Chase Utley: One of the Best Ever

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The Astros-Are they Good?

 Remember when Jose Altuve sent the Astros to the World Series with his walk off home run off of Aroldis Chapman in the 2019 ALCS? I do. It was rather enjoyable. A lot has happened since then. In November of 2019, the Astros were exposed for using some moderately legal methods to steal signs. I say moderately legal because I am yet to find a rule that actually says that they were generally not allowed to do what they did, beyond some minor violations that teams like the ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS got away with. ANYWAYS... are they a good team heading into 2021? In this article, we will potentially answer that question.

Coming off of arguably the most dominant 3 year stretch in MLB history, the Astros were really not that good in the 2020 regular season. That begs the question: Is this because they were finished with their cheating ways? Yes. The Astros massively regressed because they stopped knowing the exact pitch that would come in every single at bat. It's pretty proven, too. The Astros had a 121 wRC+ in 2017, a 110 wRC+ in 2018, a 126 wRC+ in 2019, and a 100 wRC+ in 100. For those who are not aware, wRC+ is an all encompassing hitting stat that indexes a hitter's, and in this case a team's, offensive production to league average. For every point of wRC+ over 100, the batter's production was 1% better, and vice versa. So as we can see, the Astros offense was just league average in 2020. This massive regression proves that the Astros can no longer be good as they have stopped cheating. Well, this isn't really true. 

The Astros were just league average in the regular season, but come playoff time, they started to break out the big lumber once more. The Astros weighted on base average, which is the offensive input for wRC+, was just 0.311 in the regular season. In the playoffs, it was 0.338. Let's put that into perspective: the 2019 Dodgers had a 0.338 wOBA in the regular season. They scored 886 runs and won 106 games. The 2019 Reds have a 0.312 wOBA in the regular season. They scored 701 runs and won 75 games. The Astros offense massively improved in the playoffs, facing the best pitching competition. Funnily enough, they still didn't match their 2019 wOBA of 0.355, which was historically good, but they were obviously a different offensive team in the playoffs.

So the Astros offense was just middling in the regular season, but great in the playoffs against better pitching? What gives? Literally, and I mean literally, just statistical noise. That's it. Their offense was always good. Guys like Altuve and Correa were slumping in the regular season, but come on guys! Deep down, we all knew that they would be just fine. Altuve, specifically, dominated the playoffs, hitting home runs like it was nobody's business. They made it all the way to the ALCS, where they almost came back down 3-0 against the Rays, but they faltered in game 7. Heading into 2021, they will be just fine.

Losing George Springer was a big blow to the team's lineup, but getting Yordan Alvarez back will be legitimately huge. I don't know if I can overstate just how good a healthy Yordan Alvarez is. Sure, he might just get hurt again, but let's cross our fingers. Altuve seemed to figure out his hitting yips, so now hopefully he will get working on his throwing yips, and become even more powerful than he was before. The Jason Castro/Martin Maldonado platoon at catcher is very very good, and they still have a really damn good lineup.

The issue seems to be the pitching. This is because they can no longer cheat. The thing about the Astros' projections is that guys like Cristian Javier are very poorly projected, but honestly I think that they will figure something out with a guy like Javier's stuff. Unfortunately, Justin Verlander will not be there to join the Astros rotation. Speaking of Justin Verlander, remember back in like 2016 or maybe 2017 when he said that the MLB needs to crack down on sign stealing, and then he was traded to a team with a pretty intricate sign stealing scandal, and said nothing? Isn't it almost like even the most outspoken assholes about that type of stuff do not actually care enough to say stuff about it? 

Let's talk about Pedro Baez for a second. The Astros signed him for quite a bit of money, and honestly I'm not quite sure what they were doing. On the surface, he is fine. He has maintained a really damn good ERA throughout his career. However, his peripherals are absolutely terrible. He walks way too many guys and doesn't force too many groundballs, all on top of a pretty low strikeout rate. He has been skating by with a really low home run per fly ball rate, which is something that he really shouldn't be controlling. When you adjust xFIP for the true home run rate, you get FIP. Even with the home run adjustment, he still has overachieved his career FIP by over half a run. This can be explained by a few things. The first is noise. Pitching performance is noisy and it's not THAT unlikely that a random pitcher overachieves his peripherals pretty heavily for over 300 innings. The second can be the Dodgers defense. I haven't verified this but I am assuming that the Dodgers are a very good defensive team, and when you have a good defense behind you, your ERA will go down. Finally, there is a very small chance that Pedro Baez is a true overachieving chad. Maybe this is why he waits 40 seconds in between each pitch. Waiting so long pisses off the batter so much that he will not convert flyballs into home runs. I digress. 

The Astros are a smart team ran by a seemingly smart GM in James Click, so I wouldn't be surprised if they have additional info that says that Baez' ERA is actually sustainable. With that being said, I wouldn't be too surprised if they're just paying for his ERA as well. I do know that James Click used to work at baseball prospectus, and baseball prospectus seems to think DRA is a good stat for some reason, so maybe he is just deluded into thinking that DRA actually matters. I'm done writing this dumb article.