This is it! Although the regular season has yet to end and a lot is still in the air, awards and postseason spots foremost (AL WC race is spicy), for an Astros fan as I am the worse is water under the bridge: Houston has won the AL West for the 4th time in 5 years!
Never mind how they got there, a perilous and never-ending journey that lasted until October due to Houston’s offense taking a weekly break and Seattle somehow getting hot and running, what matters is that they are in the Playoff dance, one that’ll see dreams, nightmares and Scott Podsednik ghosts come back from the past in the form of the Chicago White Sox, with the home advantage yet to be determined.
There are a series of decisions that Dusty Baker and company will have to make in the upcoming days until the deadline to present the Postseason roster, because as it turns out the Astros troops are quite deep and notable names could not fit into the team that’ll have to pave his way to another WS berth.
In this final MLB piece, at least until the season is over, I’ll ponder on 3 choices regarding the Astros roster moving forward, making myself a question and giving the answer too, providing a piece of info to motivate my picks. Why is this it though? Well, as a statistician and baseball fan I think of the Postseason as a reset: ABs, PAs, all stats go back to zero, and that due to the nature of Playoff baseball itself.
Each game is not one of 162, rather a win and in for the WC and 1/5–1/7 for DS, CS and WS: every AB counts much more, pressure is at its highest and previous results tend to not matter much. Your ace, 20 W in the regular season, could break under the weight of such a game, while an unknown bench piece could anchor your lineup, catching fire at the right time. Remember, Jackie Bradley Jr, Steve Pearce and Randy Arozarena all have individual postseason accolades.
That said, let’s jump straight into the action!
Who is the odd man out in the Astros outfield corps?
Answer: Jose Siri
Key stat: -1 OAA
Let’s start from the locks: Yordan, Tucker and Brantley are in to be a part of the daily lineup, with one between Alvarez and Brantley as DH, Tuck in RF and the other in left. Dusty could also go with all of them, Tuck in center, Brantley to right and Air Yordan in left/DH to get another bat, Aledmys Diaz mostly, a lineup configuration that hurts defensively but is viable with a groundballer, Framber and McCullers, on the bump.
On the other cases a CF is needed and three guys are in for that and the 4th outfielder spot: Chas McCormick was the everyday CF after the Straw/Maton trade and he has pop, elite defense and speed but also plenty of Chases (26%), Whiffs (35%) and Ks (33%); Meyers showed up after demolishing AAA and contributed with good contact and defense but he’s currently on a slump and his rates are only slightly better than those of Chas.
Which brings up the latest and newest OF competitor: Jose Siri. A former Red, his callup was a jolt for a struggling Astros lineup, his high-wire act a boon and his debut historic, 4–5 with 2 bombs in his first ML start. His numbers on a glance look familiar, the good and bad: he chases far more than Chas (47%), Whiffs similarly (38%) and Ks a ton (35%) but he’s a speedster too, 99th percentile Sprint Speed better than Chas in the 91st and Meyers in the 95th.
So his bat is on par with the others, even better in the power department with a sounding 14% Barrel that is 4–5 points above the Chas-Jake pair, but then comes the field: Siri, even with elite speed, has showed a serious lack of baseball acumen, missing a crucial easy catch against TB that resulted in 3 unearned runs for Luis Garcia and storming past a stop sign on a shallow hit against OAK, getting canned at home for the final out instead of staying put and giving Yordan a shot with men at 1st and 3rd.
These rookie mistakes, a product of Jose’s eagerness and belief in his undeniable physical talents, could and should prove costly for his Postseason availability: he has damage potential but so does Chas and the latter is a much better defender, at 11 OAA one of the best in the league actually, while Meyers is a safer pick both in ABs and in the outfield.
Siri, Chas and Jake are wildly similar, potent bats with superhuman tools but lacking discipline, swinging and missing too often while posing a threat they are perfect 4th outfielders, though they are all righties with according splits. It’s a close call, but Siri could be the odd man out, with Meyers manning CF and Chas in as PH against a lefty and late on for defensive purposes in place of Yordan or Brantley.
Who starts the 4th game for Houston?
Answer: Garcia or Greinke, but not for long
Key stat: 11 PutAway%
Same thing: 3/4 in the rotation are set with McCullers, Framber and Urquidy possibly in this order, then there’s a spot up for grabs.
Luis Garcia is the primary candidate: a ROY caliber season with good peripherals but also a career high in IP, a pitcher that may be a little gassed come October with his stuff holding for 3/4 innings and then losing a beat he doesn’t guarantee length, which is precious given the state of the Astros bullpen, more on that later.
No one gives you more surefire innings than Zack Greinke: the man walks nobody, 5% BB, and hardly strikes out a soul but he’s a veteran, an almost hero in 2019 before being taken out too early by AJ Hinch, his mettle and “been there, done that” are not to be forgotten, albeit Garcia also has a big ALCS game on his resume. Greinke hasn’t been sharp though, a couple injuries, control issues and the inability to use his slow curve effectively marred his season on a good record, 11–6, but worrying underliers, 4.47 xERA.
