Andrew Luck: Can we say it now?

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I’m not usually one to kick a player while he is down (unless he’s a Cowboys player and isn’t down because of injury). I also feel that some of Andrew Luck’s bad luck this and last year has a shared responsibility (GM and HC). This year, one can comfortably say that Andrew Luck isn’t great because his team isn’t great. He’s come back from 2015 showing he can play on par with his previous non-injury seasons. But, coming into his 5th year in the NFL, and into his big contract (being the highest paid QB in NFL history, with a 6 year, $140 million contract with an $87 million injury guarantee/$47 million guaranteed at signing, which levels out to $23.3 million a year average), Andrew Luck still has a lot to prove in the NFL.

Coming back from his terrible start and later injury-laden season, Luck has shown some improvement – albeit simply getting back to his previous play. 2015 worked a number on Luck, even before he was sidelined with a shoulder injury, and then later with a lacerated kidney (knocking him out for the rest of the season). In his first 3 starts, he threw for 7 interceptions – putting him on pace for a record incerception count. After a shoulder/rib injury sidelined him for 2 games (where the Colts actually went on a 2 game winning streak), he began to show some signs of improvement (can the “he was still injured” talk. He was cleared for play, and no results came from investigating his non-status on the Colts injury reports), but still fell short of an improved year.

The question is can Andrew Luck improve from what his 4 (and coming into 5) year stint has shown? Basically, he’s played the same with little to no improvement. In his 5th year, he’s beginning to learn how to slide. He’s still not learning to back off the linebacker mentality and takes hits he shouldn’t. He makes bad throwing decisions that has led to his interception count to be one of the highest counts in the league for a starter. There is a learning process, of course, when it comes into reading the field and making better decisions. Experience leads the way here. However, Luck is coming into his 5th year and he’s barely showing any progress here. The season is still early, though, so perhaps his banged up 2015 have taught him to take fewer chances.

One argument here is Andrew Luck has been carrying the team for the past 4 years and counting. During that same tenure, he was playing with a top 10 offense for 2 years (#3 in 2014), and a top 10 defense for 2 years (and coming into year #3). Unfortunately, they all happened in different years, with 2013 being the most balanced team (#15 in offense and #13 in defense). So, Luck’s had weapons. It hasn’t been JUST him the whole time. Truth be told, if anything carried the Colts through the Luck era, it has been the consistent mediocrity coming out of the AFC South. I’ll say it – it’s the same advantage that the Texans have had in the past few years of playoff appearances (especially in 2015). Outside of the overwhelming domination of the AFC South, the Colts are 22-21 under Luck.

So stop with that talk. If Colts were in another division, Luck would not likely have a single playoff win under his belt.

Only time will tell if Luck has learned from the past 4 years in the NFL to improve on his decision-making on the field. This is where his weakness lies. You can’t argue his talent. He’s got the arm and accuracy. He’s mobile. He is a prototypical NFL QB in terms of build and talent. What he lacks is decision making skills. This is what turns a good QB into a top 5 or elite QB. Currently, Luck sits at good. He is better than average, has the natural ability to succeed in the league, and could quite possibly take any well-rounded team far into the playoffs – even all the way to the championship. What gets him to the next level is all on him, though. Not the coach. Not the team. Not even the owner. What gets him there, and what will hold him back, is him. Until that happens, we can say it: he’s overrated.

Houston Astros: the wrap-up

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Raise your hand if you spent the entire 2015-1016 off-season riding the high of meaningful baseball in October, for the first time in 10 years, in Houston. Yes, it was all of us. The Astros jumped ahead of schedule in 2015, gave an impressive showing in the postseason, and had the city chomping at the bit for a legitimate Pennant run in 2016. The front office made some moves in the off-season that seemed to trend towards tweaking the roster just enough to fix a few roadblock issues from 2015 – among those were Doug Fister for the starting rotation, and Ken Giles as the up-and-coming closer. Chris Carter was traded, and one of two promising rookies would be sent to 1st base for their debut.

Contracts were also extended to a vets, including Colby Rasmus and Tony Sipp. Both Rasmus and Sipp shined in 2015 during some rather rough patches for the rest of the team, and the hope was that they’d hold their numbers through 2016, and possibly improve upon them. Additionally, the decision was made for Gattis to eventually take back-up catching duties, which led to Hank Conger being traded off, and Erik Kratz (remember this guy?) temporarily brought in to cover while Gattis transitioned. The moves, outside of the Giles contract, were somewhat conservative, but they seemed to be the right moves to strengthen the roster overall.

