|Paul Moehringer’s Pyramid Rating System & All-Time Teams
Aug. 27, 2015: The Pyramid Rating System: JAWS on a Career Scale
March 15, 2016: The Pyramid Rating System: The Results
Aug. 12, 2016: All-Time League and Baltimore Orioles
Sept. 2, 2016: Boston Red Sox
Sept. 28, 2016: Texas Rangers
Oct. 19, 2016: Brooklyn Dodgers
Nov. 30, 2016: Cincinnati Reds
Dec. 15, 2016: 2016 Season Update
Dec. 20, 2016: Seattle Mariners
Jan. 25, 2017: Milwaukee Brewers/Braves
Feb. 2, 2017: Cleveland Indians
Mar. 15, 2017: Los Angeles Dodgers
For our next installment of the Pyramid Ratings System’s all-time team series, we look at a team that has spent time in both leagues and four different divisions over its 50-plus year history, the Houston Astros, as part of the National League West.
Although it took the Astros nearly two decades to post their first 85-plus win season, the club has experienced some solid runs of success. While never winning a World Series, it has 10 playoff appearances since 1980.
It’s no surprise that the Astros pull most of their roster from the ’80s on, but as we will soon see, Houston’s team is a solid blend of star players from every part of the franchise’s history, including today. Aside from 2011, there is not a season in team history including 2017, that does not feature multiple members of the 25-man roster.
With three active players on their 25-man team, the Astros are in position to improve their squad quickly. With one of the best front offices in baseball, the Astros could soon see even more members of their current squad join the all-time team.
Franchises Included: Houston Colt .45’s (1962-1964) Houston Astros (1965-present)
Hall of Famers on 25-man roster: 2
Manager: Bill Virdon
Honorable Mention: Larry Dierker
If we allowed player-managers in this league, the skipper of this club would be the man who has perhaps done more for the Astros franchise than anyone in its history, Larry Dierker.
Although Dierker’s tenure as the Astros manager was brief, the club won the National League Central in four out of his five seasons. Without question, that was the most consistent run of success in team history.
Despite that, I think his contributions as a pitcher overshadow his success as a manager which is why he will be featured in the starting rotation of the 25-man roster. Minus the choice of Dierker, the job falls to the next most successful Astros manager, Bill Virdon.
It was under Virdon that the Astros ended the eight-year Dodgers/Reds stranglehold on the NL West by winning the crown in 1980 and coming within one game of reaching the World Series. From 1979 through 1981, the club had a winning percentage of .559, still the best three-year stretch in team history.
Like Dierker, Virdon has been a baseball life,r still serving as a special instructor to the Pirates organization even into his 80s.
Best Overall Player, Position Player and Hitter: Jeff Bagwell
“Four-time All-Star Jeff Bagwell” sounds wrong. How can it only be four, for one of the greatest first baseman in baseball history and the backbone of this all-time Astros team.
Simply put, Bagwell was the complete package. A solid middle of the order threat who was top 10 in OPS seven times. A durable player who played in 160-plus games six times. And one of the most dependable defenders to ever field the position, a lock to be in the top five of every defensive metric at his peak.
Bagwell, who spent his entire 15-year career with the Astros, is also a two-time member of the 30/30 club, the only first baseman in major league history with this distinction. His 202 career steals are by far the most of any modern-day first baseman.
Bagwell would be one of the favorites to be the starter for the National League All-Star team in this all-time league. There is not a weakness to be found in Bagwell’s game and he would rank as one of the most dangerous hitters in the National League. Bagwell was that rare player who could cause damage at the plate, in the field or on the bases.
Best Pitcher: Roy Oswalt
As in Bagwell’s case, three-time All-Star Roy Oswalt fails to quantify a career of a man who for the better part of a decade was the ace of the Astros rotation. Whether Oswalt at his peak was the most dominant pitcher in Astros history is up for debate, but no Astros starter has been more consistently dominant over a longer period of time.
Through his first eight years with the club, Oswalt posted double-digit win totals every year. Each season from 2004 through 2009 he started at least 30 games and pitched at least 200 innings,never with an ERA+ below 100.
Oswalt is the last pitcher in major league history to win 20 or more games in back-to-back seasons. And he was exceptional at holding runners on base. In only two seasons with the Astros did he allow more than six stolen bases. Between 2005 and 2009, he committed one error. One.
In this league I would expect Oswalt to be an average number one starter. The closest talent comparison I can make to Oswalt among starters who have already been discussed would be Don Drysdale, which speaks to just how seriously I feel Oswalt’s Hall of Fame candidacy should be taken. Over his 10-year stretch with the Astros, I could count the number of starters I would take over Oswalt on one hand. That should be more than enough to warrant induction, but when guys like Curt Schilling and Mike Mussina are considered borderline, combined with the backlog of deserving players, it’s highly possible that Oswalt will join the ranks of great modern day starters like Kevin Brown and Bret Saberhagen who were never given a chance to make their Hall of Fame case to the writers.
