Last night the Astros exploded for 16 runs, a much needed offensive outburst after a recent drought. This type of offensive flurry is nothing new for the Astros, who made a habit of putting up 10+ run games in 2017, but something about this game was different.
Last year, Astros rallies were in large part led by a lineup playing musical chairs on the bases, from the top to the very bottom. The top of the Astros lineup is world-class, but last season it was the hitters in the bottom of the order piling up hits that would lead to all of the ridiculous rallies.
However, the Astros have not been able to rely on the back half of the lineup as much this season, and the offense has looked sluggish at times as a result. Last night, 13 of the Astros 20 hits were concentrated in the 1-5 of the lineup, 6 of which came from a herculean effort from George Springer.
The point is, even when the offense clicks the #6 through #9 hitters are not getting the job done like they did last season.
It was prudent for Jeff Luhnow to double down on pitching in the offseason, as regression from batters like Marwin Gonzelez, Jake Marisnick, and Evan Gattis was not unexpected. But the regression was more severe than expected, and now the Astros’ question is this: How do we fix the bottom of the lineup?
The Astros planned outfield has been particularly problematic, as the left-field partnership between Derek Fisher, Marisnick, and Gonzalez has not been effective for Houston so far.
Derek Fisher is batting .190/.226/.448 for a paltry 77 wRC+ in 62 plate appearances. Jake Marisnick, despite a hot start to the season, has been even worse, batting .151/.162/.301 for a 21 wRC+ in 75 plate appearances. The two are not providing the Astros any semblance of offensive value, or even decent at-bats. Gonzalez has been average, but is much better suited as a super-utility player than a full time left fielder.
It’s worth noting that Marisnick leads the team in defensive WAR at 2.0 according to FanGraphs, and Derek Fisher has a dWAR of 0.7. The two certainly provide defensive and base running value, but the back half of the lineup could still use an injection. The Astros have options
As always, as the trade deadline approaches, teams will be looking to unload veterans for prospects and cap relief. The Astros will certainly do their due diligence on potential outfielders, but with the trade deadline so far away, I’ll focus on the Astros other source for fresh talent - the farm system.
Kyle Tucker’s eventual big league promotion is already being highly anticipated by many fans. He is around the same age as players like Alex Bregman, George Springer, and Carlos Correa when they made their big league debuts, and the need for his services are higher than they were when the season began. Tucker is not setting the world on fire at AAA Fresno, but is batting a solid .299/.371/.436 for a 111 wRC+. If he heats up, he’s one to monitor in June and July.
Tony Kemp is another candidate to get big league playing team for the Astros in the outfield. Kemp has been with the organization for a while, never really sticking in the Majors, but he has always had a valuable skill set. He offers base running value on par with anyone on the Astros, and is a versatile defender, with an ability to man any outfield position along with second-base, his original position.
I find it hard to believe that he’d do much worse than Marisnick has at the plate this season, as Kemp is batting an impressive .339/.428/.411 for a 127 wRC+ for the Grizzlies this season. Kemp is getting up there in age, and deserves a legitimate Major League shot at this point in his career. He is playing well, and would easily be a big-league contributor for other organizations.
Drew Ferguson is another option to eat outfield innings. Ferguson has been on fire for the Fresno Grizzlies, slashing .351/.445/.543 for a 162 wRC+ on the season. He has been getting on base at an incredible rate, and could provide some stability to the back of the Astros lineup.
Other than that, ‘veteran’ prospects J.D. Davis and Tyler White have led the Grizzlies offensively, as Davis has posted a 189 wRC+ while White isn’t far behind him at 167. Both have provided infield depth for the Astros over the years, and should continue to do so when the need arises.
Overall, with teams like the Red Sox and Yankees surging, the Astros should do something about the back of their lineup to stay on top. Tony Kemp could be a solid interim option, while Tucker obviously remains the long-term favorite, and it’s not out of the realm of possibility he contributes this season. Do not be surprised to see the Astros throw their hats in the ring as the trade deadline approaches, this time with the focus on acquiring an offensive asset.