Fun with small sample sizes

Here we are, eight games into the season, sitting on a not-unexpected 3-5 record and the worst run differential in the American League. If there's one group that's not at fault, it's the starting rotation (unless you want to fault them for not going deeper into games) that ranks 6th in ERA (although not nearly as well in FIP). The bullpen is a major culprit for that nasty run differential, but a fair amount of their struggles have come in low leverage situations and they're short-handed due to Jesse Crain's injury and Matt Albers' paternity leave. We could blame the defense, too. Though it's not showing up in fielding metrics yet, they've been demonstrably awful so far. I'm beginning to question all of my previous notions about the importance of corner outfield defense.

But I'm more interested in the offense, because that was the area in which I'm expecting the most improvement, even before George Springer and Jonathan Singleton get called up. So how does it look so far? In some ways, completely as expected. In other ways, very strange.

The expected:

  • The Astros have struck out more than any team in the American League. No surprise there. Chris Carter leads the pack, but nine Astros are striking out at a higher than average rate. Several players should see a slight improvement here, but it's tough to imagine Houston not finishing last in this category by a wide margin once again.
  • They rank middle-of-the-pack (#9) in walks. Carter, Robbie Grossman, Marc Krauss, and to a lesser extent Jonathan Villar all have a history of drawing free passes. Jose Altuve, L.J. Hoes, and Matt Dominguez are likely to take a step back, but that should be offset by Jason Castro, Dexter Fowler, and Jesus Guzman regressing to their career numbers. I wouldn't be surprised if they climbed even further in this category, particularly with Springer and Singleton due up at some point.
  • They're hitting a lot of home runs. And more specifically, an overwhelming majority of their runs have come via the long ball. That's not surprising given that two of their major home run producers (Carter and Dominguez) provide very little offensive value outside of that.

The unexpected:

  • They're hitting a lot of home runs. Enough that they're tied for 2nd in the American League at this point. And the strangest part? Carter hasn't even gone deep yet. No Astro has hit more than two, either. It's easy to predict a falloff here (that 18.9% HR/FB figure has gotta give), but we may have overlooked certain players coming into this season. For instance, while Villar gets a reputation as a light-hitting speedster, he actually posted a .165 ISO in Oklahoma City last season. His power could play well above average at SS. And Jesus Guzman has a career .180 ISO away from Petco Park.
  • They can't seem to buy a hit. The Astros as a whole rank last in the majors in team BABIP (.235). This is despite an average line drive rate, the second lowest infield fly ball rate, a fairly low fly ball rate, and a pretty speedy roster. In fact, their batted ball profile generates an xBABIP of .350. Among those suffering most right now are Grossman (.105), Carlos Corporan (.100), Castro (.076), Dominguez (.063), and Krauss (.000). Perhaps Fowler, whose .625 BABIP matches his wOBA, is hogging all of the batted ball luck.

So take solace. Or panic and call for Grossman and Krauss to be DFA'd. I'm not the boss of you.

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