Ranking the best

The top 10 Houston athletes of 2018

Getty Images

Last year, when the Astros won the World Series, we did the top 20 Houston athletes. The Astros World Series championship truly expanded the field. With no titles but some strong performances, this year we offer the top 10 (rankings are based on 2018 performance in the calendar year against their level of competition. Make sure you keep that in mind before you complain):

10) Chris Paul

Rockets Chris Paul

Chris Paul just sneaks in.

Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Injuries have kept him from moving up on the list, but Chris Paul has been a force when healthy. The sad part is he might be best known for an injury; the hamstring that kept the Rockets from beating the Warriors in the Western Conference Finals. Just edges out another injury-riddled player, Ed Oliver of UH.

9) Jadeveon Clowney

Texans Jadeveon Clowney

Jadeveon Clowney is a force on defense.

Houston Texans/Facebook

His stats don't jump off the page, but they don't really do Jadeveon Clowney justice. He disrupts games and wreaks havoc on defenses. He also has a negative impact with penalties, which keeps him from being higher on the list.

8) Jose Altuve

Joe Altuve of the Astros

Jose Altuve is still one of the best in the city.

Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

Last year's No. 1 battled injuries, but Jose Altuve was still one of the best in the game despite a slightly down year. Hard to ever envision a list where he is not on it, and this is about as low as you would ever expect to see him.

7) Deshaun Watson

Deshaun Watson

Deshaun Watson is an emerging star.

Bob Levey/Getty Images

After a slow start recovering from last year's knee injury, Deshaun Watson has become the franchise quarterback the Texans hoped he would be when they drafted him No. 12 overall. He has willed the team to victories several times, and the Texans are always a threat when he is in the game.

6) D'Eriq King

D'Eriq King

D'Eriq King was terrific as a runner and passer.

Photo via Houston Cougar Football/Facebook

Unless you watched UH football this year, you might have no idea just how great D'Eriq King was. He threw for 36 touchdowns and just six interceptions in 10 games and rushed for another 14 touchdowns and 674 yards to go with his almost 3,000 passing yards. King's 50 total TDs was off the charts, and the team collapsed when he was injured late in the year. A dynamic player at a school known for dynamic quarterbacks.

5) J.J. Watt

J.J. Watt is back.

Steven Ryan/Getty Images

Unlike Clowney, J.J. Watt's impact does show up in the stats. With one game left, he has 14.5 sacks, 18 tackles for loss and SIX forced fumbles. After not playing for most of the last two seasons, dominating J.J. has returned. It's odd that the Texans defense has two players on this list and is not very good.

4) Justin Verlander

Astros pitcher Justin Verlander

Justin Verlander was superb.

Bob Levey/Getty Images

In his first full season as an Astro, Justin Verlander was everything you expect a future Hall of Famer to be. He went just 16-9, but had 290 strikeouts and a 2.52 ERA and remains one of the most dominant starting pitchers in baseball.

3) Alex Bregman

Astros Alex Bregman

Alex Bregman was a monster in 2018.

Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

Building on his 2017 late season and postseason success, Alex Bregman was the Astros best position player in 2018. He hit 31 HRs with 103 RBIs and batted .286, but more importantly came up clutch all season long. The scary thing is he can get much better.

2) DeAndre Hopkins

DeAndre Hopkins

DeAndre Hopkins is one of the best in the business.

Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Watching DeAndre Hopkins this season has been a pure joy. He has been the best player in the NFL at one of the glamour positions and makes incredible play after incredible play. With a game still to play (and the playoffs), he has 103 catches for 1,425 yards and 11 touchdowns. A truly elite player.

1) James Harden

Rockets James Harden

James Harden is the MVP.

Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

Hard to argue with a league MVP at the top of the list. Harden led the Rockets to a remarkable season last year. While the team has struggled early this season, lately he has carried them. Might not hold on to this spot next year with some of the players behind him knocking on the door but hard to beat him in 2018.

Alex Bregman, um, hit it big with his contract. Getty Images

Alex Bregman proved this week that the squeaky wheel gets the grease. He alerted the media that he was displeased with his $41,000 raise after carrying the team last year and boy did it pay off to the tune of a $100,000,000 extension through 2024.

Is it a good deal? We shall see. It's an awfully big risk for a team that didn't have to take it. Suppose he gets hurt? Suppose his numbers fall off badly?

Remember this is the same organization that kept first round draft pick George Springer in the minors until he was 24 years old even though he had played college ball and was hitting 37 home runs and stealing 45 bases in the minors. He was none too pleased that he won't hit free agency until he's 31. Hopefully his time spent here has softened him some on the subject.

This is also the same organization that just went to arbitration with former No. 1 overall pick Carlos Correa over $750,000. That's a pittance in the baseball world. He was asking for $5,000,000. They offered $4,250,000. The arbitrator sided with Correa. I would imagine the Astros weren't all that critical of Correa although they could have been. He just wasn't the same guy that many of us thought he would be after he got back from his back injury.

Think about where we were a year ago today. Correa was coming off a year in which he was a cog in a World Series winner, an all-star who hit .315 with 24 HR and 84 RBI and .941 OPS. He was thought to be one of the top five young players in the game, a guy you built your team around. A season later he's fighting for $750,000 while his less experienced teammate is raking in a $100,000,000 raise.

That $100M will be money well spent if Bregman continues on the path he is on. It will actually be a bargain. A couple of other third basemen who have been going through the process are the Cubs Kris Bryant and the Rockies Nolan Arenado. Bryant got a record 10.85M deal a year ago and came to terms on a $12.9M deal this offseason. Arenado just got a new 8 year, $260M contract. Bryant will be coming to terms on that kind of long term deal soon.

The Astros didn't want to haggle with the boisterous Bregman every year. He's not afraid to speak his mind. We know that. He's not complaining now but we'll see how he feels about this deal in 2024. Right now $20M through these arbitration years is made for TV, feel good kinda stuff. When he's still making that two years into what his free agency would have been he might not have that special feeling anymore, especially when the Mike Trout's $430M deal is halfway home.

Bregman's deal seems like a lot now but in the long run, if he continues to play at the level he established last year, this could be a very team friendly contract by the end.

On the flip side, if he falls off this could be a devastating move. In reality Bregman has only been at this level for a year and a half. He wasn't very good midway through the '17 season, hitting at the bottom of the order. On July 2 his average was down to .244 for the season but then something clicked. In July he hit .329. In August he hit .345 and the legend was born.

Quick, what's Bregman's post season average?

I was shocked to see it's just .229 but that's deceiving. His playoff on-base percentage is .353. Boston walked or hit him nine times in last year's ALCS. That's some healthy respect and for good reason. They saw his clutch gene up close. His homer off Chris Sale in game 4 of the '17 ALDS was a back breaker. Add to it his World Series Game 5 heroics and his monster series against the Indians last year and you've got a guy who's not only really good, he's not afraid to be great.

He's become one of baseball's best. There is always the fear that he could fall off and that contract could become an albatross but I think the Astros probably see his work ethic and that giant chip he carries on his shoulder all the time and they have the utmost confidence that he'll live up to every penny and then some.

Here's to hoping that he's pissed off again about how much he's getting paid six years from now.

SportsMap Emails
Are Awesome