Houston Astros: Still early, still bad

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The Astros tied, and then lost, the last game of their most recent home series against the Boston Red Sox, going into 3 extra innings and running through their bullpen in order to try and eke out a second win and second series win at home. Unfortunately, the Red Sox took better advantage of the late inning bullpen pitchers, ran through and tired out a few with endless swings, and managed 2 runs in the final inning. Astros never produced any runs after the 9th inning Rasmus homerun to tie the game.

Another disappointing loss, just after a game where the Astros seemed to come alive and begin to play with the energy and precision that their roster talent allows. When the Astros come out hot, like the Saturday afternoon game against the Red Sox, they are a great club to watch. However, when they’re not, they’re simply agonizing. We’ve seen too many agonizing losses this season – and even a couple of painful wins. The team isn’t playing to the caliber expected, and is well on their way to last place in both the AL and the MLB.

This last home series has really captured the problem of this team. Starting pitchers have folded under pressure. Weak spots have developed at both 1st and 3rd base. Errors are piling up. Baserunning is atrocious. Run production is failing. Players are practically colliding into each other in the field, chasing flies. Surprisingly, no more complaints about the lighting. Of course, a team can’t complain when they’re playing as badly as the Astros are playing this year.

They’ve shrunk in the spotlight, and this young team’s high expectations may be too much pressure to handle. Fingers are being pointed, and blamed being placed, with the starting pitching rotation receiving the large portion of blame. The starting pitching rotation, 1 man short with McCullers in rehab, a relatively horrendous start by McHugh, and some rather poor starts by Feldman, Fiers, and Fister (and even Keuchel against the Rangers) in addition to the bullpen’s newest trade acquistion, Ken Giles, failing to shut down innings can be blamed.

The regression in the starting rotation and bullpen (although starting rotation has taken the biggest tumble) can be seen right here:

graph (2)

For reference: SR is starting rotation, BP is bullpen. What this means, essentially, is more earned runs per game. Almost 2 more per game, to be exact. To give you the real perspective, Astros ERA for 2015 was ranked #1 in the American League for 2015, and 6th overall in the MLB, meaning the Astros allowed the fewest earned runs in the AL, and 6th fewest overall in the MLB. In 2016, Astros rank last in the AL, giving up the most runs per game, and 27th in the MLB. Just to put that into perspective for you.

It’s not all pitching, though. Not by a long shot. Let’s compare at bats:

graph (5)

These measurements are per game. The Astros are actually right on the pace in homeruns, compared to the 2015 season. Everything else – regressed. Only slightly, though. Last year, the Astros averaged 4.5 runs a game. They’re now down by almost a run per game, with 3.7 runs per game. Not a strength, but it once evened out when the scoring was held to fewer than 4 runs allowed per game. Obviously. Run production, outside of homeruns, which was an area of improvement for the Astros coming into 2016 has actually decreased. They are more dependent on homeruns now than ever.

The Astros have regressed in producing runners in scoring position, and have left a great deal of RISP stranded every game. In 2015, the RISP stranded was 3.26 per game. In 2016, the count is 3.74. That’s one run subtracted out of every 2 games. Fewer hits means fewer bases. Lower RBIs mean fewer runs. Basic stuff. And, while not really measurable (at least from any statistic I’ve run across), baserunning has been atrocious. From leading off base too much, haphazard and costly 3rd base steal attempts, to clumsy and aloof running without watching ball movement or lead runners, and the Astros have a mess at bat.

These two are kind of no-brainers, though. Obviously, the fewer runs the opponent gets and the more runs the Astros get, the better the Astros record will be. Let’s not forget fielding, though:

graph (4)

The only bright spots here? Average errors per game, believe it or not, has decreased in 2016 as well as stolen bases allowed (STA). UPDATE: as of yesterday’s game…no they haven’t, thanks to the 3 fielding errors yesterday, and stolen bases allowed has evened up with 2015’s stats. The correct number is now almost a full error per game (.74). Fewer double plays are occurring, and that last number right there – the defense efficiency ratio, grades the overall efficiency of fielding – the higher the better. Plainly speaking, Astros defense has regressed along with everything else, more errors, fewer plays made, and combined with pitching regression, more opponent batter scoring.

I am not sure there is an end to this in sight. We can keep saying that it’s still early, but there are fundamental problems at each side of the ball – pitching, fielding, and batting – that need to be addressed. This isn’t a matter of changing the pitching rotation, or the line up. It’s a matter of the Astros getting over this seemingly insurmountable slump. The Astros can play better than this, and it’s represented with last year’s numbers. This is, largely, the same team that surprised us all in 2015 with a playoff run. There are no surprises this year, but there are some heavy expectations.

The club plays best when they’re enjoying the game, loosened up, and having fun. Saturday proved this. They do great when they don’t take themselves too seriously. The pressure’s on, though, and perhaps its overwhelming this young roster. Well, Astros, the pressures off. At this rate, grabbing and average of 1 win per series, you guys are well on your way to breaking expectations. You’re well on your way to a last place in the AL West, AL, and maybe the MLB. At this pace, there’s zero chance to get to the big game, much less another playoff run.

It’s still early, sure. The pattern of regression has already been set, though, and in another month or two, it will be too late.

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One thought on “Houston Astros: Still early, still bad

  1. Pingback: Discover: Wednesday Wonderings « MLB.com Blogs

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