2012 Organizational Rankings: #29 – Houston

Read the methodology behind the ratings here. Remember that the grading scale is 20-80, with 50 representing league average.

2012 Organizational Rankings

#30 – Baltimore

Houston’s 2011 Ranking: #30

2012 Outlook: 26 (30th)

Five position players recorded a WAR above 2.0 (i.e. league average) last season for the Astros, and three of those five (Clint Barmes, Michael Bourn, and Hunter Pence) don’t play for the club anymore. Another (El Caballo himself, Mr. Carlos Lee) benefited greatly from a defensive rating (11.2 UZR) which is almost certainly not representative of his true talent. And the fifth, Brian Bogusevic, benefited not only from defensive runs (12.1 UZR in just 324.0 innings in the corner outfield) but also a .355 BABIP. All of which is a roundabout way of saying that the Astros’ present is dim. On the brightish side, J.D. Martinez appears poised to provide value on both sides of the ball, and offseason acquisition Chris Snyder (in tandem with now-less-injured Jason Castro) has a good chance of improving upon the -0.3 WAR for which Houston catchers combined in 2011. But in reality, the 2012 Astros are, on paper, perhaps the worst team in recent baseball history. They might not match the 119 loss season that the 2003 Detroit Tigers put up, but they’re a mortal lock for 90 losses and a pretty good bet for 100. This is just a roster that is not set up to compete against Major League teams.

2013+ Outlook: 31 (30th)

For as poor as the rating here is, it could have conceivably been worse. First-base prospect Jonathan Singleton (ranked No. 1 in the system by our Marc Hulet), right-hander Jarred Cosart (No. 3), left-hander Brett Oberholtzer (No. 4), right-hander Paul Clemens (No. 5), outfielder Domingo Santana (No. 7), and right-hander Kyle Weiland (No. 15) have all been acquired via trade since the middle of the 2011 season. It’s not a premium group of talent (although Singleton and center fielder George Springer, acquired via the most recent draft from Connecticut, have rather high ceilings), but it’s better than what existed for most of GM Ed Wade’s tenure. Of course, the outlook for the future is, in part, informed by present talent, and the Astros don’t have a lot of that in place. The aforementioned Martinez and, if you’re squinting, second baseman Jose Altuve are some combination of talented and cost-controlled. Other young players like Chris Johnson, Jordan Schafer, and Brett Wallace, however, are more or less replacement-level roster filler holding down their respective roles until something more promising comes along. The Astros have the top pick in this summer’s draft, and whoever they select will instantly become the face of the franchise. That’s not fair, but it’s just where the Astros are right now.

Financial Resources: 44 (22nd)

The Astros’ current payroll (ca. $60 million) is a poor barometer for what new principal owner Jim Crane et al. are likely to spend in the future; however, given the club’s muted chances for success this season, there was little reason for GM Jeff Luhnow to participate actively in free agency this offseason. Per Forbes, the Astros are estimated to be the 13th most valuable club in the majors, with a value of $549 million. Per the most recent census, the Houston Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) is the fifth largest in the United States. Neither figure guarantees that the team will finish, say, in the top half of the league’s payrolls anytime soon — especially considering that there won’t be much of a product on the field — but there’s some potential energy, at least, and reason to believe that the club could approach the organizational high of $103 million from 2009. What the Astros will certainly have in the near future is financial flexibility: only one player (Wandy Rodriguez, $13.5 million) currently on the roster is due to make more than $5 million next season. When the team is ready to spend, they should have the resources to go after the talent they need to acquire.

Baseball Operations: 50 (12th)

According to FanGraphs authors, this is the currently the strength of the Houston organization. Approximately three weeks after his ownership group’s purchase of the Astros became official, Jim Crane hired Jeff Luhnow from the St. Louis Cardinals to serve as his general manager. Though he went by different titles during his tenure with the Cardinals, Luhnow oversaw the club’s amateur draft from 2005 through 2011. Notably, Luhnow also graduated from Univeristy of Pennsylvania with a degree in economics and engineering and then received an MBA from Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern — all of which suggests the pedigree of the league’s younger, analytical GMs. Among his first hires, Luhnow took Sig Mejdal — who famously plays the role of the Ubernerd in Sam Walker’s book Fantasyland — with him from the Cards, to serve as the club’s director of decision sciences, and then they brought in Mike Fast, one of the premier analysts in the online baseball community.

There’s more to running a baseball team than just hiring smart people, of course, but Luhnow has already had success in putting quality processes in place, and his track record in St. Louis suggests that he understands how to cultivate talent in an organization. Their front office is clearly making steps to change the way the Astros have been managed, and they understand the task ahead of them. That they brought in someone with a long range vision and gave the staff the authority to carry out a necessary rebuilding is a good sign in and of itself, and when you add in Luhnow’s success in St. Louis, it’s easy to see that the Astros are now in good hands.

Overall: 36 (29th)

Given the almost inevitable 100-loss season to come, the Astros’ ranking is (deservedly) poor. There’s little more to say about that. For how poor the team is currently, however, there are reasons for optimism, both from a front office headed by a talented, analytically minded GM and also the ownership group that had the presence of mind to hire him. It’s not going to be an easy road back for Houston, and the next few seasons are going to be fairly painful to watch on a daily basis, but there is a path to success for the team, and the organization is now headed down it. Success will require patience, but for the first time in a while, the Astros are headed in the right direction.

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Carson Cistulli occasionally publishes spirited ejaculations at The New Enthusiast.

27 Responses to “2012 Organizational Rankings: #29 – Houston”

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  1. Allan G says:

    No mention of how starting in 2013 they’re going to be playing in the much tougher AL West?

