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The Astros’ Day After....

The loss in Game 2 makes the Astros an underdog as they head to Globe Life Field.

MLB: ALCS-Texas Rangers at Houston Astros
In ALCS Game 2, an error by Framber Valdez on a throw to first baseman Jose Abreu was critical.
Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

After losing Games 1 and 2 to the Texas Rangers, the Astros move from a clear favorite in the AL Championship Series to a clear underdog for the ALCS. That was quick. I’ll talk about the Fangraphs odds later in this article.

Of course, the ALCS isn’t over—far from over. But the next two games at Globe Life Field are critical. If the Astros can win both of these games on enemy turf, the series will be tied, and (if you accept ZIPS’ game-by-game odds) the Astros will again be favored to win the series. However, down 0-2 in the series, the Astros have to focus on one game at a time; and I will address Game 3 shortly.

Framber Valdez

So far in this series, the Game 1 loss is primarily caused by offensive failure and the Game 2 loss is principally due to an early game blow up by starting pitcher Framber Valdez. In my article last Friday, I identified the pitching of Framber Valdez as a key to the series. And yes, that appears to have been correct. Framber Valdez’s Game 2 start in the ALCS is very similar to his start in Game 2 of the ALDS. Game Score is a good summary stat for the quality of a pitching start. Both games had an identical game score of 31. This represents a poor starting performance (48 is roughly average quality). If you look at the game logs below, you can see the similarity of the results.

Framber Valdez 2023 Post Season

The shortness of the outings results in very high ERAs, and the FIP indicates that the ERA was earned fairly. Some observations:

  • To some extent, Valdez had bad luck with BABIP. After posting a very high .463 BABIP in ALDS Game 2, Valdez’s BABIP was .667 in ALCS Game 2. That is unsustainable and generally reflects some degree of bad luck.
  • But Valdez’s bad luck is mostly of the sequencing variety. Framber gave up hard hits, but his hard hit percentage was no higher than J.P. France’s and Nathan Eovaldi’s hard hit ratios in this game. The difference in the results is due to sequencing. The first inning ambush by the Rangers is the best example. And Valdez’s throwing error in that inning came at the worst time.
  • Valdez had unlucky sequencing of the hits he allowed in the first inning, but it’s unfair to the Rangers to ascribe it only to “luck.” The Rangers had a good strategy and approach against Valdez in the first inning, anticipating his first pitches and taking what was given (such as going the other way at times). The “expected” batting average stats indicates that the Rangers’ hits in the inning were legitimate and unaided by poor fielding. The sequence of x-BA in the Rangers’ first inning: Semien single (.470); Seager single (.450); Grossman (throwing error) (.120); Garver single (.910); Heim K; Lowe single (.320 and 108 EV); Jung K; Taveras Fly out (.580 and 101 EV).
  • Valdez’s own fielding error was pivotal in that inning. As a result, a run scored and runners moved up, all with no outs, placing a great deal of pressure on the Astros. I suspect that Valdez may have succombed to that pressure.
  • Framber’s “stuff” was fine, based on Pitch f/x results. The sinker was moving downward more than in his previous ALDS game and his last game of the regular season. The curve ball and cutter also appeared to be effective pitches. The curve elicited 6 swinging strikes and the cutter produced 4 called strikes and 1 swinging strike.
  • Given these two bad post season outings, should the Astros schedule Framber Valdez to pitch again in this series? Immediately after watching Game 2, my emotional response was “no.” But upon reflection, I think the Astros should rely upon Framber as the starter in Game 6 or 7, if the series goes that far. Given the experience of Game 2 of the ALDS and ALCS, the Astros probably should be prepared to pull him early if he shows early signs of collapsing. But, given that Valdez’s results were due partially to unsustainable BABIP luck, the most sensible decision is to continue “dancing with the one who brung you.”
  • As I noted in last week’s article, Framber Valdez’s ERA is significantly higher when he pitches with more than 5 days of rest, and this may have affected both Game 2 starts this post season. However, If Framber Valdez starts Game 6, he will be pitching with normal rest days, which perhaps will improve the results.

Game 3 at Globe Life Field

Javier is coming off a clutch Game 3 performance in the ALDS. As I suggested in my article preceding Game 3, Javier appeared to be more like the “old Javier” in his last four games of the regular season. In those four games, Javier had a Batting Average-Against of .190. And in ALDS Game 3, the Batting Average Against was an even lower .093. The ability to suppress hits is a characteristic of the “old Javier,” as indicated by his participation in two no hitters in 2022.

However, keep in mind that the Rangers have a different approach to hitting than the Twins. Javier has to avoid throwing too many balls and issuing walks against the Rangers. Although he allowed no runs against the Twins, he issued 5 walks. The Rangers don’t strike out as much as the Twins, and it can be very dangerous to issue that many walks to them.

The Astros’ offense appears schizophrenic at times. So far this post season, the Astros’ offense has been mostly Yordan Alvarez. Yordan Alvarez has scored or driven in 18 of the Astros’ 24 runs this postseason. (Credit: Chandler Rome) Jose Altuve, Kyle Tucker, and Chas McCormick are bats that the Astros relied upon for big WPA swings in the regular season, but they have been relatively quiet this post season. Jose Abreu came on strong in the ALDS, but he has been quieter so far in the ALCS. You can see who needs to improve this series.

It’s odd to say, but we are hopeful that leaving MMP and going to Globe Life Field will rejuvenate those bats. The Astros have been offensive road warriors this season.

Astros ALCS Odds

The ZIPS game-by-game odds are shown on Fangraphs. Before Game 1, the Astros’ probability of winning the ALCS was 59%. After the two losses at home, the odds have dropped to 20%.

The silver lining is that if the Astros succeed in winning the next two games, the odds will again shift in favor of an Astros’ ALCS series win. The ZIPS model favors the Astros to win Games 5, 6, and 7.