The Houston Astros formed an incredible run this past season, dominating the AL West en route to securing a spot in the postseason. They proceeded to handle the Chicago White Sox with ease in the ALDS and mounted a comeback over the Boston Red Sox in the ALCS before coming up short against the Atlanta Braves in the World Series.
As special as a trip to the World Series can be, Houston is currently looking at its short-term future and understanding that its window to win won’t last forever.
With that in mind, let’s examine who carried the Astros in 2021 and what the state of the organization looks like going forward.
Manager: Dusty Baker
Position: First in AL West
Postseason: Made playoffs; lost in World Series
The Astros’ offense was arguably the best in baseball this season. Not only did the unit lead all of MLB in batting average (.267) and on-base percentage (.339), but it also swatted 221 home runs while plating a league-most 834 runs. They also finished among the top one-third of the league in walks while posting the second-lowest strikeout total. All in all, this was a unit that thrived on momentum, talent, and playing loud.
Houston’s pitching wasn’t as elite as its hitting, but the staff of arms certainly wasn’t awful. The unit posted the seventh-best ERA, seventh-best WHIP, third-best OBA, and 11th-most strikeouts, all while surrendering the fifth-fewest hits and 10th-fewest home runs. With that said, the pitching core did falter in the second half of the season. This offers one potential reason why the Astros were unable to secure a World Series title this year.
Most Valuable Player and Best Hitter of the Year: Carlos Correa
Correa takes home two honors here. Not only was he Houston’s best hitter, but he was also the Astros’ best star and most impactful all-around talent. The impending free agent led the team with 5.8 fWAR and also slashed .279/.366/.485 with 26 homers, 92 RBI, an 11.7 percent walk rate, and an 18.1 percent strikeout rate. After a relatively quiet 2020 showing, the star shortstop bounced back in a huge way as he helped lead Houston to the World Series.
Starting Pitcher of the Year: Lance McCullers Jr.
McCullers was the best part of the Astros’ starting rotation and perhaps even their entire pitching staff. The 6-foot-1 right-hander finished the year 13-5 with a 3.16 ERA, 10.26 K/9 rate, 4.2 BB/9 rate, and 3.3 fWAR over the course of 28 games. It was a shame that a forearm injury held him out of the ALCS and World Series. We’ll never know, but the 28-year-old’s presence could have quite possibly altered the outcome of the series against Atlanta. He is very capable of being the ace of this rotation once again next year.
Relief Pitcher of the Year: Ryan Pressly
There are a few easy picks in this list of awards, but Pressly is the easiest. Houston’s clear-cut closer, Pressly finished the year with a 2.06 FIP, 11.39 K/9 rate, and 1.83 BB/9 rate. He also posted career-bests in ground-ball rate (55.5 percent), fWAR (2.4), and saves (26). The 32-year-old reached his vesting option this past season and thus will return as the Astros’ closer next season.
Best Fielder of the Year: Martin Maldonado
Maldonado was horrible while wielding a bat. However, stick a glove on his hand and he can look like the best defensive catcher in baseball. A 27th-round pick back in 2004, Maldonado posted an Astros-best 11.9 fWAR this past season. He also ranked in the 63rd percentile for pitch framing, threw out 19 of 29 base-runners, and provided Houston with -2 DRS. It’s easy to dislike his hitting, but this is a more than fair trade-off considering how much value Maldonado provides behind the dish.
Comeback Player of the Year: Jose Altuve
Altuve struggled during the shortened 2020 campaign, hitting just .219 with five homers over the course of 48 games. He went back on a tear this past season, though, racking up a .278/.350/.489 slash line with a whopping 31 homers, 83 RBI, a 9.7 percent walk rate, and a 13.4 percent strikeout rate. In addition to thriving offensively, he posted 1.3 fWAR on defense, which was the second-best mark of his 11-year career. The 31-year-old star is certainly showing no signs of slowing down.
Free agency is going to be a pivotal time period for the Astros. Not only is the team set to lose its two best fielders in Correa and Maldonado, but they are also on the verge of parting ways with fellow free agents Zack Greinke and Justin Verlander. Can the Astros’ brass bring back one or two of these names? Sure, but it’s not going to be easy, and it’s almost impossible for them to re-sign all four.
Beyond trying to replace Greinke and Verlander in the rotation with affordable options, the Astros need to focus on solidifying their bullpen in the earlier innings before players like Pressly and Ryne Stanek enter the game in the later innings. Houston tried to make moves like this at the deadline, adding players like Phil Maton and Kendall Graveman, but perhaps this winter gives them more freedom since negotiations are held between teams and players rather than teams and teams.
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