Astros 2015: Run differential is the basis for improvement


It is time to revisit a post from November 2013……

The following chart shows how the 5 teams that made the playoffs in 2014 fared when it came to scoring runs / giving up runs and run differential. Also, shown are the same stats for the Astros for both 2013 and 2014.

Team Runs Scored/ Game AL rank Runs Allowed / Game AL Rank Run Differ. / Game AL Rank
Baltimore 4.35 6 3.66 3 0.69 3
Detroit 4.67 2 4.35 10 0.32 5
Oakland 4.50 3 3.53 2 0.97 1
Kansas City 4.02 9 3.85 4 0.17 7
LA – Anaheim 4.77 1 3.89 6 0.88 2
Houston – 2013 3.77 14 5.23 15 -1.46 15
Houston – 2014 3.88 14 4.46 12 -0.58 13

It is really not surprising that the Astros improved much more on the pitching side of the ledger compared to the modest gains on the hitting side. If they had the same kind of improvement in run differential (0.88 runs / game) heading to 2015…. Well they would be better off than KC and right around where Detroit is. However, don’t expect the same amount of improvement this next season. It is a whole lot easier when your team ERA is over 5 to show a big improvement in one season.

Offense. A quick look at what I consider a key stat for the offense and then some discussion.

OPS. This stat which is simply on-base-percentage plus slugging percentage closely follows the run scored stat. The league average is .706 (down from .725 in 2013). The five playoff teams range from the Royals at 10th with .690 to the top rated Tigers at .757. The Astros improved from last in 2013 (.674) to 9th in 2014 (.690). This 2% improvement in OPS ended up with an approximate 2% increase in runs scored. Better than dropping, but not much better.

Potential improvement. No special science here – they need a full healthy season from George Springer, much better production at 1B and 3B whether from Singleton and Dominguez or their replacements and maybe some better numbers at SS and C.

Goal. A reasonable goal for 2015 would be to raise up their OPS from .692 to the league average – speculating that to be around .710. This might boost their runs / game to near the league average around 4.2 runs/game.

Note. I pointed out last season that the Astros really needed to address their horrid stolen base % of 64% and mostly on the back of Jose Altuve they brought that up to a much more acceptable 77% for the season.

Pitching. It is hard to picture the Astros making more significant improvements in the starting pitching side of the staff. It is hard to picture them not making significant improvements on the relief pitching side of the staff.

Bullpen ERA. The Astros bullpen ERA was almost a whole run worse than the starting staff – 4.80 vs. 3.82 ERA. The next biggest gap in the AL is Detroit, whose pen put up a 4.29 ERA vs. the starters 3.89.

Potential Improvement. In the area of starting pitching, the hope is that Dallas Keuchel and Collin McHugh both return to the excellence they showed in 2014, Scott Feldman is solid again and that the 4th and 5th spots filled by Brett Oberholtzer, Brad Peacock, Nick Tropeano, Asher Wojciechowski or a starter to be obtained later give improved performance in 2015 at the end of the rotation.

60% of the relief innings thrown for the Astros in 2014 were for relievers with ERAs above 4.40 and 37% of the total innings were thrown by relievers with ERA’s over 5.10. The Astros bullpen’s ERA was 0.42 runs more than the next worse White Sox and 2.21 runs more than the insanely good Mariners (2.59).

Goal. The goal for the Astros has to be make a big improvement up to that 3.70 – 3.80 ERA league average range for the bullpen. I think they need to bring in two arms that actually pitch the whole season and have a sub-3 ERA for them and pair that up with returnees like Chad Qualls and Tony Sipp and possibly Jose Veras. They also need to have a couple of the younger guys like Mike Foltyniewicz and Josh Fields or Kevin Chapman step their game up a notch or so.

The ERA is not the low hanging fruit it was for the whole staff in 2013 – improving the bullpen a whole run while the starting pitching is holding the same would only drop the staff ERA by 0.2 or 0.3 runs this season. The majority of their improvement as a team should be from the offensive side, maybe a 0.5 run improvement for the year.

So, is it possible for the Astros to put up more than a 0.6 run/game differential improvement which would put them on the plus side (more runs scored than given up) and lead them to a winning record for the first time since 2006?

Is this a pipe dream or a real possibility?

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27 comments on “Astros 2015: Run differential is the basis for improvement

  1. Houston’s OPS in 2013 was .674, so the improvement to 2014’s .692 was a whole .018. That’s pretty big over the breadth of a whole team.

    A similar improvement in 2015 — which is very possible — would bring Houston up to .710. That would put Houston at or near the league average. If the runs per game went up similarly, Houston would go to just about 4.00 even. I don’t think that’s a big enough improvement to get to the playoffs no matter how good the pitching gets.

    As for that pitching, I don’t think Houston gets more than 0.30 better on ERA. If the top starters –Keuchel, McHugh, Feldman — essentially hold their own, Houston needs improvement from Oberholtzer and whoever that fifth starter is. Then that bullpen needs to improve at least half a run a game.

    All this combined might bring Houston’s run differential close to even. If that’s the case, this could be a .500 or better team. And that’s going to be a good day.

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  2. Off subject, but the Rangers did not hire Tim Bogar. Got a “teaser” of that possibility last week when the Rangers gave Arizona permission to talk to him about their then-opening manager’s position.

    A little shocking in that it appeared he had the inside track in Texas. Maybe third base coach in Houston?

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    • So – did they not like what Bogar did when he was an interim coach?
      Or did they never intend to take the interim title off? The Astros tend to appoint interims and then pick someone else as permanent.
      I guess Bogar also lost the Arizona job – so not a fun week for him.

