Well, this just won’t do.
The Astros were World Champions just three years ago. And arguably, they have a better roster now than they did back then.
They went seven games into the World Series just last year.
Currently they are one game behind .500, 6.5 games behind the Oakland A’s for first place in the AL West, with only 15 games left to play. The lowly Seattle Mariners are nipping at their tails for second place, only two games behind. Not making the playoffs, odds makers be damned, seems like a real possibility.
There’s a new coach this year. It must be his fault.
Maybe Dusty Baker deserves some blame. I’ve never understood why he always has Carlos Correa hitting sixth or seventh every night. With three catchers until a few days ago, why doesn’t he pinch run for Martin Maldonado more often? And the old criticism of Baker’s handling of the pitching staff seems to apply. Just last night he let Jose Urquidy, in only his second start all season, go six innings and throw 88 pitches. He was struggling with command, and Brent Strom came out to see him. They left him in.
Next batter, Matt Olson, hit the game winning two-run homer.
Baker has kept his starters in numerous times seemingly beyond their expiration date only to see them melt down soon after in just this manner.
But can you blame him?
Out of 393.2 innings pitched this year, rookies have thrown over 180 of them. There’s only one pitcher on the staff who has a history of reliability who is pitching according to expectations. That’s Zack Greinke, of course. We’ve been pleasantly surprised by Framber Valdez and Cristian Javier, but we’re already seeing evidence of their regression.
But look at the bullpen. Because of injuries there’s only one proven veteran who has gotten significant playing time, that’s closer and former All-Star Ryan Pressly. He has a 4.11 ERA and has blown three saves in 17 appearances.
After that it’s almost all rookies in the bullpen. In order of innings pitched: Andre Scrubb, Blake Taylor (now injured), Enoli Pardes, Cy Sneed, Humberto Castellanos, Brandon Bailey, Cionel Perez, Nivaldo Rodriguez, Bryan Abreu, Carlos Sanabria. Add veteran Brooks Raley, a castoff from the Reds as another unlikely relief option, who’s been among the most reliable pitchers on the staff.
Some of these players were walking on water for a while. Andre Scrubb went almost 12 innings before giving up a run, but he allowed 13 walks during that time. Even an old timer like Dusty Baker knows that a reliever who allows more than one walk per inning is no one to rely on in the long term.
Since August 25th, we’ve started to see the expected regression. In 6.2 innings Scrubb has allowed three runs and continues to have more walks than innings pitched. For the season his xFIP is 6.03. Maybe old man Dusty Baker doesn’t know what xFIP is, I don’t know, but if he goes by his gut and doesn’t trust the early success of Scrubb, his gut and advanced stats happen to agree.
Despite the incredible reliance on low-level rookie pitchers, the Astros staff is still rated 18th in the league in fWAR, and 15th in team ERA. But the bullpen is rated 22nd in team fWAR at 0.4, 19th in team ERA at 4.58. But xFIP is 5.19. This is 27th in MLB. Again, if Dusty Baker’s gut doesn’t trust his bullpen the facts back him up.
In the last two weeks the Astros are rated 20th, at 5.10 ERA. In the last week they are rated 24th with a 6.39 ERA. The long expected regression is happening. The Astros bullpen has walked 106 batters in only 165 innings, just one less than league leader Boston , but in 50 less innings.
No wonder the Astros lost six games in the ongoing road trip during the opposing team’s last at bat. And no wonder Dusty Baker is sticking with his starters, as shaky as they may be as well. They rate 13th in MLB in ERA at 4.49, and with a little more support from the back end, that would probably be better.
Despite the below average performance of the Astros bullpen it is still 14th in innings pitched. That means 16 managers have relied on their bullpen more than Baker, who supposedly relies too much on starters.
In analyzing the subpar performance of the Astros we can’t ignore the injuries to position players. Before last night, the following star players played in only this many games:
Jose Altuve: 35 out of 45 games
Alex Bregman: 26 out of 45 games
George Springer: 37 out of 45 games
Michael Brantley: 31 out of 45 games
Yordan Alvarez: 2 out of 45 games
Aledmys Diaz: 11 out of 45 games
Let’s not forget the horrible slump Jose Altuve has had this year. His bWAR is -0.7. I doubt you can blame Dusty Baker for Altuve’s poor performance, a 30 year-old, 10-year-veteran, former MVP who should be coaching himself by now. That goes for almost all the position players.
As already stated, the Astros pitching staff is 22nd in fWAR and 19th in team ERA. Considering the cast of characters involved this seems remarkably good.
Despite the injuries the Astros rate 13th in fWAR in season batting, and 17th in wRC+. Somehow, the Astros are 6th in runs scored despite an OPS of .735, 19th in the league.
I’m as frustrated as anyone by the performance of the Astros this year, and no doubt the manager has made mistakes. Every manager does, even Saint Hinch. But Dusty Baker does not throw pitches, doesn’t swing bats, doesn’t control injuries. The Astros’ record is consistent with the performance of the players, maybe a little better.
Don’t make Dusty Baker the scapegoat.
And anyway, a guy who says to Joe Kelly, “Get back on the mound you little f#&ker” can’t be all bad.