The Houston Astros became the NL Central's team of the 90's when Craig Biggio and Jeff Bagwell lead the charge to four division titles in five seasons before eventually earning their one and only World Series appearance in 2005. That year, they faced a Chicago White Sox team that was simply too good defensively for the Astros to defeat. That would be the last time they would make the postseason until 2015.
In 2011, the Houston Astros experienced the worst season in franchise history, finishing with a record of 56-106. That followed two consecutive losing seasons in 2009 and 2010 where the Astros began unloading all of their big contracts and stars, in an effort to begin the rebuilding process. After they finished 2011 with the worst record in franchise history, they wound up losing even more games in 2012, finishing 55-107. The rebuilding process hit rock bottom in 2013 when the Astros finished 51-111.
During their time of losing 100 or more games a season, they ended up drafting some very talented prospects that have now grown into the superstars that have turned the franchise around, for the better, and in 2015, it all came to fruition when the talent arrived, a year or so ahead of schedule.
The 2015 Houston Astros team shocked a lot of people when they made the postseason and almost had the Kansas City Royals packing their bags in the ALDS before exploding internally, blowing a 6-2 lead heading into the 8th inning where the gave up 5 runs. The comeback turned the Royals season around and they would eventually go on to win the World Series.
Let's take a look at the good and the bad of the Houston Astros since 2000 by going over the 8 best and 7 worst Houston Astros players since the turn of the millennium.
15 Best: Billy Wagner, CL
When the Houston Astros traded Billy Wagner to the Philadelphia Phillies, it was not because of his talent, or lack thereof. He was the best closer in franchise history with 225 saves. But following the 2003 World Series, Billy made a comment about how the Astros have failed to build a playoff worthy team. They traded him a few months later. Unfortunately for Wagner, the next season the Astros made the playoffs after going 92-70. They lost in the NLCS but it put them in position for the 2005 season where they got to the World Series.
Talk about regrets, right? Billy Wagner would play for the New York Mets too and only made the playoffs once, in 2006 where he cost the Mets a Game 2 win in the NLCS after blowing a 6-6 tie game by giving up three runs in the 9th inning to the St.Louis Cardinals. Some times, it is simply just a better idea if people keep their mouths shut and just play the game. Maybe Billy would have been on that 2005 World Series team instead of watching the Astros, from his home, and their non-playoff caliber team make the big game.
14 Worst: Pedro Feliz, 1B/3B
At 35 years old, the long time San Francisco Giant Pedro Feliz signed with the Houston Astros for $4.5 million. I was a contract that would have been much better about ten years prior when Pedro Feliz was in his prime.
He was a 0.252 hitter in San Francisco, consistently putting up 15 to 20 Home Runs a season with around 80 Runs Batted In too. He was never a base stealer, but he knew how to hit and get on-base. It just never translated into anything of value with the Astros and he wound up with a dismal 0.221 batting average in 97 games with 22 Runs, 12 Doubles, 4 Home Runs, 31 Runs Batted In, and a stolen base. The experiement to use the veteran did not even last one season and he was sent to St.Louis about mid-way through the year.
13 Best: Carlos Correa, SS
When the Astros decided to select Carlos Correa with the first overall pick of the 2012 MLB Draft, they knew that they had a future superstar on their hands. He was only 17-years old and was already being compared to Derek Jeter, at the same point in thier career's. By 2015, he would be the Astros starting Shortstop and was a major contributor to their postseason run that same season. He wound up hitting 0.279 with 22 Home Runs, 68 RBI, 52 Runs, 22 Doubles, and 14 Stolen Bases in just 99 games which led to his eventual American League Rookie of the Year selection.
Last season, he put up relatively the same numbers in 153 games which worried some of the fans. But they need to relax and let things work themselves out. He is growing and maturing and is only 21 years old, meaning he has time.
12 Worst: Jordan Schafer, CF
In baseball, some times, a player just simply does not fit in to an organization. Jordan Schafer was one of those players as he never found himself comfortable as a member of the Houston Astros.
During his two seasons with the Astros, Schafer put up a batting average of 0.220 while hitting 5 Home Runs, 29 RBI, 54 Runs, 14 Doubles, and 34 Stolen Bases. His numbers were not terrible but they were far from great too. His two years in the Astros organization lasted about 136 games. He did manage to strikeout 134 times in 419 at-bats which is a strikeout percentage of 29%, almost 10 points higher than the league average. That alone caused him to begin his fall from grace within the organization. Because of a lack of power, he was not bringing anything additional to the team and he was released to waivers.
