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Hot Stove Season: Houston Astros Fantasy Analysis

While still the bottom-feeders of the increasingly stacked AL West, the Houston Astros have been very active this past offseason, and their moves have some serious fantasy implications.

The most obvious player to start with would be Dexter Fowler. A career .270 hitter (with a .365 OBP), Fowler has provided a blend of power and speed that owners often hunt for in fantasy drafts. He's hit over 10 home runs in each of the last two years (12 and 13 respectively) and he set a career-high in steals in 2013, swiping 19 bases despite only playing in 119 games. He's shown he has the potential to be a valuable contributor in the batting average category as well, hitting .300 in 143 games in 2012. Going into his age-29 season, there's a lot to like in Fowler, especially considering how late he'll likely be going in drafts.

Houston astros logo

There are some concerns however about how Fowler's offensive production will hold up now that he won't be playing half his games in Coors Field, which is the closest thing MLB has to zero-gravity baseball.  Closer to sea level, balls won't travel as far and pitches will break harder. This likely means fewer home runs for Fowler and his fantasy owners. Looking at his career splits, Fowler's BA drops over 50 points on the road, and his slugging percentage drops 125 points when he leaves Coors Field. That's the equivalent of being Adam Jones at home and Gregor Blanco on the road, so it's understandable that fantasy owners might hesitate to make an investment in Fowler.  However, this is somewhat of an unfair way to judge Fowler's performance and an even worse way to gauge his potential going forward as a Houston Astro. Major leaguers generally preform more poorly on the road than they do at home. The uniqueness of Colorado exacerbates this matter, but home/road splits are certainly not a phenomenon known only to the Rockies. Furthermore, in the same way that Fowler was helped by Coors Field, he was hurt by playing in extreme pitchers' parks when he faced the Dodgers, Giants or Padres on the road. It is also important to remember that Fowler's new home park is itself a pretty hospitable hitting environment, even if not to the same degree as Coors. As tempting as it might be to do so, you can't just throw out a half-season's worth of at-bats and fume that the Rocky Mountains broke baseball. Those hits at Coors still mean something. Perhaps going forward this all suggests that Fowler is a .260 hitter with double-digit home run power and 20-steal potential, and that won't be affected by his new home park. At bottom, that's still a very useful fantasy player.

Fowler won't be getting much help from his teammates this coming year, which limits his potential for runs and RBI, and consequently his overall value. I see him going in 17th or 18th rounds in most standard 10-team league drafts, and while I definitely wouldn't reach for him any earlier than that, I think he's a solid pick at that point as a 4th or 5th outfielder who can contribute in multiple categories. It's possible he falls even farther than that due to a general lack of excitement surrounding his situation and fear over his move away from Coors. If you can grab him as late as the 20th round, I think he'd be an absolute steal.

That's about it for draft day when it comes to Houston Astro offseason pickups, at least for those of us who play in standard leagues. The Astros simply aren't that good right now, and rebuilding teams generally don't sign or trade for the kind of win-now talent that a fantasy owner might target in the early rounds of a draft. Although the Astros did make a few other moves to bring in Major League talent, signing Scott Feldman and Chad Qualls off free agency and trading for Jesus Guzman, the potential value of all three players is quite limited.

Feldman, as his career 4.62 ERA and 1.37 WHIP attests, profiles almost entirely as a poor-man's streaming option. Even then, he really only becomes useful in deeper leagues where the pitching market is already quite thin. Considering the team behind him and the strength of the division he will be pitching in, you would really have to trust the matchup to roster Feldman in a mixed league.

Likewise, Guzman could be a serviceable mid-season pickup in deeper leagues should one of your starters get injured, but his contact issues and horrid on-base skills severely limit his usefulness. He does have power, and that can only get better now that he'll be playing much less often at PETCO. Nevertheless, AL-only or very deep mixed league players are probably the only ones looking at his name on draft day.

As mentioned, the Astros also signed former closer Chad Qualls to add to their bullpen depth. He had a nice season last year as a middle reliever with the Marlins, throwing 62 innings with a 2.61 ERA. I wouldn't be surprised to see Qualls pick up saves for the Astros at some point next season, but considering the state of flux of their bullpen at present, he's too risky to draft without a clear indication that he's their guy. Eight different Astros pitchers recorded saves last year, and once Jose Veras was traded away, the Astros essentially implemented a true bullpen-by-committee strategy to deal with the ninth inning. Monitor this situation, but outside of the deepest of leagues or AL-only formats–in other words, leagues where any pitcher with a pulse has some value–Qualls is not worth draft consideration at this point. He could have value in Holds leagues, however, but again this all depends on how the bullpen ultimately shakes out.

My advice then is to target Fowler in the late rounds (17th-20th) of the draft if you need an outfielder at that point, and to keep an eye throughout the season on the rest of the Astros' pickups, especially the bullpen. They might have some value as the season progresses after all.


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