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Astros Pitching During the Streak: It’s Almost Unfair

A statistical breakdown of recent Astros pitching dominance, plus a brief look at how the Astros compare statistically with the Los Angeles Angels.

Houston Astros v Minnesota Twins Photo by Brace Hemmelgarn/Minnesota Twins/Getty Images

Most pre-season prognosticators predicted another strong showing by the 2022 Astros, mostly on the strength of elite hitting and just good enough pitching. After all, the Astros offense has been at or near the top of the league leaders every year since 2017. But this year’s pitching rotation is headlined by a 39-year-old coming off Tommy John, a #2 on extended IL, and the rest a bunch of Cinderella stories with no pedigrees. Plus, there’s seemingly not much proven depth in the bullpen either.

But in the last ten-game winning streak, it has been exactly the opposite. The Astros have won on superb pitching, and often just good enough hitting. The Astros offense during this spell has scored more than five runs only twice, while the pitching has notched five shutouts, three one-run games, and not any games with more than three runs allowed. It’s almost ridiculous how good the pitching has been.

Here’s a list of key stats during the last ten-game period.

ERA..............0.90, 1st in MLB (next best 2.15)

FIP...............2.32 1st (next best 2.86)

WHIP.............0.86, 1st (next best 1.03)

AVG..............181, 1st (next best .201)

WAR............2.6, 1st (next best 1.8)

HR/9............0.20, 1st (next best 0.51)

BB%.............5.9%, 2nd

K%...............24.3%, 9th

K-BB%......... 18.4%, 6th

The Astros also ranked at the top or near the top in the following Statcast categories:

Barrels..............1st

Barrel%............1st

Hard Hit%........1st

Exit Velocity.....3rd

OK, some of the advanced stats require us to be a little cautious about the sustainability of all this. ( As though anyone would think the Astros ERA will be 0.90 going forward).

xFIP during this stretch is a highly respectable but not league-leading 3.19, and SIERA is similar at 3.15. These stats would normally be considered good predictors of future results if current performance remains.

Some reasons to think there is some luck involved include the league-leading HR/9 (.20), the league-leading HR/FB% (2.6%), not to mention league-leading BABIP, (.238), or the league-leading Left on Base% (89.2%, only one other team is even in the 80s).

So, of course, there will regression. The Astros staff won’t continue to pitch shutouts every other game going forward.

But even though the staff is beating peripherals, there is reason to think they could continue to do so, albeit to a lesser extent than currently.

  1. The Astros Fangraphs DEF rating of 12.2 for the year is not only tops in the league but is almost 50% higher than the next best defensive team, the Diamondbacks. (8.5) There are only 10 teams who even rate positive in this category. The rating for the 10-game period is similarly dominant. Maybe elite defense has something to do with the low BABIP.
  2. The Astros staff should be giving up more home runs, but if they continue to miss barrels the HR/9% and the HR/FB% may continue to stay relatively low. Also, as a fly ball-dominant staff, the new dead-ball may be helping the Astros staff disproportionately to avoid homers relative to other, more ground-ball oriented staffs. The eyeball says the Astros outfielders seem to be catching a lot of balls on the warning track this year.

Let’s not ignore the offense during this streak. Though by standards of previous seasons it may not seem overpowering, by the standards of 2022 it is also near the top during the streak. The 139 wRC+ during the streak is second only to Milwaukee, and far ahead of the Astros’ main AL West competitor, the Angels, Ohtani, Trout, et al, at 112.

For the season, the Astros ERA of 2.72 is second in MLB compared to the Angels at 3.37. The wRC+ for the Astros is 5th at 112 compared to the MLB leading Angels at 124. However, thanks to defense the Astros nudge out the Angels in overall oWAR with 6.9 to 6.5. The Astros pitching WAR also leads the Angels 4.1 to 3.3.

The Astros streak will inevitably end, yet after winning 10 straight games, they are only one-half game ahead of the Angels in the AL West. It looks like the race to win the West is going to be a long, back and forth marathon against a tough opponent.