In case you don’t have a calculator handy, we are roughly 14.2 percent of the way through the 2015 baseball season. There is a ton of baseball left to play. There’s a lot more time to really panic about your team or, conversely, to feel confident about their station in the standings. And with that said, the set-up is obvious, we are here to kick the tires on the Houston Astros. Are they for real? Am I having a schizoid episode or do I actually recall someone, somewhere in the last few years predicting the Astros would actually be good by 2015?
Before the Astros take on the Seattle Mariners tonight, their record sits at 16-7. They have a +29 run differential – as opposed to -18 for the Mariners – which puts their Pythagorean W-L record at 15-8. This looks to be a positive indicator of performance level. In comparison, the Kansas City Royals are 16-7 with a Pythagorean of 16-7, due in big part to their early success at completely devouring opposing pitching. The Royals are literally slashing .306/.361/.448, but the Astros, by contrast, are swinging wet noodles out there at .241/.318/.419. How much of this can we attribute to slow starts by George Springer, Evan Gattis, and Chris Carter? Clearly, Jose Altuve and Jake Marisnick won’t be able to keep carrying the offense on their own.
Also, we might remember that 21 of their +29 runs of differential came just earlier this week in a 3-game thrashing of the San Diego Padres. Add to that the benefit of playing a Mariners team that is really struggling to find a consistent, winning identity for a four game set and the pursuit of a 9 game winning streak may not look so odd. I got a chance to watch some of their 7-2 win over the Padres back on Wednesday and one thing stuck out to me: base running. With a high-strikeout, high-power – they lead every team in the universe in strikeouts and the AL in home runs – you have to create extra offensive opportunities. Wouldn’t you know it? They lead the AL in larceny, too! If you complement that with a team BABIP of .290, the situational hitting starts to look better than the overall team numbers might indicate.
Back to that base running, though. In that game on Wednesday, Marisnick stole third base – something the Astros have done 6 times this year, without being caught once – causing Wil Nieves to throw off the bag.
Now, the resulting Marisnick run coming in from that errant play at third didn’t result directly from situational hitting, but having a track team out there on the bases should only benefit the offense as the season goes on. Those base runners are going to need to continue to create opportunities through applying pressure on the defense, including causing errors. This is particularly true when you look at some situational hitting numbers for all Astros with 65+ plate appearances. For example, with less than 2 outs and a runner on third, the ‘Stros are successful getting that runner home exactly 50 percent of the time. The league average is 53 percent. They also fail to meet the league average in advancing a runner from second with no outs.
However all the little wrinkles of a season smooth out as it rolls on, it sure seems that the 2015 Houston Astros will be fun to watch. Will they still be steamrolling the American League West come late August and into September? I’m not sure I have the predictive prowess of Ultron to say so much, but I can guarantee that quite a few more people will have their eyes on Houston.