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Opening Day 2018: Astros-Rangers Game Preview

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Dallas Keuchel’s string of three consecutive Opening Day starts dies...so that Justin Verlander’s string of ten consecutive Opening Day starts (when he’s been healthy) might live

MLB: Houston Astros at Texas Rangers
Even in Arlington, Carlos Correa draws a crowd.
Ray Carlin-USA TODAY Sports

Houston Astros (0-0) vs. Texas Rangers (0-0), March 29, 2018, 2:35 PM CT

TV: AT&T SportsNet-SW, ESPN (National), FSSW (TEX)

Radio: KBME 790 AM, 105.3 The Fan (TEX), KFLC 1270 (TEX)

Online: MLB.TV

Rangers SBNation Blog: Lone Star Ball

Pitching Matchup

RHP Justin Verlander (2017 Stats: 15-8, 3.36 ERA, 1.17 WHIP vs. LHP Cole Hamels (2017 Stats: 11-6, 4.20 ERA, 1.20 WHIP)

Preview

The World Champions have returned, folks, and it’s time to loose the dogs once more.

After the Houston Astros tied the Detroit Tigers (I mean, they do still have Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez, who both handle left handed pitching well, as well as having had JD Martinez and Ian Kinsler last season, who also handle lefties well) for the best wRC+ in baseball against southpaws last season with a cool 120, the Texas Rangers in their infinite wisdom decided that the way to beat the Astros is to stack their rotation with left handed starters, if you believe this report from the Dallas News.

...kay.

Jose Altuve offers his thoughts on that strategy.

For a deeper understanding of just how good the Astros were against left handed pitching in 2017, here’s a table courtesy of FanGraphs (custom split tool, custom player list) that shows every single Opening Day roster member of the 2018 Astros, and how they fared against southpaws last season. Please feel free to explore it and sort it, some useful information here:

