With 62 games to go, here’s a look at the Houston Astros. This isn’t look at the minor leagues (though that’s played a part). This isn’t an indictment of Jeff Luhnow (though there’s some of that here as well).
Nope, we’re looking at the team as it stands. And 100 games in, the feeling is … well, better than the last few year.
Really, it begins and ends here. The team BABIP with runners in scoring position or Robbie Grossman‘s fielding percentage are all nice to know. But we play the games to win. Right now, Houston is 42-58. If we keep winning at that pace (.420), we’ll get to 68 wins.
But Houston hasn’t played at a .420 clip for the bulk of the season. After a 9-19 April, Houston is 33-39. If the Astros keep winning at that clip, they’ll finish the season with about 71 wins. (That’s my over-under right now). That would be a 20-win improvement over 2013. Looking back to the pre-season, my guess is most of us would have taken that.
On The Mound For Your Houston Astros …
So, how did Houston get to this lofty perch? Well, you can say what you like about the clubhouse presence of Jesus Guzman, but it’s really all about the starting pitchers.
Houston has used nine starters this season (I know, I thought it would be more, too!), and as a group they’ve posted a 4.09 ERA (22nd) and a 1.37 WHIP (25th). But when you take out the five combined starts by Rudy Owens, Lucas Harrell and Jake Buchanan, the Astros starters have a combined ERA of 3.88. That’ll win you some games.
Speaking of “Just Win, Baby,” two of Houston’s starter (Dallas Keuchel and Jarred Cosart) have identical 9-6 winning records. And of our top six starters, the highest ERA belongs to Brett Oberholtzer at 4.32. Not too shabby.
The Little Guy
We are witnessing Astros history, and its name is Jose Altuve.
Altuve currently leads the majors with 138 hits. He’s on pace for 223 hits, which would be a franchise record.
He leads the American League in hitting with a .338 batting average. If that stands up at the end of the year, he’ll be Houston’s first ever league batting title winner.
Oh, he also is running away with the AL stolen base crown. He could stop stealing now and probably win that. He’s got the second-most doubles in the AL after Miguel Cabrera.
Needless to say, he leads the Astros in hits, batting average, doubles and steals. He’s also tops in runs scored. His .818 OPS leads the team.
If It Wasn’t For Ouchies …
Somewhere Rangers fans are turning in their graves (because we’ve buried them!) as I write this, but if it wasn’t for injuries, this team would be so much better.
How much? Well, let’s look at our best OPS lineup.
2B Jose Altuve, .818
CF Dexter Fowler, .774
RF George Springer, .804
1B Chris Carter, .759
3B Matt Dominguez, .658
DH Jason Castro, .663
LF Enrique Hernandez, .793
C Carlos Corporan, .728
SS Marwin Gonzalez, .740
Once we get Fowler and Springer back in the lineup, I see no reason to not pencil this in every day. Maybe a little Alex Presley (.650) or Robbie Grossman (.628). (Jonathan Singleton is the last piece of the puzzle with a .614 OPS)
This lineup along with our starting staff is a formidable team. Well, until …
And Now For The REALLY Bad News
Our bullpen is awful. Still.
Speaking of injuries, we have yet to see “closer” Jessie Crain. Matt Albers has been gone so long, I nearly forgot he was on the team.
Our actual closer is Chad Qualls, and he’s been awesome. (How come awe “some” is great, but awe “full” is horrible?) Qualls has a 1.78 ERA and a 1.02 WHIP. That’s the stuff of a closer. Tony Sipp‘s 2.45 ERA is misleading. His WHIP is 0.82, and the league is batting .162 against him. After a rough start to the season, Josh Fields‘ ERA is down to 4.42. But his WHIP is 1.12 and the league is hitting .219 against him. I’ll take those three into battle any day.
So, what’s so bad about our bullpen? Well, aside from it being over handled and over used (our starters need to go six innings or deeper more often), and aside from those three, there are some questionable arms in that pen. It doesn’t help that we’ve had 17 relievers (some of whom we need never look upon again — Kyle Farnsworth). As a whole, Houston’s bullpen posts an MLB-worst 4.90 ERA. And that’s a huge improvement! The bullpen WHIP is second-worst at 1.43. And it’s given up the third-most homers (35) while pitching a middle-of-the-pack number of innings (303.1, tied at 14th most).
What would this bullpen have been like with Crain showing up in, say, late May? How would it have differed without Albers on the DL for most of the season? I don’t know, but I’m guessing we’d have never seen much of Raul Valdez or Kevin Chapman if it weren’t for those injuries.
K Is The Saddest Letter
It seems the Astros are neck-and-neck with the Marlins for the worst whiffing team. Considering the Marlins send a lot of pitchers to the plate, it’s sad Houston actually has one more strikeout (887-886). I’m too depressed to do the math and see if the Astros are on pace to beat last year’s record. But this team is pretty good at missing strike three.
In case you were wondering, George Springer has currently pulled into the lead here with 114. Carter is second at 105, with Castro closing in at 95. Matty D is fourth with 83 Ks, but he has about 80 more at-bats than the others, so that’s slightly less humiliating. Fifth on the list is Jonathan Villar. No wonder he is in OKC.
Among lineup regulars, Singleton is whiffing at the highest rate (62 Ks in 165 PAs). At the opposite end is Altuve, who has struck out 35 times in 431 PAs. He has as many extra-base hits as Ks, so this idea that you have to sacrifice power (Altuve has Houston’s third highest slugging percentage at .444) to cut down the Ks is false.
So, that the state of the Astros 100 games in. We steal a lot of bases (78, 4th in MLB), and we blow a lot of leads (17 saves in 34 save opportunities, which is tied for the worst with the Rockies). But we’re on pace to improve by somewhere between 17 and 20 wins this year.
I’ll take it.
For Your Consideration
How will you feel if Altuve wins the batting crown?
How many wins do you think we get? I’ll set the over-under mark at 71.5.
What role have injuries played in how bad this team is?
The bullpen is the worst part of this team. But it has pitched a lot better recently. Are the injuries the worst part of the bullpen, or are you more frustrated with how Bo Porter manages it? Or do you like how Porter has handled the ‘pen?
Some of the cornerstones of this team whiff a lot. Springer, Castro, Carter (just kidding, he’s no cornerstone). Does that bother you? Why?
One of the bright spots has been Kike Hernandez. Man, I love this kid. Going forward, should he be given a chance to be the everyday left fielder? Shortstop (Marwin has played pretty well offensively too)? Maybe a DH?
What has been your highlight thus far with the team on the field? What has been your lowlight? I don’t want to hear about the draft or Luhnow or the TV deal. I want your lowlight from this team and how it has played.