The takeaway from the Astros’ regular season: All’s well that end’s well. The team was fighting an uphill battle most of the season. But on Game 162, they captured the AL West Division title.
Throughout the season I have updated the Astros’ rankings for offense, pitching, and defense. Quite frequently, we have seen the rankings move up and down from month to month. Now that the regular season is finished, we can view the final statistical rankings.
In addition, we will review some probabilities for the Astros’ in the playoffs.
The Astros’ pitching staff finished with the 8th best ERA in the majors (3.91). The bullpen was 7th best in ERA (3.56), and the starting pitchers ranked 12th best (4.12). The Astros’ Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) at 4.31 is the third highest gap between a team ERA and FIP.
The Astros’ bullpen had the 3d fewest number of pitching melt downs.
As I wrote in previous articles, several pitchers have given up a large amount of hard contact. The Astros’ pitching staff allows the 3d highest exit velocity, the 2d highest barrel percent, and the 7th highest hard hit percent. This is partially reflected in the 201 HRs allowed by the pitching staff, which is the 9th most in the majors.
The Astros pitching staff is tied with the Rays for No. 1 in Stuff+, meaning that the pitching staff’s physical pitch characteristics, like movement and velocity, are (in the aggregate) the best in the majors. But the Astros’ pitching staff ranks 21st in Location+, which means that the staff’s command in locating pitches is below average. These two pitch modeling rankings may explain why the Astros’ K/9 is ranked 7th, but the BB/9 is ranked 20th.
The pitching staff rankings confirm what we already knew—that this year’s pitching is not as exceptional as last year. But the overall pitching staff rankings are well above average. And the pitching staff’s stuff is probably scary for any teams expecting to face the Astros in the playoffs. On the other hand, the Astros’ pitching staff’s command and propensity to walk batters will probably lead opposing batters to be very patient in the playoffs.
The Astros’ runs created offense is ranked 5th at 112. The Astros’ offense is a little below the 4th place Rangers (114). The Astros’ offense is also ranked 5th by OPS (768).
The Astros’ batters have the 3d lowest strike out rate, but are just average at taking walks (15th). The Astros are 7th in hitting HRs (222), and 6th in Slugging (.432).
As you may have noticed, I particularly like run expectancy stats (RE24) as a measure of offense. RE24 measures the extent that batters improve or diminish run scoring probabilities in each at bat. The Astros’ batters ranked 5th in RE24 (86 runs above average). RE24 runs above average can be compared to Runs Above Average (WAA) to determine how much a team’s situational batting results in scoring more runs than would be expected based on linear weighted stats like wRC+. The Astros’ RE24 indicates that situational hitting that improves run expectancy accounts for a 24% “premium” over standard wRC+.
The Astros’ batters are 3d in wRC+ with runners in scoring position (RISP) at 124. Only the Orioles and Rays have a higher wRC+ with RISP. The Astros are tied with the Phillies for 6th in wRC+ in high leverage positions (104).
For much of this season, the Astros’ offense was middling or worse. However, a strong second half of the season—with Altuve, Alvarez, and Brantley returning—gave the Astros’ offense a high seasonal ranking. The Astros had the 2d ranked offense over the second half of the season (wRC+ of 127—-behind only the Braves).
It’s no secret that the Astros’ defense has fallen down, compared to last season. Consider the team’s DRS. The Astros team defense is ranked No. 17 with 13 defensive runs saved. Last year, the Astros ranked 4th on DRS. The 2023 runs saved is only 19% of the 67 runs saved in 2022. The downturn in the Astros’ defense from 2022 to 2023 cost the Astros 54 runs—more than 5 wins. The worst position for defense was the pitchers, whose defense cost the Astros -9 runs saved.
The Astros rank somewhat better on statcast’s Outs Above Average at 11th. But this is also a much lower ranking than last year’s 2d on OAA.
I think it’s pretty clear that the Astros’ defense suffered due to the new rule prohibiting infield shifts. The Astros’ defense in prior years was built around saving runs via the infield shift. But seemingly other aspects of defensive execution are worse this year too. For instance, the significant decline in pitcher fielding is largely a matter of worse execution.
PLAYOFF PROBABILITIES FOR THE ASTROS
During the season, my article periodically updated the odds of winning the division and making the playoffs based on the Fangraphs model. Going forward, we can review the model’s projections of playoff results for the Astros.
Last week, I discussed the ZIPS results which indicated that the Braves and Astros are the teams best built to win in the playoffs. The ZIPS projections showed that team strength for playoff runs is different than team strength in the regular season. By those projections, the Braves and Astros are No. 1 and No. 2, respectively, in team playoff strength. The short duration of the playoffs (compared to a 162 game season) places a different weight on the strengths of different components of each team.
Fangraph’s model currently projects the Astros and Braves with the best odds of winning the World Series. The Astros are projected to have a 19.2% probability of winning the World Series—the highest odds in the American League by a wide margin. The Braves have an unreal 26.3% probability of winning the World Series. That may be close to the maximum probability one could expect at this stage of the playoffs.
The Astros’ current probabilities for winning the ALDS and ALCS are shown below, with comparisons to the other AL playoff teams.
(ALDS % / ALCS %)
Astros ALDS 61% / ALCS 38%
Orioles ALDS 43% / ALCS 16%
Rays ALDS 32% / ALCS 15%
Twins ALDS 15% / ALCS 7%
Blue Jays ALDS 25% / ALCS 14%
Rangers ALDS 25% / ALCS 11%
Nice to see that the Astros have such good odds of winning in the playoffs, right? Do these odds change which teams you root for in the Wild Card games? For instance, maybe Astros fans should root for the Rangers to defeat the Rays. This would eliminate one of the biggest threats to the Astros winning the ALCS. Similarly, a Twins win over the Blue Jays looks to be advantageous to the Astros’ odds of advancing past the ALDS.