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A Power Outage in The Energy Capital of the World: Astros and the Long Ball

As a team, the Astros are not a great power hitting team. Out of the thirty major league clubs, Houston ranks sixth to last with a meager total of 51. Two players have had a major role in contributing this meager total:

  • Hunter Pence, for instance, is having a remarkably better season in 2009 than he did in 2008. One area where he hasn't done as well is in hitting doubles and home runs. Sure, his slugging percentage is a respectable .500, but this has come as a result of more singles and walks. He has only nine doubles and eight home runs, after finishing 2008 with 34 and 25 respectively. This is a minor point, but usually when a player faces more fastballs, their ISO goes down as a result. Pitchers this season have thrown him 3% more fastballs than last year, and his ISO is markedly lower this season (.183 vs. .197 in 2008)
  • Geoff Blum's ability to hit for power is all but gone. His SLG% is a meager .329. Considering how he plays third base, this absolutely kills our offense's propensity to hit long balls. The difference for Blum has been when facing the fastball, he has struggled mightily. He was at his best in 2007 when facing that pitch (1.1 runs below average), but in 2009 he has struggled the most when a pitcher throws a heater (2.3 runs below average). When this is the pitch you see the most frequently, you're in trouble. It doesn't help that Ty Wigginton had a ridiculous power season in 2008.

Outside of Blum, our corner positions (1B, LF and RF), all hold their own in regard to home run hitting. With 3B being a gaping hole for this club, the other positions would have to step up their power production to compensate. This, unfortunately, has not occurred heretofore. Michael Bourn is not a power hitter, and will never be a power hitter. His approach has been light years better this season, and one cannot fault him for forsaking the flyball for a greater number of line drives and grounders. Second base is a position that is capable of hitting double digit home runs for a starting player in today's major leagues. A triple headed monster of Matsui/Maysonet/Keppinger has combined to hit four home runs in 312 ABs. For those keeping score, that's one home run in every 78 ABs. Miguel Tejada has had a respectable power season, having seen his ISO and SLG% all rise from 2008. He is a staggering 11 runs above average when facing the fastball in 2009- a source of his increased production. Pudge Rodriguez hasn't been a power hitter for quite some time, and that trend has continued this season. His HR/FB% is the highest in recent seasons though (15.8%), helping to boost his totals.

Hitting home runs doesn't guarantee a team anything, but there is a strong correlation between team success and having a high SLG%. It doesn't look like the Astros are going to be able to take advantage of the long ball, so they will have to find other ways to boost run production.