As we look forward to an offense over the next two and a half month that includes Yordan Alvarez and Jose Altuve, two major question marks continue to exist. Alvarez and Altuve return from the injured list, which is like making big trade acquistions at the deadline. But two other run producers have been disappointing to varying degrees in the first half of the season.
I’m referring to Alex Bregman and Jose Abreu. Bregman is a career 134 OPS+ hitter, and his batting so far this year is 114 OPS+, which is below his previous standards. Bregman’s first half was hurt by a weak April and May, in which he was a 99 OPS+ hitter. Abreu is a career 131 OPS+ hitter, even though some degree of age-related decline would be expected. But the scale of his season opening slump was not anticipated. Currently, Abreu’s overall OPS+ is 77. This decline is primarily due to a terrible 50 OPS+ in the months of April and May.
What has happened so far is to some degree irrelevant. The question is: How will Abreu and Bregman bat in the remainder of this season? Statistically, some degree of favorable regression should be expected for both players.
Arguably, Bregman’s favorable regression started in June and July. His OPS+ was 127 in June and 129 in July. Bregman’s has been even hotter in more recent weeks, as he exhibits more power.
(OPS+ Percent of League Average)
Last 7 Days 244
Last 14 Days 203
Last 28 Days 144
I will use Fangraphs’ Depth Chart Projections for “rest of season” to provide an objective view of what we should expect in the coming months.
Bregman ROS (BA, OBP, OPS, OPS+)
.267, .369, .460, .829, 132
The OPS+ projection (132) is reasonably consistent with his actual July OPS+ (129), particularly given the more recent upward trend. Adding to his current home run total (17), the ROS projection implies a 26 HR season for Bregman.
So far this season, Bregman has been good in the clutch. He has a 1.033 OPS with runners in scoring position. Bregman’s OPS increases by 87 points when he bats with 2 outs.
Another oddity: Bregman usually rakes against LHPs, but this season has put up a very bad 56 OPS+ against lefties. Most likely this is just random variation, and he will experience regression toward more even platoon splits in the remaining months.
Abreu has shown marked improvement since June 1. Abreu’s OPS+ is 122 for June. So far his OPS+ for July declined to 90, which is much better than his April/May performance but notably less than June. Most of that decline occurred over the last week, when his 7 day OPS+ was 70. Abreu’s OPS+ over the last 28 days and last 14 days remains good at 120 and 126, respectively.
Fangraphs’ Depth Chart Projection for “rest of season” provides an objective view of what we should expect from Abreu in the coming months.
Abreu ROS (BA, OBP, OPS, OPS+)
.266, .334, .418, .799, 109
Abreu’s performance (OPS+ 108) in June - July seems right in line with the Rest of Season projection (OPS+ 109). As much as the April/May performance left a bad taste in our mouth, I don’t see any reason to view the ROS projection as unreasonable. An OPS which is 8% above average is exactly average for a first baseman.
The projection of 7 HRs for the remainder of the season would mean that Abreu will have 15 HRs for the season, which is exactly the same as last year.
To this point in the season, Abreu has been a good hitter in the clutch. His OPS+ is 122 with runners in scoring position (RISP) and his OPS with RISP with 2 outs is 1.322. Abreu’s BABIP on line drives (.522) is well below average, and would suggest that he has experienced some bad luck on line drives.
A Much Improved Offensive Lineup?
If the projections for Abreu and Bregman are reasonably accurate, we could be looking at a more imposing offensive lineup.
Let’s examine the Astros’ best offensive lineup using Fangraphs Rest of Season projection. I’m not saying the ROS projections will be correct, but I think they are less subject to the human bias which would result from you or I making a prediction.
I assume there will be some sharing of the catcher position between Yainer Diaz and Martin Madonado. This is the lineup with Diaz catching.
- Altuve OPS+ 129
- Bregman OPS+ 132
- Tucker OPS+ 140
- Alvarez OPS+ 165 DH
- Abreu OPS+ 109
- McCormick OPS+108
- Diaz OPS+ 105
- Julks OPS+ 93
- Pena OPS+ 93
I also assume that Alvarez will play some games as the LFer which would permit Diaz to bat as the DH. In effect, this provides the same lineup as above but with Maldonado’s OPS+ of 62 instead of Julks’ OPS+ of 93. In either lineup, all but two batting order positions would have an above average OPS+.
The lineup with Julks in LF is based on his higher projected OPS+ (93). But Meyers (90) and Dubon (89) have a projected OPS+ close to Julks’ 93, and they also could sub into that LF position. If and when Michael Brantley returns from injury, he might displace Julks in LF, given Brantley’s projected OPS+ of 116.
With a little good fortune in the injury department, I could envision the Astros as one of the better offenses in the remainder of the season.