Astros 2020: Is pitching backfilling better than hitting?

There is no doubt that the 2020 Astros currently hovering around the .500 mark is the poor sister of the 2019 Astros, who set a new club record with 107 regular-season wins.

One quick way to look at this is at the top 10 Astros with WAR (taken from baseballreference.com) for the offense and the pitching from 2020. Then looking at what those same players would bring to the table if you projected their current WAR over a whole season. These 10 players accounted for 41.8 out of 44 WAR earned by the offense in 2019.

Name 2019 WAR 2020 Projected WAR
Alex Bregman 9.1 0.7
George Springer 6.4 2.4
Michael Brantley 4.8 3.5
Yuli Gurriel 3.9 1.7
Jose Altuve 3.8 -2.1
Robinson Chirinos 3.8 0
Yordan Alvarez 3.7 0
Carlos Correa 3.5 4.1
Josh Reddick 1.4 -0.7
Jake Marisnick 1.4 0
Total 41.8 9.6
Everyday Players WAR table

Yes, this does not include the projected WAR over a full season of Kyle Tucker (3.8) or Martin Maldonado (2.1) for 2020, but still, the lineup is not producing anywhere close to 2019.

One of the problems is that so many of the “other” players – Aledmys Diaz, Jack Mayfield, Garrett Stubbs, Dustin Garneau, Taylor Jones, Myles Straw, and Abraham Toro are posting negative WAR to this point in the season. The regulars who returned are mostly not matching their 2019 production, but the folks who fill in behind them are not bringing anything to the table.

Now doing the same table for the top 10 pitchers gives a similar but in some ways a different outcome. These 10 pitchers represent 23.9 of the pitchers’ 23.0 WAR in 2019 (yes, the rest of the staff were a cumulative -0.9).

Name 2019 WAR 2020 Projected WAR
Justin Verlander 7.4 0.2
Gerrit Cole 6.6 0
Will Harris 1.9 0
Roberto Osuna 1.8 0.4
Ryan Pressly 1.7 0.7
Wade Miley 1.6 0
Zack Greinke 1.2 4.5
Brad Peacock 1.1 -0.4
Hector Rondon 0.7 0
Joe Smith 0.6 0
Total 23.9 5.4
Pitching WAR table

Over on the pitching side, the Astros the most significant difference is not lack of production from last year’s top 10, but lack of availability. Cole, Harris, Miley and Rondon were not re-signed. Smith chose not to come in with the COVID situation. Verlander, Peacock, Osuna and Pressly have all missed varying chunks of time due to injury.

But a big difference on the pitching side has been the contributions of newbies. Projected over a full season the WAR for the following pitchers is all in the positive territory – Cristian Javier (4.5), Andre Scrubb (3.5), Framber Valdez (2.4), Blake Taylor (2.0), Luis Garcia (1.7) and Enoli Paredes (1.4).

If the young pitchers had produced as poorly as the backup position players on the team have, this would be a last-place team at this point.

Sure the Astros have had some young pitchers that struggled (Brandon Bielak, Cy Sneed and others), but having five first-timers, plus the lightly experienced Framber Valdez come through for the team is the story of this season to date. Playing out the end of the season, the story may revolve around strong returns by Justin Verlander, Jose Urquidy, Lance McCullers Jr. Jose Altuve, Alex Bregman, etc., but up to now the young pitchers’ ability to do as much as they have has kept the team off life support as they turn towards home.

23 comments on “Astros 2020: Is pitching backfilling better than hitting?

  1. Looking at the playoff locations, I hope the fires are out in California by then. Having to play in smoky conditions would be very harmful and show poor foresight by the league. But then, the league is stupid.

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  2. Dan, the announcement of the playoff schedule today brings into play all of the things we discussed in the last blog and this one. There is a huge change! That change is that there will be no days off in the middle of each series in the playoffs. There are only days off in between series.
    That means you had better have your pitchers lined up to pitch every five days unless you win a series early.
    For the Astros, this means you have to know if LMJ and Verlander are ready to pitch. That means that they need to get in the rotation and take their turns if at all possible for the next 13 games.

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    • What’s interesting is I just heard the pre-game interview with Baker and he was talking about needing a 3 man rotation in the playoffs. I hope someone tells Dusty in the next couple weeks.

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  3. I think the plan is to have Verlander make at least one more regular season start before the (hopefully) playoffs. If not, I think we would start Greinke, Urquidy, Framber, McCullers & Javier. If McCullers is still injured, I think Garcia replaces him.

