The Astros and Dodgers Took Very Different Roads to the World Series
We've finally made it, you guys.
Since the moment pitchers and catchers began reporting to spring training facilities in Florida and Arizona back in February, the goal for every squad was to play October baseball and contend for a World Series. Only two organizations were fortunate enough to reach that goal, and the honor rightfully belongs to the Houston Astros and Los Angeles Dodgers.
The Fall Classic is set to begin with Clayton Kershaw opposing Dallas Keuchel Tuesday night in Los Angeles, so now is a good time to reflect on what the journey has been like for each of these teams. After all, this is mostly unfamiliar territory for both -- the Dodgers haven't won or even played in a World Series since 1988, while the Astros are searching for their first-ever title in what will be their second appearance.
These two organizations come in with quite a few similarities, but man, their respective journeys were totally different.
A Similar End Result
Yes, having Houston and Los Angeles each punch a ticket to the World Series is a similarity in itself, but it runs a little deeper than that.
While the Cleveland Indians ended up posting the best nERD in baseball this season, the Astros and Dodgers were among the top-three teams in our power rankings each time we checked in around the league since May 16th.
It's also worth noting that even though advanced statistics and sabermetrics is a huge part of the game, not all clubs are invested in it as much as others. However, this year's participants in the Fall Classic sure are.
This year's World Series pits the team with the largest analytics department (LAD) against the team most aggressive in using analytics (HOU)
— keithlaw (@keithlaw) October 22, 2017
This matchup doesn't give us the National League's top-ranked team against the American League's top-ranked team with regard to win-loss record, but it's pretty darn close. Both of these squads won over 100 games during the regular season, making this the first World Series with two 100-win organizations facing one another since 1970.
They were even similar in the way they dominated opponents on the field. Just by looking at how these squads performed with regard to team wRC+ and team SIERA in the regular season, it's hard to tell them apart.
|Team||wRC+||MLB Rank||League Rank||SIERA||MLB Rank||League Rank|
So, as it turns out, Houston and Los Angeles look to be evenly matched, which should give us some entertaining baseball over the next week or so.
Dodgers Experienced Consistent Success
Since Guggenheim Baseball Management took over ownership for the Dodgers, they've done two things consistently -- spend a lot of money and win a lot of games. Ownership changed hands in the midst of the 2012 season, and they immediately let everyone know that money wasn't an issue. The message was loud and clear thanks to an epic nine-player August trade with the Boston Red Sox that netted Los Angeles high-priced players such as Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford, and Josh Beckett.
The Dodgers posted an 86-76 record that year, which was also the last time they've finished with fewer than 90 wins. L.A. has won five consecutive National League West division titles, reaching the NLCS three times during that span. And after coming in a close second in 2013, they've been the owners of baseball's largest payroll for four consecutive years, with the high coming in 2015, which was a shade over $306 million (their 2017 payroll is "just" $265 million).
Despite so much money being spent on veterans, the Dodgers' front office has still managed to get a younger roster over the years, setting themselves up for long-term success. They have a number of young and inexpensive players on the big league roster, like Corey Seager, Cody Bellinger, and Chris Taylor, while also managing to have a top-10 farm system, according to MLB.com.
The organization is no stranger to deep postseason runs; they just haven't gotten this far in nearly three decades. And no matter what the opinions were of how they got there, nobody can deny the fact that it's finally worked -- after all, they're now just four games away from October glory.
The Astros Started From the Bottom, Now They're Here
The Astros also have a lot of young talent on their ball club, evidenced by guys like Carlos Correa, Jose Altuve, George Springer, Alex Bregman, and Lance McCullers. But Houston punching a ticket to the World Series should be extra special, and not because it's only the second instance in franchise history.
It's because the organization and fans suffered through a total teardown and rebuild.
After having an 86-75 record in 2008, Houston didn't get to enjoy another winning campaign until posting a nearly identical 86-76 mark in 2015, which also led to a postseason appearance. Now, that isn't exactly all that uncommon for a big league team -- highs and lows happen -- but the lows Houston experienced were awfully low.
All the losing didn't happen right away, though -- it only followed a 74- and 76-win campaign in 2009 and 2010. Then, the Astros suffered through three straight seasons of at least 106 losses before starting to climb back into contention. While it was certainly no fun to lose that frequently, a lot of important work was being done behind the scenes that helped build this World Series-bound club.
According to Roster Resource, here are how a number of players currently on the Astros' roster were acquired. We'll specifically be looking between the 2010 and 2013 seasons, since those were the most lean years of this dramatic rebuild.
|Marwin Gonzalez||Trade||December, 2011|
|George Springer||MLB Draft||June, 2011|
|Carlos Correa||MLB Draft||June, 2012|
|Lance McCullers||MLB Draft||June, 2012|
|Joe Musgrove||Trade||July, 2012|
|Chris Devenski||Trade||August, 2012|
|Brad Peacock||Trade||February, 2013|
|Collin McHugh||Waivers||December, 2013|
This also doesn't include Bregman, who was the Astros' first-round draft pick in 2015 following a 70-92 finish from the 2014 campaign. Houston struggled to get victories on the field, but the front office was laying the foundation to one of the franchise's most successful teams during this time.
It Doesn't Matter Anymore
This shouldn't be a shocking piece of news, but the road each of these teams took in order to reach this point doesn't matter -- there are 28 other MLB teams sitting at home while the two get a chance to win the World Series.
What it may tell us, though, is that there is no one-size-fits-all approach with regard to building a contender. Certain methods work for some teams -- but not all. It's not just the method that matters, either -- it's what front offices do with the opportunity and resources at hand. The Dodgers and Astros went about things in two completely different ways, but their execution over the last few years is what ultimately got them to this point.
And now, it'll be on-field execution that will determine which organization no longer has to think about their respective championship drought.