Just one of my favorite pics from the 2010 season.
In the spirit of McTaggart's excellent spring training breakdown, let's start talking about the upcoming season by looking at more team-centric stuff from last year. Specifically, let's look at some of the interesting splits that the 2010 team put together and wonder if the 2011 version will be able to rectify any deficiencies:
Home/Road Splits: Surprisingly, there wasn't much of one. The Astros hit .248/.303/.375 at home and .247/.303/.349 on the road. That difference in slugging percentage is due to seven more triples and 18 more home runs (though they hit 12 less doubles at home). There's nothing too surprising here. The Astros are a low average, low on-base percentage team with players dependent on their batting average on balls in play. The remarkable thing here is the consistency of mediocrity that the Astros offense was able to maintain. With all the variables that go into home/road splits, they produced about the same in a myriad of ballparks as they did in Minute Maid Park.
The Astros didn't do much to change the basic template of this team. They brought in some new players and there might be a slightly different setup with Lee and Wallace, but the fundamental profile of many of their players is the same. I'd expect these splits to be the same next season, with maybe a slight uptick in the home stats.
Power production: This is something I might look at in a little more detail. For now, let's look at the weird patterns to their power. For starters, the Astros only hit 108 home runs last season. That's about 42 lower than the National League average. As I mentioned above, they did hit more at home than on the road. In the friendly confines of MMP, the Astros only hit about 14 less home runs than the league average, which leaves most of their deficit on the road.
The Astros also hit more home runs in the first half of the 2010 season than in the second half (57 to 51), but hit them at a slightly higher rate per plate appearance in the second half. Of course, the drop in volume could probably be attributed to trading away Berkman mid-season, but it is nice to see a slight (statistically meaningless) blip upwards in the second half.
The really discouraging parts of their power production came when you look at when in the count they hit the most home runs and how many men were on base. Houston hit 65 of its 108 home runs with no one on base. Only 43 came with men on, and just 29 of those were with runners in scoring position. That's not going to change much next season, because the root cause isn't raw power production as much as it is a function of a low on-base percentage. The Astros also hit 21 of those 108 home runs on the first pitch they saw, the most of any count. I'm not sure how significant that is, but it is interesting, given Mike Barnett's stated goal to get guys to swing more on first pitches.
Wins vs. Losses: This one is tricky. We're dealing with sample size issues, obviously, as well as bias on who the pitchers were, etc. But, it's somewhat startling to look at the splits for wins and losses last season. Let me just move the whole chart in here:
Split G PA R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB CS BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
in Wins 1067 2895 406 724 142 16 75 386 58 15 230 462 .280 .341 .435 .776
in Losses 1255 3109 205 624 110 9 33 191 42 21 185 563 .217 .268 .297 .564
The Astros hit almost a home run per game in wins and just 33 in the 86 losses. They also scored 5.3 runs in their wins and just 2.3 in the losses. We're looking at a weird sample of games, and can't draw many conclusions from this, but it does seem like the Astros weren't just a bad offense, but an inconsistent one. When they were able to hit, they had a good shot to win games. When they couldn't, they didn't have a prayer. Seriously, look at that line in the losses. If the 2011 club is going to get better, they have to improve the game-to-game consistency.
Lefty/lefty matchups: Here's one that's less interesting on a macro sense and more interesting on a "Brad Mills as manager" sense. Only 3.6 percent of plate appearances featured lefty-on-lefty, while the league average was 7.2 percent. That's just 217 plate appearances the Astros had with a left-handed hitter facing a left-handed pitcher. Of those, Michael Bourn accounted for 133 plate appearances.
It's hard to tell if this is a philosophical thing or more a product of not having good left-handed batters in the lineup. If he had a better option off the bench, Mills obviously took the chance to get the more favorable matchup. Still, this figures to rise a bit in 2011 with the addition of Bill Hall to the everyday lineup and possibly with Brett Wallace and Jason Castro locking down two other starting jobs. Will Mills still sit Wallace and Castro against tough leftys?
The Leverage: This is also just plain inexplicable. As bad as the Astros offense was last season, they actually hit better than league average in high leverage situations. The Astros went .275/.329/.410 in 1,113 high leverage plate appearances. Where they really fell off was in the low leverage situations, hitting just .232/.291/.341 in 2,592 plate appearances, which is well below average.
What does that mean? Well, again, it's hard to say. Is it a chicken or the egg question? It's hard for the Astros to get into high leverage situations if they don't score runs in the first place. Does the success in high leverage situations then explain the dramatically higher numbers in wins than in losses?
I hesitate to draw any sort of conclusions from this particular stat. Instead, I'll just point out how weird it is. I'd expect the high leverage averages to drop some in 2011 but I'd also expect the low leverage to rise up a bit. Basically, the Astros probably won't be as good next season as they were last year but they also won't be quite as bad either.