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      • Well OP their offense as in my article is not that good. Their biggest weapn lately seems to be Springet solo shots and fluke rbi hits. They really need the real Altuve and Bregman to show up. Maybe Bregman’s bloop along with his big hit Saturday will get him rolling

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  4. Some thoughts from last night:
    – Good to see Altuve back in the field. At the plate the only positive was the walk he wangled that allowed him to score the third run of the game. That showed some plate discipline that he had been lacking in other at bats, His first at bat he fouled off a pitch 6 inches above the zone. His second at bat he fouled off a pitch 6 inches above the zone and struck out on a pitch a good foot outside and below the zone. In his third at bat he swung and fouled off one 6 inches outside. In his fourth at bat he laid off the stuff outside the zone and fouled off a two strike pitch in the zone and finally drew the walk.
    – Urquidy is fun to watch. Throws strikes and when he has all four pitches working and has his control he is tough, because they don’t know where or what is coming.
    – The Astros came oh so close to not scoring twice with the bases loaded and no out. The earlier rally was basically snuffed by a home to first double play. The second one in the 7th started off with the a force out at home and only resulted in runs when Bregman’s fly ball to left fell in. I can’t really call it a bloop, that ball was up in the air a long time. I know their pitcher had a big arm, but I was amazed how far towards left center the left fielder was playing.
    – When George connects on one – boy does that ball fly – he rarely hits anything but no-doubters.
    – Maldonado’s home run gave Pressly a little breathing room headed to the 9th. He has been so solid for us this year
    – Now that Altuve is more clean shaven, I keep thinking Mayfield is him because he has the more traditional Altuve beard
    – It is time to put that hammer down against a teetering club. The Astros need to make hay and start feeling better about themselves

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  5. I missed over the weekend that A’s 3B Matt Chapman is out for the season after having hip surgery. That is a big loss for Oakland – he was a defensive and offensive force.

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  6. No walks by the Astros pitchers last night! It has been quite awhile since that happened.

    Guzman stealing second last night and no one called out as he was doing so until the he was 2/3rds of the way to second. Asleep in the field. It worked out though. If he had been caught in a rundown, the runner on third probably would have scored before Guzman was tagged out. Just the latest in Dusty not having the guys mentally in the game.

    Seattle Mariners having to go to San Francisco to play as the home team because the air quality is so bad in Seattle. This leads back to my first comment at the start of this posting.

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  7. Some thoughts:
    -I don’t believe that the batters Verlander pitches to in practice matters. I believe that what matters to the Astros is 1.)whether or not he is healthy and can throw his pitches without hurting, and 2.) whether he can put his pitches where he wants them when he wants them.
    -It is only an opinion, but I think the Astros would love to start Verlander, Greinke and Urquidy in a 3 game series and have a healthy LMJ in the bullpen. A bullpen of Pressly, Paredes, Taylor, Scrubb, Valdez, McCullers, Javier, Garcia, James and Raley is what I am thinking about. That is 13 pitchers and 15 position players for a best of 3 playoff series that uses the DH. Now, if McCullers just dazzles us in the next two weeks, that might change my mind, but I’m afraid Lance may not be so good he could pitch 5 innings.
    – The only scheduled days off in the entire playoffs is 1.)between the Wild Card round and the divisional series. That is when you get your 5-man rotation set. and 2.) between the end of the LCS and the WS. The only extra days off are going to be if a series ends early.
    – The Astros are scheduled to face Kyle Gibson tonight and Jordan Lyles on On Thursday. Opponents have feasted on these two. Anxious to see how the Astros fair against them.
    -According to Gameday, the Ranger’s pitcher threw Maldanado consecutive
    four-seam fastballs in the exact same location in the eighth inning. Maldonado was ready for the second one.

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    • Just happened to be watching the replay of the end of the game on ATT Sportsnet, so here is how the pitches went.
      – Threw an 83 mph slider in the same spot as the HR pitch that Maldonado swung at and missed
      – Threw a 94 mph fastball that the pitcher “pulled” ended up outside and low for a ball
      – Threw a 93 mph fastball same spot as the slider – up and over the plate

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  8. Read the following article last week about our pitchers with high walk rates:

    https://www.crawfishboxes.com/2020/9/10/21429222/the-astros-pitching-staff-is-a-house-of-cards

    If we can get Verlander, Greinke and Urquidy all in top form, they command the strike zone and don’t give up many walks. Did some research and found the following, which is not surprising:

    When Astro pitchers give up 2 walks or less: 11 wins / 5 losses
    When Astro pitchers give up 3 or more walks: 13 wins / 19 losses
    When Astro hitters draw 2 walks or less: 7 wins / 14 losses
    When Astro hitters draw 3 or more walks: 17 wins / 10 losses
    Hitters with 3 or more walks & pitchers with 2 walks or less: 10 wins / 2 losses
    Hitters with 2 walks or less & pitchers with 3 or more walks: 6 wins / 10 losses

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    • He was definitely in the zone. I continue to not understand Pressley being out there. I have very little confidence in him. And the Rangers are poised to blow it open. I hope not but we’re already a run down.

      Liked by 1 person

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