When you watch something over and over and over again you start to detect patterns and trends. It doesn't really take a stat sheet to see the gaps in the little things that are plaguing the Houston Astros this season, all it takes is watching the games.
We all know that the Astros, with a 27.2 average age, are a young club. In fact, only the Atlanta Braves are fielding a younger roster. Each night as this group of players battle to stay in games, to win games, to show that they’re not as bad as the national media have made them out to be, the fans see the heart and determination of young enthusiasm. That heart and determination are the best parts of having a club that is young.
The flip side of having a young club is the little things - the things that as a fan sitting in the stands cause us to grimace and clench our fists in frustration. We yell out a variety of words in our disappointment and what we see as a silly mistake. It’s the errors and strike outs. It’s the number of times they’re caught stealing and the number of times they’re not walking. I took a look at the "little things" to see where the Astros fell and where improvements could be the easiest to make - where they can say, "there's hope."
The first thing I noticed is the fact that this team does not walk much. After watching Jose Altuve go from not walking at all to walking like a champ between 2011 and 2012 it’s something I pay more attention to. After all, getting on base is how you score, right? The Astros have walked 166 times this season. That puts them 23rd out of 30 MLB clubs and 13 of 15 in the AL. In comparison, the Boston Red Sox, who lead the AL in walks, have strolled to first base 261 times. Patience at the plate could pay off big in getting guys on base.
Everyone already knows about the strikeouts. The Astros have struck out 623 times already this season. That leads all of major league baseball and has the team on pace to set some records, and not the good kind. I’m less concerned about the strikeouts than most. I see it as a young team being aggressive and I’m okay with that because there are some nice home runs that have come as a result of that enthusiasm. Granted, chasing balls into the dirt is another category that effects the aforementioned lack of walks, so there's that, too.
The enthusiasm can get the best of them while running the bases though, and that’s unfortunate given that the club is 14/15 in the AL for on base percentage(.298). Once they’re on base, they need to stay there, but the Astros also lead the AL for being caught stealing (20) this season. There are times that the enthusiasm and need to be aggressive should be curbed and this is one time that I think manager Bo Porter should settle the boys down.
Shall we discuss the errors? There have been plenty, 49 in fact. Again, a stat that the Astros lead the major leagues. The bulk of that lies on the shoulders of Ronny Cedeno, but he has company not far down the totals list – Matt Dominguez and Marwin Gonzalez. It’s not surprising that infielders would be on top, but it’s another sign of mental errors where the club can improve. Again, it's the little things.
It’s not all bad news though. The Astros are a respectable 12th in the majors, tied with the Detroit Tigers, for total home runs. So far the young group has managed 68 bombs. And bombs is accurate as many have been impressive hits. The leader? You got it - he’s also the club strikeout champion – Chris Carter. See why I’m not so worried about those strikeouts? The aggressiveness has paid off at times.
It’s not that the Astros can’t win ball games. In fact, I’m one of those who still says that the $22 million payroll full of young guns can win ball games. There are simply some areas of play that I’d call sloppy that need some cleaning up. Don’t get me wrong, this team isn’t a World Series contender, but they can play better baseball. And when they do, we see glimpses of a team that is capable of hanging with the best of them. When they don’t we understand why the national media pokes fun.