What’s in Store for the Houston Astros in 2015?
Expectations for the Astros in 2015 are higher than they have been in several years. In 2014, the Astros broke a 3-year streak of last place finishes with over 100 losses by recording a 19 game improvement, finishing with a record of 70-92. Not great but a clear step in the right direction, especially since they finally finished ahead of the Texas Rangers. This, together with the emergence of Jose Altuve as a star and the anticipated breakout season from George Springer, has led to greater optimism in 2015, which is warranted, but some problems remain.
While the Astros were below the major league average in virtually every category in 2014, the biggest deficiency was the bullpen. This problem was addressed with the signing of free agent pitchers, Luke Gregerson, Pat Neshek and Joe Thatcher, who should provide a big improvement in relief pitching. A similar move that was made last year didn’t work out when veteran relievers, Matt Albers and Jesse Crain were signed but both missed essentially the whole season with injuries.
Astro starting pitching was essentially league average in 2014, due to breakout seasons by Dallas Keuchel and Collin McHugh. However, the rest of the rotation was inconsistent. The Astros did not do anything significant to strengthen the rotation in the off season and it may be unrealistic to expect Keuchel and McHugh to repeat their success in 2015 since neither has yet built a track record. Two newcomers to the rotation are veteran journeyman, Roberto Hernandez who hasn’t had significant success since he was Fausto Carmona in 2007 and rookie Asher Wojciechowski who has not appeared in a major league game. Some promising pitchers are in the pipeline but they are not likely to have an impact in 2015. Lack of depth in starting pitching at the major league level could be the team’s major limitation.
The Astros have an interesting offense. They were fourth in the major leagues in home runs last year but were second in the majors in striking out, although at a lower level than their major league record of 1535 in 2013. With the addition of Evan Gattis and Colby Rasmus and a full season from Springer, they should be in a good position to shatter the previous record despite the presence of one of the hardest players in the league to strike out in Altuve.
The Astros should again be among the major league leaders in home runs but the key will be having men on base when they are hit. The team’s low on-base percentage of .309 resulted in only 3.88 runs per game, below the major league average of 4.07.
Defensively, the Astros were slightly below average and should be about the same this year. New additions, third baseman, Luis Valbuena, shortstop, Jed Lowrie and outfielders Evan Gattis and Colby Rasmus are not noted for their defense.
Putting it all together, it is tempting to think the Astros could reach .500 for the first time since 2008 but they may not have enough starting pitching to get there. A more realistic forecast might be 79-83, a 9 game improvement over last year. They should be able to maintain their position ahead of the Texas Rangers.