Then 2016 happened. Specifically, April 2016 happened. The Astros went .292, 7-17 to start the season. We were discouraged, but didn’t outright panic because 5 more months of baseball was coming. Surely they could get back on track and still make a showing. If they pulled together and fixed the hemorrhages. Among these nasty leaks were starting rotation, bullpen, defense, and total offense (including stranding runners and bad base-running). In April, the only thing that did not completely stall was the at-bats – but you wouldn’t know because runs and RISP stranded were basically equal, which meant the line up was out of whack and not reflective of the batting.

The 1st half or May showed similar results, but a few changes that helped. The lineup was finally adjusted to reflect hitting patterns, and the Astros started winning. Even though they came back hot at the end of May, throughout June, and headed into the All-Star break, the slow start of the season was simply too much to overcome. Even though the Astros pulled within 2.5 games of the AL West lead, their inability to shake the mental block that has formed against the Rangers kept them from being a real contender for that spot. In fact, the combined April/Rangers losses for the season was 29 – that’s 18% of the total games played and almost 40% of their total losses.

Let that one sit for a minute.

Those were the two fatal blows dealt for the 2016 season. The slow start and the Rangers record. You can argue a number of things – lack of trades at the deadline, injury, poor AB production, poor pitching performances, young roster – it doesn’t matter. It comes down to 29 losses that stalled the Astros run for 2016. The Rangers spent money, both in the offseason and at the trade deadline, to make a legitimate run. The Astros didn’t. That still didn’t make the difference, however. The path to the playoffs went straight through South Oklahoma, and the Astros couldn’t get past that wall. The most inexplicable thing about this is that the Rangers didn’t even have their best games vs the Astros.

The Astros just sucked worse against the Rangers.

Neither one of these fatal blows were because of lack of trades. In fact, I’m happy the Astros didn’t bet the farm for a maybe. That’s what it was this year at the deadline – a maybe. There were already too many holes to be filled to make a meaningful trade, and then the injury bug hit. McCullers went out. Valbuena was lost. Rasmus struggled. Gonzalez spent some time on the bench. Gregerson went out. And then Keuchel. These were some pretty big injuries to deal with, along with a few Correa and Bregman misses. However, this didn’t sink the Astros. It just didn’t help. Overall, the Astros had the fewest number of injuries in the entire league. Check it out.

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The impact of these injuries hit a little hard, but it was nothing that any other playoff team (outside of the Dodgers and Cubs – perhaps) didn’t roll through. It did expose the ultimate lack of depth and experience with the club, but that is what will happen with a young team. It’s part of the process, and either you have a coaching staff that can shore things up and move forward, or you don’t. The Astros don’t. Some of that has been discussed here, but both Luhnow and Hinch deserve some credit for mishandling their roster both throughout the season and especially during these injuries that hit. We’ll discuss that a bit later, though.

We can also take a look at a primary recipe for success or failure when it comes to a young roster. Since depth was one of the issues shown after the 2nd half injury, the need for the right investment in veteran players has been shown. This was a weak link for the Astros, who went with players such as Rasmus, Gomez, and Valbuena, as well as pitchers like Fiers, Feldman, Fields, Sipp, and Gregerson to get them through. There’s no star in that line up (although Valbuena did start to heat up before injury, his fielding and ABs left a lot to be desired in the first half). There’s no strong veteran leadership on the team, outside of Altuve – but as great as he is, he can only do so much.

In hindsight, the front office was a little too conservative moving into the 2016 season, fresh off the 1st postseason run since the 2005 season. Perhaps you can count this for a little inexperience all-around, with Crane being a relatively new franchise owner, Luhnow’s first stint as a GM, and, well – Hinch has been around the block. The team’s young age factors into this greatly, which is why strength is needed in veteran contracts – it gives the team a few years of overall experience, as well as depth in core positions. This season certainly doesn’t spell out disaster in the long run. It points to a learning experience for the whole club, and a great opportunity to improve on mistakes.

