Astros 2021: Thursday’s thoughts

It is one of those days to toss out a few thoughts and see if anything sticks.

Are The Astros Zigging When Others are Zagging?

After the depths of despair (2011-2014), the Astros have gone through a Renaissance of sorts fueled by being on the cutting edge of technology, and no, this does not refer to using the most modern garbage cans in the dugout. However, reading books like Astroball, you could see where they were ahead of the curve in getting their players to buy into applying the research done by the front office to their approaches to the game. This included getting pitchers to change their pitch mix to better match their talents, getting them to tunnel their pitches, looking the same coming out of the hand, working on the hitter’s launch angles, opposition pitcher’s tendencies, etc.

Watching the Astros in 2021, one wonders if they are zigging a bit when the opposition is zagging. While teams have gone to deploying openers (relievers pitching one or two innings to start games) and using 6 man rotations, the Astros have had success with something that was poison around this blog a few years ago….tandem pitching. The pairing up of a veteran pitcher (Jake Odorizzi), who does not tend to go deep in games with a young stud (Cristian Javier), who does not lose effectiveness when he is moved to the bullpen, looked awfully good after Wednesday night’s 8-3 win over the Red Sox. The Astros made it through the game only using two pitchers and letting a bullpen that had been perhaps overused lately to get some extra rest. Would they dare do this same deal when Lance McCullers Jr. returns from the IL and pair him with Luis Garcia? On top of getting the team through a game only using a couple pitchers, it also allows Javier and potentially Garcia to stay stretched out.

The other area where the Astros may be going in a different direction than their opponents is in their hitting approach. While so many teams are going the all or nothing route in hitting, the Astros are taking another successful route to scoring runs. They have 72 home runs on the year, which is tied for 14th in the majors. However, they are 1st in the majors in runs/game (5.38), batting average (.271), on-base % (.343) and OPS (.778). Yes, they leave quite a few guys on base, but they have so much traffic that many make it home. While most teams are scoring less this season, the Astros are up from 4.65 runs/game last year. There is more to scoring runs than launch angle and swinging hard.

That Lineup

As Dave B pointed out yesterday, this Astros lineup cannot be fun to pitch against. Just look at Wednesday’s lineup. The first 6 hitters are all hitting between .290 (Carlos Correa) and .335 (Yuli Gurriel). The first 6 have an OPS between .811 (Michael Brantley) and .940 (Gurriel). The 7th hitter, Kyle Tucker, is a step behind in average .261 but still has a .806 OPS. However, for the last 4 weeks, Tucker has been much better than that with a .326 BA/ .379 OBP/ .894 OPS slash. Myles Straw has not been in the other’s neighborhood with a .245 BA and a .616 OPS, but he has been slashing a solid .304 BA/ .393 OBP/ .784 OPS in the 8th spot. Regular catcher Martin Maldonado (off last night) has been awful this season with a .166 BA and a .528 OPS, but even he has been on an uptick with a .250 BA/ .333 OBP/ .771 OPS in the last week.

When you look at the Astros numbers, remember this. The major league average BA is .237, and the average OPS is .709. The Astros are so much better than that for 7 of the 9 in the lineup. Yes, Dave, this a really tough lineup to face.

Anything that strikes you about this team? They are just past the 60 game mark, which was the full season last year. So a lot of what they are is what they will be by this point.

65 comments on “Astros 2021: Thursday’s thoughts

  1. I had a difficult day yesterday – had to get up very early to have a meeting with the client half way around the world. I wrote this post at lunchtime, so if it seems a little out of whack for Friday – well you get what you pay for around here.
    I went to bed early last night – after the Astros fell behind 10-8. It is tough to score 8 runs and lose especially when so much of the run scoring is based on gifts. It felt like they gave up more than 4 walks, but there was also that hit by pitch that contributed to the crash. Those two dropped fly balls were weird. Funny thing – in retrospect – if Tucker had caught his, Carlos’ would not have been an infield fly because there would have been two outs – did not think about that before.

    Oh well – shake it off and see if you can play better against the Twins than you have against many of the lower teams.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I did not like the way that game was shaping up. Having Grienke going just three innings put us into the meat of our problem with Javier already used up for the week. These are the games we’re bound to lose, except that we’ll also have Garcia and Urquidy coming out of the pen soon. We’ll be in a better position to hold on to a 7-4 lead.

