|Jose Altuve is excited to face Cody Reed.|
Photo Credit: Arturo Pardavila III
The Astros have fallen on hard times this year after being the great story of 2015. Their offense has struggled to put runs on the board, and most significantly, their starting pitching has really struggled this year. They have had good success with the glove and in the bullpen, but this seems a poor facsimile of the powerhouse team we saw in the playoffs last year. For all of their struggles, however, the Astros still project pretty well over the rest of the season (0.540 winning percentage), which still gives them a pretty good chance of making the playoffs based on FanGraphs' numbers.
Like a lot of fans, I first heard about Jose Altuve when listening to Kevin Goldstein and Jason Parks' old weekly podcast from Baseball Prospectus. Altuve was Goldstein's favorite. He was just starting to raise eyebrows with his hitting, but, given Altuve's size, most were still skeptical of his performance. Kevin described him as "adorable." It has just been so fun to see him become a legitimate star player for the Astros over these past two years. He makes great contact, has good knowledge of the strike zone (assuming pitchers can find his!), and somehow possesses legitimate doubles power despite his size.
The guy who was supposed to be the other star for the 'Stros was Altuve's double play partner, Carlos Correa. The hype on Correa was ridiculous this spring, and it's hard to say the guy hadn't earned it. His performance has cooled a bit from last year's heights, although he has still turned in an excellent offensive season. I'm raising my eyebrow a bit at his UZR number; Correa is known as a good-not-great defensive shortstop, and it'll be interesting to see where that number ultimately stabilizes next year. If he's a league-average shortstop in the field, Correa is a star. If he keeps racking up deficits, maybe he'll have to move over to third base a lot sooner than expected.
The other guy I find pretty interesting is George Springer. Springer is a nice all-around player. He has good power, good speed, a good glove, and enough contact ability to keep the strikeouts from becoming a serious problem. I'm surprised to see how often he hits the ball on the ground; he leads his team at 52%. He has the speed to beat out ground balls, but you have to think he might see an increase in his productivity of he can get a few more balls in the air given his power capacity.
So where do they struggle? Their bench has been a non-factor. Evan Gattis is basically pure power, without other skills to provide much value. They still haven't solved first base. But the biggest disappointment here has to be Carlos Gomez. Gomez has been a masterful player for years with the Brewers, but he has been abysmal with the Astros this year. Some of that, and perhaps much of that, can be attributed to injury, and he has missed time already. But if you have a healthy Carlos Gomez, you might add 3 wins to this team already by this point in the season. I really like Gomez, and I hope he snaps out of it.
It's good to see Votto back above-average again and in the midst of one of his patented on-base streaks (16 games and counting!). He looks so much better at the plate these days; gone are the horrifically awkward swings of April, and now he's an on-base machine. Hopefully we'll start to see the power we saw in the second-half last season again, but I'm already very comfortable when he comes up to the plate again.
Not much else is new, here. I love Zack Cozart and Jay Bruce. Love them. But the Reds need to be working the phones on those guys. They should each fetch a nice return, if the Reds play their cards right. I'm looking forward to seeing them play in the playoffs this fall.
Finally, if you told me that Duvall would hit 19 home runs this year, I'd be fairly content with that total on the season. The fact that he's already done it is astonishing. I sure wish he would take a walk, but perhaps that will come as pitchers start to avoid the strike zone when he's at the plate.
Cody Reed is here! Reed was the lesser-known quantity in the Johnny Cueto trade last fall, but even then the prospect guys were identifying him as arguably the top guy in that deal. This year, he hasn't disappointing, posting a 3.20 ERA with supporting peripherals across 11 starts in AAA. With the super-2 deadline likely behind us, it's his time to show us what he can do. Reed has been nothing but impressive for the past two seasons, with scouts just as impressed as the stat guys. I can't wait to see what he does.
I haven't analyzed the Astros starters in detail; you can find lots of discussion of that elsewhere. But I will just note that Lance McCullers and Dallas Keuchel both have pretty big ERA-xFIP differentials. Keuchel isn't posting the crazy peripherals that he did last year, but he's still allowing a steady diet of ground balls, striking guys out at a good clip, and at least not bleeding walks. McCullers is pretty much the same guy, just with more strikeouts and more walks. There's a lot of reason for hope among those two guys.
When Ken Giles was acquired this offseason, the expectation of many was that he would slide into the closer's role. Instead, he "lost" that race to incumbent Luke Gregerson (currently on Family Emergency list), and at this point is probably not even among the top three on the depth chart. Giles has shown a precipitous drop in his ground ball rate (and a massive spike in his home run rate), but everything else about him looks virtually identical. Furthermore, while his April was brutal, his May we much better, and he's been unhittable thus far in June. I'd expect him to climb back up the depth chart...although man, Will Harris has been nails so far this year. Even without Gregerson, this is a really scary bullpen.