2018 Astros Opening Day Roster - How They Fared Against LHP in 2017

Season Name Team G PA AB H 1B 2B 3B HR R RBI BB IBB SO HBP SF SH GDP SB CS BB% K% BB/K AVG OBP SLG OPS ISO BABIP wRC wRAA wOBA wRC+ GB/FB LD% GB% FB% IFFB% HR/FB IFH% BUH% Pull% Cent% Oppo% Soft% Med% Hard%
Season Name Team G PA AB H 1B 2B 3B HR R RBI BB IBB SO HBP SF SH GDP SB CS BB% K% BB/K AVG OBP SLG OPS ISO BABIP wRC wRAA wOBA wRC+ GB/FB LD% GB% FB% IFFB% HR/FB IFH% BUH% Pull% Cent% Oppo% Soft% Med% Hard%
2017 Carlos Correa HOU 48 105 92 36 26 5 0 5 20 19 12 2 12 0 1 0 2 0 0 11.4% 11.4% 1.0 .391 .457 .609 1.066 .217 .408 24 11.0 .445 187 2.0 22.2% 51.9% 25.9% 0.0% 23.8% 7.1% 0.0% 30.9% 39.5% 29.6% 16.1% 40.7% 43.2%
2017 George Springer HOU 64 164 133 40 25 6 0 9 35 19 24 0 20 5 1 0 3 1 2 14.6% 12.2% 1.2 .301 .423 .549 .972 .248 .295 33 12.8 .413 165 1.2 21.9% 43.0% 35.1% 10.0% 22.5% 18.4% 0.0% 45.6% 29.8% 24.6% 20.2% 43.0% 36.8%
2017 Jose Altuve HOU 63 155 139 49 34 8 0 7 23 15 14 2 20 1 0 1 7 3 3 9.0% 12.9% 0.7 .353 .416 .561 .977 .209 .375 31 11.9 .412 164 1.4 16.5% 48.7% 34.8% 10.0% 17.5% 17.9% 50.0% 38.7% 33.6% 27.7% 18.5% 56.3% 25.2%
2017 Alex Bregman HOU 67 162 142 47 29 9 2 7 25 19 17 2 21 1 1 1 2 8 2 10.5% 13.0% 0.8 .331 .404 .570 .974 .239 .348 31 11.7 .406 160 0.8 25.4% 32.0% 42.6% 17.3% 13.5% 12.8% 0.0% 48.8% 30.9% 20.3% 20.3% 48.8% 30.9%
2017 J.D. Davis HOU 13 26 23 5 1 1 0 3 6 3 2 0 8 1 0 0 1 0 0 7.7% 30.8% 0.3 .217 .308 .652 .960 .435 .167 5 1.5 .391 150 1.6 13.3% 53.3% 33.3% 0.0% 60.0% 25.0% 0.0% 46.7% 26.7% 26.7% 6.7% 26.7% 66.7%
2017 Jake Marisnick HOU 47 107 94 25 14 7 0 4 18 8 11 1 31 1 0 1 1 1 2 10.3% 29.0% 0.4 .266 .349 .468 .817 .202 .356 15 2.4 .347 120 0.6 16.9% 30.5% 52.5% 6.5% 12.9% 5.6% 40.0% 39.1% 25.0% 35.9% 17.2% 59.4% 23.4%
2017 Marwin Gonzalez HOU 67 134 120 30 14 11 0 5 17 16 11 0 24 3 0 0 4 0 1 8.2% 17.9% 0.5 .250 .328 .467 .795 .217 .275 18 2.1 .340 115 1.0 14.6% 42.7% 42.7% 14.6% 12.2% 4.9% 0.0% 46.9% 29.2% 24.0% 21.9% 52.1% 26.0%
2017 Brian McCann HOU 59 111 97 22 14 3 0 5 13 15 11 0 13 3 0 0 2 0 0 9.9% 11.7% 0.8 .227 .324 .412 .737 .186 .215 14 0.0 .321 102 1.5 17.9% 48.8% 33.3% 17.9% 17.9% 2.4% 0.0% 40.5% 39.3% 20.2% 26.2% 54.8% 19.1%
2017 Evan Gattis HOU 41 93 87 21 11 6 0 4 9 19 5 0 15 0 1 0 4 0 0 5.4% 16.1% 0.3 .241 .280 .448 .728 .207 .246 10 -1.2 .306 92 1.0 16.4% 41.1% 42.5% 12.9% 12.9% 0.0% 0.0% 45.2% 30.1% 24.7% 20.6% 45.2% 34.3%
2017 Max Stassi HOU 8 13 12 2 0 1 0 1 3 2 1 0 1 0 0 0 1 0 0 7.7% 7.7% 1.0 .167 .231 .500 .731 .333 .100 1 -0.2 .300 88 1.0 9.1% 45.5% 45.5% 20.0% 20.0% 0.0% 0.0% 63.6% 9.1% 27.3% 18.2% 45.5% 36.4%
2017 Yulieski Gurriel HOU 71 160 147 37 23 10 1 3 15 18 10 0 21 1 2 0 3 1 1 6.3% 13.1% 0.5 .252 .300 .395 .695 .143 .272 16 -3.1 .298 86 1.6 18.0% 50.0% 32.0% 12.2% 7.3% 4.7% 0.0% 35.9% 43.8% 20.3% 14.8% 46.9% 38.3%
2017 Derek Fisher HOU 19 33 29 7 6 0 1 0 0 4 4 0 11 0 0 0 0 0 0 12.1% 33.3% 0.4 .241 .333 .310 .644 .069 .389 3 -0.8 .290 81 12.0 25.0% 75.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 16.7% 50.0% 44.4% 16.7% 38.9% 22.2% 66.7% 11.1%
All data courtesy of the custom splits page at FanGraphs.com and sorted initially by wRC+ www.fangraphs.com

If that wasn’t exciting enough, a key matchup for the Astros in this game will be Evan Gattis against Cole Hamels. Gattis, who did not have a great season against left-handed pitchers last season and as such does not rate highly on the above table, does in fact own Cole Hamels historically, and that’s in 25 career plate appearances against the former Phillies star - handily the largest sample of any Astros hitter against Hamels. In twenty five at bats against the perennial All Star Hamels, Gattis has nine hits - three of which have been home runs. Marwin Gonzalez (.303 in 13 at bats) and Jose Altuve (.286 in 13 at bats) have also met success in their careers against Hamels.

On the other side of the equation, there is a clear answer to Evan Gattis in Elvis Andrus, who is 11 for 26 in his career against Astros Opening Day Starter Justin Verlander. Other than Andrus, however, Verlander has fairly owned most of the Rangers hitters, including holding the lefty trifecta of Rougned Odor, Joey Gallo, and Nomar Mazara to just three collective hits in thirty nine at bats. Shin Soo Choo, too, has just one hit in sixteen career at bats against the ace workhorse. Only Delino Deshields has met any noticeable success against Verlander, with a .294 career average in 17 career at bats.

All of the specific hitter versus pitcher stats mentioned here are small sample noise - any of them could veer hard in either direction without warning. Gattis may never get another hit against Hamels, or Rougned Odor (who has not yet registered a hit against Verlander in 18 career at bats) might go 4-4 with four home runs.

What is not small sample noise, however, is the fact that the Astros as a team tore up left-handed pitching last year. Time will tell if that dominance will carry over to 2018 - but go ahead and place your bets on orange before they spin the roulette wheel.