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The 2017 Astros: Fifty-Four Games Later

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A review of the Astros at the 1/3 point of the season

MLB: Houston Astros at Minnesota Twins
The Astros have seen everything go their way to the 1⁄3 point of the 2017 season
Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

Well, folks. We're now exactly 1/3 of the way through the regular season. Which means we've got our first serious data checkpoint; a good measuring point to gauge how the team really looks. I will attempt to swallow my disdain for certain less-than-useful statistics (like batting average, or saves, etc...but don’t ask me to quote RBIs. I won’t do it) herein, in order to hopefully please some folks who do like those stats.

Before diving in to the other stats, let’s start by pointing out that, according to up-to-date ExW-L and ExpWP stats that are derived from Bill James’ Pythagorean theorem of baseball, the Astros “should” have a record of 37-17 and a winning percentage of .676 for the season to this point. If you like ESPN’s RPI (Relative Power Index) stat from the same page as linked above, the Astros lead the world with a .555 mark. So theoretically, this team is actually just about this good - they’re not vastly outperforming their Pythag or getting overly lucky. The Astros offense has a team BABIP of .303, which seems to indicate that the team as a whole isn’t getting overly lucky on balls in play, and the pitching staff as a whole has maintained a BABIP against of .284, which is one of the lower ones in the MLB but is a fairly middling number between the highest team BABIP against (.318, Mets) and the very lowest team BABIP against (.268, White Sox), suggesting that perhaps the pitching staff might not be getting obscenely lucky on balls in play, either.

Team Stats

Offensively, the Astros as a team hold the following ranks in the MLB as of 8:14 AM on Thursday, June 1:

  • first in batting average, for the readers who like this stat (.277)
  • first in OBP (.345)
  • second in slugging (.466)
  • second in home runs (82)
  • first in runs scored (292)
  • 18th in walk percentage (8.5%)
  • second lowest K% (18.0%)
  • third highest ISO power mark (.189)
  • first in wOBA (.347)
  • first in team wRC+ (121, 6% better than the Yankees in second place)
  • second in OPS (.811)
  • first in WPA by a huge margin (7.32, Nationals are in second with 4.39 and Yankees are in third with a 2.04)
  • first in RE24 (61.62)
  • second in clutch (1.65)

Through the same date and time, the Astros pitching staff as a whole (starters and relievers combined, because I don't have completely unlimited time with which to post all of this info...both the rotation and bullpen are individually in outstanding shape, though) has the following rankings in the MLB:

  • second fewest runs allowed (202)
  • second in K/9 (9.88)
  • 8th lowest BB/9 (3.05)
  • 17th best in HR/9 (1.23...thanks, Mike Fiers... )
  • second in ERA (3.49)
  • tied for sixth in FIP (3.75)
  • first in xFIP (3.41)
  • second in SIERA (3.42)
  • fourth in ERA- (86)
  • seventh in FIP- (90)
  • first in xFIP- (81)
  • second in WHIP (1.20)
  • first in batting average against, if you're into that stat (.227)
  • sixth in WPA (3.68)
  • fourth in RE24 (34.04)
  • second in clutch (2.35)
  • second in saves, because I know some of our readers still care about this stat (18)

Individual Stats

“Best offensive player on the team” to date is a pretty fierce competition, but there is actually a right answer, statistically. The Astros have 8 hitters (minimum 100 plate appearances) who are better-than-league-average (which is 100 wRC+) offensive players so far for the season, and somehow Marwin Gonzalez is currently the best offensive player on a really great offensive team. His current levels of production (on pace for 36 home runs, and his 179 wRC+ is in Mike Trout territory) will almost assuredly not last, but he deserves recognition for what he's done over the first third of the season:

179 wRC+, .432 wOBA, .308/.401/.638 slash line, 11.7 BB%, 20.1 K%, and 12 home runs (19 XBH)

Other elite offensive performers have been Carlos Correa (149 wRC+, .387 wOBA, 9 home runs) and Jose Altuve (144 wRC+, .380 wOBA, 7 home runs), with George Springer leading the team in home runs (13) to go with his excellent 130 wRC+.

As for individual pitchers, Dallas Keuchel has gotten all the press and he deserves a ton of attention, but a very strong argument could be made that Lance McCullers has actually been even better than Keuchel has. Yes, Keuchel is 8-0 and has a 1.81 ERA, and the ERA is an impressive stat for sure there...but line the real numbers up side by side and look at all of them.

Keuchel: 8.01 K/9, 2.07 BB/9, 67.6 GB%, 18.8 HR/FB%, 1.81 ERA, 3.11 FIP, 2.78 xFIP, 1.6 fWAR, 2.92 SIERA

McCullers: 10.06 K/9, 2.62 BB/9, 60.7 GB%, 18.2 HR/FB%, 2.48 ERA, 3.10 FIP, 2.77 xFIP, 1.5 fWAR, 3.00 SIERA

Those are extremely similar stat lines in many ways. McCullers actually misses more bats while walking slightly more (a fair amount of cutting edge data shows that walks surrendered by pitchers may not be as big a deal as we were all taught) and McCullers is actually slightly better in FIP and xFIP. I would also caution those still shaking their heads at my assertion that McCullers may have actually been better to this point to note that Keuchel's current numbers come with an unsustainably-low BABIP against of .223, while McCullers' numbers come with a much more sustainable .272 BABIP against. Translation: they're currently neck and neck statistically, but Keuchel is due some BABIP regression (you could say he's been the beneficiary of some good luck to this point) while McCullers is actually about this good.

Other good pitching performances include Charlie Morton (who actually leads the full time starters in K/9 with 10.14) and basically the entire bullpen, which is a ridiculously elite unit no matter how you slice it.

All that rambling to say, yeah. We're a third of the way through, and the Astros are pretty clearly the best team in baseball to this point...not just from their Win-Loss record, but from their actual performance on both sides of the ball.

We’ll check back in after Game 108. Enjoy this ride, Astros fans!