The Houston Astros have done little to end their reputation as villains among Yankee fans. Putting aside their players’ general lack of contrition when their cheating scandal came to light, the team, like the Tampa Bay Rays, is especially annoying because of how consistently they’ve gotten the better of than New York recently. Unless the Seattle Mariners can take a big step forward, the Astros also look like they could win the American League West almost unchallenged for the near future, while the Yankees will grind in the AL East. At this point, Houston’s success at building a deep team, rather than their past scandals, is what should most bother New York fans these days.
On a surface level, the two team’s offenses are built similarly: around two stars. Carlos Correa and José Altuve easily led Houston this season in offensive WAR, while Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton did the same for New York. Both duos were the main run producers for their teams. The problems for New York came with the other players behind them.
Behind Judge and Stanton, the next highest offensive fWAR on the Yankees was owned by DJ LeMahieu, who was visibly struggling all season. His 2.4 mark was then followed by the near punchless Gleyber Torres, with 1.7. The Yankees’ issues with playing too many close games can be attributed to the stunning underperformance of many of their offensive performers.
Houston, on the other hand, saw contributions from those who weren’t as high profile as their star middle infielders. Correa and Altuve both had fWAR numbers above 5.0. However, right behind them was outfielder Kyle Tucker, a former top prospect who finally broke out in the majors to the tune of an excellent 4.8 fWAR. Yordan Álvarez had a 3.7 mark, and Yuli Gurriel a 3.4. That’s five of a starting nine performing much better than the Yankees did. Third baseman Alex Bregman had only a 2.0, but that number would certainly have been higher if he had not missed over two months of the season with injuries.
The Yankees were theoretically supposed to be driven by their depth of star power on offense in 2021. That obviously did not happen, and the team’s backup plans were a bunch of Quad-A players of the likes of Andrew Velasquez, as well as a whole lot of old man Brett Gardner. The Yankees should really only feel comfortable counting on offensive production from Judge and Stanton next season (presuming they stay healthy)—every other presumed starter is too questionable. To really improve in 2022, some actual length in the lineup is required.
Of course, Correa could walk away from the Astros in free agency at the end of the World Series. But even if that happens, does anybody think the Astros will really be too badly harmed? The Astros’ second best prospect, according to MLB.com, is shortstop Pedro Leon, who is already at the Triple-A level. Of course, no one one could expect a rookie player to produce at the same level of Correa, but the point is that they have players to plug into holes. When the Yankees found their ship full of holes this season, they spent the whole year bailing water instead of patching things up.
While it would have been as sweet as candy to see the Astros collapse when their trash can banging was stopped, they have more than proven to be a well-oiled machine that isn’t going to fail any time soon. Unless the Yankees can start counting on more hitters to produce, Houston will keep having bragging rights where it counts. The Yankees need to find a way to supplement their star sluggers with secondary contributors, or else they’ll find themselves struggling to produce enough runs again.