Every rose has its thorn, even this Astros’ team

So, over the weekend I posted a little something on the silver linings to our clouds.

But, folks, clouds there be. Or, as 80s’ hair band Poison might play, “Every rose has its thorn.” Oh, truer words were never sung so emotionally, Bret Michaels.

So, as the Astros climb out of the MLB cellar — by a game and a half, the Cubs (Ha ha!) actually have a worse record than the Astros — perhaps a rose is growing out of the, um, fertilized ground that is this franchise. Still, roses come with thorns, and here are some things to remind us that despite winning two series in a row, this team has a long way to go.

Strike outs: Only the Chicago White Sox have whiffed more than Houston, though admittedly they and the Miami Marlins, who are one K behind us, have played one more game, so we can certainly catch up.

And for every Jose Altuve (15 Ks in 45 games and 206 plate appearances) or even Matt Dominguez (32 Ks in 44 games and 174 PAs), there’s a Chris Carter (50 Ks, 41 games, 160 PAs) and, gulp, a Jason Castro (49 Ks, 36 games, 157 PAs). Heck, Springer has whiffed 46 times and Villar 45.

Of course, you can win while whiffing. A strike out is just an out where you can’t hit into a double play. (How’s that for a silver lining as I remix my metaphors?) But you can’t win if you don’t score, which leads me to my next couple of stats.

Runs Scored: Houston ranks 25th in the majors in runs scored, crossing home plate a paltry 166 times. We’re actually getting runners on base at a so-so clip: .305, which is good enough to rank 24th. And our .390 slugging percentage is in the top half, ranking at No. 13. But somehow those runners and all that slugging aren’t amounting to actual runs. Perhaps it’s because …

Runs Batted In: Houston ranks 26th in the majors in RBI with just 156. Why can’t we get those runners across the pay station? Well, it’s not because we can’t hit with runners on base. Despite my complaint last week about leaving runners on third with less than two outs, Houston sports a top 20 (OK, 20th) batting average with a runner on third and less than two outs: .298. While our BA rank is 20th in this situation, our RBI rank here is 23rd, with just 47.

This would suggest Houston just isn’t getting enough opportunities. Well, OK, I think we all could have guessed that. But they aren’t getting enough even compared to other bad teams.

Of course, scoring runs is just part of the problem. After all, the Atlanta Braves have a miserable 126 RBIs. Yet they lead the tight NL East. How can that be?

ERA: How about a team ERA of 2.82? Houston’s (yikes) ranks 27th at 4.64. Um, let’s see, carry the one, x = yada yada. Yep, that’s double Atlanta’s ERA. Wait, I forgot to carry the one. No, but it’s a full run short of double, and that’s pretty bad.

As noted previously, Houston’s starters aren’t great. The rotation combined has an ERA of 4.21, which ranks 22nd. It’s our bullpen that is dead last at 5.44. Wow, and you thought the Braves starters were mad at their bullpen’s 2.99 ERA.

You know, it’s a miracle we win any games at all. Of course, when the Astros win, the team ERA is a fairly stellar 2.76. Now that’s only 27th best in the majors, but good pitching seems to be the key to wins.

Conversely, Houston’s ERA when it loses is 5.76. That’s only 19th worst in the majors, but when you combine that with our overall poor scoring …

Maybe things will get better. After all, half of our bullpen’s back end is on the DL. Say we get them all back — even Jesse Crain — by mid-to-late June, then we can get rid of the bad apples, I mean thorns, from our rose’s stem.

Raul Valdez and Kevin Chapman, with their 12-plus ERAs are gone (for now). As is Jose Cisneros (9.69 ERA), though facing Tommy John surgery he can be forgiven his poor outings. Josh Fields, ERA of 10.05, still lingers. As does Jerome Williams and his ERA of 6.00.

Ideally, we’ll have Tony Sipp (five appearances, 6.2 innings, nothing but awesomeness thus far) 0.00 ERA; Chad Qualls, 3.29 ERA; Matt Albers, 0.90 ERA, Darin Downs, 0.00 ERA, Anthony Bass, 4.50 ERA, Kyle Farnsworth, 4.08 ERA; Josh Zeid, 4.05 ERA; and Jesse Crain to pick and choose from.

So, here’s a few things to consider:

Looking down the road — not to 2015 or 2017, but to say July 1 — is this team more rose or more thorn?

There are a lot of injured relievers here. But most of them are guys we can count on getting back. Anthony Bass has a pulled rib muscle. Albers is expected back in a month. Crain is throwing again, and should be doing so off the mound in a week or so. Does this long weakness finally become a strength?

And when it does, in true Astros fashion, will the rotation start to implode? If so, who do you call on first? Folty? Do we bring Oberholtzer back up? Alex White is throwing in extended spring training games in Florida right now. How about him? Nick “Nitro” Tropeano has a 2.95 ERA, a 1.01 WHIP and a .189 BA Against in OKC. Is he ready if Colin McHugh hits reality?