    That can’t help with Future Outlook.

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  2. njh says:

    30th if they don’t hire @fastballs? Probably.

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    • deadpool says:

      I think that depends on what you mean by that. In that it shows a willingness to look to sabr analysis, it probably did push their front office rating.

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  3. Will says:

    Ok, now that the obvious two cellar dwellers are out of the way, it gets tough. Who is #28?

    I think it should be Pittsburgh, but I’m probably less optimistic than others around here about their ability to develop major league talent.
    A’s? Mets?

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    • Snapper says:

      White Sox?

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    • Bronnt says:

      Padres. Poor financial resources, poor 2012 outlook. They’ve got a good farm system, but future talent this year was actually constructed in a manner that’s actually somewhat reasonable. They’ve got a limited current talent base that’s under team control for the long term, with no central piece to build around.

      That said, they are in one of the most volatile divisions in the game, where a team from last place has a realistic chance at winning it the following year.

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    • JB says:

      my rankings:
      25. PIT
      26. CLE (which seems kinda low)
      27. SD
      28. BAL
      29. KC
      30. HOU

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      • Jack says:

        if Cleveland is low at 26, KC is really, really low. While finances and management are pretty bad, their current squad should flirt with .500 and their future is top ten if not top 5. I have them somewhere around 16-17, and I expect them to show up around 20 at least.

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    • adohaj says:

      I don’t see the pirates as 28. They have several young hitters who have upside. Pitching on the other hand…

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      • Will says:

        McCutchen, Walker and who else?

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      • Pitnick says:

        Alvarez certainly has upside, even if his present leaves much to be desired.

        Tabata and Presley have some value.

        It’s not a bad core. We’ll see how many of them are still around and producing if/when the bigger prospects like Cole and Tallion arrive.

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    • Baltar says:

      A’s (I peeked).

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  4. superhans says:


    I like this year’s methodology compared to previous years’, but something still doesn’t feel quite right. Yes, their present talent and farm system is brutally dismal. But the Stros have a brand spanking new front office, and you have to figure Crane will shell out the dough in a few years once they are further down the road of rebuilding.

    What I’m trying to say is, while this ranking is surely accurate for 2012 and 2013, their trajectory could look drastically different after that.

    I guess what I’m getting at is the methodology still doesn’t outline a high level timeframe. Maybe it’s a bit short term for my liking. If this was the “organizational ranking for the next decade” I don’t think the Stros would be this low. This list is starting to feel like a 4-5 year assessment. In any case, good write up.

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    • Dave Cameron says:

      Categorizing it as a 4-5 year assessment is probably fair. I think beyond that, we’d really just be straight up guessing. Who would have imagined in 2007 that the Rays would be a top tier franchise, the Marlins would be spending like crazy, and the Nationals would have two of the most coveted young players in the sport, while the Mets and Dodgers were in financial ruin?

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    • chuckb says:

      In the long run, we’re all dead!

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  5. Christian says:

    FAR too low on a farm system Baseball America had ranked almost dead average.

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    • Dave Cameron says:

      Future talent is not just the farm system – it’s all players under club control beyond 2012. And, unfortunately for the Astros, they don’t have much in the way of good young MLB players.

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    • Will says:

      And FanGraphs had at #27, Sickels has at #25, KLaw has at #27, Baseball Prospectus has at #26.

      One of these things is not like the other….

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  6. Preston says:

    I get why we are so optimistic about the Astros front office and very nervous about the O’s. I also get that the O’s are less likely to compete any time soon because of their division. But the big league talent disparity between the O’s and Stros is enormous. The entire O’s lineup exept for 1b is superior, and although I’d probably take the Astro’s rotation there is no denying that the O’s still have the possibility of upside from Chen, Arietta, Britton, Matusz and Hunter. And while I think that the Astros probably have more quality prospects, the O’s have the two best prospects in Machado and Bundy, and stars not role players is what both of these teams need to turn it around. In Wieters, Jones, Machado and Bundy, I definitely see star potential (in Jones maybe that comes in the form of a big return in a trade). I don’t see a single player in the majors or minors for the Astro’s who has that kind of potential. This is all a roundabout way of saying that while I agree the Astro’s new ownership and front office are promising, I don’t know if it’s enough to overcome the talent disparity between these two clubs.

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    • Psst says:

      The problem that the O’s face is that if everyone from their rotation bounces back, Machado develops into an .850+OPS 2B, Reimold plays to potential, and Weiters grows into a perenial 5+ WAR Catcher they are still the 5th best team in the division.

      Houston has a chance to awake a sleeping giant of a market ALA Philly, play in a division where Seattle, Oakland are trying to rebuild LAA has under the new CBA seriously damaged their competitive advantage with the Pujols Contract.

      While Houston may not have those current talents, they do have Jeff Luhnow who worked wonders on the STL Farm system with an influx combination of international and draft additions.

      Mainly the difference comes down to division, Baltimore may compete for the playoffs in the next five years but they will have to climb over AA, Friedman, and the two richest teams in MLB to do it.

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  7. Ryan D. says:

    This is a team that should have #1 overall picks in back to back seasons. That should change things dramatically as it did in Washington. Their future is much brighter as they have truly blown the whole thing up.

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  8. bjoseph316 says:

    In case you fail to understand the Baseball Operations ranking here compared to the Orioles one, there’s excitement around Luhnow because he could open opportunity for stat geeks within organizations. Dan Duquette who made very good moves in Montreal and Boston and has never shown himself to be incompetent? Not so much! So, Astros #12 and Orioles #30… makes sense to me. #WishfulThinking

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