Nobody remembers the regular season champion. To be fair, the Houston Astros weren’t even that, although they did tie for the best Pythagorean Win-Loss record since 1960, so they very well could have been at the top of the mountain. In a lot of respects, the 2018 season was better than the 2017 season for the Astros. It just ended with one flag as division champion instead of three as division champ, AL champ, and World Series champ.
The Astros went 22-8 over their final 30 regular season games. Only Milwaukee did better in that span. Houston went 57-24 on the road and just 46-35 at home. The splits were rather weird. Minute Maid Park does play as more of a pitcher’s park, which played out for the offense, as the Astros scored 51 more runs on the road. On the other hand, the pitching staff allowed 42 more runs at home than on the road.
A 66-36 record against right-handed pitchers was accompanied by a 37-23 record against left-handed pitchers. Only the Dodgers played more games against left-handed starters. Houston was 24-24 in one-run games. The Astros also went 62-21 against teams with losing records, but just 41-38 against teams .500 or better, which is a little bit surprising to me.
Money Line Spots
The Astros rotation looks a lot different this season. Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole are still the front-line guys, but Wade Miley, Collin McHugh, and Brad Peacock make up the rest of the rotation. That is a far cry from Charlie Morton, Dallas Keuchel, and Lance McCullers, but the first two were free agents and McCullers needed Tommy John surgery.
In theory, that should mean more chances to fade the Astros, but I’d be careful with that. This is an organization full of brilliant baseball minds. Miley is a contact management All-Star after his stint with the Brewers. Peacock has tremendous stuff, but durability has been an issue. McHugh does profile best as a reliever, so he’s the guy I’d likely look to fade regularly of the group, but I’m guessing Miley will be the one that gets disrespected the most.
We may be able to make a little bit of money going against Justin Verlander. Verlander posted a 2.52 ERA with a 2.78 FIP and a 3.03 xFIP in 214 innings last season. He also posted a career-best 34.8 percent K%. That was 6.7 percent better than any other year. Regression will come for him there, which also means regression in his LOB%. His career-best 4.4 percent BB% should also regress to the mean a bit. By no means am I saying that Verlander will tank. I’m simply saying that I think he’ll be overpriced against the rare team that hits for power and doesn’t strike out a lot.
As a whole, the Astros profile as an over team to me. Houston was 84-69-9 to the under last season. Minute Maid Park plays a role, but Houston got nothing from Carlos Correa offensively and several players missed time with injuries. Michael Brantley has been added to the lineup, which likely means that the Astros lead MLB in K% this season. They’ll put a ton of balls in play and that means overs.
Also, with the losses in the rotation and the uncertainty with guys like Miley, Peacock, and McHugh, the Astros should see higher-scoring games across the board. Of course, the books will adjust the totals with those guys, so I’d be more interested in road overs with the Astros.
Individual Players to Watch
Wade Miley – I already outlined Justin Verlander, so I won’t mention him again. I will discuss Wade Miley. The 32-year-old posted a 2.57/3.59/4.30 pitcher slash last season in 80.2 innings of work. Anytime you see an ERA/xFIP discrepancy like that, the market will go against a guy. Miley’s 5.2 percent HR/FB% is a good bet to regress to a certain degree, but I’d be stunned to see it regress to league average around 12 percent.
Miley will be quite a wild card in the markets this season. The Astros are a very good defensive team, which helps with his pitch-to-contact stylings. I think it’s unfair that Miley is gauged by his 2016 and 2017 seasons when he was a pretty useful pitcher from 2012-15 with FIPs under 4.00 each of those years. I’m thinking we may get some value on him after the wave of action that comes in to fade him.
Gerrit Cole – Gerrit Cole is legit. Cole left the Pirates and joined the Astros and subsequently had a career year. And he could even eclipse that this season. He posted a 6.3-fWAR season with a 2.88/2.70/3.04 pitcher slash. He had a career-high K% at 34.5 percent. The Astros maximize arsenals in a way that creates more strikeouts. They’ve done it with the big league club and the minor league teams.
Cole threw his curveball a career-high 19.3 percent of the time last season. He also got back to more sliders and saw huge gains in his fastball spin rate. I don’t know if he’s going to be priced high enough, to be honest. He’s an elite pitcher and could very well win the Cy Young.