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Tuesday's Three Astros Things

May 06, 2012; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Astros infielder Jose Altuve (27) bats in the first inning against the St. Louis Cardinals at Minute Maid Park. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-US PRESSWIRE
May 06, 2012; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Astros infielder Jose Altuve (27) bats in the first inning against the St. Louis Cardinals at Minute Maid Park. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-US PRESSWIRE

As I try to get back in the daily groove, here's some things to talk about...

1) The Cool Standings - I don't want to belabor the point here, but that tidbit I threw into the end of yesterday's Item No. 1, about how Cool Standings had Houston down for 78 wins? That was significant.

Significant because the Astros were not expected to win that many games by its calculations at any time last season. Not even after Game No. 1. That 22 percent chance of making the playoffs was also higher than anything Houston managed last season, by about 10 percentage points.

The last time last season Houston was predicted to win even 70 games? May 7th. The last time their chances of making the playoffs were over 1 percent? May 16th.

Houston's odds and expected win totals have faded some, down to 18 percent and 77 wins after Carlos Zambrano ran roughshod over them last night. But, the fact that this pretty complicated system is digging Houston the rest of the way is the most encouraging sign that this team may not be really bad after all I've had all season.

Before the jump, here's the top 10 finishers in Pick 6 from yesterday. After Crazy Cajun ran down his very, VERY detailed strategy for how he picks his guys, do any of us have a chance for the rest of the season? At least Clack represented the writers here in the top 10...

Rank Player Points
1 Crzycjunx76 54.1
2 altuvebatsthird 53.5
3 clarkgagag 51.1
4 astrosblogger 46.4
5 lawson3 39.8
6 hayzer13 39.6
7 clack 37.1
8 AlAg10 36.1
9 pacbellpilgrim 35.7
10 jello44 34.7

2) J.D.'s slump - You've all seen J.D. Martinez go cold all of a sudden after his blistering start. Fellow teammate Escorpion hasn't really slumped this season and continues to hit at a torrid pace. However, the question I'm wondering is if we should be worried about how J.D. is doing right now.

He's currently in a 1 for 25 hole at the plate, with his only hit being a single over that stretch. He has walked four times in those games and struck out just three times. His line drive rate, though, hasn't fallen significantly, as he hit four over that stretch, which is about a 14 percent rate, or right about where he's sitting on the season as a whole and much higher than he hit last season.

So, if he's still walking and he's not really striking out, what's going on?

Well, his ground balls are way, way up. He's sitting at almost a 60 percent ground ball rate for the season right now, and has 14 in his last 29 plate appearances. What could be causing that?

Sifting through the data at FanGraphs and at Texas Leaguers, it appears he may be struggling with two pitches in particular: the slider and the two-seamer. The slider is the second-most popular pitch he's been thrown and the pitch he puts into play the most. However, a lot of those end up as infield grounders.

The two-seamer has also seen an uptick in usage against Martinez, and it's the pitch he's had the least success with. He's not whiffing much on the pitch and he's not fouling a bunch off, but he's also not getting hits on them.

If I had to guess, I'd bet that's the adjustment pitchers have made since his hot start. He's hitting roughly 90 percent of the pitches he sees in the zone, so much like they tried to do with Altuve, they're giving him sinkers to hit and he's rolling over on the ball. I'm confident Mike Barnett can work with him on this and you'll see the impressive J.D. resurface soon.

3) Jack Armstrong's Tommy John surgery - Well, this was certainly a blow, and explains why Mr. Backflip wasn't listed on any full-season roster this season. The question now becomes, what does it mean long-term for the talented pitcher?

The way Tommy John surgeries go these days means he should be back pretty much 100 percent in about 18 months. But, that's a lot of valuable development time gone and basically means he'll be entering the system like he was drafted as a fifth-year senior.

That then means his developmental curve will need to be speeded up if he's expected to be any sort of impact player for Houston. I wonder, too, if this will shift him into the bullpen as a power, late-inning arm. That would speed up his progress through the system once he's back.

However his progress happens once he's back, it's a blow for both the player and the system. Here's hoping everything goes well and he's back to pitching soon.