The runs are starting to come, but I think this West Coast road trip will tell the tale of whether this is a Minute Maid mirage, or the real thing. Who needs to get hot to save their job?

Would you have guessed Castro is tied with Carter in the team “lead” in strike outs? (Yeah, I was surprised as well.)

What thorns do you see?

26 comments on “Every rose has its thorn, even this Astros’ team

  1. When Strom came to the Astros he talked about bad pitch selection. Last night, Zeid lost Keuchel’s shutout by throwing three straight mid-nineties fastballs up in the strike zone. The batter missed the first two but hit the third one for a two run triple. That kind of stuff gets you killed. Bad pitch selection by a thick headed team is a thorn.
    The season is now 45 games deep and we are near the bottom of baseball in hitting at Catcher, first base, designated hitter, LF and RF. Those are thorns and we have done something about only one of them by calling up Springer three weeks too late. Remember me talking about Kubiak’s refusal to do anything about the horrible special team’s play for years and how it would haunt him? Well, !B and DH are the two things Luhnow has refused to address. Those are his thorns.
    Williams is bad, He’s been a thorn from the start. Valdes was a thorn and everybody knew it from the day we picked him up for nothing.
    The tandem system in the minors is set up to have a pitcher start the game and pitch five innings. Then another starting pitcher comes in to pitch four innings. Where are the relievers? Where are guys being readied to relieve in the majors to help the MLB team win now and in the future. Why don’t we have guys who are dependable to come up from AAA to help us? Because we aren’t developing relievers because we are smarter than other dumb teams who don’t have tandem starters in the minors, but do have relievers who can come in and get the job done.
    Our bullpen is thrown together from the guys who are not wanted by other teams and is a reflection of the GM who doesn’t think relievers are important enough to use in the minors. They’re an afterthought. Now they’re a thorn in his side.


    • Oldpro, I agree with a lot of what you say, but I can’t agree that our bullpen is a bunch of guys no one wanted. Maybe in its current makeup, but Luhnow went out and signed some good pieces–valuable, in-demand pieces–to the bullpen. It’s just that only one of them is currently healthy. To fill in the gap, Luhnow has gone out and signed some cast-offs.

      But Luhnow has done well there, too. Sipp is amazing. I know he can’t keep it up, but holy cow. Farnsworth was let go because the Mets were pinching pennies, not because he can’t pitch.

      Yes, we need to fix DH and first base. And those fixes are available right now in OKC. Well, at least one is. Yes, we need to fix left field. I’m not sure how many rookies we can trot out though. As for catcher, I don’t think anyone expected this out of Castro. Not Luhnow, not me and probably not anyone else. I don’t know that there is a fix other than praying Castro snaps out of it. Because Stassi is hitting .250 in OKC, so he’s not the answer right now. (The kid in Quad Cities who hit for the cycle might be the answer … three years from now.)

      So, yeah, I think you’re mostly right. I just think in the case of the bullpen and maybe Castro, it would have been hard to predict this trouble.


      • Nobody signed Crain but us. He hasn’t pitched a game.
        Nobody signed Albers but us and it was late into the offseason. He is on the DL.
        Nobody signed Qualls but us and it was late into the offseason.
        He traded for Bass and he is on the DL
        He signed Williams and that guy is not worth it.
        He signed Valdes and that guy was bad and is gone.
        Sipp has been great, but he was super unhappy in the Padres minor leagues and is amped up to be here and he was basically picked up for nothing.
        The guys Luhnow signed during the offseason to fill the bullpen have been a big disappointment, so far. Please remember that our bullpen is last in baseball, and no matter what you think about the signings personally, they have been a thorn, so far.


      • No one else signed those first three, but there was certainly interest in all three. Take Crain for example, MLB Trade Rumors reported on Dec. 17 that “multiple teams have made offers to Jesse Crain.”

        The Indians wanted to re-sign Albers, and at least one other AL Central team showed interest. The Marlins wanted Qualls back. Other teams showed interest in these guys.

        With the possible exception of Crain (who we knew would miss at least a month), there’s no way Luhnow could have guessed at the rash of injuries. If all three are healthy by, say, July 1, this is a good bullpen. It’s the bullpen we all hoped to get. And it’s even better.

        Have you watched Tony Sipp pitch? He’s nasty! Farnsworth is a veteran who can still bring value to a bullpen.

        I’ll agree that Williams isn’t worth the paper his contract was signed on. Valdez stinks on ice.

        Hey, I have plenty to complain about with Luhnow, but getting mad because he couldn’t foresee injuries or how long Crain would take to heal is just wasting my anger. I’d rather be mad about Williams and Valdez and having to watch Kevin Chapman pitch again. I’d rather be mad that Singleton is still in OKC, and be angry that we wasted good money on Jesus Guzman.


