Teams have completed the first third of the race. However, the story line for the Astros’ season has yet to be written. The Astros’ pitching continues to be the team’s strength. But the struggling offense has been slowly but surely improving.
The Astros’ offense (as measured by wRC+ and WAR) ranks 19th among the 30 teams. The Astros’ pitching ranks first in ERA and fourth in WAR. The offense is a far cry from the Astros’ 2022 championship, But the ranking at No. 19 is considerably better than the 28th ranking a few weeks ago.
The Astros continue to trail the Rangers in the battle for the AL West. The Fangraphs projection continues to tighten up. The Astros’ were once the odds-on favorite to win the division, but (as of May 30) the Astros’ odds of winning the division have fallen to 46%, only slightly higher than the Rangers at 43%. The Astros and Rangers have similar odds of winning the Wild Card (35% each). The good news is that the Astros’ odds of making the playoffs currently stands at 81%—which actually is higher than the odds when the season began (79%).
I will focus on a couple of important but overlooked stats—Run Expectancy and Defense.
Take Me To Your Leaders, (RE 24 leaders, that is)
The run expectancy stat (RE24) provides one of the best measures of an offensive player’s production. In my view, RE24 is a measure of production which is superior to the traditional RBI (runs batted in) statistic. That’s because RE24 encompasses more of the skills that the player employed to increase the probability of scoring a run.
As I have explained in previous articles, RE24 is a win probability stat that may be more reflective of the player’s situational skill. This method measures the change in run expectancy based on the 24 base-out states. (The 24 base-out situations refer to the combination of runners on base and outs—for example, bases loaded with 2 outs is one of the 24 base out states, and has an average run expectancy of 0.736 runs scored.) The player’s actual change in run expectancy is compared to league average run expectancy for each of the base-out states. Unlike the normal offense stats such as wRC+ or wOBA, RE24 takes into account the game situation and includes skills like advancing the runner and avoiding double plays.
Fangraphs converts the standard wOBA statistic to “runs above average” (wRAA). A player’s RE24 “runs added” can be compared to his aggregate runs above average (wRAA). This comparison may suggest whether the player contributed more or less to run scoring than his wOBA or RC+ stats would indicate.
Below are the team leaders in RE24. The RE24 is compared to the player’s wRAA, and the chart computes the player’s “extra” offensive contribution above wOBA.
RUNS: RE24 /wRAA / Extra Contribution
- Yordan Alvarez, 27.84 / 16.6 / 11.2
- Kyle Tucker, 8.66 / 4.2 / 4.46
- Alex Bregman, 7.17 / -1.3 / 8.47
- Chas McCormick, 4.68 / -0.6 / 5.28
- Jose Altuve, 4.06 / 4.2 / -.14
- Corey Julks 0.64 / -2.2 / 2.84
- Jake Meyers 0.62 / 0.7 / -0.08
So, Alvarez, Tucker, Bregman, McCormick and Julks are contributing more to run production than their wOBA would suggest. If you make the same comparison for Houston as a team, RE24 indicates that, given the base out run expectancy, the Astros offense is about 3 Wins better than indicated by the team wOBA ranking. Put another way, when the situational context is considered, the current Astros’ offense is considerably better than you think.
To some extent, this may be explained by the team’s batting with runners in scoring position (RISP). The Astros’ team OPS with RISP is .800, which is 13% higher than league average in those situations. The Astros team OPS with no runners on base is .658, or 11% worse than league average. The “repeatability” of clutch hitting is a controversial subject. Perhaps the Astros’ experience as a championship team helps. Or maybe we see future regression with RISP.
Defense by the Numbers
Over the past two years, the Astros’ superior pitching results were significantly aided by above average defense. I generally use the Fielding Bible, which is based on defensive runs saved (DRS), to assess team defense. It’s a good idea to periodically track team defense numbers, particularly given the elimination of the infield shift. Last year, about 40% of the Astros DRS was contributed by the team’s superior ability to use the shift.
Over most of the period up to mid-May, the Astros team defense ranked at No. 6, which is similar to last year’s ranking. However, the Astros team defense markedly declined recently. The Astros team DRS currently ranks 16th, with a net runs saved of +2, which would indicate that the Astros defense is “average” as opposed to “above average.” It’s worth noting that DRS rankings are somewhat volatile this early in the season. Possibly the Astros have just experienced a rough patch of fielding which will be reversed in the future.
Under the shift rule, only more limited infield shifts are allowed. When the Astros shift, they gain 5 runs saved. When the Astros play straight up, the team is -3 DRS. The Astros have also put up a -4 DRS due to poor outfield positioning.
The positive contributors to DRS are 3d base, shortstop, 2d base, and center field. The negative contributors are 1st base, catcher, pitcher, LF and RF.
It’s worth pointing out that Kyle Tucker’s defense continues to lag this season. Tucker’s RF DRS of -7 is the worst on the team. Indeed, the gold glover is currently the 4th worst outfield defender in the MLB, according to DRS. Tucker’s throwing, alone, has contributed -5 DRS. Hopefully, this is something that Tucker will clean up in the future. The Fielding Bible is one of the metrics considered in awarding the Gold Glove.