Dear Tom Herman, Please see this through

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The University of Houston Cougar football program has long been the stepping stone for coaches eager to show their coaching IQ and prowess by reshaping the program and spitting out wins that errantly bring Cougar football into the limelight. Soon after a few winning seasons and promising recruiting classes (along with promises made to new recruits about what is in store for them and their future at U of H under the program being built), and long before that fiery path cools, another power conference football program swoops in and steals that coach away.

This hasn’t always been the plight of Cougar football, but it’s the modern-day rollercoaster that most U of H alumni recalls.

We have a few strong seasons, get our hopes up, channel our excitement over the mumbles and rumors of power conference invites, and then some bigger, more powerful and wealthy football program comes crashing in like the koolaid man and extinguishes all the hype. The brilliant coach jumps ship, the program halts, and what’s left of the scorched earth policy that has become the rule of the Cougar football program is a trail of broken dreams. One may thing this is a quite dramatic display for a football program, but it’s a fact of life for today’s Cougar alumni.

And we’re getting pretty weary.

Many of us look fondly to the Yeoman and Pardee eras (in clips, articles, and youtube footage, because a growing portion of us were mere children (or worse – not even born)) and wonder, with each short era, if this one is going to be the one that takes us back. Ironically, it was the Pardee era that also broke the ground on the present landscape of the football program. In fact, since Pardee was plucked from the program in 89, U of H hasn’t seen a winning coach stick with the program for longer than four years. Art Briles set that record back in 2007, before taking off to Baylor before the season’s end.

The Art Briles decision still hurts, 9 years later.

In the interim, the program has been given a patchwork of interim coaches that can’t keep the promises of the previous program, and it leaves jilted players and fans. The players, after dedicating themselves, are left in jeopardy, not knowing if the next man up is going to have the same plan for them. Usually, the program sinks back into mediocrity after getting a taste of that cusp. Recruitment stalls, and alumni hold their breath to see if their cable provider is even going to broadcast the games in between super star head coaching recruitment.

I really don’t want to sign up for DirecTV, Mr. Herman.

Kevin Sumlin soon came knocking on the door, rescuing the team once again (during the Keenum era), and brought the program again to the brink of breaking through. Big East called, and we accepted. And then the football Big East dissolved, U of H became the charter school for the AAC, and was pitted back to the depths of achieving a perfect season in order to be nationally recognized. Once again, the head coach couldn’t be bothered to stick around for the Bowl game (literally, as he left the team without a head coach on the sideline to interview with A&M), and the program was left to die.

But you, Mr. Tom Herman, you came in to the picture last year and breathed new life into Houston and the U of H Cougar football program. You ignited the city with a fervor that hasn’t been seen since the 80’s, and continue to do so this year. We all waited with bated breath, to see if you’d take the bait and stay a while after last year’s exceptional season, and you did! Big 12 came calling, and you set out to break ground on the single-greatest recruiting class  the program has ever seen. It’s all coming together, it’s finally happening – we all thought. And still think.

But now both UT and LSU are trying to blow out our candles again.

I get it – we all do. The allure of either program is quite obvious, and the bidding war would almost be comical to watch if it weren’t such a bitter pill to swallow. And we wouldn’t tarnish your name, because either would be a well-deserved promotion for a talented head coach in the NCAA. You have more than earned that opportunity during your short tenure at U of H. But you’ve brought something magical to this school and this city. You’ve brought hope back to alumni all over the country. Your work here has channeled excitement and electricity that most of us can only be told about.

In essence, you’ve really created something special here at U of H, and we’d all really, really, really love for you to stick around to see it through. Cougar football is on the cusp again, and this time we want to break through. We’re hungry for it. Starving, even. Whatever it is, we’ll do it. We’re packing the stadium again. We’re getting involved. You’re actually forcing news coverage that has typically been dominated by UT, A&M, Baylor and a plethora of bigger, out of state schools. Even better, you’ve given a class of players the ability to reach beyond the college football syndicate.

We love the energy you’ve brought back into town. We cherish it. We want to see it endure. And we all know that it means a tenure longer than 2 years. You can build this program into a consistent winner. You can let it break through to one of the big power conferences (even if it’s not Big 12, the right suitor will come along soon enough) and give this city a long-lasting gift. This happens if you stay. If you see it through, and help us grow to that next level. We want to believe, Mr. Herman. We believe in you, so please, believe in us. Help us get there. Stay here.

