Astros

Why the Houston Astros may NOT win the AL West

Last season I wrote a post on how team could have both their league’s batting champion and home run champion and still finish in last place.

I am of course referring to the Houston Astros. Although they didn’t end up in last place in the American League West or with the AL home run champion, it all still could have happened. It could happen again.

The Astros’ finished only three games above the last place Texas Rangers and slugger Chris Carter finished just three home runs shy of tying Nelson Cruz for the most home runs in Major League Baseball. They did end up with the batting champion in the form of  their pint-sized dynamo of a second baseman, Jose Altuve.

Astros
Chris Carter & Jose Altuve. Brad Penner/USA TODAY Sports.

Now they are in a very different position, but my question is this: how different is it really? Could the Astros end up in a similar position this season as they did in 2014?

At first glance, at least with the way they have played so far this season, most people would say no. I’m not saying that they will or they won’t, just that it could be a possibility.

Currently the Astros are in first place in the AL West by a five and a half games above the second place Los Angeles Angels and 13 games above the last place Oakland Athletics.

Being in first place, even in May, is certainly different for the Astros. It’s been a decade since the Astros were last in the postseason where they were swept, in the franchise’s only World Series appearance, by the Chicago White Sox.

(*On a side note the only Houston team to ever win a championship would be the Houston Rockets of the NBA, who won two in 1994 and 1995. No Texas Major League Baseball team has ever won a World Series).

Yet besides being in first place, this year isn’t all that different for the Houston Astros statistically – at least from last season. They are hitting the ball hard and right now are leading the league in home runs with 63 (MLB.com has 62, ESPN has 65 but I counted 63).

Yet, they are also second in the league among teams with the most strikeouts.

And despite Jose Altuve’s best efforts and his .319 average, the Astros are last in the league in team batting average at .229.

Compare them to the last place Athletics. The A’s are leading the league in errors and their bullpen is a mess but they’re hitting the ball pretty well and hard, and haven’t nearly as many strikeouts as the Astros.

You also should take a look at the 2014 Athletics who led all of baseball in just about every category until the calendar turned to July. Their pitching stayed strong but their bats stopped working almost completely. I personally saw them lose many 1-0 or 2-0 games during July, August and September of last season.

What happens to the Astros if their home run production drops down to even a normal level of production? Do they have the propensity to score enough runs to win games without the long ball and a team batting average of .229? Probably not.

As the A’s learned the hard way last season that pitching alone can’t sustain you.

Again I am NOT saying that this is going to happen to Houston. Still it is entirely possible for the Astros to end up not running away with the AL West because keeping up this kind of home run production throughout the entire season would be unusual, wouldn’t you say?

Astros
Yoenis Cespedes. Getty Images.

What I’m saying is that things can change and that they can change in literally overnight. When it happened in Oakland it happened WELL BEFORE the day Yoenis Cespedes was traded to the Boston Red Sox for Jon Lester, as many people still believe.

It actually appears to have begun on the Fourth of July. The day I took a nap and woke up to realize that Billy Beane had traded for Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel.

It wasn’t that trading away prospects Addison Russell and Billy McKinney had anything to do with the A’s bats beginning to slow down, but that was closer to the time the tide was beginning to turn, for the 2014 Oakland Athletics.

My point is that with few exceptions, such as the 2001 Seattle Mariners who won 116 games, things average out. It might be sound silly but I call it the “law of averages.” Eventually things even out.

Eventually the A’s won’t keep making errors and their bullpen will come together. They just brought in a defensive guru in Ron Washington to begin deal with an issue as simple, but as devastating, as having a talented shortstop who is struggling and pushing too hard in an attempt to not make errors.

The Astros poor batting average and stike out numbers could just as easily and quickly begin to catch up to them. The only member of their team with a batting average over .300 is Altuve.

That type thing is what normally happens and is the reason why we don’t see teams winning 120 games every year.

The Astros have pitching that can carry them but not if they stop hitting this incredible number of home runs.

The A’s have pitching depth and time on their side to fix their bullpen. As far as errors go, they may not disappear but they’ll likely even out, in the manner that the Astros strikeout numbers may catch up to them.

Or maybe not. I’m speculating based on past observations. This is baseball and truly, anything can and will happen. The Chicago Cubs could win the World Series, I don’t know.

Yet, I believe in my “law of averages” theory – or at least my version of it – but I think that the course of this season may change and few will see it until it has already been set in motion, just like the A’s second half collapse last season.

  • guest

    It seems strange to assume the homeruns will negatively regress and assume the incredibly low batting average won’t positively regress.

    • Taylor Hope

      Their team BABIP is .270, so a .228 team BA signals a lot of team strikeouts. As I’m sure you know, strikeouts mean they aren’t moving runners up, making it harder to manufacture runs outside of HRs. While they probably will improve a bit, a strikeout prone team such as Houston who will likely come back down to earth in terms of HRs means their numbers probably will level out a bit more. I expect Houston to stay in the mix and probably hold on to the AL west lead (at least for sometime), but I could see LAA or SEA passing them up late, or at least making it interesting.

      • That’s what I am thinking too! By comparing them to the A’s I wasn’t trying to say the A’s were gonna win it or anything. (I know you didn’t say that just being clear bc I’m obviously an A’s fan – lol) I’m realistic but I think that – well exactly what you said – is a huge part of what I was trying to get at in this post. They may still win but the homers are highly likely to slow down. And currently the Astros are second (I believe) in the league with the most strikeouts.

