Astros Finish 2014 Season with 70 Wins
The Houston Astros compiled a record of 70-92 in 2014, an improvement of 19 games over their record in 2013. Only the Los Angeles Angels with a 20 game improvement did better, and the defending World Series Champion Boston Red Sox won only one more game than the Astros in 2014. But it could have been better. The team finished the season with a six-game swoon, winning only one and scoring only 12 runs.
One of the characteristics of this rebuilding team is an inability to finish. The 2013 season ended with a 15-game losing streak, and the 2014 Astros were unable to finish numerous games during the season when they had the lead in the late innings.
The Astros improved in essentially every phase in 2014 from their historically bad season in 2013. The Astros finished with the worst record in the major leagues for three straight years coming into the 2014 season. This year, they finished ahead of three teams, Texas, Colorado and Arizona and with the same record as Minnesota. By finishing ahead of the Texas Rangers, they did not finish in last place in the American League West division for the first time since they moved to the American League.
Statistically the .Astros improved to finish 25th in batting average, 25th in pitchers ERA and 25th in fielding percentage. It’s still not good and well below the major league average but it’s moving in the right direction. The team scored an average of 3.88 runs per game but allowed 4.46. The starting pitchers compiled a respectable ERA of 3.82 but the bullpen was a major league worst with an ERA of 4.80.
The highlight of the season was the performance of second baseman, Jose Altuve. He led the American League in batting average (.341), hits (225) and stolen bases (59), and was among the league leaders in doubles (47). But Altuve needs help. A batter at the top of the order with Altuve’s numbers should also lead the league in scoring runs. Altuve wasn’t even close. Mike Trout led the AL with 115 runs and Altuve had only 85. Both players reached base 266 times. This illustrates the ineffectiveness of the middle of the Astros batting order. which was comprised of players with alarmingly high strikeout totals (Chris Carter, Jon Singleton, George Springer, Jason Castro and Matt Dominguez). The Astros led the AL in striking out which doesn’t help to score runs.
The Astros had a few notable accomplishments in addition to Altuve’s banner year. Chris Carter hit 37 home runs, second in the AL behind Nelson Cruz. Pitchers, Collin McHugh (11-9, 2.73) and Dallas Keuchel (12-9, 2.83) both had ERA’s under 3.00. Rookie George Springer hit 20 home runs in less than three months before an injury in July took him out for the remainder of the season.
September was a good month for the Astros before the collapse at the end. The highlight was a nine-game road trip to the West Coast against the three top teams in the West Division where the Astros went 5-4. Altuve batted, 367 in September and rookie catcher Max Stassi, Marwin Gonzalez and Robbie Grossman all hit over .300 for the month. The top three starting pitchers all had excellent months. McHugh was 4-0, 1.59, Keuchel was 2-0, 1.66 and Scott Feldman was 0-2, 1.91. The team was 11-13 in September and both scored and allowed 3.46 runs per game.
Three former Astros, all let go without compensation by General Manager, Jeff Luhnow, played important roles in helping their new teams reach the post-season. Foremost was outfielder, J.D. Martinez released by the Astros in March, who batted .315 with 23 home runs for Detroit. Steve Pearce, let go by the Astros in 2012 batted .293 with 21 home runs for Baltimore and left-handed pitcher, Fernando Abad, also let go in 2012 pitched in 69 games for Oakland with an ERA of 1.57.
The Martinez case is troubling. He spent three years in Houston’s minor league system, batting well above .300 at every stop before being promoted to Houston from Class AA in July, 2011 along with Altuve. He performed well in his first exposure to the major leagues but slipped in 2012 and 2013 and frequently looked lost at the plate. No one in the Astros system was able to get him back on track, but after being released and signing with Detroit, he looks like a completely different hitter.
The Astros achieved some modest success in the minor leagues in 2014. Class A Lancaster won the California League Championship and short-season Tri Cities (Albany NY) lost in the finals.
Attendance at Minute Maid Park increased slightly in 2014 with an average paid crowd of 21,628 compared to 20,594 in 2013. This is still well below the crowds of over 30,000 that were typical in the glory years in the middle of the last decade. Resolving the television problem would go a long way in re-energizing the fan base.
Further improvement will be expected next year. In the rebuilding blueprint that I put together two years ago, I projected the Astros would be respectable in 2014 with 70-80 wins and would contend in 2015 with 81+ wins. After a major setback in 2013, that I didn’t predict, the team reached the bottom end of my projection in 2014.
Meeting the 2015 projection will be a reach unless they add some players to fill in some holes. Also, McHugh and Keuchel need to build on their breakout 2014 seasons. Springer has to recover from his injury and be available for the entire season and disappointing rookie prospect, Jon Singleton, needs to fulfill expectations. The Astros must also adjust to a new manager, A.J. Finch, their fifth manager in the last three years