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2017 Record: 101-61
First Place, AL West
Team ERA: 4.12 (11th)
Team OPS: .823 (1st)
What Went Right
The Astros took home their first World Series championship in franchise history so lots of things had to have gone right. They won 101 ballgames and conquered their division by 21 games, more than any other division winner. They led the major leagues in runs scored, batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage. Only the Yankees hit more home runs.
The Astros' dominant offense was led by MVP candidate Jose Altuve. The second baseman rocked a career-high .346 batting average that led the majors by 15 points. He also hit 24 home runs, scored 112 runs and stole 32 bases. Outfielder George Springer hit a career-high 34 bombs and scored 112 times. Shortstop Carlos Correa missed seven weeks with a torn thumb ligament but was a beast at the plate when healthy. He hit .315/.391/.550 with 24 bombs and 84 RBI in just 109 games. Super-utility man Marwin Gonzalez had a .303 batting average with 23 taters and 90 RBI while playing every position except catcher. Young third baseman Alex Bregman hit .284 with 19 home runs and 71 RBI. Outfielder Josh Reddick batted .314 and drove in 82 runs. First baseman Yulieski Gurriel turned in a .299 batting average and drove in 75 runs.
Dallas Keuchel led the pitching staff by registering a 14-5 record and a 2.90 ERA. Brad Peacock had an amazing 13-2 record and a 3.00 ERA while splitting time between the bullpen and the starting rotation. Charlie Morton went 14-7 with a 3.62 ERA in his first season with the Astros. He struck out 163 batters in 146 2/3 innings. Late-season acquisition Justin Verlander spear-headed the rotation down the stretch and throughout the playoffs. He went 5-0 with a 1.06 ERA in September and 4-1 with a 2.21 ERA in the postseason. Closer Ken Giles saved 34 games and rattled off a 2.30 ERA with 83 strikeouts in 62 2/3 innings. Chris Devenski developed into a true relief ace by striking out 100 batters in 80 2/3 innings while compiling a 2.68 ERA.
What Went Wrong
Not much went wrong on offense. Carlos Beltran signed a one-year deal for $16 million and was a total bust. He limped to a .231 batting average with only 14 home runs and 51 RBI in 509 plate appearances. Veteran outfielder Nori Aoki hit .272 but notched just two home runs and 19 RBI in 71 games. Elite prospect Derek Fisher struggled in his first taste of the majors, batting just .212/.307/.356 with five homers and 17 RBI in 53 games.
The pitching was more of a mixed bag. The squad finished with a 4.12 team ERA, which was in the middle of the pack and not exactly the kind of staff that leads to championships. Luckily their historically good offense was able to compensate for the mediocre pitching. Young starter David Paulino struggled with arm injuries and pitched poorly to the tune of a 6.52 ERA in his six starts before he got hit with an 80-game suspension for performance-enhancing drugs. Trade acquisition Tyler Clippard turned in an ugly 6.43 ERA in 16 games. Elite prospect Francis Martes had a 5.80 ERA in 46 games, mostly in relief. Veteran left-handed reliever Tony Sipp had a 5.79 ERA in 46 games. Strikeout artist Michael Feliz missed a lot of bats but also served up a lot of gopherballs, turning in a 5.63 ERA in 46 games. Joe Musgrove started the year in the rotation but performed so poorly he was demoted to the bullpen -- where he pitched much better. He had a 6.04 ERA before the All Star break and a 2.23 ERA in the second half.
** There aren't too many five-category fantasy studs these days but Jose Altuve is definitely one of them. His consistently excellent production over the last few years has encouraged many observers to consider him a strong option for the top overall fantasy draft pick next year. He may not be quite as awesome as Mike Trout but he plays on a much better team that can help him rack up more runs and RBI. Trout beats Altuve in the power department but Altuve is better in the batting average and speed categories -- which are arguably more important right now because they are harder to find in today's power-heavy league environment.
** George Springer set career highs in nearly every stat across the board despite missing 22 games. His .283/.367/.522 slash line with 34 home runs, 85 RBI and 112 runs scored makes him a beast in every fantasy format. As a prospect he was exciting because he had a rare power-speed combo, hitting 37 home runs and stealing 45 bases in 2013 in the high minors. His speed has rapidly dwindled however, dropping to just five steals while being caught seven times this year. That hurts him in 5x5 leagues but not in 4x4 or points leagues.
** Carlos Correa hit .315/.391/.550 this year and would be near the top of the MVP balloting if he hadn't missed 50 games with a thumb injury. He turned 23 years old a month ago and is still one of the youngest players in the league, which means we likely haven't yet seen the best this kid has to offer. He is an elite batting average, high-power stud at the fantasy game's second-hardest position to fill (behind catcher). It's almost impossible to draft Correa too early in fantasy leagues next year.
** Marwin Gonzalez was a league-winning sort of fantasy player this year -- a guy picked up off the waiver wire who put up solid stats while being eligible at every position except catcher. The switch-hitter batted .303/.377/.530 with 23 homers and 90 RBI in 134 games. That slash line is better than George Springer's and nearly as good as Carlos Correa's. The question with Gonzalez is can he do it again and will he even get the chance? Every one of his stats was a career best by a large margin, so was it a legitimate step forward or just one of those fluke seasons that will never happen again? It is hard to say for certain but it probably won't cost you much to find out. The other question is playing time. The Astros' lineup is stacked and Gonzalez doesn't have an everyday position to bank on. Odds are the team will continue to find a way to get his bat in the lineup but playing a different position every day is a tough gig.
** Former Cy Young winner Dallas Keuchel bounced back from a down 2016 season that saw him go 9-12 with a 4.55 ERA. His underlying stats have remained very consistent the last four years, leading us to think that 2016 was just a blip on the radar and Keuchel will remain one of the best pitchers in the American League. He missed a dozen starts with a neck injury this summer that suppressed a good chunk of his fantasy value. Last year's poor season and this year's injury will combine to keep his perceived fantasy value down as draft season approaches. He makes a good target on draft day.
** Justin Verlander struggled early in the season with the Tigers but gained steam as the campaign rolled on and was utterly dominant in September and October. The fact the Astros were able to trade for him so late in the season makes it seem like he was just a rental but he is actually under Astros control for two more years and possibly three. He is in a much better position to pick up wins with a dominant Astros team than with the rebuilding Tigers. He may add to his Cy Young collection next year.
** 24-year-old Lance McCullers has struggled to stay on the mound but he has shown a world of promise when healthy. He went 7-4 with a mediocre 4.25 ERA in 22 starts this year -- but struck out 132 batters against just 40 walks in 118 2/3 innings. He has one of the best ground ball rates in the majors for his career and does a great job of keeping the ball in the yard. With room to grow as he develops his craft, he has the potential to lead a fantasy rotation in his prime.
Team Needs: They could use a stud outfielder to replace Carlos Beltran or they could bring in a big bat for designated hitter. Expect them to spend most of their free agent budget on pitching upgrades. They have two ace-caliber starters in Keuchel and Verlander. The rest of the rotation is good but shaky in terms of experience and durability. The bullpen was a problem in the playoffs and lacks a reliable left-hander.