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.
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.