      • guest

        That ranks them 3rd worst in the league in BABIP, assuming that is mostly a point of luck, you would expect that to come up, so a .228 BA isn’t likely at the end of the season. This article also doesn’t say at all where this regression is supposed to come from. Valbuena likely isn’t going to keep his pace, but Springer, Carter, and maybe even Gattis seem to be behind what power production is expected from them, Altuve is hitting a few more than expected, but he just turned 25 and has always had the ability to put the barrel of the bat on the ball, and playing in MMP he might be able to keep it up. The astros also have some guys who can hit the ball hard in AAA if some players continue struggling.

        • I do mention that I expect the regression to come from the fact that it is very rare historically for teams to win that much … or hit that many home runs or to win 20 games in a row or whatever! Things average out 95% of the time. Or else things like that would happen every year – like the A’s 20-game win streak wouldn’t be exciting if it happened every year – or a perfect game every time out – or winning 116 games in a season like Seattle did in 2001 wouldn’t be interesting facts. Normally things average out. This may be a case of them being the Amazing Astros for the entire season but it’s more likely that they won’t –

          • guest

            Don’t get me wrong, no one expects the Astros to continue the current pace, but your argument that the Astros aren’t going to hit this many homeruns because they are hitting a lot of homeruns is a little nonsensical, especially if you look at the team that was constructed. If you didn’t think the Astros were likely to lead the league in homeruns, you weren’t paying attention in the offseason, and personally, I find the this low of a BA (though it was likely to be low) more surprising than the high homerun count. If you’re going to pick a point of regression, look at the record in close games.

          • I disagree with your using the word “nonsensical” to describe my argument but to each their own. I just don’t understand how you can’t see how things almost always average out … but that’s your opinion and that is ok. And believe me I WAS paying attention in the off season …. and I don’t know about their record in close games, it could regress but I bet you it will be their home runs that regress bc that is how the law of averages works …. but I do appreciate your commenting Mr. Guest and I hope you will return to debate me again soon! 😉

    • It isn’t strange to assume. I’ve seen it happen and if you read the comments below they explain why it’s a safe assumption. I may be an A’s fan but I happen to like the Astros (was born in Houston) and am not trying to put them down I just see what will likely happen.

  • Robert P

    The A’s lost exactly 4 games the whole 2014 season by scores of 1-0 or 2-0. The A’s missed the playoffs because they couldn’t beat the teams in their own division down the stretch. The last month of the 2014 season the A’s were 7-16 against divisional opponents, and only played .500 ball against the division on the season.

    • I am well aware how the A’s played in the entire second half of the season. I watched or was present at almost every game all season. I usually am. I was talking about THIS season on how they have a terrible record in one run games. I believe (but not 100% sure) – it is something like 2-13 or something like that. Last season was a mess because we just stopped hitting. Btw, the A’s did not miss the playoffs they were in the Wild Card game against the Royals …. they lost in I believe 12-innings. It was intense. The Royals stole 7 bases because Derek Norris is terrible at throwing out runners and Geovanny Soto broke his hand on a play at the plate early on in the game. It was crazy.

      • Robert P

        You stated in your article above ” I personally saw them lose many 1-0 or 2-0 games during July, August and September of last season.” My point was they only lost 4 such games the whole season last year, and only 3 of those were in July, August and September. That hardly qualifies as “many”. I stand corrected on the playoffs last season, but losing a one game “playoff” might as well be the same as missing on the post season.

        • Alright I see where you were talking about now and I am sorry, using “many” was probably the wrong word – unfortunately for me I was likely at all four of those games but you are correct. I think they lost more games by them scoring 0-1 run and the other team killing them! (If that makes sense) I think what I should have said is that I saw some tough losses. Although one I remember most was Lester against King Felix and we lost 1-0. SMH. Last season was just …. there really are not words for it. And I also completely agree with you that a one game playoff is the same as missing the playoffs. On the last day of the season when they celebrated making the postseason I honestly felt (injuries to Moss, Vogt etc or not) that they did NOT deserve to be celebrating after the last three months!! And a one game playoff – especially in baseball of all sports – is complete bullshit!! Besides the fact that I like the DH, I’m more of a purist and this second WC is just terrible!! Anyway, I appreciate your comments and criticism. It helped me see where I was kinda of saying something in the wrong manner – or the fact that it came out was not the way that I meant it to. So thanks and I’m doing the best I can with this blog and I love baseball more than anything and actually do know a lot about it but I can always do better and plan to try so, I hope you will come back and read and comment on some more of my stuff sometime! 😉

  • Trent Golden

    You’ve got to consider they’ll have two high contact hitters coming up later this season in Correa and Lowrie…these guys interjected in the lineup should help balance the ‘K’ fests and keep them winning.

    • You’ve got a point. But rookies coming up don’t always adjust to big league pitching quickly. However with Correa – I’m almost positive will be just fine. That kid is GOOD – and after breaking his leg last season? To come back and just annihilate all minors pitching is pretty bad ass. You never know but you do make an excellent point – if they perform the way they have in the minors they would lessen the number of strikeouts …. and maybe even up their collective batting average! I guess we shall see! I’m very interested in how the AL West will pan out this season. So far every team but the Astros has been disappointing!! I thought it would be a close race! Anyway, thanks for commenting! Hope you’ll stop back by BBST sometime!!

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