Are the 2016 Astros a good team? Given the expectations on the team at the beginning of the season, it might be demoralizing that we have to ask ourselves this question in late June. Given all that's happened so far, and with the team floating around .500 as of June 21st, it's not an unreasonable time for us to ask this question, and perhaps recalibrate our assumptions for the second half.
If you check out the leaderboards over at Fangraphs, you're going to see a lot of offensive stats which back up a .500 or so record. In Runs scored, OBP, and SLG, The Astros rank right around the middle of the league. The pitching stats paint a brighter picture, with the Astros ranking fairly high in walks and XFIP, while showing a decent strikeout rate.
The bullpen, in particular, is flashing some numbers which are downright elite, but with an 11-13 record in 1-run games, it seems that the bullpen's underlying performance hasn't produced great results in the win-loss column. The early season struggles of Ken Giles and some hiccups by Luke Gregerson probably have a lot to do that with that, but for the meantime, it seems like the bullpen has finally melded into a cohesive unit.
In the rotation, Doug Fister has turned into a bright spot this season. While Dallas Keuchel continues to scuffle and Lance McCullers looks like he's having a sophomore slump season. There's still time for the rotation to round into form, but unless Dallas Keuchel returns to something similar to what we saw in 2015 and 2014, or Lance McCullers decides to transform into an ace, then the Astros will be without a lock-down starter. This formula worked out alright for the Royals last year but don't be surprised if the Astros turn out to be buyers for starting pitching at the trade deadline this year.
All-in-all this isn't a bad team, though. The Astros have had bad luck this year with early season player performance. Beyond Ken Giles, Carlos Gomez's offense disappeared in the first two months of the season and Evan Gattis was hurt.
Compared to last season the team also didn't benefit from an April offensive explosion from Jake Marisnick. They also don't have the benefit of Chris Carter's home runs. Mix in a pitching meltdown for bizarro Dallas Keuchel and game-by-game drubbings from your friendly neighborhood Texas Rangers and you get the early season struggles of the 2016 Astros. Indeed the Astros' 2016 luck and has been the opposite of their 2015 luck. Their starting pitching is worse and they're not hitting as many home runs as they did last year.
Ignoring the noise around the stats and the bad luck, though, the Astros can still compete for a playoff spot. Fangraphs still gives the Astros a 34% chance at making the playoffs, which is still decent. Gattis is back in the lineup and Gomez's bat has shown signs of life. The bullpen is one of the best in the league and should help them win close games.
Another reason for hope is that subtracting the Astros' games played against the Rangers in which they went 1-9, their record is 34-27 against the rest of the league. Had they managed to play the same way against the Rangers they would have a similar record to the Royals and be right there batting with the other divisional leaders at the top of the standings.
All-in-all, there are a lot of good reasons to expect good things from the Astros this season. They're still a young team, and still deeply talented. You just wonder if the way the Rangers are playing, Astro fans could make a Broadway remake of Damn Yankees starring the 2016 Rangers.