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    • I grew up with Jeff Banister and I can tell you he is a first class person. Looking back now, it was apparent he had the qualities to be a leader even as a teenager. He got here the hard way too. Take a minute to read his story. You can google “Jeff Banister cancer” or Jeff Banister broken neck”, or “Jeff Banister paralyzed”.

      This is going to make it awfully difficult for me to root against the Rangers.

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      • Yeah I was reading that about him earlier Flash. Makes it tough for players to say “I can’t …” to a guy like that.
        Can anyone say Tony D?

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  3. You just never know what goes into these decisions Billy C – some guys don’t interview that well. I’ve seen guys that can interview great but can’t do the job. We’ve all seen these guys come out of college in football and they put up great numbers at the NFL combine and suddenly they are #1 draft choices based on speed or number of times they can lift a weight but sometimes they forget that he was not that great when he was playing.

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  4. I have to call into question the statistical viability of using percent increase in OPS as a measurement of improvement. First, OPS is an illogical measurement to begin with.

    OBP is a true percentage in that it can never be greater than one. It is the rate at which something happens. Slugging is a real number, that by circumstance most often looks like a percentage, but it is not. It represents a quantity, in this case total bases.

    Second, the components move at different rates. Walk affect OBP but HRs affect both. So, is a 2% increase in slugging the same as a 2% increase in OBP?

    It’s a little bit like measuring your cars performance by adding your gas mileage and your range. If the resulting number goes up, I guess that is good, but it doesn’t really explain anything.

    I disagree that a change of x% in OPS corresponds to an equivalent change in runs scored. But perhaps I’m just being pedantic.

    To start we need a higher contact rate from Springer (and others, there too many to list). That will move both components of OPS.

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    • Flash – I’ll agree that it is not a one to one ratio between OPS and runs scored – but….
      – The top 8 AL teams in runs scored are also the top 8 in OPS
      – The bottom 7 AL teams in runs scored are also the bottom 7 in OPS (I know once I made the top point – the second point falls out)
      – The Rays had an OBP just above the league average – but were the worst scoring team in the league.

      I know it is really not a perfect % relationship – but in general the best OPS teams are the best ones for scoring runs.

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      • I get that. It’s like saying water is wet. But why do you think our OPS is so low? That to me is the important question. Without looking, I’d say we are pretty high in BB% and SO% but very low in contact rate. I’m sure there are plenty of other factors.

        Springer is a perfect example of this. I’d rather he shave a few percentage points off of his SO rate and hit fewer 420′ homeruns. 378′ home runs will do just fine, along with a few more doubles, and maybe the odd fielding error.

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      • An article in TCB today stated that Springer had the best batting eye in the league this year, calculated by swings at balls in the strike zone and not swinging at balls outside the zone.
        But to make your point he also had the second worst contact rate in the league on his swings, meaning he has to stop missing so many balls when he does swing.

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      • Exactly OP. Maybe he should keep his feet on the ground when he swings. All things being equal, if he can increase his contact rate by 5-7%, he could look a lot like Stanton. Of course I appreciate how difficult that is to do.

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      • I’m hopeful that there will be additional growth in that area for Springer when he gets back. I suspect he will always be higher K than we like but we will certainly put up with some of that if he is putting up 40 HR and 100 RBIs like he was on a pace for…

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  5. The run differential has to come from all three corners of the triangle. The starting pitching wasn’t so great that it can’t be improved upon. What pitching coach is not going to tell his starters they need to improve, when the team finished 22 games under .500? They need to improve their pitching all the way around.
    They need to score more runs and Springer is a huge key to that, not only from his production, but because his presence in the lineup allows Fowler going back to the leadoff spot where he is much more productive than Grossman was. Now you’re back to Fowler and Altuve hitting in front of Springer and Carter, which is how it should be, but wasn’t last year because of injuries.
    The third part of the triangle is to put Fowler, Marisnick(or whomever) and Springer in their proper defensive positions so that your outfield defense is great, and keep your bad fielding/bad hitting/wild throwing shortstop off the field and your better fielding/better hitting shortstop on the field.
    That attacks the run differential from three directions.

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    • oldpro – all I’m saying is that the starting pitching was responsible for about 80% of the improvement in run differential last season as they lowered their ERA from 4.72 to 3.82. You can want improvement on that – but based on where they will be spending money in the off season – I would be surprised if they could knock the starting ERA below 3.50 next season. The bigger chunks have to come from the bullpen and hitters, because those are the areas that have the quicker hitting low hanging fruit.
      If the team was the proverbial 3 legged stool – one leg is a whole lot longer than the other 2 at the moment.

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      • Yes, but you still could have a healthier Feldman, an improved Ober(considering he is a youngster based on his total MLB appearances), and a better #5 starter than they had last year. Those three things would be an improvement, not to mention adding a better starter through FAGNC or a trade.

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      • I’m sure it is my fatalistic attitude op – just thinking that Keuchel and McHugh will digress a little and that they might unload Feldman. Hey I hope I’m wrong.

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  6. If our goal is .500, you can expect an improvement of 0.58 runs per game puts you in striking distance. That could be scoring one extra run every third game out and not giving up one extra run every third time out. Honestly, I feel like that is attainable simply by reducing mental mistakes.

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    • While I am happy for Hunter I am a little worn out by ex-Astros making it and winning the World Series. I don’t know about the rest of you, but I am ready for the current Astros to start doing this. 🙂

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    • I don’t know how many men have worn the Astros Jerseys – maybe 2000 – there have only been 25 to make it to the WS – so the chances are much higher of them making it some other way. Let’s hope for a better future.

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