Best Player Not on the Roster Due to the One-Team-Only Rule: Joe Morgan
As we’ve seen already with our one-team only rule, all losses are not felt equally. With a rich lineage of all-star caliber Astros second baseman to choose from, the loss of Joe Morgan isn’t nearly as impactful as it would be for other teams.
Based on the historical narrative of Morgan’s career, it’s surprising that Morgan played only 122 more games with the Reds than he did with Houston. Hardly any mention is made of the caliber of player Morgan was with the Astros, but Sparky Anderson was not bringing in some middle of the road journeyman to the Reds.
From 1969 through 1971, no other NL second baseman hit more home runs, scored more runs, drove in more runs, drew more walks or stole more bases than Joe Morgan. Had the Silver Slugger been awarded, Morgan likely would have won it all three years and it may have helped the Astros avoid making one of the most one-sided trades in baseball history.
Had Morgan stayed in Houston, Jeff Bagwell would likely not be listed as the greatest player in franchise history, the mid-’70s Astros would not be one bat short of being taken as serious contenders for the NL West and Hakeem Olajuwon would have competition for the greatest pro athlete in city history. Instead, the Astros are left with a legacy shared by the Boston Red Sox in being the only two teams to trade away the best position player they ever had before he reached his peak.
|vs RHP||vs LHP|
|RF||L||L||José Cruz||LF||R||R||Jimmy Wynn|
|LF||S||L||Lance Berkman||1B||R||R||Jeff Bagwell|
|3B||R||R||Morgan Ensberg||3B||R||R||Morgan Ensberg|
|CF||R||R||Jimmy Wynn||C||R||R||Craig Biggio|
|1B||R||R||Jeff Bagwell||2B||L||R||José Altuve|
|SS||R||R||Dickie Thon||RF||L||L||José Cruz|
|2B||R||R||Craig Biggio||SS||R||R||Dickie Thon|
|C||L||R||Jason Castro||CF||R||R||César Cedeño|
|P||R||R||Roy Oswalt||P||R||R||Roy Oswalt|
|DH vs RHP||DH vs LHP|
|RF||L||L||José Cruz||C||R||R||Craig Biggio|
|DH||S||L||Lance Berkman||1B||R||R||Jeff Bagwell|
|CF||R||R||César Cedeño||CF||R||R||César Cedeño|
|LF||R||R||Jimmy Wynn||2B||L||R||José Altuve|
|1B||R||R||Jeff Bagwell||3B||R||R||Morgan Ensberg|
|C||L||R||Jason Castro||RF||L||L||José Cruz|
|SS||R||R||Dickie Thon||SS||R||R||Dickie Thon|
|3B||R||R||Morgan Ensberg||DH||R||R||Doug Rader|
|2B||R||R||Craig Biggio||LF||R||R||Jimmy Wynn|
Historically, the Astros have been a team built around pitching and that remains the case with their all-time team. The starting rotation is one of the better ones in the NL with all five starters perennial Cy Young contenders along with pitchers like Joe Niekro and Don Wilson providing plenty of depth on 40-man roster should any injury issues arise. But the real strength of the pitching lies in the bullpen, which is one of the most dominate in this series.
Some would argue that Billy Wagner and not Roy Oswalt should be considered the greatest pitcher in Astros history. I would have Wagner on the NL All-Star team as one of the true shutdown closers in either league, but it’s the depth behind Wagner that makes this Astros bullpen so tough.
Unlike other teams where one or two big years is all it takes to make the bullpen, with the Astros longevity is required just to be considered, and with two quality lefties in Joe Sambito and Hal Woodeshick also in the ‘pen, the Astros are not going to be susceptible to any righty/lefty mismatch.
All of this adds up to not only the best bullpen in the NL West, but arguably the best in the NL as a whole.
Offensively the Astros are carried by the right side of their infield and their outfield. Much like the Brooklyn Dodgers, the Astros offense becomes a lot better facing a left-handed pitcher. I have César Cedeño, a career .294 hitter against lefties, batting eighth, showing how much confidence I have in the Astros against a lefty.
The fact that I have Jimmy Wynn listed in center over Cedeño, should not be taken as a locked in situation. Bagwell and Craig Biggio would come in at a pretty clear one-two for the best position players on the team, but three through six are all four outfielders. The overall ranking difference is less than 100 between top-rated outfielder Cedeño and the fourth ranked outfielder, José Cruz. I would probably use either lineup I have listed 10-15 times over the season. With the outfielders this bunched together in terms of overall ability, there really isn’t going to be an “average” lineup. All four would be seeing significant action.
Biggio’s ability to play behind the plate allows me to shoehorn José Altuve into the lineup against lefties. It does seem odd for somebody 5-foot-6 to be batting fifth, but Altuve is one of the rare left handed hitters in history who has fared far better against left-handed pitching than right-handed. His career OPS is more than 100 points higher going up against lefties.
