No, I’m not enjoying the stuff that inspired ole Bob. Granted, it might have helped make the last week of baseball a little less bleak. In seven games the Astros scored only 15 runs, hitting only .238 as a team, and worst of all, endured umpire Ron/no Mea Kulpa’s conspiracy with Angel Hernandez to enact vengeance on the Good Guys from H-Town.
But every little thing is gonna be alright.
I don’t say this because I am just naturally inclined to always keep on the sunny side. I didn’t set out to write a don’t worry, be happy article. Seeing the ineptitude of the Astros bats since at least the third game this week, it has taken every bit of discipline in me not to do this
So why am I so sanguine? Because when I started studying the statistics it became quite clear that the Astros have been unlucky. Really. In any given seven game stretch this can and will happen in baseball. It just so happened to happen to the Astros in the first week of the season. And it’s not just on the hitting side either. Let’s look.
Except for one bad outing by Justin Verlander, who surrendered four runs in four innings and couldn’t hit the strike zone with his usual consistency, the pitching has not been a concern. In fact, Collin McHugh and Brad Peacock have exceeded expectations. The team ERA is 2.95, 8th in MLB. And the staff leads the league in K% at 32.9.
But the team ERA understates the underlying performance of the staff. The Astros lead the league in FIP, xFIP and SIERA, at 2.41, 2.24, and 2.11 respectively. The left on base percentage is near the bottom of the league at 70.8%, generally considered a bad luck stat that should normalize to a higher rate. They also have one of the higher HR/FB rates, (14%) which over time, should normalize downward. In other words, the opposing teams have been lucky with runners in scoring position, and lucky with fly balls going yard.
On the other hand, the opposing BABIP is pretty low, .263, but nothing like the totally unsustainable BABIP for current ERA champ the Rays, only .233.
Of course this is what is causing so much concern among the Astros faithful. In seven games there have been only 15 runs, 26th in MLB. But all signs point upward.
Would you believe that the Astros as a team have a wRC+ of 108, nine percent better than the league average of 99. That’s 11th in the league. Of course, that’s nothing compared to the Mariners. Their wRC+ is 169. That’s sure to last. Right.
A number of underlying statistics indicate the Astros bats’ aren’t as bad as their run production indicates. Their K% at 19.9% is 7th lowest in MLB, and the contact rate is 78.4%, fifth best in the league. The BABIP dragon has not been too friendly, at .275 the Stros’ luck could be better.
The main reason the Astros have scored so few runs is their utter failure to hit with runners in scoring position, hitting only .095, last by far in MLB. Their clutch rating is -0.90, 29th in MLB. Both of these statistics are outliers, products of small sample size, bad luck. They will normalize over time. The luck will turn. They’ll hit with runners in scoring position with the same regularity as they do otherwise soon enough.
The modern Astros have had slow starts before. The 2017 World Series Astros had a .714 OPS after seven games, compared to the current .667. If the bats break out today against the A’s they’ll be up to that level in one game. Of course the Astros in 2017 overcame their slow start to become one of the greatest slugging teams in History.
One more ephemeral bad statistic that should normalize. Fangraphs rates the Astros’ overall base running as a -1.6. That’s not only the worst in the league, it’s twice as low as the next worst team. Yes, they have been bad, stealing only six times, getting caught stealing five times, and making base running mistakes, but they won’t stay twice as bad as the next worst base running team for the rest of the year.
It’s been a bad week in the History of the Astros, but with a day off yesterday, today is a whole new beginning. Go Stros.
There’s still a rainbow ahead for the Astros.