Houston Texans: Buckle up

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One quarter of the season has been played, with the Texans sitting atop the AFC South and a 2 game cushion, at 3-1. Not a bad start, with a brand-spanking-new offense and some key injuries on both sides of the ball. The offensive line is still shaky, with Duane Brown hinted at coming back this week, after his season-ending injury last season, and the defense lost their top player, JJ Watt, for the season. O’Brien has taken play-calling duties over for Godsey, who couldn’t figure out a way to use the running game’s biggest weapon, Lamar Miller, in 3 games.

The team is finally showing some flashes of greatness, stalled by some bad decision turnovers from Osweiler. Hopkins hasn’t yet been utilized to his 2015 playtime, with most of the turnovers coming off of forced passes to him. The stumbles and stalls haven’t stopped the Texans from picking up a winning record so far, and gaining that 2-game cushion on the rest of the flailing AFC South (including what shouldn’t have been such a nail-biting game against the Tennessee Titans last Sunday). Each game brings a few signs of improvement (we’re not going to talk about that one game).

The Texans have a powerhouse defense that can keep the offense in the game. Even with the loss of JJ Watt, the Texans have bounced back with other key players like Mercilus, Clowney, Cushing, and Simon, with Wilfork putting in a heck of a season so far. The CB depth is enough to keep the passing game in check (although there are still some tackling issues being settled). The offense, however, doesn’t create a march down the field with the same ease, and has had some pretty rough turnovers in the interim. And special teams is finally figuring out that you get 25 yards on a return by taking a knee.

If you’re like me, you’ve been scratching your head at the ST kickoff return game plan in the first few games of the season, considering the new touchback rule that adds 5 yards to the line of scrimmage. In at least 1 game when we’ve seen turnovers after a returning from the endzone, you’d think the Texans ST coach is crazy. They’re not alone, though. Despite the rule’s intentions of lessening the chance of injury in those rough, full velocity return tackles, returns have actually increased throughout the league. That hasn’t worked well for the Texans, though, and it looks like they’re finally getting wise to this.

But the meat of the schedule is about to start, and we’re left to wonder if they’re ready for it. The Texans are next facing the undefeated and rather mesmerizing Minnesota Vikings, who lost both Teddy Bridgewater and Adrian Peterson within a few short weeks. Despite losing their 2 top offensive weapons, they’ve managed to go 4-0 with Sam Bradford, now seemingly healthy and playing with a vengeance, without even a hiccup. Led by a top defense, the Vikings have capitalized on creating turnovers and then scoring on them, but can just as readily march down the field for a touchdown.

With Osweiler as a continuing work in progress (and I hate to break it to you, but this work in progress looks like it will be continuing throughout the season), are the Texans going to play conservatively to lessen the chance for turnovers, or keep forcing him into making better pressure decisions? I’d bet on a little bit of both. Duane Brown’s impending return will be a great help with keeping Osweiler out of such pressure situations, as it will open up the possibility of shuffling the line around to bolster it on both ends. This will open up the running game down the middle a bit more too.

That’s not likely to all click in place this Sunday, so I’d expect to see more conservative calls on offense to keep from giving the Vikings an opportunity to do what they do best – force a turnover and turn it into points. That may also mean that Hopkins will see a few more games without a target – which may work out best for him and the team in the long run. One of the keys to this offense is having limitless targets on field, and it seems to be working so far. That lingering if/when will Osweiler clean up his throws and make better decisions will decide what level the team will eventually play at this season.

Moving forward? Remain cautiously optimistic. Osweiler’s struggles with decision making under pressure are not an anomaly from a newer QB. I don’t care when he was drafted, he’s not even had a full season starting under his belt. That matters, because you don’t pick up experience to improve on the bench. He’s also got a brand new offense to work the kinks out with, as well. So, be prepared for this to be a season-long test. It should be, when you’re giving a new QB the opportunity to be the franchise QB. We’re well past the days of next QB up. It’s new territory, guys, and the rules are different.

And, at the end of the season if he doesn’t pan out, it’s really not as bad of a deal as you think. Osweiler is guaranteed for 2 seasons at 18 million per season. That’s the average pay for a starting QB in their second contract in the NFL. And if he still continues to have some of the problems under pressure, then the concentration in the free agency and draft for 2017 will beQB and o-line. He’s our guy for at least this season and next, so let’s get used to that. For the time being, recognize he’s in his 2nd year (and 1st full season) as a starter, and give him the room to improve.

