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What the Astros’ First Series of the Year Tells Us

Regression? Or just a slow start?

Chicago White Sox v Houston Astros Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images

The Astros’ split with the White Sox in the opening-season four-game series could have been worse. Astros pitching allowed 45 hits, the most in MLB (although many teams have only played three games), while only getting 29. And there was almost no power. ISO was .063, 3rd worst in baseball, yet the strikeout rate was 27%, 9th worst. For the weekend, the Astros had an 85 wRC+, 19th in MLB. Needless to say, the Astros were near the top in all these categories in 2022.

The pitching, the team's main strength in 2022, was equally mediocre. The 45 hits allowed equated to a 1.50 WHIP, the eighth worse in MLB for the weekend, compared to a 1.09 last year, first in baseball. In four games, the team ERA was 4.00, 14th in baseball, and the starters’ ERA was 4.26, rated 17th. And that, with the help of some luck; the left on base % was 82.4%, 8th best in baseball.

I was particularly disappointed by the performance of Cristian Javier, who allowed eight hits and a walk in five innings. His WHIP in the one game was 1.50, compared to last season’s 0.95. He had a 12.5% barrel percentage, up five+ points from last season.

And herein lies the danger of this kind of analysis. If you are still reading, you are probably shouting, “SMALL SAMPLE.

Indeed. Let’s look at Javier. His BABIP was .500. His contact % was 64.2, well below career averages. For this one game, Javier’s peripheral stats were much better than his 5.40 ERA and in line with his 2022 stats.

We could likewise worry about Jose Urquidy, who had a 6.75 ERA in four innings pitched. But his BABIP was .417, and half of his fly balls were home runs. He did manage to evade trouble. His LOB% was 96.2%. However, his xFIP was less than half his ERA: 2.99.

Of course, Ryan Pressly’s meltdown and his subsequent “illness “ are of concern. But I wonder if Seth Martinez’s success last year was a one-hit-wonder. He got hit hard; peripherals are not much better than the 9.00 ERA. His K% in three innings was only 6.3%.

But on the other hand, rookie Ronel Blanco did not disappoint after a sterling Spring Training. He threw two innings of scoreless ball and struck out 57% of the batters he faced.

On the hitting side, we hope desperately that someone can take up the slack left by the injury to team leader Jose Altuve. In the competition between David Henlsy and Mauricio Dubon, so far Hensley has the edge with a .250 BA, but only a 56 wRC+. Dubon sits at -32 wRC+. Neither of those performances is going to make us forget Altuve, unfortunately.

Two other rookies, Corey Julks and Yainer Diaz, haven’t helped much, either. They are a combined 1-20.

Thank the heavens for strong showings by Yordan Alvarez and Kyle Tucker, 266 and 163 wRC+, respectively, plus strong performances from Chas McCormick and Jose Abreu. They’ve had to overcome the 0-16 collapse of Alex Bregman. Bregs has taken his notorious reputation as a slow starter to a new low. But this won’t continue.

Unfortunately, Alvarez had to miss the fourth game of the season to rest his hand after “resting” his hand for the entire off-season and most of Spring Training. That is not a good harbinger for the future.

The Astros probably deserved to be 1-3 after this opening series. But as you already know, it’s just four games in a 162-game season. Were the Astros just cold? Or the White Sox just hot? Probably a little of both. Are the Astros not as good as last year? Or the White Sox better? I’m tempted to say yes to both of those questions.

But only time will tell for sure.