The 2020 Astros might have been one of the most hated teams in sports history. This is well justified; they cheated to win a World Series. However, the Astros have bigger problems after the 2020 season. They finished with a losing record at 29-31, and even though they made a deep playoff run, we have to ask the question: is this the beginning of the end (or the end) of the Astros?
Let’s start off by looking at what worked and didn’t work in 2020. First of all, the 2020 hitting was nowhere near their 2019 level. First of all, they lost Robinson Chirinos to the Rangers who was a good hitter from the catcher spot. They filled that with someone they already had on their roster — lighting hitting, good fielding catcher Martin Maldonado. Maldonado actually hit in 2020 as he was only 2% below average per OPS+. This does count as a regression because Chirinos was the better hitter, however the production was made up by Maldonado’s fielding.
36 year old 1B Yuli Gurriel regressed quite a bit, although that may be due to the inconsistent season that everyone’s had this year. That was no match for the regression that Jose Altuve had this year. He went from a .903 OPS to a .629 OPS in a shocking season. His defense was exactly average according to Fangraph’s +/- DRATING.
Carlos Correa also regressed to a below average hitter, along with Alex Bregman although Bregman still had a good year at the plate. Rookie Kyle Tucker had a good year at the plate to put him second on the Astros’ 2020 WAR list, although that is technically a step down from Michael Brantley’s 2019 season at LF.
George Springer was still worse than he was last year, and he’s the best player on this team. Josh Reddick was technically worse than he was last year because of an 88 OPS+ this year compared to a 89 OPS+ last year. However, there was a .035 OPS regression from 2019. Michael Brantley was worse than he was last year, along with the production at the DH spot.
Long story short, every position has regressed in terms of hitting for the Astros. To some extent, the craziness of the shortened 2020 season would cause half of players to be worse than they were in a worst case scenario, however this is every player.
Pitching was a strong suit last year as after the trade deadline last year, they had the best rotation in the league. The rotation featured Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole, Wade Miley, Zack Greinke, and Brad Peacock. All of them had sub 4.15 ERAs, with the Cole, Verlander, and Greinke all touting sub 3 ERAs.
Cole and Miley vanished to other teams in free agency, Peacock barely pitched in 2020 with shoulder injuries, and Verlander missed all but one start in 2020 and will miss all of 2021 for Tommy John surgery. As for Greinke, he went from a 2.93 ERA to a 4.03 ERA. Lance McCullers joined the starting rotation as he transitioned from long reliever past the trade deadline 2019 to a starter in 2020.
Cristian Javier made the transition to the majors after a dominant 2019 in the minors and he finished with a 3.48 ERA. Jose Urquidy came back from an undisclosed injury in September 2020. Filling in for him was Brandon Bielak, who was less than ideal with a 6.75 ERA. Josh James also made two starts with a 7.27 ERA.
Astros starters in 2020 combined for a 4.26 ERA, compared to a 3.61 ERA that they compiled in 2019. So it’s fair to say that the Astros regressed in starting pitching.
As for the bullpen, the Astros were hit with a surprise injury as star closer Roberto Osuna had to get Tommy John surgery. He’ll likely be back to the team if the Astros make the postseason in 2021, however it’s likely that we next see him in 2022. That’s a significant blow to a team that started Ryan Pressly at closer.
Pressly has been a dominant pitcher throughout his career, however he still isn’t the ideal option compared to Osuna. It could be a Mychal Givens situation where converting a star RP to closer messes the pitcher up.
The bullpen besides Pressly was really shaken up, as Will Harris and Hector Rondon moved on to greener pastures and Chris Devenski missed all but 3.2 innings in 2020 due to injury. In their places this year were Andre Scrubb, Blake Taylor, and Enoli Paredes. And to be fair, Scrubb, Taylor, and Paredes were all great pitchers.
However, the bullpen as a whole took a step back in 2020 with a 4.39 ERA compared to a 3.75 ERA last year.
The fact of the matter is, the Astros weren’t good last year. With a 29-31 record, they capitalized on a weak division. However, what I’m about to show you is going to make it much, much worse.
Free Agents Leaving The Astros After The 2020 Season:
• George Springer, CF
• Michael Brantley, LF/DH
• Roberto Osuna, CL (Will likely sign an extension for Tommy John Surgery)
• Brad Peacock, RP/SP
• Josh Reddick, RF
Free Agents Leaving The Astros After The 2021 Season:
• Zack Greinke, SP
• Justin Verlander, SP
• Carlos Correa, SS
• Lance McCullers Jr, SP/RP
• Joe Smith, RP
• Martin Maldonado, C
• Chris Devenski, RP
George Springer and Michael Brantley are likely gone after this year, which would create a gaping hole for the Astros. Yordan Alvarez, the 2019 AL ROY, had season ending knee surgery. He could fill in at DH, pushing Kyle Tucker into LF and then Myles Straw into CF.
Either way, the Astros won’t have that same production that Brantley and Springer brought to the table. The Astros will also take a hit when Zack Greinke leaves the team. Greinke may retire after 2021.
The Astros did have very bad injury luck this year. However, I doubt that they will be able to recover from this, plus the sanctions implemented by the MLB.
What will become of the Astros? That’s a question that remains to be seen, however it won’t be soon; the Astros are done for. Thanks for reading.