The Astros were expected to finish first or second in the AL West almost universally. The team is 7-9 and has often looked like a shell of the five time ALCS team they are. Particularly the batting on the team seems fo have fallen apart. How bad has it been?
Before I give you the details, let me put a disclaimer upfront that we will revisit before we are done. It is late April. It is too early to panic, but let's ask are there worrisome trends to monitor or adjustments that can be made.
The Astros are the 21st rated team at scoring runs in 2022 after being FIRST in 2021.
The Astros are scoring 1.73 runs less per game. How bad is the Astros drop relative to the rest of the league? The entire MLB is down 0.51 runs per game. Per the table to the right only the Cincinnati Reds have had a worse drop in run production than the Astros.
Why are they failing to live up to expectations batting? Let's explore some theories
- A few batters are off to terrible starts
- They miss Carlos Correa
- Their batters got less at bats in Spring Training and were not ready for the season
- The Jose Altuve injury is impacting everyone
- Dusty is mismanaging usage
- They have been unlucky
A few batters are off to terrible starts
Again the data here is fluid and the data I am basing this off of is at least missing Monday's results. I can update in a few weeks.
As shown in this table, several core players on this team are performing below career normals. One could say only Bregman, Pena, and Brantley are off to good starts,
Why? We will explore this more but it may just be too soon to tell. Let's explore some possibilities.
They miss Carlos Correa
At one moment in the early offensive malaise I tweeted the following.
There were several players I had in mind when I tweeted that to mitigate the loss of Correa. These were the players in whom I thought the Astros could/should invest resources.
At SS, we discussed
Jeremy Pena as the Astros next SS
Re-signing Carlos Correa
Evaluated Trevor Story as an option
Discussed Chris Taylor as SS/ CF option
In CF, I wrote about
Acquiring Starling Marte
At C, we have discussed
Trading for Jacob Stallings
Would these moves have helped the Astros offense so far?
Correa has gotten off to a slow start with a wRC+ of 77. In his place at SS, Pena, the rookie has been OUTSTANDING early, If he is feeling pressure he is not showing it. Pena is NOT the reason for the Astros offensive woes as his wRC+ has been 156. None of the suggested moves would materially improve the Astros offense with the exception of having Taylor available as an injury fill in now for Altuve and a super substitute playing the primary backup role in place of Diaz and Goodrum. Pena will not keep up THIS pace but he is doing just what the Astros expected.
Batting while playing CF the combination of McCormick and Siri have a wRC+ of 133. Like Pena, the CF combination of Siri and McCormick HAVE NOT been the problem for the Astros offense.
Trading for Jacob Stallings might have had a small incremental positive impact on the Astros offense. Both Maldonado and Castro have been brutal offensively for the Astros. Stallings has only been marginally better.
So none of the recommendations we had really would have done THAT much to fix the overall offensive malaise of the lineup to this point but Taylor might have been the best move to help and then the effect of him on others may have been more positive than we can see in this analysis.
Their batters got less at bats in Spring Training and were not ready for the season
One of the concerning things about Dusty Baker's approach to Spring Training was that he played his critical players less than other teams did to get ready for the season. He had good reasons for this as he felt like rushing them too fast would lead to injury. This topic could be a completely different article but let's look at three groups of teams.
- the Astros
- the three top runs per game teams currently- Dodgers, Cubs, Guardians
- the three teams that have increase their runs per game the most- Cubs, Rangers, Mets
So the comparison will be really be the Astros vs. five other teams. For this comparison we will ask
- Who has the top 9 PA as of today?
- How many PA did the top 13 players in ST get? This list must include the top 9 PA in the regular season.
- What is the team's OPS?
Rather than hit you with all of those details I am just going to show you the data and results.
The Astros protected their players in Spring Training and played the core to only 240 PA. The five teams that one could argue are off to the best start got on average 46% more PA than the Astros starters. On average their 13 players has about NINE more PA than the Astros players or about three games.
Is this significant? I think it depends on which number you focus upon 46% or nine more PA each. I think it was more important in the first week than the second week and by now should be irrelevant. There is no trend in the Astros runs scored to indicate that if this effect was real it has diminished.
Personally, I THINK this issue is real. I am not sure the data is conclusive to support that.
The Jose Altuve injury is impacting everyone
I am not sure there is an objective way to quantify this. Altuve has gotten off to a slow start. Him not being in the lineup and performing as he had been is not the reason they are not scoring. However, Altuve not being available puts more on Diaz and Goodrum. Neither is performing up to that task either.
I am not sure the value of Altuve is only in his individual performance. He is the team leader and it hurts that he is not there.
Dusty is mismanaging usage
There are probably three critical lineup decisions the Dusty Baker needs to make on a daily basis
Improving the platoon usage of Martin Maldonado and Jason Castro
Who plays CF- Siri or McCormick (and should either sub in for Brantley in LF?)
Who should play what IF spots and should Diaz and/or Goodrum be in for Altuve now or to give others rest later?
At catcher, the Astros have generally followed a logical usage for Castro as almost all of his plate appearances have been vs. RHP. Maldonado also has gotten most of the PA against LHP. The Astros should try to use Castro more often against RHSP.
The outfield deployment is a little more complicated. First, there is very limited data for both and in a month some of these conclusions might change. When focused currently only on McCormick and Siri, both are better vs. LHP than RHP.
