2014 Astros: The View from 10,000 Feet

Well, there’s more wins in the win column. The 2014 Astros finished the season with 70 wins, the American League batting champion, a guy in the top six in ERA and another pitcher who might be even better. Houston’s top slugger was one of the best power hitters in baseball. And the hometown nine had two — TWO — breakout rookie performances.

Does that mean the Astros were better in 2014? Well, sure. But how much better? Well, there’s a lot of ways to slice and dice that question and the answers that go with it. But instead of doing it up close and personal, I’m going to look at this from 10,000 feet.

Here’s a look at Houston’s offensive stats over the past few years including the rank for 2013.
                                    2011           2012          2013                   2014
Wins                          56               55               51                         70
Batting Average     .258          .236          .240 (26th)          .242 (25th)
OBP                           .311           .302          .299 (29th)          .309 (21st)
SLG                            .374          .371          .375 (28th)          .383 (15th)
OPS                            .684          .674          .674 (28th)         .692 (21st)
HR                              95              146            148 (19th)           163 (4th)
Run                            615            583           610 (26th)           629 (21st)
Steal                           118            105           110 (11th)            122 (3rd)
Ks                                 1,164        1,365        1,525 (1st)          1,442 (2nd)
BBs                             401            463            426 (25th)          495 (12th)

Looking at the progression, Houston’s OPS went down after 2011—bottoming out at .674—but has jumped back to .692, the first sub-.700 OPS on the list. A full season of George Springer might help raise that to .700. Also, a whole lot less of Jonathan Villar, Matt Dominguez and the empty spot in the lineup that was first base.

While Ks are still high, it’s nice to see BBs trending upward a bit and home runs taking a big step forward.

For pitching, I’m going to split my chart into starters and relievers. Here’s how Houston’s starters—and that includes an outting by Rudy Owens, a few starts by Lucas Harrell and Saturday’s spot start by the guy whose name I refuse to commit to memory since he won’t be here that long.

                   2011       2012      2013     2014
Wins          56          55          51          70
ERA          4.51        4.62      4.72       3.82
IP              964.0     918.2    906.0    970.0
WHIP       1.39        1.41       1.47       1.31
BAA          .265       .267       .273       .260
HR            134         118         106         84
K               586         699         666        717
BB            329        344          364        304
CG             2             3              2             7
GO/AO   1.07       1.34        1.09       1.23

And the bullpen …

                   2011          2012          2013          2014
Wins          56               55              51              70
ERA          4.49           4.46          4.92           4.80
IP              471.0          504.2       534.0        468.2
WHIP       1.48            1.46          1.52           1.39
BAA          .269            .274          .270          .260
HR             59               55              85              55
K                414              471            418            420
BB             205             196            252            180
SV/SVO   25/50        31/50        32/61        31/56
GO/AO      1.23           1.09           0.98          1.05

The big thing that stands out is the 2014 starters. The bullpen has been somewhere between horrible and more horrible during this four-year run of horror. But the 2014 starters put up some amazing numbers. Tied for second in complete games. Middle of the pack in ERA, but nearly a run better than most of the other years. The 2014 Astros starters pitched deeper into games—they have the innings pitched to prove it—and the combination of more strike outs, fewer walks and more ground ball outs is a big reason why.

Obviously, there’s a lot of information here. And while it would be easy to talk about Dallas Keuchel and Collin McHugh on the pitching staff, lament the bullpen injuries or wax poetic about Jose Altuve, that’s not what I’m doing here. This is the view from far away, where the Monet looks like a pond with lily pads, not a bunch of green blotches.

But as we look at the total number of wins, it’s easy to see where the Astros have improved. Offensively, the slash-line stats went from basically last to about two-thirds of the way down. The pitching stats don’t really need rankings. The Astros starters were much better, the relievers just were not.

So, as you view the Astros 2014 season from 10,000 feet—and compare it to past years—I have a few questions for you.

