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Inside the Astros lineup’s torrid start to the season

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Baseballs are being crushed into oblivion.

Washington Nationals v Houston Astros Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images

The Astros have come away from the first road trip of the season with a record of 5-1. Their play thus far has been thoroughly impressive, as evidenced by their supreme run differential of plus-27, currently the best in baseball.

The one constant for the Astros throughout their time in Oakland and Anaheim was their offensive output. As it stands, only one team has scored more runs (Cincinnati).

In light of this explosive start to the season, let’s examine some performances — individual and collective, with a touch of apprehension for good measure.

Fun with max exit velocity

Through six games, Astros hitters collectively rank in the Top 5 in both hard hit rate and average exit velocity. There might not be a better way of illustrating this fact than by highlighting several players’ max exit velocity (maxEV).

Max exit velocities

Player 2020 2021
Player 2020 2021
José Altuve 106.9 105
Yuli Gurriel 107.1 106.8
Alex Bregman 105.6 106
Carlos Correa 109 116.4
Michael Brantley 105.3 109.2
Kyle Tucker 110.9 109.6
Myles Straw 102.6 104.9
Via Statcast

Even though some players have yet to eclipse their hardest hit ball of 2020, the fact that they nearly have in just six games in 2021 signifies the lineup’s revamped capabilities, and to a lesser extent, the absurdity of the 2020 season.

Also, on a side note, Correa’s current 2021 maxEV of 116.4 miles per hour is by far the hardest ball he’s hit since 2016.

There have been rumblings that exit velocities will be inflated this year due to the modified physics of the new ball, and so far that appears to be true. Nevertheless, it shouldn’t dilute the fact that Astros hitters are reverting back to their old, elite form, which began via a rebirth of sorts in last year’s postseason.

Even though it’s early in the season, a stat such as maxEV can be indicative of future performance. The Athletic’s Rob Arthur penned an article ($) on this subject three years ago. “For every mile per hour above 108, a hitter is projected to gain about 6 points of OPS relative to their predicted number,” Arthur wrote. This was one of his key points.

Granted, only a few Astros batters have registered exit velocities of 108 or more so far this year, but the underlying point is simple and uncomplicated: The Astros are blasting the piss out of the ball, and that bodes well going forward.

Myles Straw

Coming into 2021, perhaps no other player on the team has been under the microscope more than Straw. This wasn’t because of unrealistic expectations or excessive hype, it was simply because he was replacing one of the franchise’s most beloved, iconic players.

No one doubts that Straw can play a quality center field with his plus-plus speed, nor is he viewed as an underachieving speedster on the base paths who lacks the necessary skill to steal bases. What is in question is Straw’s talent at the plate.

Although an accomplished hitter in the minors, Straw’s complete lack of power casts a shadow over his ability to hit for a high average against big-league pitching as he did against minor-league pitching.

So far, Straw is hitting only .200 through 25 plate appearances, but what is encouraging is the fact that he’s walked (5) more times than he’s struck out (3) and has a .360 on-base percentage. Additionally, his contact skills have been terrific, as he has seldom whiffed and has consistently put the ball in play.

25 plate appearances is, of course, a minuscule sample size, but for Straw to have any success at the plate, it’s crucial that he stay in the zone so that he can draw as many walks as possible, and when challenged, make contact so that he can utilize his great speed. He’s done both through the first week of the season.

Carlos Correa

As noted above, Correa has already made some incredible contact this year. His hard hit rate is currently an outstanding 57.9 percent. But there’s a possible trend that is relatively concerning.

Correa’s top exit velocities so far are as follows:

116.4

111.2

110.6

108.6

108.3

107.5

104.3

All but two of those were hit on the ground, and not one was lifted enough to classify as a fly ball, per Statcast.

In the grand scheme of things, this is a fairly trivial issue for Correa. Moreover, the sample size is tiny. It’s a great sign for him that he’s making a ton of loud contact. But at the same time, if this does continue, Correa’s going to struggle to optimize his results. Lifting those hard hit balls into the air with at least some consistency is paramount in today’s game.

TL;DR version

The Astros are hitting the cover off of the ball, Myles Straw has quietly been solid at the plate and Carlos Correa is quite literally pounding balls — into the ground.