While the Houston Astros were propelled to a World Series championship by incredible athleticism on the field, it was a team of nerds off the field who created a roster of mathematically proven winners.
Led by General Manager Jeff Luhnow, along with Sig Mejdal, a blackjack dealer turned rocket scientist, the entire Astros organization embraced sabermetrics, or the empirical analysis of baseball statistics. When other teams were relying on timing, gut feelings, and overall knowledge of the game, the Astros were busy creating a dynasty that let the numbers speak for themselves.
When Luhnow took control of the Astros at the start of the 2012 season, Houston was coming off a season in which they posted one of the worst records in not just the history of baseball, but the history of modern sports. The Astros had won only 34% of their games during the 2011 season, and when the organization had shifted gears towards a more statistical approach, it took quite some time to get the operation off the ground. The team went 106-218 during their first two years under Luhnow’s command, while only averaging close to 9,000 fans per game. For reference, Minute Maid Park has a capacity of over 42,000. During this span of time, the Astros managed to be the most dismal, uninspiring team in all of sports, as they finished dead last in all of Major League Baseball for four consecutive years.
However, the Astros’ failures were capitalized upon, as the team was compensated with the number one overall pick in the MLB Draft during those years. The Astros used these opportunities to acquire All-Star players Alex Bregman, Carlos Correa, and eventual World Series MVP, George Springer. However, it’s important to note that when it was time to make a decision on which player would lead the Astros in the coming years, the small, elite team of statisticians in Houston were looking to create a much different roster than the one that ended up winning the World Series.
In the sense of statistics and sabermetrics, eventual Astros star George Springer was one of the weaker choices in the class of 2011. It would have made more statistical sense for Houston to select a right-handed pitcher, Sonny Gray, from Vanderbilt, or even the late star pitcher, Jose Fernandez, who were both eventually selected just a few picks later by the Oakland Athletics and Miami Marlins, respectively. Instead of picking the more statistically sound players, the Astros used projections and foresight to select players that they believed would eventually develop into superstars with potential to win a World Series.
And now, as we find ourselves just two weeks removed from an Astros world championship, it’s hard not to look at the immense success that the team executives had in finding players that could lead the team to victory through incredible athletic prowess on the field. However, off the field, it’s the small team of Houstonian nerds who won the World Series and propelled the Astros dynasty into orbit with nothing but a pen, paper, and a magic crystal ball.