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What went right/wrong for the Houston Astros in 2016?

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Long story short: A bad start and some bad starters.

MLB: Houston Astros at Tampa Bay Rays Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

To help kick off our third divisional preview week, we have a fun story for you today (at least, if you hate the Astros as much as I semi-irrationally do): What exactly happened to the ‘Stros last year?

What Went Right?

This list is dominated by the Astros’ young core. With just 167 plate appearances over the ENTIRE SEASON given to players above the age of 30, Houston’s outlook remains bright, and that started with their young studs:

  • Jose Altuve, the Baseball Napoleon, led all of baseball with 216 hits and finished third in AL MVP voting. Perhaps most surprisingly, however, was his sudden increase in power. Altuve hit 24 bombs in ‘16, more than he hit in 2014 and 2015...combined. For context, in my entire baseball career, I think I hit one home run. And I spent many of those years taller than Altuve is now!
  • Carlos Correa continued to impress at shortstop. Rather than regress in his first full season, the former No. 1 overall draft selection thrived, posting a 122 wRC+ and racking up nearly 5.0 fWAR for Houston.
  • George Springer remained healthy for a full year, and though his K rate remains at a robust 23.9%, his prodigious power continues to make up for it, as he swatted 29 dingers. Which, it should be noted one more time, is only five more than his teammate Altuve, who is eight inches shorter and 30 pounds lighter.
Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim v Houston Astros
This is what I mean.
Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images
  • Top prospect Alex Bregman was called up and excelled in his 2-plus months in the bigs. Sure, he struck out a bunch, but the third baseman continued to show why he’s so highly regarded, and he figures to be a thorn in the Mariners’ sides for at least the next six years.
  • And finally, rookie reliever Chris Devenski went under the radar for much of the 2016 campaign (truth be told, I didn’t recognize his name), but he finished fourth in Rookie of the Year voting. Why? In 108.1 innings, the righty struck out 104 batters, walked just 20, and produced a 2.16 ERA. He was used early and often by the Astros in 2016 and may even become a starter in 2017.

What Went Wrong?

For this section, I want to use a section from our friends at The Crawfish Boxes. In their 2016 season preview, they included their own worst-case scenario, as well as a realistic worst-case scenario, which is reproduced below:

Which of these actually happened?

  • Astros end up 3rd in the AL West to the tune of 83-79

Given that the Astros finished 84-78, this is pretty dang good!

  • Dallas Keuchel loses two games at Minute Maid Park. He ends the year with a 3.10 ERA/1.25 WHIP

Uh, whoops. The reigning Cy Young winner struggled all year long, ultimately posting an ERA of 4.55 and a WHIP of 1.28. Though his peripherals suggest a spot of bad luck (particularly with a strand rate of 68.4%, much lower than the league rate of 72.9%), it was quite a rough year for the second-most feared beard in professional sports.

  • Jake Marisnick is used strictly as a defensive sub

In 311 plate appearances, Marisnick hit an anemic .209/.257/.331, good for a wRC+ of 58 and -0.1 fWAR. That’s a lot of playing time for a pretty bad player.

  • Lance McCullers is injured periodically throughout the season, only throwing 120 total innings

Elbow and shoulder injuries derailed McCullers’ 2016 campaign, forcing him to miss a month-and-a-half at the outset and the final two months. He threw only 81 innings.

But the problems really extended much further beyond McCullers, as the entire Astros pitching staff really suffered. Of the six starters who made at least 10 starts for Houston, just one (McCullers) ended up with an ERA- better than league average.

  • Carlos Gomez doesn’t adjust his swing, spends the final two months on the shelf

Remember how bad Jake Marisnick was? Well, Gomez was just as awful last season, slashing .210/.272/.322 en route to his eventual release. And to make matters worse, Gomez signed with the Texas Rangers and actually out-produced his Astros numbers, putting up 1.2 fWAR in 130 PAs after -0.4 fWAR in 323 plate appearances for Houston. Thanks, Jeff Luhnow. The Rangers really needed more help.

  • Jason Castro stinks at the plate, essentially repeats his 2015 performance

Though Castro’s production went up just a bit, going from a 79 wRC+ to 88, his batting average remained at .210, a far cry from his All-Star 2013 campaign when he hit .276. Castro has now joined “greener” pastures in Minnesota, where he signed a three-year deal this offseason.

***

After getting off to a horrible 7-17 start, the Astros did their best to dig themselves out of the hole: If they had kept their 77-61 finish up for those first 24 games, they would’ve won 90.4 games and hosted the Wild Card round. This year, things figure to look up for Houston...at least if Sports Illustrated’s infamous 2014 prediction has anything to say about it.