I know, you probably had to read that a few times before you dropped down here to read for context clues to see if I mistakingly forgot the "Un" before lucky. It's not typo though. No matter how many ways you dissect the numbers, the Astros are actually playing above their heads.
My source is Baseball Prospectus. Now before anyone clicks away, this link I'm about to include is viewable to EVERYONE, regardless of whether or not you shell out the $45 a year to have a subscription: Link
BPro breaks down the teams three different ways:
First they look at the number of runs a team has scored and the number of runs teams have allowed. They then plug it into the X W-Lish formula that is some what similar to to the one that MLB includes in its standings. The Astros, by that standard, have a record of: 52.5 - 62.5, I guess you can round either way.
Secondly (don't you love my middle school level transitional phrases), they use one of their proprietary stats, EqA to calculate the equivalent runs a team has scored or allowed. They do the whole X W-Lish thing again. By this measure, the Astros have a 50.6 - 64.4 record.
Finally (it's 4:47 AM CDT, 2:37 AM PDT, where I currently am so I can't think of fancy ways to move from paragraph to paragraph) they adjust the equivalent runs scored allowed to the players each team has fielded or faced to the strength of their schedule. So if Starter X faced a bunch of chumps his number get adjusted upwards to account for that. Vice Verse if he faced studs. Again, the X W-Lish formula is applied. This finds the Astros preforming marginally better at 50.9 - 64.1.
So what does this mean? Mostly, it means that the Astros have probably had some luck in late inning affairs and have skated through some situations that could have swung us the other way in the actual standings. This could be a reflection of clutch hitting (I know I can recall off hand some truly clutch hits) or clutch relief pitching (I guess we have to tip our hats to the guys in the pen) or clutch defense (think Darin Erstad's incredible throw). **I need a side note, click that link, watch that video, and relive the goose-bumps...that was just an amazing moment in Astros baseball. It'll probably be the highlight of the 2008 Astros in my mind** Whatever it has been that has got us there, change a minute variable minutely and suddenly, we're having a really, really bad season -- as opposed to our just pretty bad season.
Given the discussion the other day about what we should do this offseason to push for the playoffs, I figured I'd throw this into the discussion. There are two ways to make our Pythag records (the three different Pythag, -orean, -port, and -pat, methods used to calculate W-L based on runs scored and runs allowed) more in line with our actual record. First we need a bat who gets on-base in front of Lance and the rest of the sandwich and its sides. For a team that was supposed to crush runs all season long, we've been mediocre to awful at the plate most of the season. We're way in the basement of the NL for runs scored. This definitely ties into our abysmal .324 OBP -- you can't score runs if no one is on. Probably more importantly, we need a better starter. This is a no brainer. We have one of the best defenses in the league no matter how you slice it, so our woes can't really be blamed on BABIP/luck terms too much -- except maybe the long balls. Ipso Facto, we've really got to improve the rotation before Miggy loses his rang and Carlos gets back on the field after a extended off-season of hibernating.
As I see it, the Astros need to have two focuses: improve the on-base skill of it's line-up and dramaticly increase the run preventing ability of it's starting rotation. Either one you think we should focus on the most, those two skills have to improve dramatically to catch up with the Brew Crew and the Cubbies (who should actually only possess 69 in the strength of schedule adjusted column according to BPro). No matter if you buy into this kind of analysis or not, I think the assertion that our OBP has to rise dramatically, along with a sharp decrease in our Runs Allowed for us to even begin to hoping for October baseball in Houston.