For the 4th time in 6 years, the Houston Astros are heading to the World Series. And the AL powerhouse is doing it the same way they always have: team development leading to team-friendly contracts.
According to Spotrac, the Astros have the 9th-highest payroll in MLB at $192.9 million, trailing their World Series opponent by over $60 million.
And as impressive as the Houston run has been, the front office’s ability to save about $10 million in total payroll while producing a better season than last year is just the icing on the cake for the front offices.
Just one example of the difference of their roster makeup is their top 12 players in Baseball Reference WAR, which outside of Justin Verlander and Ryne Stanek are all homegrown talent, costing them a collective $92.4 million.
The Phillies on the other hand were just 7 of which are homegrown talent, and their collective AAV this year is $137.7 million.
In fact, some of their most consistent pieces of the lineup (Alvarez, Pena, Javier, Tucker, and McCormick) are all making below $800,000.
So, how does James Click and company construct this roster? It’s most likely a lot of names you already know.
On a league-wide scale, the pitching gets most of the love for this team (and rightfully so), but this offense is nothing to scoff at either.
With such rankings as 2nd in home runs and strikeouts, 3rd in OPS, walks and slugging, and even 5th in batting average, there aren’t many holes in the lineup’s construction. And it’s been apparent in the team’s undefeated run in the playoffs.
But while some of the biggest factors of the lineup are also some of the cheap, the only offensive player in the top 100 of 2022 AAV is Jose Altuve at $29 million, who also finished the year at .300/.387/.533 with 28 homers.
But the biggest key for having the total payroll they do is after being able to say goodbye to two key pieces of their dominant run: Carlos Correa and George Springer.
Correa, currently making $35.1 million this year, and Springer, earning $29.7 million, were replaced by Jeremy Pena (rookie making $700,000) and Chas McCormick ($696,000).
While this is a move usually met with pushback from the fanbase, the production from these two prospects has met with as smooth of a transition as imaginable.
Just look at the comparisons:
Jeremy Pena – 136 Games | .253/.289/.426 – .715 OPS | .963 fld% | 15 DRS | $700,000 AAV
Carlos Correa – 136 Games | .291/.357/.479 – .836 OPS | .983 | 3 DRS | $35.1 million
Chas McCormick – 119 Games | .245/.326/.425 – .751 OPS | .995 fld% | -2 DRS | $703,800 AAV
Carlos Correa – 133 Games | .267/.342/.472 – .851 OPS | .995 fld% | -4 DRS | $29.6 million
While the numbers are obviously favorable for the two All-Stars, and both Correa and Springer are deserving of their paychecks, these two cost-effective options are a large factor to this team’s success.
Especially when you throw the caveat that both Pena (.990 OPS, 3 HR) and McCormick (.898 OPS, 2 HRs) are coming through when it matters most.
With the amount of success seen from the lineup this season, you can multiply it when discussing this starting rotation.
Sometimes a stat is worth 1,000 words, which was perfectly encapsulated by MLB Metrics when they tweeted that “99.4% of innings pitched by the Astros this season were thrown by pitchers with an ERA under 4.”
And the starting rotation is primarily responsible for this, as the five-man rotation or Justin Verlander, Framber Valdez, Jose Urquidy, Luis Garcia and Cristian Javier, who pitched a combined 846.1 innings in 146 outings to the tune of a 2.94 ERA.
The best part? Those 5 reliable arms cost a combined $30.7 million, which without Verlander’s $25 million AAV this year, would be just $5.7 million.
Throughout the postseason thus far has seen a different formula, as the Astros have rolled with Verlander, McCullers Jr, Valdez and Javier, which has offered similar success. In their 7-0 start, their starters have a 2.93 ERA in 40 innings, thus only leaving 32 innings for the bullpen to pick up (which would have been 23 if Game 3 of the ALDS did not go 18 innings).
But, with the Astros being the weakest link for the team, is this still too many outs to supply?
Now, calling Houston’s bullpen may be unfair for their production, and if you put the same arms on another team it may be their strength, but the only question mark heading into October was the confidence in the back end of the bullpen.
Ryan Pressly ($10 million) was the primary closer, finishing the year with 33 saves and a 2.98 ERA in 48.1 innings pitched, with Rafael Montero, Hector Neris, Phil Maton, Bryan Abreu and Ryan Stanek being in trusted roles.
And while there were a handful shaky appearances throughout the year with Pressly, 4 blown saves and 10 appearances allowing an earned run to be exact, he has been a perfect 4 for 4 in save appearances without allowing a run.
Plus, the supporting cast has done their part as well, as Montero and Abreu have combined for 6 holds in 11.2 innings, while Stanek is scoreless Neris has recorded 2 wins in 4 innings of work.
Their combined AAV? $15.5 million, which compared to the rest of the league gives them one of the higher earning bullpens.