Jose Altuve: down. Carlos Correa: down. George Springer: down. Aledmys Diaz: down.
No problem, the Astros are a juggernaut, the next man up, right? Jack Mayfield, Myles Straw, Derek Fisher, this organization is deep. The Astros can replace three superstars and get even better.
If you look at the record, they have.
To prove that we have to establish when the injuries happened. The cut-off date of the injuries is a bit of a fluid concept, since they didn’t all happen on the same day. But I’m going to use May 20th, that’s the day MVP candidate Springer went down with his first hamstring injury. He only played part of one game thereafter, Diaz has been out during almost all of this time, and Correa went down a week later. Altuve’s injury preceded Springer’s.
Since May 20th the Astros’ record has been 15-7, a .682 W/L PCT. Before the injuries the Astros’ record was 31-16, a .656 record. Hell, let’s put Bregman on IL and bring up Nick Tanielu while we’re at it. We might reach .700!
Not so fast.
Do you remember last year about this time when the Seattle Mariners were game for game with the Astros? On June 16th, their won/loss record was 45-25, a .642 PCT, and a half game behind the Astros, but their run differential was only +27, compared to the Astros’ at +146. According to this article 49% of their wins had been by one run.
Even though the Texas Rangers had a 95-67 record in 2016 with a negative run differential, all the smart people knew that the Mariners’ luck would not hold. And the smart people were right. The Mariners eventually faded, and the Astros won their second straight Division Title.
If we said the Mariners were just lucky this time last year, we have to say that post-injury Astros have been just as lucky this year. Somehow they have won more than twice as many games as they have lost with a run differential of +4; 97 runs, 93 runs allowed. Before the injuries they scored 5.48 runs/game. Since then they have scored only 4.40.
In their 15 wins six have been by one run, against only one loss by one run. Three more wins were by two runs. They are 3-1 in extra inning games.
This is the team slash line since May 20th:....... .235/.313/.391. wRC+ 92. Ranked 10th in AL
This was the team slash line up until May 19th: .279/.353/.506. wRC+ 132. Ranked 1st in AL
Before the injuries the Astros hitters were 32% better than league average. Since then they are 8% below average. Pitching is actually slightly worse as well, although not to a significant degree. For the record the Astros have been second to the Tampa Bay Rays in ERA all season, and are still ranked second behind them during the post-injury period.
Below is the chart of the Astros hitters during the post-injury period.
From this we see that the replacement players, Myles Straw, Derek Fisher, and Jack Mayfield, have not performed as “next man up,” although they have all had heart-warming moments. Straw and Fisher are below .700 OPS, and Mayfield...well, go look for yourself.
But the offensive demise is not all on them by any stretch of the imagination. Jake Marisnick has regressed, as predicted by many, and precipitously reduced production from Yuli Gurriel and Josh Reddick has occurred as well. Michael Brantley has seen some drop-off too, especially in power production.
Alex Bregman and Robinson Chirinos have led the offense during this period, with a little help from their friend, Tony Kemp. Only Tyler White and Kemp have higher OPS’s during this time than their season averages.
Did this offensive collapse happen because of the injuries? Post hoc ergo propter hoc? We’ll never know. I seems that George Springer, at least among the injured, was overdue for significant regression, and among those still playing, Marisnick and Reddick as well, so, maybe not.
Still, Tony Kemp coming in from the outfield cannot replace Altuve/Diaz at second base. Jack Mayfield or whoever else plays infield cannot replace Carlos Correa at shortstop, and Straw/Fisher have not come close to Springer’s production in the outfield.
And with these holes in the lineup doesn’t it make the pitcher’s job much easier against the rest of the lineup? I know that opinions differ on this question, but I believe it does.
With a +4 run differential in 22 games, one would expect on average for a team to be 11-11, or 12-10 perhaps, instead of the 15-7 the Astros have actually accomplished. Considering the injuries, most people would have been satisfied with a 12-10 record for the Astros, and if that were the case, at this point they would have a six game lead on the Rangers, instead of the current 9 game lead.
But don’t be surprised or dismayed if, from now until the recovery and return to form of the original HEB Three, that the Astros start to look more like a .500 team.
And that too, shall pass. In the meantime, we’ll take the good luck while it lasts. And maybe a few more Yordan dingers.