The 2020 regular season was nothing as planned for the Astros. Injuries altered their campaign and led them to a negative-record season, but was —luckily— enough to advance to their fourth postseason in a row.
Those injuries opened the door for Houston to have a bunch of surprises in terms of low-profile players and disappointments from men you’d expect to step up in the middle of a difficult year. Basically, the team went through the season without stars Justin Verlander, Yordan Álvarez, and Roberto Osuna. We’re talking about their Cy Young ace, the 2019 Rookie of the Year, and their closer.
With the regular season behind us and the postseason starting this today, let’s take a look at the 2020 Astros.
The Astros second baseman never had it going. I know this was only a 60-game season, but in terms of averages, this was his worst campaign ever. He had his worst K% (18.6%) and his lowest registers in batting average (.219), on-base percentage (.286), slugging percentage (.344), and OPS (.629).
In fact, among 67 qualified hitters in the American League, Altuve had the fourth-worst OPS, only behind Royals’ Nicky López (.552), Mariners’ Evan White (.599), and Twins’ Marwin González (.606). A red flag for Altuve is his contact percentage, which went down for the sixth year in a row: it was 91% in 2014, but finished 2020 at 80.2%.
What I find most concerning is that he actually never got into the rhythm. In his final 13 regular-season games, he hit for a .204/.291/.408 slash line (10-for-49), along with 10 strikeouts. A positive point among the bad, his power showed up since September 18: four doubles, two home runs, and a .487 slugging. That should be encouraging entering the Wild Card Series.
Right next to Altuve is Gurriel. He’s probably been playing injured since mid-September, but he already recognized his bad campaign (he blamed “the preparation” before this “weird season”). It’s true Yuli is 36 now, but you wouldn’t expect this kind of performance, especially after a monster 2019.
If Altuve ranks fourth in the worst-OPS section, Gurriel ranks sixth (.658). Among AL qualified hitters, the Cuba native is one of six players (and second Astro besides Josh Reddick) to have a negative WAR: -0.1.
Gurriel finished the regular campaign with a .232/.274/.384 slash line in 57 games, with 12 doubles, one triple, and six home runs, along with 22 RBIs. But there’s one thing to look at: his exit velocity is the same as 2019 (89.3 MPH) and his line drive percentage went up from 27.3% to 32.8%. Now he’s got the chance to keep building his good postseason resume (.267/.317/.436/.753, 46-for-172 in 44 games).
Alex Bregman/Carlos Correa
Hey, we’re pointing out two Astros studs, but they fell down to Earth in September. Their struggles, along with others’, almost caused a disaster in H-Town.
For example, Bregman never found his groove after coming back from the injured list. Since September 8, he was a big reason why the Astros had a 7-11 record. He hit for a poor .197/.315/.377 slash line (12-for-61) and drove in only eight runs (five of them came in two games). Even though he had an .801 OPS, it’s not the kind of season you would expect from the runner-up for the MVP last year.
Regarding Correa, in the same span as Bregman, he registered .172/.222/.241 averages with 17 strikeouts in 18 games (only three driven in). He failed to maintain his outstanding offensive start and ended up having one of his worst seasons at the plate. What I think should be a positive point here is Carlos collected five hits over his final 14 at-bats, including one of his five dingers.
You gotta be surprised. And I’m not saying you weren’t expecting big things from Tucker (I think everyone was). It’s just that with Yordan Álvarez DH’ing and Michael Brantley, George Springer, and Josh Reddick as the other outfielders, it wasn’t likely for Tucker to get 220-plus plate appearances.
But he did and at times he carried the team on his shoulders. He proved everybody that he’s more than ready to be part of the Astros’ plans in the long run. In fact, he led the team in hits (56), runs batted in (42), triples (6), stolen bases (8), and was second in runs (33), doubles (12, tied with Bregman and Yuli), and home runs (9). His .836 OPS ranked third on the team.
In his final 13 games, Tucker showed a .326/.392/.457 slash line (15-for-46), with three doubles and one four-bagger. That’s right what you need to read heading into the postseason.
Usually, I wonder where would the Astros be if it wasn’t for Framber Valdez. This guy was one of the most valuable players for the Astros in 2020 (even if you combine both hitting and pitching)!
Valdez won five of his 11 outings and recorded seven quality starts. He even threw at least seven innings SIX times. The Dominican lefty allowed 63 hits and 28 earned runs across 70 2⁄3 frames (3.57 ERA) with only 16 bases on balls and 76 strikeouts.
Even better: When everything was falling apart for Houston at the end of the season, he won twice against Texas and Seattle. In his final two starts, he gave up two runs in 13 1⁄3 innings (1.35 ERA) and struck out 19 hitters.
If you liked Valdez, then you gotta like Cristian Javier as well. Javier was a vital piece for the 2020 Astros in the middle of a bunch of injuries. At the age of 23, he appeared in 12 games (10 starts) and finished the regular season with a 5-2, 3.48 ERA record. He sat down 54 on strikes in 54 1⁄3 episodes. What hurt him the most was the long ball: 11 in total (1.8 HR/9), but he figured things out to have a more-than-acceptable ERA and a great 0.99 WHIP.
But there’s MORE than Javier. The bullpen had its young arms too. Nothing would have been the same without guys like Andre Scrubb, Blake Taylor, and Enoli Paredes.
People were waiting for Scrubb to be punished by opponents, but somehow it never happened. Despite registering a 4.25 FIP, a 1.48 WHIP, and giving up 20 walks in 23 2⁄3 innings, Scrubb’s ERA closed at 1.90.
Paredes was the second reliever with the most appearances for the Astros in 2020 (only behind Ryan Pressly), with 22. He finished with a 3.05 ERA and 20 punchouts in 20 2⁄3 innings. On the other hand, Taylor was masterful avoiding hits: only 13 allowed across 20 2⁄3 episodes, a big reason for his 2.18 ERA, the second-best for any Astros qualified pitcher.
Let us know in the comments if you think there was another disappointment or surprise for the Astros in the 2020 regular season.