Minnesota may not be a win, but it won’t mean the season is over. This won’t be an easy win for either team, and it won’t be another blow out embarassment for the Texans. I’ll put my predictions that far. What we’ll see from the Texans, hopefully, is an extension of the improvement on the running game seen last week, with some quick, up-tempo short passes to move the ball down the field. If Duane Brown returns, that puts a little more strength on the o-line (especially if Clark can slide down to RT for a few plays). I’d really like to see some movement on the o-line with Brown’s return.

Defense needs to keep being defense. They’ll have a tough time getting to Bradford, but should have some success shutting off the running game. Time to start forcing some turnovers, as well. The Vikings haven’t faced a defense like the Texans just yet, so that should shake up Bradford and co, and make them reach outside of the comfort zone. This will be another game where the defense will be counted on to carry the load, but I’ve got the confidence they can step up and do this. Secondary will have to make some leaps in this game as well, because Bradford can use his arm effectively.

And the Fuller on ST was a nice trick, but I wouldn’t use it for this game.

I predict the Texans will come out of this with their second loss, but still sitting on top of the AFC South in 1st place (and it’s quite possible to keep that same 2 game cushion). This is an early test for the readiness of the team, and it’s fine if they don’t pass. There’s still a lot of season left to improve on offense (which is the game changer), and like I said, it will take the season to vastly improve. The next few games should show whether or not Osweiler begins to make better decisions under pressure, and I’d expect him to. But if he does, and starts throwing it away, don’t scold him for that.

Sometimes, that’s all you’ve got.

In the long run, if the Texans can manage to dominate the AFC South (and currently signs point to that being quite possible) then they have some wiggle room to improve the offense overall. They’re actually quite fortunate with that this season. It’s the same circumstance that has put the Andrew Luck Colts in the playoffs practically every year, but the key difference is that the Texans have actually build a team. This next game may not be pretty, and the season may not be pretty, but it’s a season going on a learning curve that will eventually pan out.

Houston Astros: Dave Hudgens needs a new job

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The Astros hitting coach, Dave Hudgens, needs a new job.

Before we get out the pitchforks and place the blame solely on any shoulders, however, let’s take a look at what a hitting coach realistically does, and how this job affects the team. Typically, the hitting coach’s involvement is analyzing player at-bats in the game versus batting practice. He sees the technique used, and works with the player if there are huge discrepancies between practice and games. He also works with players to tweak performance, in the event that a player’s hitting technique declines over time. This position certainly cannot be blamed for the season – the season play was indeed a team and staff effort – but there are some numbers that I find pretty discouraging, as far as how a hitting coach can and can affect a game or player, and with Hudgens’ own track record as a hitting coach. Let’s take a look.

Dave Hudgens was hired in the 2014-2015 offseason, after being fired from the Mets organization toward the beginning of the 2014 season; his 4th year as hitting coach for the Mets. One could say his firing was a simply casualty in the organizational shake-up for the Mets that continued into last year. Many people do. However, there exists some decent evidence that the Hudgens hitting philosophy and approach (as quoted in a now-defunct chron.com article as being rather relaxed, with the simple goal to get on base no matter what) did not cut it for the Mets organization. Here’s 3 years of batting stats for the Mets (collectively) with Hudgens as hitting coach:

Batting Average

2011 – .264 (Ranked 2nd)

2012 – .249 (Ranked 10th)

2013 – .237 (Ranked 14th)

On-Base Percentage

2011 – .335 (Ranked 2nd)

2012 – .316 (Ranked 11th)

2013 – .306 (Ranked 14th)

Strikeouts

2011 – 1,085 (Ranked 13th)

2012 – 1,250 (Ranked 7th)

2013 – 1,384 (Ranked 1st)

Not great. In fact, there’s a steady decline in offense performance by the total team. Does this reflect as a negative pattern for Hudgens, or is it simply the outcome of a Mets organization that didn’t expand their purse strings in order to pick up quality players? Obviously, a hitting coach can only do so much as far as improving a team’s at-bat. Once a player gets up to the MLB, they are pretty set in player style and ability. So, we can’t expect miracles. However, as discussed above, the main goal of the hitting coach is to keep that consistency the player has shown, whether it be analyzing swinging technique, or offering tweaks when necessary.