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    • It will probably be Garcia or Urquidy out of the bullpen with Javier – not both when McCullers returns, but still point well taken. It is tough for a manager to plan when the same starting pitcher can go 7 or 8 innings and then goes 3 or 4 innings. We were spoiled by Verlander and Cole going deep almost every start. Framber may be that consistent deep guy going forward for us.

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  3. The way that game went, it could have been 15-0. Altuve stretches a single off the Green Monster into an out by 30 feet. On the replay, Altuve is two steps past first when the leftfielder throws the ball to second. As Blummer said, the play was in front of him to see. Yuli grounds a ball into the dirt and it stays fair. He doesn’t run it out. Alvarez takes second. But thinks it is a foul ball and wanders back to first – double play. The two glove clunkers. The Red Sox getting 5 runs off two hits in one inning. Then the bullpen comes in and is wild as a March hare. Taylor in left comes within inches of killing Altuve on a pop up.

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  4. Looking at the line up, assuming good health, we should expect more of the same. We have to figure that at some point Yuli will correct somewhat. But Bregman, Alvarez and Tucker all have room to grow their OPS. Of the other starters, everyone else seems to be putting up reliable numbers. And when Castro gets back, we no longer have an automatic out from the back up catchers position.

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  5. Good to see Castro in the Skeeter box score this morning. I guess that means he’s coming back next week.

    When a team hits four dingers, they should probably win. Urquidy looked strong again, but he’s going to have to nibble a bit more. Too many happy pitches.

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  6. Per the Amarillo Sod Poodle’s radar guin (I just love that name) Bermudez last night was hitting 90 on his fastball and low 80’s on his off speed. 80 pitches with 50 strikes. Matijevic and Norel Gonzalez went back to back. Leon was 0 for 4 but still hitting .346 for June. Costes still hitting .356 for the year.

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  7. There were 14 MLB games yesterday and in all 14 games the team with the best W-L record won the game. Think about how rarely that happens.

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  8. Last night was the first time it seemed to me that Chas appeared discombobulated going back in the gap.

    We really needed a clean frame from Raley after cutting the lead in half.

    Garcia seemed to be rushing things a bit last night.

    If we go to a six man rotation, it means one less reliable guy in the pen.

    6 more K’s by Yordan over the past two games.

    Who gets the day off today?

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  9. Pedro Leon got another HR and a walk last night. Marty Costes got 2 hits.

    In 2011, Jose Altuve in 35 games at Corpus hit .361 .388 .569 .958.
    Marty Costes in 29 games at Corpus this year is hitting .362 .452 .486 .938.

    Wouldn’t that be nice.

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    • 45, that would be delightful. But until this year, Marty has not quite torn up the minors like Jose did. Is he any good in the outfield? Or can he help us get some relief pitching?

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      • What little I can watch on MILB TV, he has an average arm. He is listed as a shortstop but in Corpus everyone moves around almost every game. Also he does not have much power as his stats show but makes contact most at bats. He does hit to all fields and that helps him getting a higher average. (I didn’t mean he was Jose Altuve so added that it would be nice IF.)

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      • Costes doesn’t have much power, but he does have 10 HRs in 590 professional PAs.
        Compare that to, say Myles Straw, who has 5 HRs in 2598 professional PAs.

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      • I’m starting to think that Leon will go to ST to win a job in 2022. We might even see a cameo late in 2021. But the guy that’s really impressing is Norel Gonzalez. It looks like he’s got AA figured out. He’ll be a Skeeter before long.

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  10. I will admit that I have ignored Costes because he is not a “name” player. So I looked at his splits for the year and they are legit. He has hit well against lefties and righties, young pitchers and old pitchers, on the road and at home.
    As the season has progressed his K-rate has dropped and his BB-rate is good for a line drive-type hitter.
    He is hitless in only 6 games out of 29. One of those games he didn’t come to the plate. One of those games he had three walks. Another one of those games he had two RBIs, despite not halving a hit. Two other of those games he had a walk or a HBP. So, basically he was shut down in only 1 of his 29 games.
    He has only one error and it came in LF, after being shifted from CF because one of his teammates got ejected.
    He was drafted in 2018, so he had a shorted season that year.
    He missed two months in the middle of the 2019 season with an injury, so he only had half a season that year.
    He lost a complete season in 2020 due to the pandemic, but look what he is doing this year with a chance to play.