  • This team took a big step up in wins, but it is still one of the worst in baseball. The Astros were tied for the fourth-worst record in MLB. Did you expect a higher climb up the rankings?
  • Which took a bigger step forward, the starting pitching or the offense? Which do you feel more comfortable about heading into 2015
  • Houston knocked (there’s a pun here somewhere) about 80 strikeouts off its total. This despite getting significant playing time from rookies at first base, in the outfield (George Springer, Jake Marisnick, Domingo Santana … well, his ABs were few, but the Ks seemed endless) and shortstop (Gregorio Petit). Not to mention a bunch of guys who had barely passed their rookie eligibility (Robbie Grossman, Jonathan Villar) and some guys who just regressed when it comes to Ks (Jason Castro, Matt Dominguez) just whiffed like crazy. Will more experience—or an influx of Luhnow players—change this?
  •  OK, so it’s a simple question: What needs to change the most? And the answer is “that darned bullpen.” But what else needs to change? Look at these stats.
  • What is trending the right way in hitting? In starting and relief pitching? What’s trending the wrong way?

25 comments on “2014 Astros: The View from 10,000 Feet

  1. I think the starting pitchers took the biggest step forward and I have more confidence in them continuing that because tthey have a lot of youth and therefore still have a good chance to progress.
    I’m not sure an influx of Luhnow players will help the strikeout situation, because there aren’t any of them ready for the majors at the moment. So I don’t see a huge drop in strikeouts coming unless they make Jose Altuve the batting coach and/or bring in some guys from outside who don’t strike out as much, a la Fowler. Sclafani might be a help if he can hit major league pitching. The biggest hope I have for lowering strikeouts is to increase the contact rate in the swings of Springleton. I’m not sure that is something to be counted on in 2015.
    The things that needs to change most for the team to achieve a winning record in 2015 is the save rate. 25 blown saves. Wow!
    The thing that is trending the right way in hitting is the top of the lineup with Fowler, Altuve, Springer and Carter. The thing that is trending the wrong way is the bottom 5 in the order.


    • While I think it is unreasonable to assume Keuchel and McHugh will be as dominant next year, I assume both will be pretty darned good. I also expect Oberholtzer to play better. If Feldman just repeats 2014, I would be pretty happy. As long as each stays healthy, I think we could see a pretty good rotation in 2015.


    • How many of the 25 were pre-9th inning? I really don’t know, and that will tell us a lot about what part of the pen needs to improve. I could actually see the pen pitching better next if starters aren’t coming out after 5 or sometime during the 6th and consistently handing the ball to mediocre relievers that should be just mopping up, not deciding games.


  2. – No…they shocked me by winning more than 62.
    – Pitching…this was covered well last week. When the rotation puts you in a position to win with frequency, even the Astros bullpen can’t blow every game.
    – I vote for trying our hypnosis. Failing that, we need Carlos Beltran’s tennis ball launcher to return.
    – you know that I’m going to say contact rate. How many times did we K with a man on third (or even worse, the bases loaded) and less than 2 outs?
    – The minor league prospects are trending the wrong way. Some may just need another year at their stop to ‘figure it out,’ but how many guys do not have big ??? right now? Correa and Hader would be the only two on my list…and neither has yet excelled at AA.

    There are a lot of guys I am excited about. I just don’t see them making an impact in 2015.


    • The strikeout with men in scoring position and less than two outs was like a meme for the Astros. I would see the situation present itself and just await disaster.


  3. Houston was so far behind even the next-worse team, 70 wins should still be near the bottom of the pack. Plus, the Astros’ Pythagorean number was 57 wins in 2013. The 70 wins in 2014 is close to this year’s Pythagorean number, so really by taking luck out of the equation, the Astros have improved by just 13 games. Still, quite a step up.

    While it’s easy to point at the starting pitching, I think the offense made great strides. Once Springer is healthy in the spring … and provided none of these players is traded … Houston has half of a pretty good lineup. Altuve, Fowler, Carter, Springer. Add in a decent OBP from Grossman (at least in the second half) and that’s five decent hitters.

