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2020 MLB Team Preview: Houston Astros

Greg Ehrenberg provides his thoughts on what the 60-game MLB season could look like for the Astros.

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July Update: The biggest question currently surrounding the Astros is the status of the reigning Rookie of the Year Yordan Alvarez. He wasn’t in the Astros’ camp for unspecified reasons and he’s been placed on the 10-day injured list. Whether this is related to COVID or some other situation hasn’t been made clear to the public. Whatever the cause is, this has Alvarez in doubt for Opening Day and there is no way to know how much time he might miss. After he hit 27 homers in just 87 games during his rookie season, Alvarez has potential to be one of the top hitters in baseball for real life and fantasy purposes. This ongoing situation makes him risky in yearly leagues.

The Astros dominated headlines in the offseason. Houston drew the ire of the baseball world due to their sign stealing, leading to the dismissal of manager A.J. Hinch and general manager Jeff Luhnow as well as ripple effects in Boston and Queens. The Astros have been one of the best offenses in baseball over the past few seasons, so we have to ask how much of this was a result of stealing signs and what can we expect from them going forward? While there could be some impact, I don’t think it will be profound. On the road, where Houston wasn’t stealing signs, it still has had an elite offense. In 2019, the Astros ranked third in road wRC+. In 2018, they also ranked third and in 2017 they ranked first. There isn’t much to indicate that this offense will fall off a cliff, especially when considering all the core hitters are still here.

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Can Alex Bregman have an MVP caliber season?

DraftKings Sportsbook odds

— Division Winner: -210

— League Winner: +250

— World Series: +550

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Key Departures:

Gerrit Cole, SP; Collin McHugh, RP; Wade Miley, SP; Will Harris, RP; Robinson Chirinos, C; Jake Marisnick, OF

Key Acquisitions:

Dustin Garneau, C; Austin Pruitt, SP/RP

2020 Fantasy MVP

Alex Bregman, 3B

It’s hard to pick anybody other than Bregman as the team MVP here. He was runner up to win MVP of the league after having the best season of his career last year. Still only 25 years old and continuing to improve, Bregman figures to have another strong season. Each year he’s been in the league, he’s seen an increase in his wRC+ and power numbers. Last year, he hit a career-high 41 homers with a 168 wRC+. There’s a limit to how much he can continue to improve, but he remains one of the favorites to win the AL MVP and his counting stats figure to be terrific hitting in the middle of a potent offense. Last season, Bregman had over 100 runs and 100 RBI for the second consecutive season. He was one of just a dozen players to go for 100-plus in both categories.

2020 Fantasy LVP

Justin Verlander, SP

I don’t really think any Astros’ players are terrible picks this year, although there is more downside than upside in Verlander at his current draft slot. One of the first pitchers getting drafted, Verlander is 37 years old and already dealing with a lat strain. While the late start to the season should give him time to fully recover, it’s a bit concerning to see a pitcher at his age dealing with an injury before Opening Day. There is also reason to think his numbers could regress a bit from last year. Verlander had a spectacular 2.58 ERA last season, but luck was involved. His 3.27 FIP and 3.18 xFIP were both elite although these numbers still suggest he should have allowed a few more runs.

2020 Breakout Player

Lance McCullers, SP

Breakout might not be the right term for McCullers, but he’s my favorite draft value on the Astros. Formerly one of the top pitchers in baseball, he missed all of last season after undergoing Tommy John Surgery. This has caused his draft stock to plummet and he can be had for almost nothing this season. McCullers is going towards the end of drafts, making him a target without much risk and a ton of upside. Typically, we don’t expect a ton of production from guys taken in the later rounds of drafts, so taking a flier on a guy like McCullers upside makes a ton of sense. He’s always been a high upside fantasy player due to his strikeout rate and he has the ability to rack up wins since he has a strong offense behind him. We also got positive reports on McCullers’ velocity when he appeared in spring training prior to the league being shutdown. He touched 94 mph in his first outing.

Final Thoughts:

This is going to be an interesting season for the Astros due to all the turmoil off the field. I can’t help but think that in some drafts, players will slide due to bias. Some people might overreact to the impact of the sign-stealing scandal while other people might flat out not want to draft players from this team because they are widely disliked at the moment. Ultimately, I think talent will win out and the distractions won’t matter much. The DK Sportsbook seems to agree. Houston is one of the favorites to win the World Series at +550 and is a heavy favorite to win the AL West at -210.

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