    Liked by 2 people

  11. This is just an example but I thought interesting. Last night, I decided to watch DL Hall (#3 prospect for Orioles) at Bowie. He gave up one hit (Solo HR) in 4 innings. In the 5th, he strikes out the first batter. Walks the second batter. Third batter pops up, now two out with runner on first. He strikes out the next batter on a wild pitch and catcher has the ball go off his knee. So instead of being out of the inning, runners on first and second. 2 out and he is at 85 pitches. They pull him leading 7-1. He can’t get the win. Leaves with 85 pitches and 50 strikes. 1 hit (a solo HR), and 4 walks and 10 Ks. Reliever comes in and gives up 3 runs. 2 charged to Hall. His final line shows He gave up 3 earned runs in 4.2 innings.

    So right now for the season it shows his ERA is 3.13. His WHIP is 1.01 and batters are hitting .145 against him.

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  12. I didn’t watch yesterday’s game, but didn’t Garcia’s problems stem from a passed ball on a strikeout? It’s true he fell apart, but it all started with that crap. It’s not like Garcia is some seasoned veteran. He went from A-Ball to MLB. A passed ball on a K is like a minor league thing. Or a Little League thing.
    If Maldy catches that third strike, Garcia likely gives up nothing in that inning, which is the way he has been pitching for the last month.

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    • Martin Maldonado is beat. The guy has caught 7 of 8 games on the trip, including the 4 hour, 12 run blowout by the Sox on Thursday. He’s been back there for 49 of 64 games. That’s more than he caught last year. And that’s too many. If Stubbs is the best depth we’ve got, then we’re going to need other help before the season is over. Nobody wants to throw to the skinny kid. It’s time for Castro to come back and work his way up to 40% of the starts, maybe half. But we need someone else besides our present number 3.

      Liked by 1 person

  13. Since the Astros need relievers and not starters, why don’t the Astros have Tyler Brown, who was the closer for national champion Vanderbilt, closing for them at AA and then AAA and then for the Astros?

    Liked by 1 person

  14. MLB starting around June 21st will check starting pitchers twice a game and relievers once for illegal substances. They will check position players if they suspect they are aiding in the substance problem.
    They will confiscate equipment and eject pitchers or players if needed. Suspensions would follow.

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    • Having baseball games without altered baseballs and without pitchers using illegal substances will be awesome.
      That leaves stuff like batters leaving the batters box after every pitch to get handled.
      It leaves bad umpires to be handled.
      It leaves extra inning runners to be handled.
      And it leaves automated balls and strikes to be handled.
      Once those things get taken care of, we will actually get real baseball.

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      • What got me AC is the umpire was sitting over the catcher’s shoulder on that side of the plate. I can understand missing them once in a while on the opposite side of the plate but when you are lined up with it – it should not happen.

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  15. Astros up 9-2 in the 7th and counting.
    15 hits – 2 homers and I think 6 doubles. Brantley with 3 doubles, Tucker with a homer and 2 doubles. Putting on a show.

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  16. I’m hoping he gets better, but when Ralph Garza Jr. pitches, his stuff looks like Joe Biagini’s. I swear that ball looks likes it sits on a t-ball stand. As bad as Minnesota wanted to go home, they were smacking his pitches all over the place.

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    • I noticed that too. Very little movement. It would be nice if McCormick could play more. It is interesting that Straw now has his BA up to a respectable .256. I would rather see someone else other than Taylor Jones who up to this point has been a disappointment. I’m really pleased with our rotation too. Now if we can get the bull pen on track we might be able to jump into 1st and put some distance between us and the A’s.

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  17. I was really disappointed that, as AMERICA, the BEAUTIFUL was being sung, the camera gave us a view of the Twins dugout and… a Twins player was wearing his cap!!! Scum.

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  18. Miscellaneous observations:

    If we had Castro available to catch the next game and we put McCormick in CF, we could have our entire lineup with an OPS of .803 or higher. And who would have thought Bregman would be the guy with .803?

    In 5 games in June, Brantley has 12 hits in 20 at-bats. In 18 games in April, Machete had 6 hits in 59 at-bats.

    Houston Astros traded C Lorenzo Quintana to Miami Marlins. This shows up on both the Astros and Marlins websites, but I could not find any other info anywhere else.

    https://www.mlb.com/astros/roster/transactions

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  19. Unfortunately for Chas and fortunately for Straw, the Astros don’t have to be too concerned about offensive production from the lineup right now. I just hope Chas does not go the way of Teoscar Hernandez and Ramon Laureano. There are plenty of teams that could use an athletic, so far productive outfielder like Chas. He might help get help for the pen.

