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Astros: Arrow Pointing Up or Down? (see poll)

What the Astros’ slow start to the season means for their future in 2023

Toronto Blue Jays v Houston Astros
Fans at Minute Maid Park for the Astros-Blue Jays game on April 17, 2023.
Photo by Logan Riely/Getty Images

I can sense that the Astros fan base is getting a little edgy about the team’s slow start. The Astros are 22% of the way into the 2023 season. And the results are disappointing—albeit partly due to high expectations for the 2022 World Champions. To a significant degree this reflects better luck with injuries in 2022 compared to 2023. But as the Manager’s Book of Quotes would say, “Other teams won’t feel sorry for our team’s injuries.”

Arguably perhaps the Astros’ off-season should have addressed the team’s depth, both for position players and starting pitching. Chandler Rome reminds us that Dusty Baker wanted more veteran depth, but the concern went unheeded. Maybe there was some complacency in the organization because the team has been relatively healthy in the past.

So, are the arrows pointing up or down on the Astros’ season? There are no right answers to this question. The answer may depend on whether you are a “glass half-full or half-empty” person. Losing three consecutive series and injuries to 2/5 of the pitching rotation may indicate “arrow down.” But winning the just completed Angels’ series and the future return of Jose Altuve, Michael Brantley, and Lance McCullers Jr. may support an “arrow up” on the horizon. Indeed, maintaining a .500-ish record in the face of early-season injuries can be viewed optimistically: the results could have been worse, given the adversity.


Sabermetric projections can provide a more neutral outlook on the question. They may not turn out to be accurate, but they are more objective than just relying on your feelings.

As an overview, the Pythagorean Record, based on Runs Scored and Runs Allowed, can provide insight into whether teams’ Win % has been lucky or unlucky so far. Fangraphs uses a version called PythagenPat, which is a refinement of the Pythagorean formula. By this measure, the Astros have been somewhat unlucky in the distribution of runs. The Astros’ current record (May 10) should be 20-16 (or -2 wins). This might be a positive sign going forward (if the Pythag Record regresses). Except—well, there is always a “but” or “except.” The Rangers PythagenPat reflects an even more unlucky distribution of runs. If the Astros should have a 20-16 record, the Rangers’ record should be 25-10 record based on the same measure. This implies that the Astros should be 5.5 games behind the division leader. Maybe the Astros are lucky to have only a 3.5-game deficit.

There are several sabermetric systems for projecting season-end performance. I generally focus on the Fangraphs’ projections, which are re-computed daily. The chart below shows the change in the Astros’ playoff odds since the beginning of the season.

March 31 Projection / Current Projection / Difference

Playoff Odds 79% / 67.7% / -11.3%

Win Division Odds 53.4% / 44% / -9.3%

Wild Card Odds 25.5% / 23.8% / -1.7%

A significant percentage of the reduction in odds occurred over the last five days. In that short period, the playoff odds decreased by 4% and the division odds decreased by 6%. Key factors in that period include starting pitcher injuries which affected the Astros’ depth chart, as well as wins by the Rangers within the division.

Some takeaways from the Fangraphs playoff odds:

  • A 11.3% reduction in the team’s playoff odds is significant. But the positive probably outweighs the negative. The Astros continue to have high odds (67.7%) of making the playoffs.
  • The Astros’ odds of winning the division have fallen below 50%. However, the Astros continue to have better odds of winning the division than any other AL West team.
  • The Astros’ diminished odds are accompanied by an increase in the Rangers’ playoff odds. The Rangers' playoff odds increased 20 points since Mar. 31, and the Rangers now have a 57% probability of making the playoffs. The Rangers' odds of winning the division increased from 12% to 31%.
  • The playoff odds do not indicate doom and gloom for the Astros’ season. If the playoff odds are to be believed, the Astros are not in a bad position, and they will play a slightly weaker schedule than the Rangers and Angels for the remainder of the season. However, the odds can change fairly quickly if the Astros were to endure a losing streak.

The Fangraphs projection is based on the Astros winning 54.9% of their remaining games. By contrast, the Rangers, Angels, and Mariners are projected to win 50.3% of their remaining games. The Rangers are projected to take 2d place in the AL West, one game behind the Astros. If the Astros win the division by one game, I assume the race will be tight to the end.

The team projections for the remainder of the season (ROS) are based on updated team depth charts, which reflect individual player projections. The Astros depth chart is shown here. The ROS projections for slumping batters Alex Bregman and Jose Abreu assume resurgent batting by the 3d baseman and 1st baseman, as shown below.


Bregman PA 517 .263 /.373 /.456 wRC+ 133

J. Abreu PA 506 .267 /.338 /.420 wRC+ 112

The depth chart assumes that J.P. France will take Luis Garcia’s place in the rotation. Lance McCullers Jr. and Jose Urquidy are projected to return to the rotation to pitch 87 and 91 innings, respectively. McCullers’, Urquidy’s, and France’s ROS pitching is projected below.


J.P. France 72 IP, 4.48 / 4.70

L. McCullers 87 IP, 3.94 / 4.20

J. Urquidy 97 IP, 4.47 / 4.73

Bregman and Abreu will need to end their slumps soon to achieve their projected rest-of-season result. I can’t say that I’m confident both batters will achieve the level of improvement indicated by the projection.

Of the three starting pitchers added or returning to the rotation, McCullers, Jr. is the only pitcher projected to be above average. France and Urquidy are expected to perform with identical ERA’s. They appear to be projected as below-average innings eaters. The projections for the three pitchers are not unrealistic, but I think there is some hope that McCullers and Urquidy can beat their projected performance.

The current PECOTA projections for the Astros show higher playoff and divisional percentages than Fangraphs. Since the backup for the PECOTA projected standings is provided only on a subscription basis, I haven’t examined the differences between the Fangraphs and PECOTA models.

What’s your opinion? Is the arrow pointing up or down on the Astros’ season? Do you expect the Astros to win the division?


Will the Astros make the playoffs?

This poll is closed

  • 63%
    Yes, and win the division
    (132 votes)
  • 25%
    Yes, but only through the Wild Card
    (52 votes)
  • 11%
    (23 votes)
207 votes total Vote Now