It is only when one digs into pitch type is that leads to real differentiation. The primary CF/ LF players perform differently based on the pitches being thrown. If one understood the pitcher's primary dominant pitch, one could pick the best OF combination based on this table. Alvarez could be deployed to LF when there are not two good OF options.
If that is too much data for you, follow this decision tree. I honestly don't know if Dusty is following this kind of deployment strategy. I think it is more random than that. Now that I have built this, I can update it periodically as McCormick, Siri, and Meyers get a more statistically significant data set.
What about the infield? In our Niko Goodrum article we were very clear that Goodrum should NOT start vs. RHSP whenever possible. Clearly, Dusty sees a switch hitter and believes he should hit RHP. His CAREER wRC+ vs. RHP is 73. So this has led me to ask why. I have stated that the Astros seem to deploy lineup choices based on xwOBA. What if we built the same deployment decision tree for the IF (1B, 2B, SS) that we did for the OF based again on xwOBA?
Again this is based on the pitcher handedness and what their dominant pitch is. If they multiple dominant pitches this table gives you the details to make a decision. As you might be able to see Goodrum's xwOBA vs. RHP is significantly better than his actual wOBA. This explains some of Dusty's insistence on using Goodrum vs. RHP.
Again, it is too early to use just 2022 data so we have to consider the weighted average of 2021 and 2022. In this table look for the green splits and avoid the red ones. The different players definitely have different strengths vs. different types of pitches.
Diaz is better against fastballs and not very good vs. breaking balls
Goodrum is good against all fastballs and terrible vs. offspeed and breaking pitches
The data is too early for Pena but it appears that offspeed pitches may challenge him
Gurriel is ok against anything and excellent at many things. He is who you think he is. Also notice how many breaking pitches he sees from RHP. They are telling you that is the only way to get him out.
I don't know why any pitcher would ever throw Altuve a fastball. It seems like teams know that doesn't work.
Once you know this data now, follow along with the game action. What is the pitcher good at throwing and how does that impact who is playing? How do they pitch to our Astros hitters?
Again, if the numbers are too much for you, look at the decision tree.
Even when heathy there are spots where Dusty should start Diaz. Goodrum should only start vs. fastball dependent starters. Also, Goodrum should probably still get less than half of his bats vs. RHP. If this team had signed Taylor, it would have likely meant no Goodrum signing and less black holes offensively in the first few weeks especially when Altuve went out.
The impact of this issue is real but still not enough to explain the huge drop in production.
They have been unlucky- yes UNLUCKY
I have saved the best and most plausible answer for last. It is the answer no one wants to hear.
Your Astros have been horribly unlucky. Let me prove it to you.
This offseason we wrote about the most overrated and underrated players in the MLB. We based that analysis upon the difference between a players actual wOBA and their xwOBA. Did they get the results they should have gotten based on things like launch angle and exit velocity?
Batters whose wOBA minus xwOBA is the most positive (Red in the table above) were the luckiest and likely most overrated.
So far this season that has been Bregman. Interestingly, Bregman had one of the three worst nights batting for the Astros on 4/25 (not in this data set.)
McCormick is the ONLY other Astros hitter for whom this difference is positive. EVERY other Astros player os near zero (Siri) or significantly negative
Batters whose wOBA minus xwOBA is the most negative (Blue in the table above) were the most unlucky and likely most underrated.
Notice all of the Blue!
Who would you guess was most unlucky before you even saw this data? Kyle Tucker and you would have been right. Tucker is almost 200 points worse than he should be. His wOBA is a bench player at risk of getting cut; his xwOBA is of an MVP candidate. He is about to break out. Trust me. Stop saying Tucker is not good or frustrating or anything negative about him OR you will look as foolish at you would have this time last year.
Alvarez is also extremely unlucky by this metric. Expect him to bust out too.
You may be saying to yourself, Larry does analysis and he is telling me the Astros have been unlucky? Let me give you team data. For all of these massive table focus where the Astros are (marked in yellow)
xWOBA (All In measure of predicted performance)
The Astros bats HAVE NOT been one of the worst performing in the MLB. The batters have been hitting like the 11th best team in the MLB. Not great but better than 21st team.
Luck Scale (wOBA minus xwOBA)
This is the same metric we described with the individual players now applied to the team. The Astros are the 27th luckiest team by this metric or they are the 4th most unlucky. It will get better soon.
BABIP (Another measure of what the results SHOULD be)
Over the past ten years BABIP for the league has been 0.292 to 0.300. In 2022, BABIP is at 0.283. The Astros BABIP is a league WORST 0.232. That will not sustain at that level. It will get better and the batters will get "hot."
Overall, every EXPECTED stat is far better than the reality so far. You know what that is? That is being UNLUCKY. When one considers all of these factors, one could claim the Astros have been the unluckiest team in all of the MLB.
What does one do about being unlucky?
First, make sure that you put yourself in the best position to succeed by getting all of the previous issues right.
Second, make sure that the real performance is NOT in your head and hurting the team psychologically.
Third, celebrate signs that the luck is turning and have confidence it will. There are signs this is changing for Tucker the last two games, so maybe we can start there.
Well there you have it. Why have the Astros been so bad so far? They have several issues to make sure they are getting right, but more than anything they have been unlucky offensively. Get ready to watch one of the biggest offensive explosions as everyone gets "hot." They won't really be hotter than they were; they will be luckier than they were.
Baseball this is why we love it. We will explore the pitching soon. Warning you may not like that one.
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