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Astros June Statistical Month in Review: Pitching

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Amid the bombshells lit by the offense, the excellence of June pitching was often overlooked. See for yourself.

MLB: Houston Astros at Cleveland Indians Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

(Editors note: This is an analysis of the entire staff, starters and relievers in general, and how they rank against the AL. A breakdown of individual performances comes tomorrow)

In April and May we saw that the Astros staff overall had above average results compared to the American League in general. We also noted that peripherals predicted regression.

A strong June showing has the Astros staff, based on results, move into the top tier for the season. Yet the staff continues to out-perform peripherals. What gives?

Let’s take a look at the charts. April and May results remain in the charts for comparative purposes but the last two columns are the June and overall for the year stats.

June and Overall Stats for the Entire Astros Pitching Staff Ranked Against the AL

Month ERA/rank SIERA/rank xFIP/rank K%/rank BB%/rank BA/rank WHIP/rank BABIP/rank
Month ERA/rank SIERA/rank xFIP/rank K%/rank BB%/rank BA/rank WHIP/rank BABIP/rank
April 3.69/4th 3.86/8th 4.17/10th 24.1%/6th 8.0%/7th .220/4th 1.15/2nd .266/13th
May 3.98/6th 4.15/10th 4.27/11th 23.8%/9th 10.0%/12th .218/3rd 1.24/5th .255/14th
June 3.34/1st 3.99/5th 4.06/3rd 24.0%/6th 7.9%/3rd .217/1st 1.14/1st .266/15th
Overall 3.69/3rd 4.09/8th 4.23/8th 24.0%/8th 8.8%/8th .219/1st 1.19/3rd .264/15th

Month after month the Astros have had just about the lowest BABIP, indicating good luck. No surprise then that they have the lowest BA against, and among the lowest WHIPs. (The batters have among the highest BABIPs, indicating good luck on the other side of the plate as well)

I think I may have a clue about this continued good luck, which has gone on too long to be just luck by now. It comes down to two things. The Astros keep the ball in the air, and they keep the airballs in the park.

  1. Although the Astros flyball rate of 37.8% is fourth highest in the league, combined with the infield flyball rate of 11.7%, also fourth highest in the league, the overall flyball rate is near the top in the league. Flyballs do damage and hitters prefer flies to grounders, but grounders do result in a higher BA, it’s just that they are usually singles when they do result in hits.
  2. The flies are staying in the park. The Astros HR/FB ratio of 12.7% is the third-lowest in the AL. This trend has held for over three months now. Is this just luck? Maybe, but this trend has held consistently all year.

Herein may lie the key. Although the Astros are about middle in inducing soft contact, they are the best in the AL at preventing hard contact at 29.7%, and that has been a pattern all year. So somehow this high, four-seam-fastball heavy staff is keeping batters just enough off-balance to keep the batters’ flyballs at warning track distance or less. The Astros have surrendered the second-fewest homers in the AL, just 89.

Hopefully, that is a skill and not just a three-month run of good luck.

Let’s break down the starters and relievers:

Astros Starters, Key Stats, June and Overall with League Rankings

Month ERA/rank SIERA/rank xFIP/rank K%/rank BB%/rank BA/rank WHIP/rank BABIP/rank
Month ERA/rank SIERA/rank xFIP/rank K%/rank BB%/rank BA/rank WHIP/rank BABIP/rank
April 3.47/2nd 4.06/8th 4.28/11th 23.6%/7th 7.6%/7th .217/2nd 1.11/3rd .264/12th
May 3.28/4th 3.94/5th 3.95/5th 25.4%/6th 8.5%/9th .198/2nd 1.06/3rd .229/14th
June 3.11/2nd 4.08/5th 3.89/3rd 22.3%/6th 6.6%/ 2nd .216/1st 1.07/1st .256/15th
Overall 3.34/2nd 4.13/8th 4.09/6th 23.8%/6th 7.7%/7th .211/1st 1.09/1st .251/15th

And here are the bullpen stats:

Astros Bullpen Stats and AL Rank

Month ERA/rank SIERA/rank xFIP/rank K%/rank BB%/rank BA/rank WHIP/rank BABIP/rank
Month ERA/rank SIERA/rank xFIP/rank K%/rank BB%/rank BA/rank WHIP/rank BABIP/rank
April 4.00/8th 3.58/7th 4.00/9th 24.9%/6th 8.6%/9th .225/7th 1.21/10th .271/10th
May 5.13/13th 4.46/15th 4.79/14th 21.5%/14th 12.3%/11th .249/9th 1.54/14th .292/8th
June 3.75/3rd 3.78/4th 4.37/10th 26.9%/3rd 10.2%/13th .220/2nd 1.27/3rd .284/9th
Overall 4.27/8th 4.03/11th 4.46/12th 24.3%/8th 10.4%/7th .232/6th 1.34/8th .283/12th

It’s no surprise that the Astros starting rotation is near the top in ERA for the year and for June.

But for all the grumbling about the bullpen in terms of ERA, it is rated about average, and in June near the top. Maybe that’s because the starters were able to keep the relievers off the mound. The bullpen pitched only 86.1 innings in June, the third-fewest in the AL.

Tomorrow we will review and analyze the individual performances of the pitching staff.