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The Astros Outfield Is Pretty Good

Don’t look now...but the Astros outfield looks like an offensive force.

MLB: Houston Astros at Los Angeles Angels
Houston Astros CF Chas McCormick reacts after hitting a HR against the Angels.
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Astros’ super-hero and LF/DH Yordan Alvarez isn’t playing right now as he recovers on the injured list. But, even without him, the outfield offense is heating up.

This may surprise some people. The Astros’ outfield was expected to be good because Alvarez and Tucker are highly rated. But the team’s center fielders were ranked 23d by Fangraphs in the pre-season, primarily due to CF’s expected sub-par offense. (At the time, I argued that the article underrated the Astros’ center field.) With Alvarez out of the lineup, I suspect that some people might question the outfield’s ability to produce on offense.

Surprisingly, though, the Astros’ outfield is an offensive force, even without Alvarez. Jake Meyers continues to receive some playing time in CF, but he mostly brings elite level defense, rather than offense. Chas McCormick’s offense has come on strong, playing either LF or CF, and increasingly he has become a starter in CF.

Currently, the best offensive alignment for the outfield is pretty, pretty good (as Larry David would say). I show the OPS+ and RE24/AB for LF / CF / RF offense-first alignment below. If you read my articles, you know that I like Run Expectancy (24 base out states) as the best measure of run expectancy added by hitters. In the table below, I have divided the RE24 run production by at bats (100s) for comparison on a rate basis.

(OPS+/ RE24 in runs above average/ RE24 per 100 ABs)

LF Corey Julks 104 OPS+ / +2.57 runs / 1.04 per 100

CF Chas McCormick 144 OPS+ / +11.62 runs / 6.31 per 100

RF Kyle Tucker 140 OPS+ / +16.41 runs / 4.89 per 100

Injured List

LF Yordan Alvarez 168 OPS+ / +29.91 runs / 14.81 per 100

  • Even without Alvarez, all three outfield positions are above average in OPS+. Julks’ OPS+ is “above average” and the OPS+ for McCormick and Tucker fall in the “Great” category. All three outfield positions produce above average run expectancy.
  • Alvarez’s OPS+ falls in the “Excellent” category. His RE24 production is elite. On a rate basis, his run expectancy is exceptional. When Alvarez returns to the lineup, the outfield will be very imposing. Assuming Chas and Kyle continue to produce at their current level, two OF positions will have “great” OPS+ and one OF position will produce “excellent” OPS+. Based on the RE24 per 100 rate, the OF would produce 2.5 wins above average on offense every 100 at bats.
  • After Alvarez returns, Corey Julks, a very capable batter, can bolster the bench and back up both corner OF positions. Jake Meyer, a top level defender, can back up CF and provide bench depth.
  • The importance of McCormick to the lineup is shown by his rate of RE24. His RE24 per 100 at bats is almost 30% higher than Tucker’s.

The interesting question is how this improving outfield offense affects trade deadline decisions. We usually project that a batter acquisition would bolster the outfield, but the current production probably makes such a trade less likely.

Another question mark is If and when Michael Brantley will return to the team. Dana Brown would like to trade for a LHB, because the team is so short of lefthanded offensive players. But, if the Astros are reasonably certain that Brantley will return by the end of the month, there may be no need to acquire a LHB. But I doubt that the Astros have reasonable certainty about Brantley’s return. (In any event, they haven’t publicly stated a time line for Brantley’s return.) In the end, the trading decision may come down to whether the Astros are willing to bet that Brantley will return in time to help the team. Or perhaps the trade will be relatively minor, such as a LH bench bat.

If Brantley returns, it’s possible that he could platoon with Julks in the LF/DH spot, and Yainer Diaz could share time with Maldonado at the catcher position to keep his bat in the lineup at least half the time.

An Update on Playoff Odds

The Fangraphs model projects the Astros with a 68.4% odds of making the playoffs, and 43% odds of winning the AL West. The Fangraphs model projects the Rangers have 50% odds of winning the AL West.

Dan Symborski at Fangraphs has constructed a separate ZIPS model for projecting playoff odds. Since it requires 30 hours to update the model, he saved his in-season update until the All Star Break. On July 14, he published an article on the updated version of the ZIPS model. He also discusses a new addition to the model which is intended to adjust the odds for the expected value of trade deadline acquistions, based on historic data. You can read his article here.

As one might expect, his model varies somewhat from the Fangraphs daily playoff odds model. The ZIPS model still projects the Astros as a stronger team than the Rangers. In contrast to the Fangraphs model, the ZIPS updated model projects the Astros to win the division by 3 games over the Rangers. The Astros’ division odds are 50% and the playoff odds are 71%. The Rangers’ division odds are 29% and the playoff odds are 53%. Another difference in the results is that the ZIPS model projects that the Mariners division odds are 16% instead of 5% in the Fangraphs model. It projects the Mariners ending up 1 game behind the Rangers.

It will be interesting to see which of these playoff projections is more correct.