The Astros at the break: The mediocre, the bad, and the ugly

On this, the day in which no baseball will be played, it's time to finally dig through some of the numbers to see what we might be able to divine about the Astros chances in the second half.

 In the interest of front page space...I am making you jump.

We'll start with some of the more obvious stats:

Offense:

  • BA: .267 (3rd in NL)
  • OBP: .330 (8th in NL)
  • SLG: .405 (8th in NL)
  • OPS: .735 (8th in NL)
It's weird how BA fails to agree with OBP/SLG/OPS.  There's just not much to be made from these stats, so let's get nerdy:
  • ISO: .138 (9th in NL)
  • wOBA: .321 (7th in NL)
  • BABIP: .301 (9th in NL)
  • WAR: 8.2 (tied for 8th in NL)
  • K%: 16.8% (2nd in NL)
  • BB%: 8.3% (14th in NL)
  • K:BB: .54 (5th in NL)
  • LD%: 18.1% (16th in NL)
  • GB%: 48.5% (16th in NL)
  • FB%: 33.4% (16th in NL)
  • IFFB%: 9.3% (7th in NL)
  • HR/FB: 8.6% (tied for 12th in NL)
  • IFH%: 6.8% (5th in NL)
  • O-Swing%: 27.1% (2nd or 15th in NL depending on your perspective) [ % of swings at balls outside the strike zone ]
  • O-Contact%: 64.3% (3rd or 14th in NL)
Ok, now there's something to work with.  What immediately pops out at me is the ridiculously low walk rate combined with the high outside of the zone contact rate.  If our OBP is in the middle of the pack, but is being fueled by as much contact as is it, I find it disconcerting that the Astros are swinging/connecting at/with a lot of pitches outside of the zone.  While our BABIP is normal, our low LD%, high GB%, and high IFH%, lead me to worry as to whether these number indicate a possible drop off in production for us.  I know that Pence and Bourn probably represent 32 of our 81 in field hits this year, but as much bad contact is probably being made on the outside of the strike zone pitches, I start to wonder if OBP will start to slide in the second half.

While there is only a 2.4% margin between the Astros and the Dodgers (1st n the NL) in LD%, my guess is that our low FB% and high GB% is being fueled by outside the zone contact.  The good news is that is something I feel would be correctable should Coop or someone else just hammer home plate discipline or order the worst offenders to take pitches or sit on the bench (...it worked for Billy Beane?).

Pitching:

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Just as in 2008, our offense has been less than we expected, but our pitching has done better than at least I would have guessed.  Given Roy's early season struggles and the fact that Wandy has regressed his early season luck back to the mean, we should have a strong one-two bunch heading into the second half.  What is frightening though, is to consider that we are now going to be depending on three 35+ year old guys to anchor the rotation. No matter what the offense does or does not do in the second half, my gut feeling is that the Astros playoff chances lie in the hands Brian Moehler, Russ Ortiz, and Mike Hampton and how well the hold up in the second of the season.  Unless of course Feliepe Paulino, Bud Norris, Yorman Bazardo, or Polin Trinidad are given a crack the rotation again, which injury could very well necessitate.

In all, so far, the Astros pitchers have combined for 5.6 WAR in the first half (10th in the NL).  This isn't bad considering Roy's struggles, Geary's wicked struggles, Valverde being out for six weeks, and Brandon Backe even being given innings to pitch.

Defense:

Picture_141_medium

I should probably make my previous statement about what the rest of our season hinges on a 1a) and a 1b) statement.  If 1a) is that Moehler, Ortiz, and Hampton have to be able to find some kind of consistency amongst themselves in the second half, then 1b) logically follows as: for the tight rope act that these three walk to continue, the fielding behind them has to be better than it has been.  

While I can't find the exact figure, off hand, last year's infield RZR was above .800 and I think we'd be talking about a much different ball club if it were that way again this year.  Brian Moehler's last few starts have been solid, but he's been successful because he's had solid defense behind him converting all the balls in play he allows into outs; Hampton and Ortiz aren't much different in terms of approach and their dependence on GB outs necessitates solid infield defense.

Miguel Tejada's -10.5 UZR/150 certainly isn't doing us any favors as that indicates he'll have cost us an entire win by the time the season is in the books because of his diminished glove.

Base Running:

BtB just did an amazing piece on team base running at the ASB, so I'll leave the truly inquistitve of you to read through it and play around with the awesome spread sheet Sky includes.

Here's how I can summarize what I gleaned from it all:
  1. Someone needs to sit down with Hunter Pence and make him watch a lot of video so that he can figure out some kind of situational awareness on the base paths.
  2. Carlos Lee needs to drop a few lbs., or start hitting for more power so that his lack of mobility stops dragging the team down.  He's on pace to costs us an entire win just because he can't run the base paths.  $18.5 million sure doesn't buy what it used to...
  3. Lance Berkman and Miguel Tejada need to either get faster, smarter, or just start playing it conservative on the base paths.
  4. Anybody not named Michael Bourn should not be allowed to steal a base unless it's a high-rewards situation and the probabilities (based on pitcher/catcher) are favorable.  This is something Coop has just about full control over and can certainly be fixed.
Conclusion:

A lot has been thrown out here, but here's what I took away from it all:
  • Chasing balls out of the zone has the potential really suppress our offense in the second half.
  • Keeping Moehler, Ortiz, and Hampton on a very tight leash before they get replaced by a young gun at AAA makes sense.  
  • Edwin Maysonet should be given due consideration as a possible defensive platoon for Miguel Tejada on the days that Mike Hampton (52.1 GB%) and Russ Ortiz (47 GB%) start given their dependence on converting GB outs.  This serves to the duel purpose of increasing the efficacy of Hampton and Ortiz's skill set and also would provide Miguel Tejada with plenty of rest to keep his bat sharp and maybe even improve his range at SS.  Seriously, Jason Michales does not need to be on this team.
  • One of either Brian Moehler or Russ Ortiz is due to blow up in the second half, but my money is one Moehler--a fly ball pitcher who strikes very few people out, at age 37, scares the bejesus out of me.
  • A whole new attitude on the base paths to permeate the club house.
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