June 27, 2022

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What exactly did the Astros lose, gain before Opening Day?

6 min read

Not terribly long ago I was perusing the Astros’ transaction log in an effort to simply remember some guys and also to remind myself what had happened before baseball tried to kill itself before commencing the greatest comeback since Lazarus.

This little activity led me down a FanGraphs rabbit hole as to how the Astros are going to replace some of said departures, and now I’ll invite you to come along with me. Let’s set this up by taking a look at the key departures from – and an addition to – the Astros’ roster.

Hitters

I’m going to start with the offensive side of the roster, seeing as how the Astros’ offense led the majors with 33.9 fWAR (Wins Above Replacement according to FanGraphs) – a general measurement of overall effectiveness. This was 3.5 fWAR better than the second-place Toronto Blue Jays and the 11th-best mark for an offense in Major League Baseball since 2010 (the 2019 Astros have the best offense under these parameters and the second-best since 1995, only behind the 2001 Mariners who famously won 116 regular season games and three postseason games). So, who did the league’s best offense lose?

Carlos Correa: 5.8 fWAR, now with the Minnesota Twins. The Astros made the playoffs six times while Correa was entrenched as the everyday-ish shortstop. They made the playoffs nine times in the other 54 seasons in franchise history. To put it another way, the Astros made the playoffs six times from 1987-2014. The 5.8 fWAR wass the third-highest among shortstops (behind Trea Turner and Fernando Tatis, Jr.) last season.

To put a more pleasant spin on it, if you just … took Carlos Correa out of the lineup and replaced him with a perfectly league-average hitter, the 2021 Astros would still have had the sixth-best offense in baseball. I know you can’t just pretend that Carlos Correa doesn’t exist but this is a web site where one can just dream up imaginary scenarios and everyone just sort of nods their head and goes with it.

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The Astros, of course, are planning on Jeremy Pena performing significantly better than a perfectly league-average shortstop, and the early indications from spring training (remember: Spring training stats do not matter until you need them to matter) are that he’ll at least do that.

Marwin Gonzalez: -0.7 fWAR, now with the New York Yankees. 2017 World Series Game 2 Hero Marwin Gonzalez played 14 games with the 2021 Astros, recording six hits. Three of them were home runs – all against divisional opponents in September, which was nice. But if “Age 33 Marwin Gonzalez” is the answer, you’re asking the wrong question.

And that’s pretty much it. That’s “all” the Astros lost over the course of Lockout Winter, if by “all” you mean your star former No. 1 overall pick shortstop now firmly in the prime of his career that you let just walk to Minnesota without trying all that hard to keep him with the only organization he’d ever known.

Pitching

Here’s where it gets a little dicey because, surprisingly, the Astros did lose a decent amount of pitching.

Zack Greinke: 1.3 fWAR, now with the Kansas City Royals. Greinke threw 171 innings for last year’s Astros, which isn’t a large number when compared to other seasons in his 17-year big league career, but that’s still a lot of innings to make up. It was slightly painful to watch in 2021, however, as Greinke seemingly just ran out of gas after testing positive for COVID at the end of August. Sporting an 8-3 record with a 3.59 ERA at the All-Star break, and a 3.66 ERA at the end of August when his two-week break began, Greinke allowed 14 earned runs in 11.1 innings over his final three starts. Greinke made one appearance in relief in the 2021 ALDS, one start in the ALCS in which he didn’t get out of the second inning, and gutted out four scoreless innings in World Series Game 4 before Cristian Javier allowed back-to-back home runs in the seventh, providing the 3-2 margin for the Braves to take a 3-1 series lead. That the Astros went 0-for-8 with runners in scoring position in that game is neither here nor there. Still, 171 innings is a lot and with no Lance McCullers for the foreseeable future, those innings are going to have to come from somewhere. I guess Justin Verlander will do.

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Kendall Graveman: 1.1 fWAR, now with the Chicago White Sox. In my spare time slandering James Click on Twitter dot com, I like to ask what has James Click actually done as general manager besides re-sign Michael Brantley and Justin Verlander and carry the pillows to the U-Haul while George Springer and Carlos Correa walk out the door. And I stand by that assessment. However, I set myself up for a rare own goal when I neglect to mention that Click totally revamped the back end of the Astros bullpen last July when he acquired Kendall Graveman and Phil Maton. Graveman had posted a 0.82 ERA / 0.70 WHIP when Click pulled the trigger on a trade that sent Abraham Toro and Joe Smith to the perennial April AL West champions. He came back to earth a bit over the next 23 games, regressing to a very obvious mean with a 3.13 ERA / 1.39 WHIP for the Astros.

Brooks Raley: 0.8 fWAR, now with the Tampa Bay Rays. I know the Baseball Nerd web sites will prove me wrong but I would swear to you that over the Astros’ first 60 games in 2021, Brooks Raley pitched in 62 of them. “They” want you to think that Raley only pitched 34 times before the end of June and, while that’s an awful lot of pitching, it still feels low. Still, he wasn’t terribly effective thanks to being terribly unlucky – Raley had a 7.29 ERA to go with a 2.93 FIP. But in 21 appearances from July 28 to the end of the regular season, Raley corrected himself to the tune of a 1.93 ERA. And, other than a three-run outing in Game 3 of the ALDS, Raley threw 6.1 innings, allowing two hits and two earned runs in seven games over the ALCS and World Series. This is likely why the Rays signed Raley as a free agent, likely turning the 34-year-old into a 110 mph-throwing cyborg.

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Yimi Garcia: 0.4 fWAR, now with the Toronto Blue Jays. Garcia was another July bullpen acquisition by James Click with mixed results. His WHIP improved in his 21.1 innings with the Astros over his time with the Marlins, but his ERA was worse – again belied by a couple of late season meltdowns that really mess with a small sample size. Garcia threw in 23 games for the 2021 Astros, and had scoreless outings in 16 of them.

The addition

Hector Neris: 0.6 fWAR, now with the Houston Astros. One way to replace Raley and Garcia’s combined 70.1 innings is by signing Hector Neris to a two-year deal just before the lockout was enacted. Neris, who had spent the entirety of his career with the Phillies. pitched at least 65 innings in four seasons and has been above-average as a reliever for the last six seasons.

Perhaps the Astros are planning on benefiting from a weakened AL West. Oakland will raise a white flag on Opening Day to signify their intentions. Can the Mariners post another 90-win season with a -51 run differential? Will the Angels finally realize they have two generational talents on their roster, and play accordingly? Is a new middle infield enough to take the Rangers from a 102-loss team to the playoffs? These are the bets the Astros just might be counting on calling as a bluff.



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