In Hudgen’s final year as a hiting coach with the Mets, one stat was fairly noticeable – a much lower production in at-bats at home versus away. Hudgens took this split difference to the team about a week before he was fired, the stat was simply washed away as a player problem – with the home field stadium getting to the heads of the players. A mental block when playing at home. This makes some sense – there’s extra pressure to perform at home versus away, when the team is directly and primarily playing for their fan base. This could also be a fluky situation that bears no responsibility from the hitting coach. Unless there’s a pattern that begins to emerge. Let’s look at some team stats for the Astros with Hudgens as hitting coach:

Batting Average

2015 – .249 (Ranked 23rd)

2016 – .246 (Ranked 24th)

On-Base Percentage

2015 – ..315 (Ranked 16th)

2016 – .319 (Ranked 19th)

Strikeouts

2015 – 1,406 (Ranked 2nd)

2016 – 1,438 (Ranked 4th)

I’m adding one more stat, to make sense of some of these numbers

Walks

2015 – 3.02 per game (Ranked 11th)

2016 – 3.42 per game (Ranked 7th)

Of course these 2016 stats will change slighty, given there are 2 more games left in the season, but not much. What we can see is, overall, a dip in batting average, a slight rise in on-base percentage (walks being added to show one reason for that slight rise), and higher strike-out rate from Hudgens year 1 vs year 2 with the Astros. That’s only 2 years worth of stats, but it does show a similar pattern to the decline at-bat for the Mets. Also somewhat alarming to what could be a pattern developing is the Astros dip in performance at home for 2016 versus away. In 2015, the Astros had a BA/OBP of .247/.310 away vs .253/.321 at home. For 2016, the split was .255/.327 away vs .238/.311 at home. So, either the Astros have developed the same mental block of playing at home as the Mets did during Hudgens’ tenure, or Hudgens isn’t a great fit for the young, growing team.

I tend to think it is the latter, and we’ll take a look at 2 players that went into a serious decline with the Astros in 2016 to break this down. I think we all know at least one of the players we will be discussing here, and nobody really wants to bring it up – but, this player’s performance is key to uncovering what may be a big issue with Hudgens as hitting coach. The other is a player who has seen a steep decline at bat during Hudgens’ tenure as the Astros hitting coach, as well. Both are stars in the centerfield, and have struggled at bat with the Astros. So, without further adeiu, let’s take a look at the yearly stats of Carlos Gomez and Jake Marisnick, prior to working with Hudgens, during his tenure with the team and, for Gomez, after being picked up by another team.

Marisnick is finishing up his 3rd year with the Astros, and 4th year in the MLB. He’s a great asset in centerfield, with his speed and depth, but has stalled out at bat. His at-bat performance in 2015 was a primary reason, actually, for bringing in Golden Glove CF and slugger Carlos Gomez. We know how that turned out, though. But let’s specifically examine Marisnick’s at-bat stats over the 3 years he’s been with the club:

Batting Average (career: .223)

2014 – .272

2015 – .236

2016 – .204

On-Base Percentage (career: .267)

2014 – .299

2015 – .281

2016 – .253

Strikeouts

2014 – 48 (out of 51 games, .94 per game)

2015 – 105 (out of 133 games, .78 per game)

2016 – 81 (out of 116 games, .69 per game)

Marisnick’s BA and OBP both declined steadily since 2014, but hey – fewer strikeouts! Fewer strikeouts is a good thing, as it means he’s taking pitches and waiting for more pitches in the zone. However, this isn’t improving his performance at bat – at all. Here are a few more numbers to show just how much he’s declined since his 1st year with the Astros:

Hits

2014 – 47 (out of 51 games, .92 per game)

2015 – 80 (out of 133 games, .60 per game)

2016 – 57 (out of 116 games, .49 per game)

Runs Batted In (RBI)

2014 – 19 (out of 51 games, .37 per game)

2015 – 36 (out of 133 games, .27 per game)

2016 – 20 (out of 116 games, .17 per game)

Pretty terrible decline overall, especially considering Marisnick only in his 4th year in the MLB. One could argue that he’s an on-the-fence player who may not belong in the major league (if you take out his OF performance, that is), and that he had a breakout year when he came on with the Astros. This is a possibility. Or, perhaps he needs some more hands-on coaching.

