While the Astros pitching staff is no joke, their lineup produces top-to-bottom power; in 2017, they were so potent they could overcome Carlos Beltrán and his 86 wRC+. With a relatively young, controllable core in their infield, plus perennial All-Star George Springer anchoring the outfield, it’s very hard to find holes in the Astros’ lineup. This doesn’t deter us from trying.
2017 Production: 102 wRC+, 2.7 fWAR (11th in MLB)
2018 Projection: Brian McCann 1.1 fWAR, 111 wRC+; Evan Gattis 1.9 fWAR, 101 wRC+
The Astros have been connected to Marlins catcher JT Realmuto, which makes sense, as their current tandem of old-timey circus strongmen McCann and Gattis are a combined 64 years old and neither one is a particularly strong defensive catcher. Their depth options of Max Stassi and Tim Fedorowicz (recently signed to an MiLB deal) aren’t particularly appealing, and there isn’t much to offer on the farm. The Astros are reportedly unwilling to part with top prospects Kyle Tucker or Forrest Whitley, though, so the Marlins may choose to look elsewhere for a trade partner (lol jk they’ll trade the Astros Realmuto for a six-pack and a gift card to Torchy’s tacos).
2017 Production: 119 wRC+, 2.0 fWAR (19th in MLB)
2018 Projection: Yuli Gurriel 120 wRC+, 1.4 fWAR; Marwin Gonzalez 102 wRC+, 1.2 fWAR
It took Gurriel a while to adjust to the league--he had a particularly brutal May, posting a wRC+ of just 53--but by Sept/Oct he had added almost a hundred points to that total. It’s a little surprising Gurriel hasn’t hit more homers in fun-sized Minute Maid (18 last year), but he also cranked 43 doubles. Gurriel never walks, but he also never strikes out. At 33, his offensive profile won’t change much, but he might improve even more with another year to adjust to MLB pitching. Gurriel actually runs reverse splits--an 86 wRC+ against lefties vs. 131 against same-handed pitching--but super-utility Marwin Gonzalez is available as a platoon partner if the lefties problem sticks around.
2017 Production: 160 wRC+, 7.5 fWAR (2nd in MLB)
2018 Projection: Jose Altuve 129 wRC+, 4.4 fWAR
Second baseman who fits in a china cabinet. Pocket Altuve. The Minion from Maracay. Unlike Jose Altuve himself, his legend continues to grow apace. Altuve is fresh from an AL MVP campaign that saw career bests in average, OBP, slugging %, wRC+, wOBA, and more. No matter how you slice it, Altuve is one of the best hitters in baseball despite yielding at least 7 inches (that’s about .108 Altuves) to every other elite hitter. Not yet 28, Altuve is exactly at his athletic peak, and has improved with the bat by leaps and short-legged bounds each of the last three years. I don’t know if I could find a player more likely to exceed his projections in 2018, and expect him to be the AL’s second best hitter behind Mike Trout. Like first base, Marwin Gonzalez will provide backup, though the super-durable Altuve has not missed more than 10 games in a season since 2012 (when he missed 15). Alex Bregman has also logged two games at second each of the last two seasons.
2017 Production: 152 wRC+, 5.2 fWAR (3rd in MLB)
2018 Projection: 139 wRC+, 5.4 fWAR
Carlos Correa. The King of Minute Maid Park, and owner of the best legs in MLB, this magnificent specimen will continue to thrive in 2018.
2017 Production: 122 wRC+, 4.0 fWAR (9th in MLB)
2018 Projection: 121 wRC+, 3.8 fWAR
Look, reading Alex Bregman’s bio is like reading prospect smut, if that were a thing. Turned an unassisted triple play at age 4 in t-ball. The first high school player to win USA baseball player of the year (which he did as a sophomore!). Hit .678 as a junior. Minor league player of the year. Prospect of the year. He’s Bryce Harper at third base and looking like more of a dirtbag. Called up after just 18 games at AAA, Bregman has done nothing but hit. He’d be a shortstop were it not for Carlos Correa; instead, he holds down the hot corner with a Seageresque work ethic, excelling without any individual standout tools. Still just 23, Bregman is another friggin’ Astros standout with years of tormenting Seattle still ahead of him, and another one likely to beat that 3.8 fWAR projection. Hooray.
2017 Production: 86 wRC+, -.5 fWAR (10th in MLB)
2018 Projection: Evan Gattis - 110 wRC+, 1.1 fWAR
Cue John saying “waaashed.” Carlos Beltran might have been the heart and soul of the championship Astros, but for most of the year his bat—like many other DHs in the AL—was a liability. Mountain Man Evan Gattis projects to be a little better than the grandfatherly Beltrán, especially when relieved of the duties of catching, but he likely won’t be putting up any Cruz-like numbers there or anything.
2017 Production: 123 wRC+, 13 fWAR (3rd in MLB)
2018 Projection: George Springer 136 wRC+, 4.4 fWAR; Josh Reddick 114 wRC+, 2.1 fWAR; Derek Fisher 98 wRC+, .6 fWAR; Marwin Gonzalez 102 wRC+, 1.2 fWAR; Jake Marisnick 79 wRC+, .3 fWAR
The starting lineup projects as Reddick in right, Springer in center, and a Gonzalez/Fisher mostly-platoon in left. Though he’s getting up there in years, Reddick seems set to provide another year of above average play; the defense is clearly in decline, but a strong bounceback with the bat helped him generate good value in 2017. The BABIP, 49 points above his career mark, is still something of a warning sign going forward. Springer combines passable defense in center with beautifully worn high socks and the ability to murder baseballs. Knocking 6 points off his K% in 2017 fueled a career best year at the plate. Springer has cut his strikeouts in every pro season so far and will be an absolute terror to an even greater degree if the trend continues. Fisher, a supplemental pick in the 2014 draft, blasted through the minors without ever putting up a wRC+ worse than 124 but struggled in just 166 PA with Houston in 2017. Odds are pretty good he builds on last year’s .411 AAA wOBA and takes LF all to himself. A fast defender with a weak arm, Fisher is well suited to left field at Minute Maid Park; a high K rate is the big red flag here (32.5% last season).