookies are pitchers? Brent Strom is a genius)

How does production from Astros rookies compare to that of other teams? I manually calculated the rookie WAR production of each team among that team’s Top 12 WAR producers. On average each team’s rookies produced about .5 WAR. No team had five rookies in its Top 12, and Brandon Bailey (.2 bWAR) would have made the Top 12 for many of the teams in the league.

Only one other team had four rookies in its Top 12, the Mariners, with a total WAR among those four rookies of 1.9. Toronto had three rookies also equaling 1.9 WAR. The next best team to the Astros in rookie production was the White Sox, with 2.3 bWAR among rookies in the Top 12.

So Astros win production from its top rookies is almost twice as high as any other team, including teams that are in a full rebuilding mode. And it's about eight times greater than the average team.

Caveats:

  1. Many rebuilding teams have high ceiling players who lost rookie eligibility last year or 2018. We saw one of those teams last night. It’s hard to project any of our current Big Five rookies as future superstars.
  2. BWAR is not the best measure for predicting future performance. The stats used in bWAR tend to be traditional, result oriented numbers that don’t attempt to factor out luck. How long can Scrubb continue to have a 0.00 ERA with all the walks he allows, for example? The Fangraphs WAR measure is not so kind to these players, and it uses more advanced performance oriented statistics that are better predictors of future performance.

Nonetheless, the amazing performances by our Astros rookies could well be the difference of about four games. So instead of 15-11 and on auto-glide for the playoffs, the Astros could be 11-15, even with the...ugh... Texas Rangers in the loss column.

Remember come December.

All things considered, the Astros are a Festivus miracle.