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Assorted Astros’ Thoughts

A few Astros musings this week, including an Astros free agent signing redux, worse fielding, and playoff odds

MLB: Houston Astros at Oakland Athletics
Verlander may change teams he blows a buggle in the Astros’ dugout in 2022.
D. Ross Cameron-USA TODAY Sports

You may be the type of fan who keeps checking the Crawfish Boxes on August 1, trade deadline day. Since I am writing this late on July 31, I can’t really provide Astros trade news. While we wait for trade news to happen, let’s talk about assorted Astros’ thoughts.

First Base Free Agent Redux

The Astros’ big free agent signing in the off-season was first baseman Jose Abreu. Based on media reports at the time, the Astros initially showed interest in LH first baseman Anthony Rizzo, but the Yankees quickly re-signed him. The Astros then turned to Jose Abreu, who they signed to a three year contract. On May 24 I wrote an article about Jose Abreu and examined the results at that time for first base free agent signees. All of the free agent signees were providing disappointing below average production—except for Anthony Rizzo. Rizzo’s offense was 53% above average (OPS+ 153), compared to Abreu, who was a terrible 48% below average (OPS+ 52).

Then a funny thing happened. Abreu and Rizzo reversed roles in June and July. Abreu looked toasty by May to many fans, and Rizzo stood out as an older guy headed toward a career year. But the script flipped in June and July. Look at these comparisons of Abreu and Rizzo for the average of the first two months and the last two months. I show batting average, isolated power (ISO), OPS, and wRC+.

Mar./April thru May

Batting Average, ISO, OPS, wRC+

Abreu .207, .051, .535, 51

Rizzo .307, .201, .881, 146

June thru July

Batting Average, ISO, OPS, wRC+

Abreu .282, .191, .796, 118

Rizzo .168, .055, .497, 44

The first half and second half wRC+ so far is an even starker contrast, with Rizzo at 113 / 23 and Abreu at 73 / 134. On the season, Rizzo’s continues to have a higher wRC+ than Abreu, but if the current trend for both players continues, they could end up with similar full season results.

In the May 24 article, one section was entitled “Two Months Does Not A Season Make.” And I supose that is my point in this exercise. You can be fooled by relying on small samples such as a two month period. Sometimes we can’t account for these up and down performance cycles. They just seem to happen. It falls in the catchall category of “That’s Baseball.”

Oh, as for the free agent first basemen, none of the 12 first baseman on that list have an above average OPS...for now anyway. [Brandon Belt was a free agent first baseman who was omitted from the May 24 article. Currently he is the only first base free agent signee with a wRC+ above 100 (he has a 119 wRC+).]

Astros’ Team Defense

Periodically, I discuss changes in the Astros’ defensive ranking, as shown in the Fielding Bible (DRS), linked here. The Astros continue to disappoint on the defensive metrics, particularly in comparison to last year. My previous discussion of this topic was on July 4. In 2022, the Astros were ranked 4th in DRS. Currently, the Astros are ranked 16th in DRS. In early July, the Astros ranked 13th; so, over 25 days, the Astros have dropped an additional three spots on the DRS ranking.

Right Field and Catcher continue to be the largest negative DRS positions; however, despite the negative ratings, the DRS improved somewhat for both positions over the last 25 days. Right Field, in particular, has shown improved fielding over that time—-from -7 in early July to -4 currently. Catcher DRS improved from -5 to -4 since early July. This would indicate that DRS was positive for catcher and right field over the last 25 days.

Shortstop continues to have positive DRS, but the net runs saved declined over the last 25 days. Shortstop declined from +5 to +1 net run saved since early July. This would indicate that the shortstop put up negative defensive runs saved over the last 25 days. PItcher defense showed improvement in July, moving from -2 runs saved to +3 runs.

CF continues to be the primary position of strength with +7 net runs saved. 3b and 2b are also positive defensive positions, with +5 and +3 runs saved, respectively. 1b remained the same as early July with -1 runs saved.

The imposition of the shift rule is a major contributor to the Astros’ defensive decline since 2022. However, infield shifts on either side of 2b are allowed. The Astros are +3 when they engage in these limited infield shifts. But when the Astros do not implement limited shifts in the infield, they are -5 runs saved. The Astros are also +2 when they position outfielders away from standard positioning. The Astros defenders are accustomed to taking advantage of shifts; maybe we shouldn’t be surprised that non-shift situations are unfavorable.

If the current trend in Astros DRS continues over a full season, the decline in defensive runs saved since 2022 is equivalent to a loss of 5 wins from the 2022 record.

Playoff Odds

I have been following Fangraphs’ playoff odds all season. The Astros currently are one-half game behind the Texas Rangers. In recent days, the odds reflect a significant change in the odds of winning the AL East.

As of Aug. 1, the Astros have a 50.7% probability of winning the AL West, compared to the Rangers’ 39.7% odds of winning the division. Up until the last week or so, the Rangers had the most favorable odds of winning the division. Overall, including the Wild Card, the Astros have a 79% odds of making the playoffs, and the Rangers’ playoff odds are 76%. The Mariners and Angels have 19% and 18% odds of making the playoffs. The Mariners and Angels are unlikely to win the division (5% odds for each team).

Fangraphs will update its depth charts for trades made at the deadline, and these changes can alter the playoff odds. The current depth charts appear to be up to date with trades which have occurred. (MaxScherzer has a rest of season projected ERA of 3.75 and 1.3 WAR for the Rangers.)

Fangraphs projects less than a 1 win difference between the Rangers and Astros at season end. So even minor amounts of WAR added by traded assets can make a difference on the division race.

Any thoughts?