    That was a lot of rookies this season, which meant Ks were just going to be high no matter what. I would expect the K total to drop below 1,300 next year, and that’d be a step in the right direction. If Houston can just draw a few more walks as well, this could bode well for 2015’s record.

    Other than the bullpen, I would love to see more contact. How many times did strikeouts kill potential rallies with runners in scoring position and less than two outs? Just put the barrel on the ball!

    The OPS is trending the right way on office, and the saves in the bullpen seemed to be more consistent during the second half. That said, I expect to see a very different bullpen in 2015.


  4. A. Did you expect a higher climb up the rankings?

    No. To be honest, what I expected was another worst of baseball finish and 100 losses. I was pleasantly surprised by, in order: 1. McHugh’s contribution; 2. Altuve’s amazing year; 3. Keuchel’s contribution [not a shock, but a better-than-hoped for improvement]; 4. Solid on-field contributions from Feldman and Fowler, neither of whom did I think very highly of when the acquisitions were announced]; 5. Carter’s 1/3 of a good year [what I expected from him was what we got the other two thirds of the year]; 6. Sipp’s much needed stretch of dominance [where DID that come from?]; and 7. Marwin Gonzalez’ and Gregorio Petit’s partial salvaging of the SS position from the depths of unmitigated disaster in the form of Jonathan Villar.

    B. Which took a bigger step forward, the starting pitching or the offense? Which do you feel more comfortable about?

    Objection – form! Compound question; assumes facts not in evidence & is leading. But seriously, I would say that the starting pitching took a much bigger step forward, because almost all participants actually contributed [sans a few early departures]. We do not have many holes in the rotation; we still have a LOT of holes in the offensive line-up [and at C, SS, and 1B on the defense].

    C. [Re: strikeouts in huge clumps almost every night] Will more experience—or an influx of Luhnow players—change this?

    I sure hope so, but I am not counting on it. We struck out every way you can strike out, of course, but we surely had to have swung and missed more than any other team. And other than Altuve and sometimes Fowler, did anybody on the team have a green light on the first pitch? I know Luhnow players are supposed to work counts and take walks. But other teams know that too. So we started most counts – other than Altuve’s – in the hole because we just could not consistently put the ball in play. Starting off behind, we regularly had to face the pitchers’ pitch, not a hitter’s pitch. We didn’t do too well dealing with the pitcher’s pitch – and I doubt it will be better next year.

    D. What needs to change most [besides the bullpen]?

    We need a SS who can cover some ground, catch the ball regularly, throw accurately, make good decisions in the field and at the plate, show some leadership skills, knock 12-20 home runs, drive in 60 or more runs, and carry a BA of least hit .240. Carlos Correa, where are you?

    We also need to put corner infielders on the field who both field there position well and hit 20-40 home runs, drive in 75 or more, and carry a BA of at least .260. Singleton, are you ready to step up to your potential? Morin or Ruiz, are you ready to take the great leap to the bigs and ‘go McHugh’ all over the league?

    And, perhaps most importantly, we need 3/4 of a year of the ‘good’ side of Chris Carter in the DH role instead of just 1/3 of a year.

    E. What is trending the right way?

    WHIP, ERA, starting pitching IP/start and BAA are the most important positive trends in pitching.

    HRs, BBs and SBs are the most important positive trends in hitting.

    In relief pitching? fewer walks and home runs allowed looks like the possible start of a good trend. We need some more big time positive trends in this area to feel really good about it.


    • If you weren’t shocked by Keuchel, given the two seasons of 5+ ERA’s, I need to hire you as a consultant. I was more than shocked. Other than an unhealthy infatuation with guys that can throw strikes more often I didn’t really see anything about DK that looked like he was an all-star caliber arm. I thought he might be OK as the 5th starter, give us 140-150 innings in 25-27 starts, be around .4.50 and win a few less than he lost. Amazing year. We all think it, well, except Lloyd McClendon, right?

