Astros Starting Season Well, Criticism on Strategies
The Astros have become one of baseball’s most progressive franchises as they try to rebuild and avoid a fourth consecutive 100-loss season.
But general manager Jeff Luhnow’s radical approach to on-field changes and business decisions has created at least pockets of internal discontent and a potential reputation problem throughout baseball.
“They are definitely the outcast of major league baseball right now, and it’s kind of frustrating for everyone else to have to watch it,” said former Astros pitcher Bud Norris, now with Baltimore. “When you talk to agents, when you talk to other players and you talk amongst the league, yeah, there’s going to be some opinions about it, and they’re not always pretty.”
The criticism, through interviews with more than 20 players, coaches, agents and others, comes in two parts:
On the field, the Astros shift their defenders into unusual positions to counteract hitter tendencies more than any other team, including in the minor leagues. They schedule minor league starting pitchers on altered and fluctuating rotation schedules, what they call a “modified tandem” system, a development strategy unique in baseball.
Off the field, the Astros are said to handle contract negotiations and the timing of player promotions with a dehumanizing, analytics-based approach detected by some across their operation.
The central question is how much criticism should be inherent to their process and how much should signal trouble in a game where word of mouth spreads quickly?
“Ninety-five percent of what we do is very similar to what all of baseball does,” Luhnow said. “We’re being a little bit different for very good reasons in some areas that we think are important.