So says the Wall Street Journal:
Jeff Luhnow inherited the worst team in the majors in the autumn of 2011, a broken organization with no direction, no plan and no answers. The Houston Astros lost 106 games the season before he was named general manager, the road to improvement blocked by a farm system that ranked among the league’s worst and a budget that prevented spending the way out of the abyss.
His answer: a paradigm-shifting experiment that upended the industry’s establishment—and in less than six years lifted the Astros to the top of the baseball world. Houston on Wednesday night won the World Series for the first time in a franchise history that dates back to 1962, defeating the Los Angeles Dodgers with a 5-1 victory in Game 7.
After the heavyweight slugfest of the first six contests—featuring a barrage of haymakers and crushing blows on both sides—Wednesday night proceeded mostly drama-free. It wrapped up an otherwise thrilling matchup between two evenly matched opponents that will still go down as one of the most memorable World Series ever staged.
“I believed in the process,” said second baseman Jose Altuve, the longest-tenured member of the Astros. “I always believed that we’re going to become good.”
The Astros rewarded his faith as their radical rebuilding strategy transformed the team from a perennial bottom-dweller into a powerhouse. Plenty of executives before Luhnow struggled with some version of the Astros’ conundrum, but none ever attacked the puzzle quite like this: Instead of trying to improve right away, make the roster worse—on purpose.
The Astros dealt away any asset with even a modicum of value to stockpile prospects. They refused to waste a single cent on outside talent to maintain respectability. They let themselves sink to unparalleled depths, averaging 103 losses in Luhnow’s first three years at the helm, to land the coveted high draft picks that would rescue them.
At first, Luhnow and his front office of outsiders faced swift and fierce criticism from the sport’s orthodoxy. Intentionally “tanking” seemed to violate the spirit of competition, and the Astros’ devotion to data analytics sparked skepticism.
They didn’t care: The Astros viewed mediocrity, not ineptitude, as the ultimate failure.
“We ignored the criticism,” said Luhnow, as a delirious celebration replete with Champagne and beer raged around him. “We stuck to our plan. We modified it when we needed to. We drafted the right players. We developed our players. And here we are.”
Though the Astros worked hard to explain their rationale to fans, not everybody in Houston responded favorably. Attendance at Minute Maid Park 2012 and 2013 combined was just 3.3 million, after the Astros drew more than 3 million three times between 2004 and 2007. Certain games received a local television rating of 0.0.
Nobody doubts the Astros anymore. They finished 2017 at 101-61, powered by a dynamic offense that scored more runs than any other team this decade. Houston’s lineup blasted 15 home runs in the World Series, 11 off the bat of their first four hitters: George Springer, Alex Bregman, Altuve and Carlos Correa—a group of transcendent homegrown stars with an average age of just 25.
Springer bashed five homers against the Dodgers, including one in the second inning Wednesday, making him the first player ever to homer in four straight games of the same World Series. That performance netted him series MVP honors.
Together, they represent the young core that not only led the Astros to this moment, but will give them a chance to stay on top.
“These guys are young, they’re here, they’re going to be here next year,” Luhnow said. “I think we’re going to be the team to beat next year.”