Spoiler: I will not (and cannot) answer the question in the headline. (Hint: articles which have a question mark in the headline seldom answer the question.)
I’m sure there will be a lot of chatter about whether the Astros can trade for a hitter at the trade deadline. But, as interesting as that may be, the Astros’ future mostly will depend on the hitters whom are already on the roster. This includes hitters who are on the injured list, as well as the current starting lineup.
The Astros’ offense has been markedly inconsistent this year. A big part of that inconsistency is due to the multiple stints on the injured list by Jose Altuve and Yordan Alvarez. Teams with more elite players in the lineup will convert base runners into runs at a higher rate. The relationship between team on-base percent and percent of runners scoring is not linear; it is an upward sloping relationship. In my view, when teams lose their core of elite players, it creates offensive inconsistency. Without Alvarez and Altuve, the rest of the players need to increase their on-base percent, hit with more power, or advance runners more consistently in order to compensate for the loss.
The Astros offense showed an uptick in performance over the last 28 days. But recency bias probably makes us think about how horrible the last 7 days were. The inconsistency is revealed by looking at the Astros offense’s performance over shorter periods.
BA/ OBP/ SLG OPS+
2023 Season .243/.314/406 OPS+ 98
Last 28 Days .250/ .315/ .422 OPS+ 102
Last 14 Days .255/ .318/ .427 OPS+ 101
Last 7 Days .155/ .188/ .228 OPS+ 19
Hopefully, both Altuve and Alvarez will be back in the lineup by the end of the month. Altuve likely will return sooner than that time frame, and Alvarez may be out of the lineup slightly longer. Can the offense perform adequately until the returning injured players reinforce the lineup? If the offense performs more like the last 28 days, they stand a good chance of keeping the team’s head above water. If the offense performs more like the last 7 days.....well, uh oh.
Astros’ Run Expectancy
If you want to know the players who are doing the best job of contributing to scoring runs, the wind probability metric, RE24, may be the best available stat. That’s because RE24 encompasses more of the skills that the player employed to increase the probability of scoring a run. 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, in addition to the impact of walks and hits on run expectancy. The actual change in run expectancy caused by the player is compared to league average run expectancy for each of the 24 base-out states.
The table below shows Astros hitters’ RE24 contribution above league average for 2023 and for the more recent period since June 1, 2023.
RE 24 Runs: 2023 Total / Since June 1
Alvarez 29.91 / 3.57
Tucker 16.42 / 9.20
Bregman 14.10 / 6.09
McCormick 11.64 / 6.25
Altuve 7.74 / 3.84
Julks 2.58 / 3.37
Pena 0.43 / -3.56
Meyers -1.07 / -4.67
Dubon -4.46 / -0.49
Abreu -5.67 / 3.56
Diaz -6.67 / -.47
Maldonado -21.16 / -9.87
- Examining the 2023 RE24, Alvarez’s importance to the offense becomes obvious. He nearly doubles the run expectancy contribution of the next highest hitter, even though he has missed considerable time with injury. It’s also apparent that no single hitter can improve enough to compensate for losing Alvarez. However, some improvement by multiple players would potentially reduce the impact of losing Alvarez for a few more weeks.
- RE24 results can partially explain why player performance does not have a linear impact on runs scoring. For the period since June 1, Alvarez, McCormick, Bregman, Altuve, Abreu, and Julks all produced RE24 runs at a much higher rates than their wRAA (runs above average) would indicate. They appear to have really turned up their situational performance. On the other hand, according to RE24, Diaz, Maldonado, Pena, and Meyers performed worse than expected on a situational basis over the same period.
Some thoughts about specific players:
- Is Corey Julks for real? If he continues his current performance, he is tough to keep out of the lineup. This rookie turned it on in a big way since June 1. Julks has an wRC+ of 131 since June 1, and his wRC+ for the year is well above average (106). Julks is also performing well situationally—with an above average contribution to run expectancy. In some ways, Julks is out-performing Yainer Diaz. Diaz’s 111 wRC+ is somewhat above Julks’s 106, but Julks is considerably out performing Diaz on RE24. Diaz’s contribution to run expectancy is poor (-5.38) despite the good wRC+. Julks is helping to keep the Astros offense afloat while Altuve and Alvarez are out of the lineup.
- Offensively, McCormick has turned into a key producer in this offense. His RE24 contribution to run expectancy has been consistently good all year. Considering his part time usage, arguably McCormick’s production is on par with core players like Tucker and Bregman. One reason I am skeptical of McCormick trade rumors is that replacing his offensive contribution would not be easy. At this point, McCormick is clearly a superior offensive player over Meyers. And one could argue that Julks in LF and McCormick in CF is the best combination for the offense.
- The Astros really need Jeremy Pena to improve his offensive output. His wRC+ currently stands at 94, compared to 102 last year. Since June 1, Pena’s contribution to run expectancy has been poor (-3.56 runs). If Pena could at least get his performance back to average, it would provide a noticeable boost to the offense.
- The RE24 result confirms that Jose Abreu has made himself useful to the Astros since June 1. (His RE24 was horrid before June 1.) During the more recent time period, he is one of the better contributors to run expectancy on the team. It is very important that he continue on that path after the break ends.
So, can any Astros’ hitters get hot? Did the Astros’ hitters get the last 7 days out of their system?