11 Best: Roy Oswalt, RHP
Roy Oswalt was born and raised in a small town in Mississippi. He went to Weir High School where he was the football team's star Quarterback and the baseball team's star Pitcher. His talent was evident from the first game he pitched but his size was something that hurt his chances at a big time college scholarship. Instead, he went to Holmes Community College where he continued to showcase his talents. The Houston Astros spotted him and considered him a "Diamond in the Rough" that no other MLB team ever even heard about. So they landed him and the rest is history.
He never had a 98-mph fastball or a fancy fourth pitch like a knuckleball or split-finger fastball, but what he did have was control and movement. He could locate his pitches and keep them moving ever so slightly. That alone made him valuable and by 2001, he was their starting pitcher.
From 2001 until 2009, he won 143 games while throwing 1,932.1 innings, 1,593 strikeouts, 446 walks, and he did it all with a ERA of 3.24. He was their Ace for many years, consistently winning 16 games a season, and winning 20 games twice.
10 Worst: Dave Borkowski, RHP
For three seasons, from 2006 to 2008, Dave Borkowski was a member of the Houston Astros bullpen, getting progressively worse each season. In his first year with the Astros, he had a 4.69 ERA after throwing 71 Innings in 40 games. It was one of those numbers that make you wonder why the Astros kept bringing him back as it went downhill from there for Dave.
The following season, he would drop even lower and put up a 5.15 ERA in 71.2 innings over 64 games. Then, in his final Major League season, he went 0-2, with a 7.50 ERA, in 26 games, and pitching in just 36 innings. Overall, his three year totals put him at 8-7 with a 5.44 ERA in 130 games and 178.2 innings pitched. His poor numbers show just how disorganized the Astros organization became following the 2005 World Series year.
9 Best: Jeff Bagwell, 1B
Why so low? If this were an article about the Astros in the 90's, he would be right up there next to Craig Biggio. However, since we are simply going by post-2000 Astros, Jeff Bagwell (Pictured Left) gets bumped back a few spots. He did, however, manage to hit 186 Home Runs with 568 RBI between 2000 and 2005 while also adding 174 Doubles, 596 Runs, and a batting average of 0.285.
Jeff Bagwell was recently added to the Hall of Fame Class of 2017 and it was rightfully deserved. He was such an amazing hitter that from 1994 until 2004, he smashed 393 Home Runs while averaging about 39 per season. In fact, his season averages were sick, hitting 0.300 and putting up 124 Runs, 38 Doubles, 39 Home Runs, 122 RBI, and 17 Stolen Bases each year, for ten years in a row. It was one of those things that many fans probably did not notice at first. The fact that he did it for ten years made it one of the most remarkable accomplishments in baseball during that same time period.
8 Worst: Jake Marisnick, CF
It might be a little too early to call Jake Marisnick one of the worst players the Houston Astros have had since 2000 because he has only been around since 2014. He originally played for the Miami Marlins in 2013 but landed in Houston the following year. He has battled for playing time in the past two years, playing in 251 games, hitting 0.224 with 14 Home Runs, 57 RBI, 33 Doubles, 86 Runs, and 34 Stolen Bases.
He is not going to be their everyday starter and just might be in some serious trouble battling for playing time now that they have Nori Aoki and Josh Reddick, both players are supposedly going to take over Left and Right Fields. Also, with the emergence of George Springer's power at the plate, there is simply not going to be much room for Marisnick anymore aside from playing a backup role where he only gets to play when one of those three players is getting a day off to rest.
7 Best: Jose Altuve, 2B
One of the main reasons the Houston Astros have found success as of late is due to the additional talent they have added over the past few seasons, including one of the best overall hitters in baseball today, Jose Altuve. Back in 2007, they discovered this kid from Venezuela that was considered too short the first time around but had so much talent that it was an easy choice.
For the next four years, Jose would work his way through the Minor leagues until he landed the job of Astros second baseman. Since then, he has grown into one of the elite players in baseball. In the last three seasons, he has hit for 0.331 with 46 Home Runs, 221 Runs Batted In, 279 Runs, 129 Doubles, 12 Triples, and 124 Stolen Bases. He has consistently been the most reliable asset to the organization in that time frame and is now heading into his final year of his contract so expect to see a very big number thrown his way before the 2018 season.
6 Worst: J.R. Towles, C
When J.R. Towles got his first call-up to the Majors, he was outstanding in 14 games during the 2007 season, hitting 0.375 with 9 Runs, 5 Doubles, a Home Run, and 12 Runs Batted In. He layed the groundwork for what he could do offensively and the Astros got a little too excited. The following year he wound up playing in 54 games but never got close to the numbers he put up in year one.
