In previous posts the subject of the Astros closing their runs allowed vs. runs scored gap has been discussed. In their three 100-loss seasons the Astros gave up between 1.11 (2011) and 1.47 (2013) runs more per game than their opponents. Last season, they improved that to only a 0.58 run/game deficit mostly on the back of the improved starting rotation on the pitching side (a 0.77 run/game improvement) while having a very modest o.11 run/game improvement on the hitting side.
In 2014 the Astros scored only 3.88 runs/game (14th in the AL), while giving up 4.46 runs/game (12th in the AL). They needed to flip those numbers to have a chance at a record over .500. GM Jeff Luhnow went after low hanging fruit on the pitching side (the bullpen had a league worst 4.80 ERA in 2014), investing fairly strongly on that side of the ledger with the signings of Luke Gregerson and Pat Neshek. For what it’s worth, during this spring training the Astros’ bullpen has been fifth best in the AL with a 3.94 ERA.
On the other side of the ledger, the Astros needed to find some offense in an era of failing offenses.
|Year||Run / Game||Ks / Season||BBs/ Season||HR / Season||BA||OBP||SLG||OPS|
|2009 AL Avg||4.82||1094||550||183||.267||.336||.428||.764|
|2014 AL Avg||4.18||1216||473||144||.253||.316||.360||.706|
This chart shows how the league average changed in basic hitting stats for an average AL team between 2009 and 2014 and where the Astros stood last season. The huge drop in runs scored/game catches one’s eye. In addition, it is interesting that the Ks increased so much league-wide while the walks fell. Pitchers are catching up with the concept that batters are looking to see more pitches and are getting ahead in the count by throwing strikes on early counts.
What the chart does not show is that the top five teams in OPS in 2009 were also the top five in runs scored in the league and in 2014 the top five in OPS were in the top six in runs scored. Another fact is that just because a team tends to strike out a lot does not keep it from scoring runs. The Twins were in the top five in runs scored and Ks and the Angels were sixth in Ks while leading the league in walks.
It appears that Luhnow was chasing better OPS in the offseason and did not care if more strikeouts might be part of the equation.
In 2014 the Astros gave 1624 ABs to players with what would be considered inferior OPS numbers: L.J. Hoes (.517 OPS), Jesus Guzman (.520), Matt Dominguez (.586), Marc Krauss (.601), Jonathan Villar (.620) and Jon Singleton (.620).
Armed with that info, Luhnow went and got the following people:
- Evan Gattis – .771 and .810 OPS in his first two seasons.
- Luis Valbuena – .708 and .776 OPS in his last two seasons.
- Colby Rasmus – .840 and .735 OPS his last two seasons (.751 career)
- Jed Lowrie – .741 OPS for his career.
Now Luhnow did trade off Dexter Fowler (.774 OPS) but it was to shore up the worst OPS position on the ball club at third base. It is pretty obvious that he is hoping for a significant improvement in OPS, maybe to .720 and a boost up in runs scored to 4.20 per game or more.
For what it’s worth, again, in 2015 spring training the Astros are third in the AL in runs scored/game (5.38) and second in OPS (.801).
So does the mad professor know what he is doing?