Now, let’s look at Carlos Gomez. This, perhaps, is the most damning evidence that there’s some deficiency in Hudgens’ philosophy of – well, the trend seems to be get on base no matter what, especially if that means taking pitches and being walked. There has been a pretty distinct overall surge in walks for the team, and I’m not sure this is the best philosophy for a young growing team. But, I digress. Gomez stats (we’ll look at the same 3 year average, with direct splits between teams played for):

Batting Average (career: .257)

2014 – .284

2015 MIL – .262

2015 HOU – .242

2016 HOU – .210

2016 TEX – .289

On-Base Percentage (career: .312)

2014 – .356

2015 MIL – .328

2015 HOU – .288

2016 HOU – .272

2016 TEX – .367

Strikeouts

2014 – 141 (out of 148 games, .95 per game)

2015 MIL – 70 (out of 74 games, .95 per game)

2015 HOU – 31 (out of 41 games, .76 per game)

2016 HOU – 100 (out of 85 games, 1.18 per game)

2016 TEX – 35 (out of 32 games, 1.09 per game)

And further…

Hits

2014 – 163 (out of 148 games, 1.10 per game)

2015 MIL – 75 (out of 74 games), 1.01 per game)

2015 HOU – 36 (out of 41 games, .88 per game)

2016 HOU – 62 (out of 85 games, .73 per game)

2016 TEX – 33 (out of 32 games, 1.03 per game)

Runs Batted In (RBI)

2014 – 73 (out of 148 games, .49 per game)

2015 MIL – 43 (out of 74 games, .58 per game)

2015 HOU – 13 (out of 41 games, .32 per game)

2016 HOU – 29 (out of 85 games, .34 per game)

2016 TEX – 16 (out of 32 games, .50 per game)

Aaaaaaannnnndd 31 HRs for MIL in 2014-2015 (.14 per game), 9 HRs for HOU in 2015-2016 (.07 per game), and 8 HRs for TEX in 2016 (.23 per game). Gomez virtually falling off the radar during his short stint on the Astros roster is pretty telling. We can bring up that he had some injury issues during this time (he did – with a stint on the DL for a knee injury in 2015, as well as a stint on the DL for something (although it seemed like more of a timeout) in 2016. But, the sharp jump in performance since finding a new team in 2016 can’t be ignored.

While 2 players can’t tell the whole story (since perhaps Marisnick had his peak, and Gomez simply struggled with injury), we can also look at Chris Carter’s stats – which made a measurable dip in 2015 before being sent off to MIL to resume his high strike out/high HR performance. Feel free to take a look at his 2014-2016 stats here to see for yourself. It’s rather telling. And honestly, if you have taken a look at Gomez as a Ranger, his AB presence is night and day (and you can check out his full AB history, and the dynamics and tweaks made to boost his overall slugging performance here).

Perhaps we can still say that coaching staff doesn’t make or break the team, but there seems to be no denial that the hitting coach (specifically) can either help boost or stall a team. For the Astros, the stats point to him simply not being the right fit for the young, growing team (and his history as a hitting coach and slight patterns emerging point to the possibility that he’s not right for the MLB, period). What if we did have someone who took the time to work on Gomez and his swing this year, and he ended up hitting for the Astros like he now is hitting for the Rangers (killing it, by the way)? Would that make a 4-5 game difference and put the team into the playoffs? Probably. Would that have made a difference in a few of the 27 games lost by 1 run or extra innings? You betcha.

With the Astros 2016 season winding down with no playoff spot, and a slightly worse record than 2015 (even if they win the last 2 games, they’ll still be a game under last season’s record), it’s quite possible that there will be some changes to the coaching staff, along with the necessary changes on the roster. All the coaching positions (as well as management) need to be scrutinized at this point, and Hudgens seems like the weakest link on the coaching staff. There may be more (and we’ll get into that in the next week), but the team’s overall offensive decline cannot be ignored – especially the stalled out veteran player whose hitting technique suddenly improved with a 258 mile northern migration. What also cannot be ignored is the emerging pattern in Hudgens as a hitting coach with 2 different teams, with both teams suffering a decline AB during his tenure.