The Astros are obnoxious. There, I've said it. Their lineup stinks. Also, it's excellent.
Weighted Runs Created Plus, or wRC+, is a stat provided by Fangraphs to sum up a player's offensive value with one number. A wRC+ of 100 is an utterly league-average player. A wRC+ of 150 is 50% better than the average player, and a wRC+ of 30 is 70% worse.
The Astros have four or five of the best batters in 2016.
The Astros have four or five of the worst batters in 2016.
Jose Altuve (195 wRC+) has been the 3rd-best batter in baseball this season, after Manny Machado and, um, Aledmys Diaz....? Anyway, Altuve is awesome. Colby Rasmus? Also awesome, with 183 wRC+, 9th highest in the majors. Tyler White, George Springer, and Carlos Correa all clock in at well above average, between 128 and 135.
That should be a dominant team.
How. Ev. Er, Erik Kratz (-71 wRC+...that's 171% worse than the average major league batter. Also, WTH?), Jake Marisnick (-24), Carlos Gomez (39), Jason Castro (46), Luis Valbuena (65), and Marwin Gonzalez (66) all rank among the worst 100 batters in baseball this season (out of a sample of 400-ish), and Kratz is dead last.
Baseball is a marathon, as people are fond of saying, because the season is like ten thousand games long. If this were the NFL, we'd be thinking about starting the third game of the season. It's way too early to panic about a 0-2 start, from a team standpoint. The Astros are only 6 games back from first place in the standings...not an insurmountable obstacle with five months left.
But it's fair to question whether it's time to make some moves. Jason Castro's defense keeps him in the lineup, as it should. He's one of the very best defensive catchers in baseball. Beyond that though....
Realistically, there's not a lot that can be done at present.
At center field, the Astros could theoretically cut Gomez and eat his contract if they believe he can't get his head and swing straightened out. But Marisnick has been worse (by a lot) this season and last, and he's not a real everyday option for CF either. Tony Kemp down in AAA is having a fine year, sort of. But he's basically Austin Wates right now - an empty batting average with no power and only marginal stolen base threat. And he's likely a defensive downgrade form either Gomez or Marsinick. Eh. The other minor league CF near the majors, Andrew Aplin, is having a worse year than Gomez too, only at AAA. Could Preston Tucker play left field every day, moving Rasmus to center? He hasn't been very good at the plate. And yet, he's never shown he can hit lefties at all. But he has been better than Gomez. And the defense wouldn't be very good in the outfield anymore. Gomez' failure to recapture 2013-2014 numbers, a reasonable expectation that he should have been able to do at the time of acquisition, has put the Astros in a sticky spot.
At third, the Astros have a similar situation. Most troubling is Valbuena's .289 BABIP (higher than his career rate) that's accompanying his .193 batting average. He hasn't been unlucky - he's been awful. But what's the option? Marwin Gonzalez has been equally awful. At least Valbuena is taking walks to get on base, unlike MarGo. In the minors, the obvious potential replacement, Colin Moran is struggling with strikeouts and hasn't found his power stroke. He's probably not ready for the majors at this point. White is not a defensive third baseman.
But holy heck, Altuve has been incredible this year. He is quite literally on pace for one of the greatest seasons in the history of professional baseball. Correa is going through a small sophomore slump, but talent wins out - he will adjust and continue to be the superstar we all think him to be. Springer and Rasmus are on pace for the best seasons of their careers.
It wouldn't take much for the Astros' lineup to straighten out. Better play from center field and third base would stabilize a lineup that has been top-heavy thus far.