A few quick thoughts while watching the offense struggle. Or maybe “struggle” is the wrong word, since the Astros are scoring 5.04 runs per game, which is 10% more than last year—all without Altuve and Brantley.
The Left-Handed Duo
The Astros have only two lefthanders on the roster, Yordan Alvarez and Kyle Tucker, but both are special. Together they have an OPS+ of 152 so far this season. (Stats through the start of play on Tuesday.)
Platoon splits be damned when it comes to the LHB duo. Together these two lefty bats have the following line against LH pitchers: .327, .391, .564, OPS .960 (OPS+ 175). They have destroyed LH pitchers. Dusty Baker’s lineup likes to put a RHB (Abreu) between Alvarez and Tucker. The idea is to make it harder to pitch a lefty reliever against both Tucker and Tucker. But the performance of the duo against lefthanded pitchers this year calls that strategy into question. Personally, I like the idea of Tucker and Abreu exchanging places in the typical batting order, so that Tucker bats directly behind Alvarez.
Finally, we wondered if the two lefthanded bats would take advantage of the rule prohibiting the infield shift. It appears so. The shift aims to suppress pull-side offense and prevent balls up the middle. The lefthanded duo’s splits: Pull Side OPS+ of 173. Up the Middle OPS+ of 140.
Corey Julks, Early Season Surprise
The ex-University of Houston player has been quite a story. Mostly because his path this year has been unexpected. He has been a part-time player and pinch hitter so far. Let’s look at his Baseball Savant summary as of Tuesday, April 25. Corey’s batting line: .305, .311, .458 / wRC+ 111.
The positive characteristic is that Julks hits the ball hard, as shown by average and maximum exit velocity and hard-hit percent. It’s a small sample size, but performing like this is usually a good harbinger for his bat. Note that Julks’ x-BA and x-SLG are both above average, which usually follows hitting the ball hard. The negatives are the poor results for K%, BB%, and whiffs. The extremely low BB% would be alarming if I thought Julks is allergic to taking the base on balls. But his minor league record indicates that he is pretty much average or better at taking walks (average annual BB% of 8%). So, I think his BB% at the ML level will improve over time. The strikeout rate is more concerning but perhaps not unusual for a rookie adjusting to the big leagues. In addition, Julks’ role coming off the bench probably increases the probability of strikeouts. But this is an important stat to watch.
At this point, Julks has been performing pretty well for a bench bat. Let’s see what happens as the season goes on.
Abreu’s HR Power
The game threads are full of comments about Jose Abreu’s lack of power this year. And I’ll admit that there is some cause for concern. For instance, the recent article written by Dan Symborski at Fangraphs lays out a pretty good case for having concern about the power outage, but (as he emphasizes) not for panicking. I won’t discuss this power issue in more detail because I believe it is too early to do so. There is time for Abreu to turn his season around.
But I am going to point out an oddity regarding Abreu’s zero HRs so far this season. Jose Abreu’s last home run occurred on Sept. 13 of last year. That’s 39 games since his last HR. During the 2022 season, Abreu’s longest game streak without a HR was 37 games.
But that doesn’t mean he hasn’t hit balls which would be HRs in other stadiums, according to Baseball Savant. Based on the balls he has hit so far this season, Abreu would have at least 1 HR in more than one-half the MLB ballparks. Interestingly, he would have zero HRs in Minute Maid Park as well as his previous home ballpark. He would have 3 HRs in either the Angels ballpark or Wrigley Field. He would have 2 HRs if he played in the Rangers’ Globe Life field, Dodger Stadium, Coors Field, or Petco Park. We would probably feel differently about Abreu’s season if had 2 or 3 HRs at this point in the season.
So, the HR power outage is partly just a matter of luck, or the lack thereof. Is it also a matter of Abreu being poorly matched with his home stadium? Perhaps, but it’s hard to say this early in the season. When Abreu was signed, I think there was hope that he would take advantage of the short porch in LF. So far, that hasn’t happened. But it doesn’t mean it won’t happen in the future.