According to FanGraphs, the Houston Astros entered the All Star break with the 4th best offense in baseball, good for a team WAR of 17.9. They’ve hit the seventh most home runs in baseball (126), posted the fourth highest on-base percentage (.334), and are only narrowly trailing the Yankees and Red Sox in the wRC+ category (114 to 115). Basically, after all the noise about the slow start, the Astros offense has been just fine and then some in 2018.
In this article, we’ll hand out grades for each qualified hitter in the Astros lineup, which just means every hitter who has a total of 290 plate appearances or more so far. So, without further ado, let’s get right to it.
Alex Bregman (434 PA): A+
Well, who would’ve thought that after 99 games, Alex Bregman would be the best offensive player on the Houston Astros. We all knew that Bregman had the potential, but did we know that he’d put it together like this in only his third full MLB season?? Probably not.
So far this season, Bregman’s 4.6 WAR is above the likes of Nolan Arenado, Jose Altuve, Freddie Freeman, and Manny Machado. Through a total of 96 games played, he still is doing something remarkable, which is that he has a higher BB%, 12.9%, than K%, 12.2%.
I really cannot emphasize enough how crucial Bregman’s improved plate discipline has been to his success, as his selectivity has allowed him to go on this recent tear and finish the first half with a slash line of .288/.389/.539 along with 20 home runs. Right now, Bregman is on pace to hit anywhere from 31-33 home runs this season, which is something that surely no one saw coming.
Bregman was the first to talk about the Back to Back Tour after winning the 2017 World Series, and so far in 2018 he has backed up all of his preseason expectations with his superb play on the field.
Jose Altuve (434 PA): A+
Following up on a season in which you win the American League MVP can be tough, but Jose Altuve has shown no signs of slowing down as the now six-time All Star is back to doing what he does best.
While his power numbers may be down, Altuve’s 4.0 WAR still places him in the top 10 of all MLB hitters, tied for eighth with Angels SS Andrelton Simmons. The key for Altuve has been the same as the rest of his career, just racking up singles, not striking out very much, and driving the ball to the gaps enough to be a very successful hitter.
Jose Altuve gets the silent treatment in the dugout after a home run and decides to have some fun.— Ben Palmer (@benjpalmer) April 25, 2018
He's the best pic.twitter.com/4YhfEKLt5l
With 129 hits in his first 99 games of the season, Altuve is now on pace to finish the season with 208 hits (assuming he plays a total of 160 games out of 162 this season). If Altuve can keep up this pace, it would be his fifth season in a row with 200 or more hits.
George Springer (431 PA): B-
Just like a few of his teammates, George Springer has had a very rocky first half in terms of offensive production. After clubbing ten home runs, driving in 28, and producing a wRC+ of 140 in his first 202 plate appearances of the season, Springer has fallen off dramatically since May 19.
In his last 229 plate appearances, Springer is hitting .203 with only six home runs and a measly 85 wRC+. One main drop-off for Springer in these two parts of the season has been his BABIP, which started at .331 and fell all the way down to .227 in his most recent 229 plate appearances. The .331 BABIP to start the season felt unsustainable for Springer, but no one really saw that massive of a drop on the way.
Hopefully the All Star Game will be a fun experience for Springer and will help him realize that he’s still one of the best hitters in the game when he’s right. I think Springer will snap out of this slump fairly soon, returning to hitting #SpringerDingers and adding to the highlight reel on a nightly basis.
Yuli Gurriel (335 PA): B+
After starting the season on the disabled list, Gurriel has carried the load for the Astros during Carlos Correa’s absence. Known for his ridiculously high average with RISP, Gurriel has taken advantage of hitting behind three All Stars in Springer, Bregman, and Altuve.
What really has helped the Astros so far this season is Gurriel’s ability to simply put the ball in play. On the season, Gurriel’s K% of only 10.1% is the sixth lowest in all of baseball. Gurriel basically never walks, so he will always have to do his damage by swinging the bat and so far this year, he has done just that.
Yuli Gurriel with the GRAND SLAM!!! Astros up 8-0 and looking to add to it! pic.twitter.com/fQaqIRQDgv— AT&T SportsNet SW (@ATTSportsNetSW) June 24, 2018
With only six home runs in the first half, I’m going to predict that Gurriel hits a few more in the remaining 63 games and finishes 2018 with 15 home runs.
Marwin Gonzalez (335 PA): D+
The Astros Game 2 hero arguably had the most disappointing first half of all the position players. Yes, many informed Astros fans saw regression looming for Gonzalez after his career year in 2017, but certainly not at the degree to which he has fallen thus far.
The main two things that have gone wrong for Gonzalez have been his rise in K%, from 19.2% in 2017 to 23.9% in 2018, and his major drop in OBP, from .377 in 2017 to .305 in 2018. Gonzalez is walking at just the same rate as 2017, so really his drop in OBP can be attributed to the fact that he is just not hitting the ball as much. Additionally, his wRC+ of 84 is well below league average.
Marwin Gonzalez's slump is at 3-for-46.— Brian McTaggart (@brianmctaggart) July 5, 2018
If the Astros want to catch the Yankees and Red Sox in the second half for best record in the American League, it would certainly help to see an improved Marwin Gonzalez towards the bottom of the lineup.
Evan Gattis (320 PA): B
El Oso Blanco could not have had more of a streaky first half for the Astros. After having many fans calling for him to be traded in April and May, he went on a tear for a stretch in June and carried the offense for a little while. Heading into the All Star break, Gattis trails only Alex Bregman in the RBI and Home Run categories. Gattis also owns the second highest slugging percentage on the team.
So, if Gattis is nearly the team leader in these power categories, why does he only receive a B grade? Well, in his last seven games, Gattis has slumped and owns only a .050 batting average and .200 slugging percentage. Additionally, Gattis’ rough April makes for a very shaky first half. Essentially, I’m averaging an F in April and July with an A+ in June and curving the scale a little bit because, well, he’s Evan Gattis.
Carlos Correa (315 PA): C
Entering this season, there were high expectations for Carlos Correa and how he could potentially lead the Astros offense as he entered his third full season in the majors. Correa even went so far as to list winning the American League MVP as one of his career goals, so the lofty expectations were not solely external.
Unfortunately, before missing an extended period of time with back issues, Correa was nowhere close to putting up MVP numbers. His main issues were that he was striking out far too often for a 24.4% K%, not hitting very well at Minute Maid Park, and also not hitting very well with runners in scoring position.
The bright spots were that he hit 13 home runs in 73 games, finished the first half with a 128 wRC+, and compiled a 2.4 WAR despite missing some time. Here’s hoping Correa can turn it around in the second half. If he can, then the rest of the league should watch out...
WALKOFF! Carlos Correa sends everyone home happy pic.twitter.com/0fFwI4Ji4G— FOX Sports: MLB (@MLBONFOX) June 24, 2018
OTHER QUICK GRADES
Josh Reddick: C+
One of the steadiest bats in the Houston Astros lineup, but still some drop off since 2017 regular season.
Max Stassi: A-
Certainly an unsung hero on this Astros team thus far, you won’t find many catchers in the American League who are slugging better than Stassi right now.
Jake Marisnick: F
This is purely an offensive grade, obviously. His defense and baserunning is always an A+.
Brian McCann: C
We’ll know more after McCann recovers from his knee injury, because something was surely bothering him in the first half.
Tony Kemp: A
You really could not ask for more than what Tony Kemp has been able to give the Astros so far this season. He has filled in very nicely and certainly deserves to stay on this roster, even with the rise of Kyle Tucker.
(No, I won’t be giving Kyle Tucker a grade after only 30 plate appearances)