In fact, between 2008 and 2011, he hit 0.168 with 31 Runs, 17 Doubles, 10 Home Runs, 38 RBI, and was only used in 141 games, out of a possible 648 games. He was eventually optioned to the Astros Double-A team, Corpus Christi. He then bounced around, playing for the minor league affiliates for the Minnesota Twins, St.Louis Cardinals, Los Angeles Dodgers, and Texas Rangers. He even spent some time playing with the Bridgeport Bluefish.
5 Best: Lance Berkman, OF
Since 2000, Lance Berkman, in a Houston Astros uniform, hit 322 Home Runs, the most of any Astro in that time frame. In fact, it was 136 more Home Runs than the next guy on the list, Jeff Bagwell, who had 189 in that same time frame. He is 14th across the Majors in Home Runs hit since 2000 with 362 making him one of the best power hitting switch-hitter in baseball.
Beginning in 1999, Lance Berkman made an immediate impact in Houston, getting in 34 games and hitting 4 Home Runs. The following season, he hit 21 Home Runs, followed by a streak of 20 or more that lasted from 2000 until 2009. His value was never more evident then 2010, when he was sent to the New York Yankees. Following his departure, the Astros spent the next three years with an offense that was just plain terrible.
4 Worst: Enerio Del Rosario, RHP
In 2005, when he was just 19 years old, Enerio Del Rosario signed a contract with the Cincinnati Reds to be a future contributor in their bullpen. It took him a few years but he would eventually earn his chance to play in the majors when the Reds added him to their 40 man roster in the 2009 season. The move was partially a decision to protect him from the Rule 5 draft and not so much about his talent. By the following September, he would be purchased by the Houston Astros, where he finally got some significant playing time.
Sadly, however, he was never able to reach his full potential as a pitcher and he struggled badly for three seasons before being released by the Astros in 2012. He played in 75 games as an Astro, going 0-3 with a 6.01 ERA and just 43 strikeouts and 38 walks in 73.1 innings. He kept getting chance after chance to recover, but he struggled to get control of his pitches, leaving most of them out to dry.
3 Best: Roger Clemens, RHP
By the time Roger Clemens signed with the Houston Astros, he was 41 years old and played in the majors for 19 years. He was already an established superstar and future Hall of Famer but he just could not give up on the game, or the money. His contract with the Astros was on a year-by-year basis and in 2004 it was $5 million, while it blossomed into $18 million in 2005 and $12.2 million in 2006. But his value was evident right away and he wound up pitching them into the 2005 World Series.
In his three short stints with the Houston Astros, Roger Clemens was arguably better then when he was 24 years old in Boston. He pitched in 84 games with the Astros, going 38-18 with a 2.40 ERA, 505 strikeouts, and only 170 walks. His WHIP was a crazy 1.074, second lowest of his career, and his 10.2 strikeouts per 9 innings pitched were the highest of his career. Everything about Roger Clemens time in Houston was simply perfect for him. He just showed up and pitched his arm off every five days back then, giving the Astros a chance at a title too.
2 Worst: Jon Singleton, 1B
When the Houston Astros began rebuilding, one of their main decisions was to unload all of the stars with loaded contracts, or those that will soon be getting big time contracts, and by 2011, Hunter Pence was one of those men. So the Astros traded him away to the Philadelphia Phillies in exchange for Jarred Cosart, Josh Zeid, Domingo Santana, and Jon Singleton. He instantly became the Astros best minor league prospect and was even scheduled to appear in the 2012 All-Star Futures game. Not long after that, however, he tested positive for marijuana, a second time, and was suspended for 50 games.
After attending rehab and cleaning up his act, Singleton ended up signing a 5-year deal worth $35 million, with $10 million guaranteed. He had no MLB experience at that point and was nothing more than a gamble, which has yet to pay off for the Astros. In 114 games, he has a .171 batting average, 14 Home Runs, 50 RBI, and not much else to show for it except for a high number of strikeouts too. He is now a member of their Triple-A squad but is standing behind A.J. Reed, Brian McCann, and Yulieski Gurriel on the first baseman depth chart, virtually saying he might be on the way out of Houston.
1 Best: Craig Biggio, 2B
At 22 years old, Craig Biggio entered the Majors as this skinny little kid from Seton Hall that could play just about any position on the field. For his first two years, he was their starting Catcher but by the end of 1989, he was moved to the Outfield. He would play Catcher and Outfield over the next few years until 1992 when he was moved to second base. He remained at second base for the rest of his career and would eventually turn into a Hall of Famer with 3,060 career hits.
For those of you who did not get a chance to see Craig Biggio live, and in person, then take a look at Jose Altuve today. That is a pretty good comparison to Craig Biggio in his prime. In his prime, Biggio was hitting 20 home runs, 80 RBI, 40 doubles, 120 runs, 40 stolen bases, and had a batting average over 0.300. He was one of those pesky two hole hitters that figured out a way to get on base, or die trying.