    Do we have catching depth hiding somewhere that I don’t know about?

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    • I was wondering if we’re showcasing Chaz or Straw for possible trade bait. Not sure what the next couple of years holds but the positions that are iffy for 2022 are starting pitchers (2), SS, C, and 1B. For 2023 we can look at LF, and then there’s always the relief pitcher conundrum. I would assume that our basic everyday players plus pitchers will be Bregman, Altuve, LMJ, Tucker, Framber, Urquidy, and Alvarez. It should be interesting to see if any of our prospects can fill the shoes of players like Brantley, Correa, Maldonado, and Gurriel.

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      • Zanuda,

        We’ll get another quality year from Yuli in 2022, not 2021 quality, but solid. I also think Norel Gonzalez becomes Yuli’s incumbent. astrocolt45, how does the big guy look around first base?

        I’m excited about our starting pitching in 2022. Our kids will have a year of maturity under their belts. Hopefully Lance will start looking like the seasoned veteran we need him to be. And we’ll have some money too. Will Greinke work for 20 million? Will we need him? And Odorizzi will get paid, so he makes 6 starters without another signing.

        Whether we like it or not, I think we’re set at catcher, but we do need a more viable third option.

        Shortstop is anyone’s guess. Carlos Correa? Bregman? Leon? Someone else? What if Norel Gonzalez forces his way onto the club? Can Yuli still play third if Bregman goes to short? I’d rather the 2021 version of Correa. I think that’s a long shot though.

        What we really need is a re-worked pen for 2022. That problem is not going to go away.

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      • It is so hard for me to judge Norel Gonzalez. He has played more DH and OF than 1st base. Just as an example, Marty Costes is listed as Shortstop but has not played one game there this year apparently.

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    • I hope the negotiations this winter go smoothly, but doubt they will. We can clearly see flaws in the agreements that have been made. Would a hard cap be a better system? It sounded like MLB wanted to see all the teams approaching similar payrolls rather than the system where KC/Tampa or other teams keep their payroll down and then greatly profit off the revenue sharing money. The Astros’ situation being so close to the threshold is a good argument that the system doesn’t work. If I were negotiating for the MLBPA I’d suggest changing the luxury tax rules such that players who spend less than 60% of the season on the active roster only count 50% against the luxary tax.

      Liked by 1 person

  20. Currently I see Josh Rojas, Teoscar Hernandez, Ramon Laureano, Kiki Hernandez, Marwin Gonzalez and Gilberto Celestino starting for other teams in the OF.
    But the Astros have Michael Brantley, Kyle Tucker, Yordan Alvarez, Chas McCormick and Myles Straw playing in their OF. Three of those guys hit HRs over the CF fence yesterday and another had 4 hits.
    That’s a lot of outfielders.
    Teams are probably inquiring about McCormick.

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    • I’m sure there are inquiries about Chas. I just think he has so much more upside than Straw. It might come down to how we get what we need for this year. And Chas is the shiniest thing we’ve got on the bench. But I’d hate to see him turn into a speedy everyday power hitting outfielder for someone else.

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  21. The Astros have good reason to stay under the luxury tax threshold. But we have to remember that a team only uses four starting pitchers in the playoffs and, if we have seven starters, three of them will relieve in the playoffs.
    The goal is to win the division. The Astros need to find relievers to help us catch and pass Oakland and win our division. They need to find guys who can be trusted to get three outs without giving up a run.

    Liked by 2 people

  22. As Blummer would say, “Frankie Tuesday (Francis Martes) took the loss for Sugar Land last night.” 1.1 innings. No hits and 1 intentional walk. Let’s hope this is his Spring Training. He has pitched in 3 games. 2.2 Innings. Walked 6. ERA of 6.95 and WHIP 3.00. Of the three, last night was his best game. But it was the 10th so a runner on 2nd, a sac bunt, and a low throw pick off at first for Intentional base on balls runner, scored the run.

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    • In watching multiple minor league teams, the players that are “stocky built” appear to have all put on 10-30 pounds during Covid. There are a lot of “corn fed” players in the minors right now. The Astros have a bunch of them. . (And I can personally vouch that it is possible.)

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