“In Lou Of” – The Houston Astros: How Their Move to the AL Impacts the MLB, the AL West and Fantasy Baseball

When the 2013 season begins, the Houston Astros will be playing in unfamiliar territory. The former National League Central Division Team will now be playing in the American League’s West Division. This is because of the new MLB Post-season format that was introduced in 2012. The new format has five teams that qualify for the playoffs, as opposed to the old format, which had four teams qualifying. Prior to this season, there were 16 teams in the NL and 14 in the AL. The old divisional format created an obvious disadvantage for the NL.  They had 16 teams competing for five spots, compared to the AL who had 14 teams competing for five spots. The Astros moving to the AL will have an impact on a number of different baseball related topics. In this article I will share them with you.

Impact on MLB:  The major impact that the Astros’ move to the AL has on the MLB is scheduling.  The 2013 season will have every MLB team playing 20 interleague games. In the past, AL teams played 18 interleague games, while NL teams played anywhere from 12 to 18. The most interesting part of the scheduling change is that with two 15-team leagues, there aren’t many options that ensure that games will be played every day. The MLB has decided that the way to make this happen is to have at least one interleague series going on at all times. This is much different than previous years, when there were designated parts in the schedule for interleague play. During these designated times, every AL team would match up with an NL team, and the 2 extra NL teams would play each other. There will be an additional 48 interleague games in 2013, which is a 19% increase from last season. These changes may also affect the way that teams pick their opening day rosters. For instance, an AL team may not be as concerned with having multiple DH options, and may prefer to add an extra pitcher or utility player if they have interleague games in an NL park early on. An NL team may choose to do the opposite, by cutting a pitcher or utility player and adding an extra power bat to play DH. This would make sense for them if they have early interleague games in an AL park. The schedule may also affect mid-season call-ups for the same reasons. If a team plays a lot of interleague games in the middle of the season, they may be more inclined to call up certain players for particular needs. This could result in players being called up either earlier or later than expected. There is no doubt that every MLB team is going to have to adjust to the Astros being in the AL, but to me, the big question is whether or not it will prove to be more beneficial to one league over the other.

Impact on the AL West:  In 2012, the AL West featured 4 teams:  The Seattle Mariners, Oakland Athletics, Texas Rangers, and LA Angels. The Angels, Athletics, and Rangers were all in playoff contention until the final week of the season last year. They appear to have positioned themselves this off-season to be in the same spot in 2013. The Mariners have made a lot of improvements themselves, and with their young and talented pitching staff, they may surprise a lot of people. Enter the Houston Astros, the team that finished with the worst record in the MLB in 2012, while winning only 55 games in the least competitive division in baseball. It seems impossible, but the Astros are likely going to have an even worse season in 2013, and may not even win 50 games. As I mentioned above, the Astros’ new division is extremely competitive, and all four of their new divisional foes will likely dominate them. With the Astros being so weak and the rest of their division being so strong, it is likely that the top four teams in the AL West all finish with at least 85 wins. Last season, there were two divisions that had three teams with 85 or more wins, but none were even close to having four. With the Astros moving to the AL, it is quite possible that 3 of the 5 AL playoff teams come from the West division. The AL West has become the strongest division in baseball by adding the worst team in baseball.

Impact on Fantasy:  If for some unfortunate reason you are forced to have an Astro on your fantasy team, I hope you won’t be shocked when their numbers decline because of their move to the AL West. Other than SP Bud Norris and 2B Jose Altuve, the Astros really don’t offer much to help your fantasy roster. The Astros’ pitchers will have to face deeper lineups that feature DHs rather than a pitcher in the 9th spot, and their hitters will be up against some of the better pitching staffs in the MLB. Bud Norris and Jose Altuve will undoubtedly be on a roster in the majority of leagues, but don’t expect them to put together strong statistical seasons. Norris will have to deal with extremely talented offenses like the Tigers, Blue Jays, Yankees, Angels, Rangers, Royals, Indians, White Sox and Orioles on a consistent basis, and he is not equipped to handle that. He will continue to rack up a solid number of strikeouts, yet he cannot be relied upon for wins, and his ERA and WHIP will be damaging to your team. If you plan on drafting Norris, do so with caution. Altuve will be better off than Norris because, at the very least, he will offer your team stolen bases and runs, however, even those stats won’t be as strong as they were last year. The problem is that he plays in a division that has four teams with deep and talented pitching staffs. His batting AVG and OBP will take a hit because of this, but what’s even more troubling is that his SB numbers will be directly affected by his lack of getting on base. He still offers value because he is a 2B and it’s not exactly a deep position in fantasy, but don’t draft him based his numbers from last year.

The Astros’ move to the AL clearly has impact on many facets of the baseball world. Some are positive and others are negative, but one thing is for sure, this will take some time to get used to. This is not only for the Astros and their fans, but for the other 29 MLB teams and their fans too. Please feel free to share your thoughts on how the Astros’ move to the AL will impact any of these topics.

Louis Friedlander
Twitter – @In_Lou_Of

Categories: Major League Fantasy Sports

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4 replies

  1. I really enjoyed reading this piece. Very informative for those who are unaware of the unintended consequences of the Astros move to the AL West.

  2. I think it is perfect timing, if you will, that the Stros are the team changing leagues, and not any other team. The completely gutted and rebuilding team has no identity at all right now, so it can start from scratch in more ways then one establishing it’s American League identity, while trying to create any sort of identity of their own at the same time. Had they been a more established team like the Reds or Cardinals or Brewers (who originally were an AL team not too long ago) I think the culture shock would have been felt a lot more universally. I think that in a matter of three or so years it will seem like they’ve been an AL team for a long time, much as it now seems like the Suds have been an NL team for a long time.
    I also think the MLB is better off with an equal balance of teams between the leagues. Anytime an organization like MLB concocts a wholly illogical set up in order to make some of the members or networks or unions happy, it can become very disjointed. We may never have the DH rule the same in both leagues, but having 15 teams in each league brings back a little bit of the feng shui. Except for the opening home series, I also like the idea of a constant rotation of interleague games rather than 2 or 3 “tournaments” per year where teams have three straight series vs the other league. (Sorry Jim Thome, thanks for the ride last season) This will help to “integrate” the leagues more, which I think is a good thing.
    But, you are right Lou. There is not much to like from a Fan or FBB standpoint about the Stros in the next couple of years. Norris does not spend much time on my rosters anyway, and Altuve will have both a crappy supporting cast and the possible sophomore slump to deal with. Maybe Carlos Pena has a few lasers left in the old Ray Gun and someone will end up with 20 or more saves by default. Whatever happened to the days of Lee May, Jim Wynn, JR Richard, Nolan Ryan, Larry Dierker, Joe Niekro (RIP), Jeff Bagwell, Craig Biggio and even Carlos Lee. The Stros used to be a force.

    • It wasn’t so long ago that they were in the WS. They had a hell of a team in 2005. Scariest part is that only 4 NL teams have been to the WS since them. Phillies, Cards, Giants and Rockies. I agree with your point about then fitting in quite easily, but I don’t see them competing in that division until at least 2018.

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