For the most part, the Astros’ opening series against the Angels went smoothly. Houston secured a series win, which is always great, but they also did so in a relatively impressive fashion by outscoring Los Angeles by 10 runs across four games. Not a shabby start to the season.
Players from the up-and-down this roster contributed to this series win. However, below are three specific observations I had from the season’s first four games.
Observation No. 1 - Jeremy Peña
There probably isn’t a player in Major League Baseball with bigger shoes to fill than Jeremy Peña, who is following in the steps of Carlos Correa as the primary shortstop for the Astros. Defensively, he has come as advertised with the rookie making several impressive plays.
The questions about Peña, however, begin and end with his bat. While the sample remains far too small — 17 plate appearances, to be exact — the 24-year old flashed some of the power that appeared last season in the minors with three extra-base hits. Strikeouts could remain an issue all season long, though, as he also struck five times in the series.
Reflection No. 2 - Pedro Báez’s Velocity Woes Continue
If the Astros could have a recent free-agent re-do, I don’t doubt it would be the two-year, $12.5 million contract to Pedro Báez before the 2021 season. While there were signs of Báez losing velocity beforehand, he has now reached the point where I don’t know how James Click could justify keeping him on the roster at this pace.
Pedro Báez's average four-seam fastball velocity dating back to 2016:— Astros Stats (@astro_numbers) April 9, 2022
2016 - 97.5 MPH
2017 - 97.1 MPH
2018 - 96.1 MPH
2019 - 95.9 MPH
2020 - 94.4 MPH
2021 - 90.8 MPH
2022 - 88.8 MPH
Of the ten runs that the Astros surrendered against the Angels, three were courtesy of Báez. There isn't much life to his pitches, either. Unless his velocity comes around in a hurry, Houston would be better off utilizing the roster spot for an arm with upside.
Observation No. 3 - Head-Scratching Lineup Decisions
Quibbling over lineup decisions isn’t all that important on a single-game basis. For example, Dusty Baker hitting Robel Garcia leadoff in a game last season drew the ire of the fanbase, but in the grand scheme, it didn’t mean much throughout an entire 162-game season.
That said, Baker’s decision to bat Niko Goodrum third on Saturday and Jose Siri at leadoff on Sunday were head-scratchers. Goodrum, a switch hitter, has historically better results hitting from the right-hand side of the plate (123 wRC+) compared to when he bats as a left-hander (74 wRC+). While he does boast a bit more power from his left side, it still doesn’t outweigh his overall struggles from that side. Noah Syndergaard, the starter for the Angels on Saturday, forced Goodrum to bat from his left side to start the game. The rationale to bat Goodrum third on a day he would primarily hit from the left-hand side escapes me.
Jose Siri hitting leadoff was another puzzling decision. On the one hand, Siri does bring an undeniable dynamic when he reaches the basepaths. However, in a game where you’re already sitting Jose Altuve and Michael Brantley with Yuli Gurriel on paternity leave, it feels odd not to maximize the number of at-bats for someone like Kyle Tucker, who was hitting sixth in the lineup. Plus, Siri isn’t exactly known for getting on-base at a consistent clip while Tucker is undeniably the better overall hitter. Even if you don’t want Tucker leading off, I would’ve dropped Peña down in the batting order for the former to hit second.
Again, it probably isn’t worth quibbling too much about the batting order in April, especially when multiple regulars were out. There isn’t much to gain here, but these decisions remain equally puzzling as they do disappointing.