    • If singleton isn’t playing in Houston by mid-June I’ll agree with you wholeheartedly about 1b and DH. I’ll givgive him and Crane credit for at least saying the offered Abreu $50m+.

      I remember about 15 years ago Rob Neyer used to complain that Roberto Petagine kept rotting at Tuscon/new Orleans when he could likely provide very serviceable at bats for HOU off the bench. Based on the Grossman, Krauss, Laird, Mike Simms, etc. Experiments I wonder whether that was overly optimistic. We’ve had what seems like too many AAAA first basemen over the years. Then again, how many fan bases can tout two guys last like Bagwell and Berkman in a 20 year period let alone on the same roster?


      • Bagwell and Berkman spoiled us and we never thought to draft another one to replace them and then, when we traded Elvis, the cupboard was bare.
        Now, the best first baseman in our entire organization is in chains in OKC, so we have a whole different can of thorns now. Both scenarios are frustrating beyond belief.


  2. Yes Castro is struggling and yet he is tied for the most HRs by Catchers in the AL and has the 2nd most RBIs.

    Albers does not have a big injury history and he was pitching fine when he went down (0.90 ERA).
    Qualls has thrown 10 straight scoreless outings. They took a chance on Crain and so far they were wrong.


    • Maybe you don’t see it because you don’t have Comcast or something, but every time Castro gets a hit or at least hits a sharp liner, Alan Ashby chimes in with some version of “Well, this is the Jason Castro we expected to see. It looks like he’s turning that corner.” Then he goes 0-for-the rest of the series or something.

      We get it, Ashby, you think he’ll bounce back. Can we wait to announce the second coming of All-Star Jason Castro until his batting average clears .255?


  3. I’m with you Brian sometimes Ashby wears me out,I miss JD. meantime baby steps , Everything except named Altuve and maybe Kuchel could be a better, but we are playing better and won 3 in a row . I’m basking in the Half full glass today. Singleton is not going to come in and be a 300 hitter, he will go threw tough times, When they think hes is ready he will be here. Same with Folty and some others. In the meantime we are running better, catching the baseball better., hopefully the bullpen can knock their ERA down a bit. April was Brutal, much better offensive stats in May. There is a ton of talent In OKC, CC, and Lancaster. Brighter days!

    Also I’m seeing on the field and in the dug out some good chemistry happening , Altuve, Villar, Springer, Fowler, Domingo. Great teams have great chemistry, thus why the 200 million dollar team haven’t done well lately. exception right now Tigers and Ausmus.


  4. Here is my point about Castro. The club record for HR by a catcher is 16 by John Bateman and for RBIs is 68 by Mitch Meluskey.
    Castro is on pace to shatter both those records while struggling mightily.
    Maybe it is just me – I wish he was doing better BA and K-wise – but 1b/DH is a much bigger problem.


    • As much as I think Castro is not the catcher of the future, I do think he can be a very good DH against right handed pitching and a serviceable back up catcher. As I said last week though, I just just don’t see enough passion out of the guy. I don’t think he makes every at bat count. I think he can make better use of his talent.


  5. Dan, Castro’s stats read like an Agatha Christie Mystery. He has almost no production(EBH, BB, RBIs) against lefties but has a high BA and BABIP against them.
    Conversely, almost all of his EBH, BB, and RBIs have come against righties, but he has a super low BA and BABIP against them.
    His stats are just weird. Looking at game logs he has gone: cold, hot, cold, hot for the first quarter of the season with him being hot the last 7 games. The L/R splits are just downright strange. it’s like he swings hard against righties and tries to just meet the ball against lefties


  6. The problem with this team and strikeouts is that we pick bad times to go down swinging or looking. Just one set of stats, hitting with the bases loaded: BA .190. SLG .190. OPS .430. Yikes, terrible numbers. Our stats with runners in scoring position, while not as bad as the bases loaded stats, are also dismal. We are very bad at situational hitting. Do we hit behind a runner well? Can we left a fly ball into the outfield to score that guy from third? Can we squeeze a guy home? In many situations simply putting the ball in play gets the job done. We just don’t do this stuff well.


  7. Umm, the real Astros are back. This….is embarrassing.
    A DH playing 1B: error,K and GIDP.
    1B playing LF: baserunner advances from 1st to 2nd on a flyout to LF.
    Feldman throwing balloons to the plate.
    Villar error on a potential DP.
    Darin Downs bouncing balls all over in front of the plate.
    Astros appear hapless in the batters box.
    Oh Boy, a pitcher who gets ripped by everybody else just owns us for the second time this year.
    Did we have a day off yesterday. Just askin’


    • I’m not defending Carter – he booted an easy one – but it put a guy on first with two outs. Feldman then walks the next two guys and ends up giving up 3 runs. Yes I know he should have been out of the inning but he should not have fallen apart.


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