When it comes time to pass judgment on baseball teams, the argument is typically centered around who’s the best team. Who is the No. 1 team in the division, the NL or the AL, or for that matter—all of baseball? The Houston Astros entered the season as the best team in baseball. Winning the World Series earns you that designation at the start of the next season.
But that mantle is now one that is up for discussion. Many would say the honor now belongs to either the New York Yankees (42-19) or Boston Red Sox (44-22), the owners of the two best records in baseball. However, the Houston Astros are not far behind (42-25).
But perhaps a more interesting discussion would be who is the most complete team in baseball? Is it the defending World Series champs, the Houston Astros? Or should that mantle belong to someone else?
What makes a team complete?
A complete team is going to win a lot of games, so the most complete team is likely going to be at or near the top of the standings. They don’t necessarily have to be ‘great’ at everything. But they do need to be at least ‘good’ at most things.
Since the more complete teams are going to have a lot of good players on the roster, they are going to win much more than they lose. They will not just win by outscoring teams or keeping them from scoring—they’ll do both or at least be able to do both.
That means the pitching staff is going to have to be stingy with runs (starters and relievers). They are going to hit—for average and power. In the process, they are going to score a lot of runs. Oh—and the fielding can’t be too shabby either.
Do the Astros fit the bill?
Is Houston the most complete team in baseball? Before attempting to answer that question, how well the Astros are playing baseball needs to be examined (all stats as of June 11):
- staff ERA of 2.93
- 196 earned runs allowed; 206 runs scored
- 689 strikeouts
- .212 batting average allowed (first in the league)
- 172 walks (No. 3)
- errors: 20 (first)
- fielding percentage: .992 (first)
- batting average–.260 (fifth; Boston first with .264)
- runs scored—333 (third; Boston first with 341)
- slugging– .424 (fifth; Yankees first with .462)
- OPS– .754 (sixth; Yankees first with .795)
And the verdict is….
Houston clearly has the best pitching staff in baseball. Led by Justin Verlander (1.45 ERA) and Gerrit Cole (2.16 ERA), the starting rotation is having a tremendous year (2.91 ERA; .204 batting average allowed). Their relievers aren’t as strong (2.97 ERA; fourth) but they are still pretty good.
So far this season, Houston’s fielding has been much better than the rest of the top teams in the AL. Boston has accumulated 33 errors (tenth) already and a fielding percentage of .986 (ninth). The Yankees aren’t doing any better (40 errors—25th; .982 fielding percentage—24th).
The Yankees can be counted out of the discussion thanks to their fielding. That leaves Houston and Boston.
The Astros hold the advantage in fielding. The Red Sox hold the advantage in hitting. The Astros have a better pitching staff than the Red Sox, but is it so much better that they can be called the more complete team?
- Boston’s pitching staff
- staff ERA of 3.52 (fifth)
- earned runs allowed— 234 (ninth); runs scored— 246 (sixth)
- strikeouts— 646 (second)
- batting average allowed– .230 (sixth)
- walks—202 (14th)
A case could be made for either team, the Red Sox or Astros, to be dubbed the most complete team in baseball. But for now, Houston has the advantage. The Red Sox pitching staff is further behind the Astros staff than Houston’s offense is behind Boston’s. The Astros have done much better fielding the ball than the Red Sox as well.
For now, the honor belongs to the Astros, but the margin between them and the Red Sox is razor thin.