Then there’s Jake Odorizzi, which I wrote about previously and, long story short, he’s far too inconsistent, walks too many guys and Ks too few, his devastating splitter is now a remnant of days gone by, with the atrocious PutAway% I mentioned, and he’s had a thing or two to say about his usage, so I think he’s out of the question.
Choosing between Garcia and Greinke is hard, you’d go with the former but leaving the latter out stinks so here comes a well known solution: let’s piggyback! Greinke has always started and he can go against a lineup for a turn or two to then leave the incumbence to either Garcia, who had a brief bout in the pen, or long man and former starter Cristian Javier, a formula that evocates the Morton/McCullers tandem in the bad faithed 2017 WS run and one that has been employed by Houston each and every Postseason since then, with a Urquidy/Javier duo last year.
Good omens aside, this seems the way to go for the 4th game: asking too much of Garcia or Greinke, 6 innings or more, is unfair and there are all the elements to execute the piggyback again, so if it ain’t broken, don’t fix it!
Who is denied a bullpen spot in Houston?
Answer: Yimi Garcia, Phil Maton? Probably Brandon Bielak
Key stat: 2.2 WHIP against RHB
Now things get complicated! Let’s say the Astros go for a 9 men bullpen: the 7th/8th/9th trio is set in Stanek/Graveman/Pressly, but that doesn’t mean they are spotless.
Stanek battles his control more often than not but he’s got hard gas, one of the filthiest split-changes in baseball capable of spinning under 1000 rpms and 70+ appearances with a nice stretch to close the season; Graveman has not been as dominant as in Seattle but his sinker is back in the 97 mph zone and while he’s walking some he’s also shutting down hard contact and getting GBs; Pressly has been one of the best closers in baseball since 2019, he blew a couple of games against Oakland back from the paternity list but the stuff is there and he’s a proven postseason quantity.
Dusty loves his lefties so the Taylor/Raley duo should be in, with the former being much better since his return from the IL and the latter one of the most used relievers in all of baseball, no matter his 5+ ERA more due to a low LOB% given good if not great soft contact profile. The long man is Javier and that leaves three spots.
Now, what’s left? Yimi Garcia hasn’t been that good, allowing too much loud contact on the fly, but his stuff plays and he throws strikes; Phil Maton has been a dud given his price, Myles Straw, but his peripherals are still amazing, Whiffs and Chases aplenty. He has enormous control issues though, disperding his slider/curveball everywhere with the sole cutter as a stable option, his 11% BB may be a problem.
If one of Greinke/Garcia plays the piggyback we are set, although that leaves out a couple of good length options in Brandon Bielak, with his stuff up a tick, and Peter Solomon, subpar control but good results so far.
One thing to be considered is that the White Sox lineup is RH heavy and that is a problem for Maton, a WHIP over 2 against righties in his Astros tenure, but a blessing for Yimi, who shuts down the favorable matchup at a sub 1 WHIP. Problems against righties are also a thing for Greinke and putting him or Maton as a lefty specialist feels odd with Raley and Taylor in that mold. Both Josh James and Brian Abreu could have been in the mix but injuries got the best of them all year.
What to do then? I’d stick with Greinke but starting him, keep both lefties, Yimi Garcia and Bielak for additional depth, while Maton would be the one not making the cut: his splits are terrifying and his recent outings have been too, a serious lack of control that resulted in walks and hard contact without the swing and miss he’s accustomed to get. Recency bias shouldn’t be a thing though, and his underlying stats are ridicolous so him instead of Bielak is not terrible.
Nobody knows what’s going to happen come October. A clean slate for all players to start from, a buzzing environment overflowing with adrenaline, pressure and cheers, a whole different game to be honest.
Unfortunately not all of the Astros’ players in the current roster will reserve a ticket for such a ride, and in more than one case it all comes to a push, with the last couple of games so meaningless for the team yet so crucial for hitters and pitchers at the margins of a possible Postseason spot plying their case.
Whether Jose Siri sneaks into the OF scenario, Zack Greinke gets another start in the playoffs or Phil Maton is given a further chance at proving his value, I’ll be there watching, late night/early morning in the unfortunate time zone where Italy resides as I’m almost accustomed to in the last few years, quite the thing to say now looking back at the 100 losses Astros I started to follow way back in the early 2010s.
With this I say goodbye to you, MLB follower, while I’ll keep on writing about all things Korean and have a couple of looks at NPB talent that could be of interest for Major League clubs in a near future. Until then, whatever team you root for, in or out the wheel of fortune called “October baseball”, have a nice Postseason everybody, and may your team be beaten by the Stros in the WS!
All stats from Baseball Savant, data updated to October 1st.