What the Rays Could Learn From the Houston Astros

NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 18: Jose Altuve
NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 18: Jose Altuve /

The Rays could learn lots from the Houston Astros and maybe taking a page or two from their playbooks would lead them back to the days of success , keeping players, winning, helping put fans in the stands and post-season appearances.

The Houston Astros are exactly where the Tampa Bay Rays wish they were in October. The Astros are engaged in a mighty struggle with the New York Yankees for the American league East division title and a trip to the World Series.

How did the Astros push aside thirteen other teams for a chance at the title? It’s an interesting story and one to which the Rays should pay attention.

First of all they can hit the ball. They led all of major league baseball in batting average, on base percentage and slugging percentage. They also led in doubles, runs batted in and home runs.

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They weren’t to shabby on the base paths and they were number one in runs scored and number eight in stolen bases. And, as if that weren’t enough, they led the major leagues in the least strikeouts by hitters.

The Astros’ pitching was not bad either. They were first in the major leagues in strikeouts, eleventh in ERA with a 4.14 average and tied for fifth with 45 saves.

Most of this was achieved before they obtained Detroit Tigers ace starter Justin Verlander at the end of August and he only made things better.

Overall, their fielding could have been better as they were 21st in major league baseball with 99 errors. However, they were 8th in double plays with 153. Only one player, third baseman Alex Bergman, made more than 10 errors.

The Astros team was built internally with six of the eight starting position players coming through the Astros’ farm system. This includes first baseball Yuli Gurriel who came almost directly from Cuba at age thirty-three. Four of the five opening day starters also spent time in the Astros’ farm system.

Each and every one of these young ballplayers contributed to the team’s success. All six of the homegrown position players, led by Jose Altuve, finished in the top fifty major league hitters. Carlos Correa was not technically one of the top fifty as he was injured for part of the season. Three of the four homegrown starters contributed 41 wins over the course of the season.

What’s even more impressive is that seven of the eight position players including veteran outfielder Josh Reddick and catcher Brian McCann are under contract through 2019 and five position players are under contract through 2010 or longer.

Key starters Lance McCullers and Brad Peacock and closer Ken Giles are under contract through 2020. In addition, the Tigers are footing the bill for Justin Verlander through 2019.

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What does all of this say to the Tampa Bay Rays? First of all, you don’t have to spend New York Yankee type of money, $196 million in 2017, to win but you also can’t be the cheapest guy on the block.

The Astros spent $125 million last year and are competing with the high spending Yankees for the AL East championship. The Rays started the season with a $70 million payroll and may spend even less in 2018.

You can’t win a post season birth with pitching alone. It takes a solid offensive lineup made up of power, line drives and people getting on base. Houston had seven hitters in the top 50 and the Rays had one, Corey Dickerson at number forty-nine.

In addition, Houston had the least strikeouts in major league baseball, while the Rays were second to last with only Milwaukee posting more punch outs.

And finally, you must hang onto your good young talent. The Astros have their entire lineup coming back next year and five of their six key position players and three important pitchers are signed through at least 2020.

Meanwhile, the Rays are a team that currently has only two homegrown position players in Evan Longoria and Kevin Kiermaier. They need to be patient with homegrown talent like Jake Bauers and Willy Adames.

It’s been fun watching the young and talented Astros in the playoffs in the same way it was fun to watch Joe Maddon’s teams in their halcyon days. Knowing that you were going to see Carl Crawford in a Tampa Bay uniform for nine years was a real treat. It’s a lot more fun than watching a Rays’ team made up of low rent free agents and other team’s cast offs.

Next: Tampa Bay Rays Off-Season Moves Will Be Plentiful

A young balanced team whose stars come back each year will win games and it’s also how you get more fans out to the ballpark.