Another oddity with lefty/righty splits is that Jimmy Wynn had a higher career batting average against righties, a higher career on base-percentage against lefties, a higher career slugging percentage against righties and a higher career OPS against lefties. What explains much of these split oddities is Wynn’s ability to draw walks. Against righties, Wynn was solid, but against lefties he was a walk machine.
The year Wynn led the NL in walks in 1969, he batted .247 against lefties, but had an on-base percentage of .458. To put that difference in perspective, the lowest single-season batting average of anyone in history in a full season who had an on-base percentage of at least .458 is Barry Bonds, who hit .276 to go with a .480 OBP in 2007.
While the outfield and the right side of the infield are among the strongest in the National League, the left side of the infield and catcher are among the weakest. Dickie Thon will provide a decent glove at short, but he could be the worst offensive starting shortstop in the National League.
In the not too distant future, I would expect Carlos Correa to take over for Thon as the full-time starter and plug up what is for now a serious hole in the lineup, but he has only a season and a half f experience, so it’s not a move I can justify yet. Or, with Correa showing signs of defensive struggles at short, it’s possible that Thon could wind up keeping his role as the starting shortstop and Correa could instead take over for Morgan Ensberg at third.
Even though I have Ensberg batting against both righties and lefties, his placement at third in the order against right-handed pitcher is more the result of not having not having other power bats to turn to than an endorsement of his skills. Correa has the potential to correct that.
Historically, catcher has been a weak spot for Houston and that remains the case here. As much as I would like to pull Biggio from out behind the plate full-time, the emergence of Altuve at second base combined with their inability to produce a star catcher all but guarantees that Biggio is going to be the full-time starting catcher once Altuve becomes more established in a few years.
Although this is far from ideal, especially from a defensive perspective, there is nobody else to turn to. As limited as Biggio might be defensively and as much as the rigors of catching every day would affect the speed element of his game, he is still a member of the 3,000 hit club and if Biggio is to ever be replaced behind the plate, the person doing it is going to have to find a way to soften that loss of offensive productivity.
Biggio’s health will be huge as he represents the Astros’ best option at two different positions. Like Biggio, Joe Ferguson is not on the team because of his defensive wizardy behind the plate, while Brad Ausmus and his career OPS+ of 69 would be close to an automatic out in this league. That’s why I decided left the Astros’ best defensive option behind the dish off the team.
Just as important will be the health of the Astros’ four starting outfielders. The main reason why the Astros carry four outfielders instead of five is because there’s a big drop between whoever you consider the fourth best outfielder on that team and Terry Puhl/Richard Hidalgo. No matter you take out in exchange for either of them it’s an offensive downgrade, and the Astros don’t have the offensive depth to make up for losing a hitter the quality of José Cruz or Lance Berkman.
The lack of a true slugger aside from Bagwell could be the biggest thing holding this team back from serious pennant contention. As we’ve already seen and will see again, some teams have four-plus Hall of Famers in their starting lineup and that is what you need to keep up with teams like Cincinnati and St. Louis.
I would expect Bagwell to be a near lock to make the All-Star team, and possibly Biggio as well, but it’s hard to find a position player on this team that you would consider top-five in the NL at his position.
I don’t think many people would expect an all-time team with just two Hall of Famers and one pennant in its history to produce a solid well-rounded roster with solid depth and limited weaknesses, but that is exactly what we have.
I’d expect this team to be right around the .500 mark. Aside from having a weak left side infield, there’s really nothing wrong with these Astros. They just lack the same kinds of horses teams like Cleveland and Boston have.
I would put Houston’s bullpen ahead of both LA and San Francisco — the two top teams in their division. Offensively, I’d put them ahead of the Dodgers.
The Astros match up fairly well against LA and would probably play around .500 against them. Their strength against lefties nullifies a lot of the edge that Clayton Kershaw and Sandy Koufax would normally have, and Houston can match LA punch for punch out of the bullpen. Against San Francisco, the Astros would have a lot more problems.
The Giants’ starting rotation is almost exclusively righties and as good as Houston’s outfield is, it’s not even close to San Francisco’s brings to the table. If this were played out in a full season and San Francisco beat out LA for the division crown, I could see the Astros as a big reason why.
Altuve and Correa are going to be the two main factors in moving this team forward. Altuve has already cracked the starting lineup in a platoon role and eventually, I think, will supplant Biggio as the full-time second baseman. The defensive pill of Biggio behind the plate isn’t going away anytime soon, but if Altuve keeps putting up numbers like he has the last few years, the Astros won’t mind swallowing it.
Correa addresses the biggest weakness on this team, the left side of the infield. Whether he remains at short or is moved to third, I think Correa will eventually be seen as a major upgrade over either Ensberg or Thon and could go a long way in shoring up the offensive weakness with this Houston club.
Overall, I look at the Astros as a middle of the road team. Their pitching alone is enough to make them competitive, while the hitting, which has historically been a major weakness, has shown signs of improvement thanks to the addition of the killer Bs, Biggio and Bagwell.