George Springer’s MVP-Caliber Play Fueling Loaded Astros

After Wednesday night’s victory over the Detroit Tigers, the Houston Astros have won eight consecutive games and 11 of their last 12. Just about every player is contributing to the Astros’ winning streak, which has vaulted them to a 29-15 record with an eight-game lead over the Seattle Mariners for the American League West division crown.

Their offense has been unstoppable, their starting pitching is infallible, and their bullpen, to this point, is rock solid. But no single player on this club, which has the best record in Major League Baseball, is performing as well as center fielder and leadoff hitter George Springer. To expand on that point, no player in the entire AL has been as good as Springer, who has torched opposing pitchers for contact and power, steamed around the bases, and driven in runs with ease.

Frankly, the 29-year-old is playing at a level that would earn him the Most Valuable Player Award at the end of the season and has been the driving force of the Astros’ immense success over the past few weeks.

Springer is currently slashing .320/.400/.651, all of which would be career-highs by a mile, and leads the American League in hits (55), runs batted in (40), slugging percentage (.651), OPS (1.051), OPS+ (179), and total bases (112). His 16 home runs on the season also tops in an AL that is stacked with premier power hitters and trails only 2018 National League MVP Christian Yelich (17) for the most bombs in all of MLB.

George Springer Statcast metrics (via Baseball Savant).

Consider that in 43 of his 44 games this season, Springer — the 2017 World Series MVP — has hit from the leadoff position for Houston, and that home run stat doesn’t seem all that gaudy. As the leadoff man, he is not tasked with hitting situationally and generally has the freedom to come out of his shoes on every fastball thrown in the zone (which is glorious to watch). Out of his 16 bombs this season, 10 have come without a runner on base, nine have come without an out in the inning, and seven have come with nobody on and nobody out.

I write that to be fair, because Springer is given the liberty to go for the fences as the leadoff hitter, but that also makes RBIs harder and opportunities for such far more scarce. That factor makes the righty’s league-leading RBI total all the more impressive. Of his 40 runs driven in, seven have been Jake Marisnick coming across the plate, four have been Robinson Chirinos, and another three have been from Josh Reddick.

The trio of Marisnick, Chirinos, and Reddick all consistently hit at the bottom of the Astros batting order, if they even draw into the lineup at all, meaning RBI chances are infrequent for Springer, but the two-time All-Star’s clutch and timely hitting clearly make them all count.

The former Silver Slugger has been effective around the bases, as well. Of his 55 base knocks, 25 have been for extra bases, and his four stolen bases is first on the Astros roster. His average sprint speed is up a half-foot per second compared to last season, from 27.7 to 28.2, which doesn’t seem like a lot, but his league rank in sprint speed has shot up from 229th last year to 78th this year.

He’s doing all of this in somewhat of a comeback season from a disappointing 2018 campaign. Hitting .265/.346/.434 with just 22 homers and 71 RBIs, Springer suffered from left quad discomfort for much of the season and experienced multiple stints on the injured list, and when he returned, he didn’t look completely healthy. The former first-round pick is playing with a chip on his shoulder this season, it appears, and has used that inspiration to play at an MVP level.

The Astros are a borderline superteam. With hitters like Alex Bregman (who has 10 home runs in his last 15 games), Carlos Correa (.301 batting average, 2.7 WAR), and Michael Brantley (.954 OPS, minuscule 10.1 strikeout rate), Houston has absolute sluggers up and down the lineup, and this is without even mentioning the injured Jose Altuve, who has nine home runs on the season.

Their pitching is world-class, exemplified by ace Justin Verlander and his 7-1 record, and backed up by Gerrit Cole, Wade Miley, and Brad Peacock, before shifting over to All-Star caliber relievers like Ryan Pressly and Roberto Osuna. But nobody has been as important to the success of the team than George Springer, who is playing like the AL MVP he might end up being at season’s end.

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