The Astros’ front office is all about the advanced metrics. And I get it. Numbers can explain a lot. Sure, you can’t play the games on paper. But without the real world, those numbers wouldn’t exist.
Kinda existential, huh?
Anyway, there’s a bunch of numbers that explain why the Astros are where they are. Here are a few good examples:
BAbip: Batting average on balls in play. In other words, if you hit it between the foul (fowl?) lines, what is your batting average? When you remove Ks and foul outs, it stands to reason that your BAbip will be higher than your normal batting average. In fact, it’s a statistical certainty. For an elite hitter, say Melky Cabrera, his BAbip is nearly .382. Mike Trout: .369.
For the Astros as a team, their BAbip is .251. That’s pathetic. So bad, in fact, that the Astros’ BAbip is actually lower than the league average batting average of .252.
Average hitter have BAbips in the .320s or so. Houston’s best BAbip belongs to Jose Altuve, who holds a .309 BAbip, the only one over .300 for the team.
Perhaps the Astros just need to put more balls in play, right? Well, this is the team that whiffed at a record pace last year. So, how they doing in 2014? Well, that’s our next stat.
K: Here’s the good news. Houston is not the worst whiffing team in the majors in 2014. Of course, the only two teams worse are in the NL where pitchers probably add to the total a bit. Houston has 229 Ks thus far. Not good but not horrible. After all, you have to go to Cincinnati at No. 18 on the list to get below 200.
That low BAbip by the way gives Houston the lowest batting average in baseball at .210. But there’s also good news. Houston’s OPS is far from the worst at .646. Why?
SLG: Houston’s slugging percentage is nearly in the top 20. Houston is slugging at .365, which isn’t great, but it’s far from the bottom and only .010 from No. 20. This is mainly because Houston is tied for sixth in homers and second in triples.
Yep, that’s how bad things are. Our best bit of good news on offense is that we’re within striking distance of the top 20 in a category. Yeah, I feel like sticking my head in the oven too.
Maybe things are better from our pitching, right?
WHIP: That’s walks and hits per inning pitched. Houston’s staff is ranked 25th with a WHIP of 1.44. That’s somewhere south of average. But the starters — and this includes starts from Lucas Harrell — are managing a WHIP of 1.29, which ain’t half bad. Naturally, it’s the relievers that are dragging down (or up) the average with a 1.69. Man, it’d be nice to get Jesse Crain and the rest of our relievers healthy.
BAbip Against: So, BAbip isn’t just an offensive measure. It also shows how well your defense (not just the pitching but the guys with the gloves too) is working. From the pitchers’ point of view it’s about inducing weak grounders vs. allowing solid line drives. Houston’s team pitching BAbip is .299. That’s how well other teams are doing against us. Houston’s only hurlers holding opponents below league average are McHugh (duh), Feldman, Bass, Cosart and, believe it or not, Clemens.
OPS Against: While Houston’s power offensively is on the rise, it’s pitching staff is handing out the extra-base hits like they’re Friday night giveaways. Houston’s staff allows a .410 SLG overall, just a little north of middle of the pack in the majors. But the relievers are worst in baseball with a .470 SLG, ruining the days of our starters who are among the best 10 in the league with a .371 SLG.
So, with all these passing stats, here are some things to consider:
- Our offense has been horrid. And, unfortunately, Springer hasn’t put a spring in our step. That said, we’ve been improving and the key word is “regression.” What will Houston’s BAbip look like at the End of May instead of the Beginning?
- So much runs off of BAbip. If we’re getting better contact, those balls in play will start falling for hits. Some of those hits will be doubles or triples … or home runs. If that BAbip goes up, what else will improve?
- If the Astros can put more balls in play — fewer strikeouts — that’ll help too. But even if the Astros bring up Singleton or Santana, that’s just more strikeouts. How can Houston cure its whiff problem? Is it even something that we need to worry about with all the offense’s other problems?
- When it comes to the stats, whether it’s BAbip, WHIP or SLG, the rotation is holding up its end of bargain but the bullpen is once again the weak link for the pitching staff. Between banged up arms and Crain’s stint on the DL, the bullpen is a little thin. Is this a problem that corrects itself by next month, or are we looking at another long season of blown saves and eighth inning melt downs?
- My last question has nothing to do with stats, or at least little to do with stats. But All-Star voting has begun, and Houston will have at least one representative. Who should it be? Altuve? McHugh? Feldman? Castro? Villar? If we had to make the decision today, who would you pick?