      I think Buchanan could be the next guy to do this, though it might be after a Keuchel like 1st season – then you could see him and his strike throwing magnificence on display in, say, 2016.


  5. Sorry – we need corner infielders who field ‘their’ position well, not ‘there’ position – although, I would take them fielding any position well as opposed to what we saw at 1B this year.


  6. Thoughts on what would help the offensive trend positively in 2015:

    o Acquire a big time professional hitter in 2015 to legitimize the team and solidify the offense. Overpay for, say, Nelson Cruz or Victor Martinez.
    o Jason Castro gets no love on this forum even though he was the team’s leading rising star in 2013. Jose Altuve got no love in 2013 and had a huge breakout year in 2014. Surely it’s possible Castro had his sophomore slump this year as Altuve did last year and will figure it out in 2015 with a breakout season.


    • Steeeve, only problem with the Altuve/Castro analogy is that the Astros may not have the luxury of waiting him out. He’ll be 28 next season. He’ll also likely earn a significant raise in this winter as well from his $2.45 million in 2014. Frankly, he could earn well over twice what Altuve will make in 2015 ($2.5 million). With decisions on players like Fowler and others and needing to add a middle-of-theorder bat, not to mention plug holes at SS and 3B (and maybe 1B), do the Astros have the luxury of paying big money to Castro?

      Or is their a better chance of Stassi taking over and putting that $5-$7 million somewhere else?


    • Castro’s rookie season was 2010. His sophomore season was 2011 and he did not play at all that year. He played quite a bit in 2012, all year in 2013 and all year this year. So next year will be his year 6 in the majors, even though he missed one w/ injury.
      I think we can all agree on something: If we have a power hitting Springer hitting .250 and striking out a lot, a power hitting Carter, hitting .230 and striking out a lot, we cannot afford to have a no hitting catcher, 3B and 1B to go with them and striking out a lot. We have to improve a lot at the plate and I don’t think I want to get rid of Springer or Carter, so something else has to go.


  7. Brian – thanks for the hard work – sorry you got trumped by the big announcement.
    – I did not expect a higher climb up the rankings before the season. This was where I thought they would get to – in that 68- 72 wins area.
    – The starting pitching took the big leap because it was something the offense never was this season. Consistent. After struggling the first 6 weeks of the season, the starters consistently kept the team in 75% or better of the games. It was the hitting that would go into big funks for a series or two. I am more comfortable with the starting pitching going into 2015.
    – Since the 2013 Astros set the all time world’s record for strikeouts – more than even the NL teams where the pitcher’s bat – it was no great accomplishment to lower that total. I think additional experience will help here – this set of guys will be on the high end but I think some of the worst offenders will improve or be replaced.
    – Change? Stretch goal – a bullpen with an ERA below 3.50. It is a big leap but I believe with the right folks it is doable. On the hitting side – well the whole league is struggling with hitting – but need to get the runs scored up to the mid point in the AL – from 3.88 runs per game to about 4.2 runs per game. More Springer will help and need to get at least one more good bat.


  8. Message for Tim
    Tim – I saw you were complaining about getting a comment deleted yesterday. This is not Chip’s doing – I have had it happen before on something very benign and it was obvious a glitch on one end or the other. I think mine had to do with the Nook I was trying to post from – thought it got posted but did not take.
    Chip is the only one who can delete and he just would not do it unless someone started using obscenities or the like.


  9. On a completely different thought. If you think we have problems, consider the yanks(spit). They have a guy who is going to be their regular 3B who is 39 yo, will be making $21 mil, and hasn’t been in a real game for over a year and a half come April.
    He is disliked by practically everyone, and is owed another $20mil for 2016.


  10. The manager hire pushed something to the side that was pretty special for Astros fans. Tony Kemp won the Rawlings MILB Gold Glove Award for second baseman. The award is given to nine position players and Kemp received the award as the best defensive second baseman in all of the minor leagues.
    With his fantastic year at the plate I guess his defense was being overshadowed. Not any more.
    Hey, the ‘stros got 2B covered!


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