The month of April has came to an end and the Astros are sitting at 10-17 good for last place in the NL Central, 6 games behind the Cardinals. Most of the experts will say that the cellar is just where they expected the Astros to be sitting at the end of the season as well. The predictions by these experts on the Astros record this year range anywhere from a low of about 60 games to a high of about 74 games. One thing that is agreed upon is that no one projects the Astros to have a better record than last year. Therefore I decided to compare the month of April 2010 to April 2011 and see what if any positives can be drawn.
Last year’s team got off to an 8-14 start, sitting at 6 games under .500, which is 1 game less than there start this year of 10-17. Below is a look at offense and pitching statistics for the month of April in 2010 and 2011. I didn’t include defensive statistics because I was unable to split them up by month for 2010, but the Astros were below average on defense last year, and to say that the Astros have started out that way again this year would be an understatement.
Team Stats (2010) Team Stats (2011)
9 HR, 70 runs scored 14 HR, 115 runs scored
BB % - 5.0, K% - 19.4 BB% - 6.3, K% - 21.7
BABIP - .280, WAR - -0.5 BABIP - .330, WAR - 2.9
There have been several bright spots on the offense so far this year. Hunter Pence avoided another slow start, Brett Wallace is hitting like he did in the minors minus the power so far, Michael Bourn is continuing to get on and steal bases at a good clip, and the catching platoon has produced the top average in the majors.
The biggest disappointment so far is still Carlos Lee with Chris Johnson finishing a very close second. Unlike Pence, Lee was unable to avoid a second slow start to the year, and all hope that he would experience a Lance Berkman type rebirth to his career has faded. Everybody expected Chris Johnson to regress, and regress he has. If he can’t turn it around soon then he may force Ed Wade’s hand to send him back to Triple-A to sort out his issues.
ERA – 4.02, FIP – 3.74, xFIP – 3.96 ERA – 5.34, FIP – 4.66, xFIP – 4.20
K/9% - 7.13, BB/9% - 3.60, K/9% - 7.14, BB/9% - 3.42
WAR – 2.4, BABIP - .315 WAR – 0.6, BABIP - .325
On the starting pitching end the strikeout percentage, walk percentage, and batting average on balls in play are all close to the same, which means the pitchers are getting hit harder. If you are looking for a bright spot in the rotation so far then look no further than Bud Norris. Norris has strung together 3 good starts in a row showing that he may be on the verge of putting it all together. One thing that surprised me about Norris when comparing his April 2010 to his April 2011 was that he had an ERA of 5.60 in 2010 versus 3.86 in 2011, but an FIP of 2.85 versus 3.55. I thought that he pitched a lot worse to start the season last year than what he actually did.
The biggest disappointment in the staff so far this year has been J.A. Happ. The Astros were expecting much more than the 6.35 ERA and 5.59 FIP out of Happ to start the season. One thing that is pure speculation, but could be affecting Happ is the injury that he suffered towards the end of spring training. Many players usually go on the disabled list and miss anywhere from 3 to 6 weeks with that type of injury, yet Happ did not miss any time. Brad Arnsberg mentioned earlier in the season that Happ is a warrior, and this could mean that he has been trying to pitch through the injury. His fastball velocity is down about 1.5 MPH from the end of last year, as is his curveball which makes you wonder if Happ is still not quite right from the injury.
ERA – 3.74, FIP – 3.76, xFIP – 3.71 ERA – 5.00, FIP – 4.01, xFIP – 4.16
K/9% - 6.78, BB/9% - 2.35, K/9% - 6.52, BB/9% - 3.72
WAR – 2.4, BABIP - .285 WAR – 0.3, BABIP - .356
The relief pitching has been very shaky to start the year. The bright spot so far has been Mark Melancon who has had good results this year and could take on more responsibility in the near future if Brandon Lyon continues his struggles. The talk of last year, Wilton Lopez, has been injured for most of April, and should provide a boost when he returns if he is healthy. I hope that Jose Valdez remains in the pen when Lopez is activated because he looks to have the best stuff of all the relievers, and could be a great weapon after he adjusts to the majors.
The biggest disappointment in the pen so far has been Brandon Lyon who has blown 3 saves this month and consistently has traffic on the basepaths. If he doesn’t turn his season around soon then the Astros may start going in a different direction to record the final 3 outs.
So to sum everything up looking at the breakdown between April 2010 and April 2011 tells us that the offense has been significantly better while the pitching, both starting and relief, has been drastically worse. The Astros are 1 more game below .500 than they were at this time last year which means that so far the experts that predicted the Astros to be worse than last year are correct, but not by as much as I expected. Here’s hoping that the Astros can right the ship and prove them wrong.