Let's Go Tribe's American League Preview: Houston Astros

Scott Halleran

Our look at the Tribe's competition around the American League continues with the Astros, who've finished with MLB's worst record three years in a row.


Between now and Opening Day, we'll be taking a look at each of the other American League teams, to see what they've done during the offseason, and examine their outlook for 2014.

Find other entries in the series here

- - - - - -

Houston Astros

2013 Record: 51-111 (5th in AL West), 1-6 vs. Cleveland

610 runs scored (14th of 15 in AL), 848 runs allowed (15th of 15 in AL)

The Astros finished with MLB's worst record in 2011, when they lost 106 games, and again in 2012, when they lost 107. Moving to the superior American League for 2013 didn't seem likely to help Houston's situation, and sure enough, they lost 111 games and finished with the worst record in baseball for the third year in a row, becoming only the fifth team in MLB history to "accomplish" that. Their combined record of 163-324 over the last three years rates as the worst by any team over a three-season stretch since the 1963-1965 Mets.

They had one of the worst offenses in baseball in 2013, with only 2 of the 19 players (Jason Castro and Chris Carter) who collected 100+ plate appearances for them posting league average or better production. The pitching was even worse. All Houston pitchers combined for just 1.6 WAR (FanGraphs), the lowest total by an American League pitching staff since 1984. The starting rotation was bad, but only in a run of the mill kind of way, nothing special. The bullpen though, was historically awful. Astros relievers combined for -5.4 WAR, which is the worst total by any bullpen in either league in professional history.

The 2013 Astros were one of the worst teams in MLB history.

Key offseason additions:

Dexter Fowler (OF), Scott Feldman (SP), Jerome Williams (SP), Chad Qualls (RP), Jesse Crain (RP), Matt Albers (RP)

Key offseason departures:

Erik Bedard (SP), Jordan Lyles (SP), Brandon Barnes (OF)

2014 Payroll: ~$50 million

Projected 2014 Starting Lineup (with ZiPS fWAR projection):

Pos

Player

Projected WAR

C

Jason Castro

4

1B

Chris Carter

1

2B

Jose Altuve

2

3B

Matt Dominguez

1

SS

Jonathan Villar

1

LF

Robbie Grossman

1

CF

Dexter Fowler

2

RF

L.J. Hoes

1

DH

Marc Krauss

0

TOTAL

13

Indian who has killed the Astros:

David Murphy - .327/.415/.636, 1.050 OPS, 8 HR in 124 PA

Astros who has killed the Indians:

Chris Carter - .356/.407/.689, 1.096 OPS, 3 HR in 54 PA (that's the highest OPS of any active player with 50+ PA against the Tribe)

Projected 2014 Starting Rotation/Bullpen (with ZiPS fWAR projection):

Pos

Player

Projected WAR

1

Scott Feldman

1

2

Jarred Cosart

1

3

Brett Oberholtzer

-1

4

Jerome Williams

0

5

Dallas Keuchel

0

RP

Bullpen

0

TOTAL

1

2014 Outlook:

The Astros are likely to have the worst pitching staff in baseball again, as not a single starting pitcher on the team projects as even league average, and most of the relievers are below that as well. Scott Feldman will earn $12 million this year as part of a front-loaded 3-year deal he signed this offseason. No other team was going to guarantee him $30 million (which is what his contract will pay him), which explains why he was willing to go to Houston. Some of questioned what on earth the Astros are paying a player like him that kind of money for, and I think the answer is: It makes their payroll look reasonable. The Marlins got in a bit of hot water a couple years back because their payroll was so low, and Houston is looking to avoid that. That's part of the reason I don't see a salary floor as a significant step towards parity; teams can get around arbitrary requirements with contracts like this.

The Astros have had a lot of high draft picks recently, and their farm system has been transformed from mediocre into one of baseball's best. They'll get to make further improvements this summer, when they hold the #1 pick again. Houston is a major market, and I suspect the money for real improvement will be there when an internally developed core is good enough to merit helping. It's going to be at least a couple years before that happens though. In the meantime, a good goal for the Astros this season would be to avoid having the worst record in MLB again. If they're unable to do that, they'll join the 1962-65 Mets as the only teams in history to finish with such a mark.

My money says they finish at the very bottom again.

PECOTA Projection: 66-96 (5th in AL West), 662 runs scored, 814 runs allowed

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