It’s the last day of May and time for our second installment of the Astros “State of the Team Report.” How are the Astros doing with one-third of the season in the books? We’re going to team up to break down the team’s performance in six unique areas. Alex will cover the bullpen and the starting rotation. Brian critiques the performances of the offense and defense. I will wrap things up by taking a look at the job done by the front office and by Field General Brad Mills.
Alex on the Bullpen & Starting Rotation
Had I written this before the Astros took off for this current road trip I would have told you the bullpen had been fantastic and the key to the Stros surprising success. They still are but after a shaky road trip, it’s hard to use the word fantastic. Still, overall they’ve been great and have even been nicknamed for their efforts, the Regulators. You don’t get nicknames unless you’re doing something right and they have. Brett Myers, Wilton Lopez and Brandon Lyon have been great but we have seen some chinks in the armor after those three. Fernando Rodriguez and Wesley Wright have been up and down while David Carpenter has returned from a trip to Oklahoma City also looking for more consistency. Overall, they’ve been very good and very key to the Astros this season.
Grade for Bullpen: B+
The Astros rotation isn’t as clearly defined as the bullpen. Wandy Rodriguez and Bud Norris have been very good to great but after that, it’s been hit or miss. Lucas Harrell will have brilliant games, like the one against the Dodgers this past Friday, but turn around and have major struggles like last night. J.A. Happ has been poor to mediocre, not showing enough consistency to be more than a number five starter. Jordan Lyles has shown flashes, much like last season, but is being pledged by the big inning. Lyles looks the part on the mound and doesn’t look more mature but needs to learn to avoid the big frame to take the next step. Overall, the staff has been decent but very much top heavy. A strong June from Happ and Harrell are needed or possibly both may not be in the rotation much longer.
Grade for Starting Rotation: C+
Brian on the Astros Offense & Defense
The Astros offense started out great in May but fizzled out a little in June. While we do still have some guys that are hitting well, such as Jed Lowrie and Carlos Lee, almost everyone else has been in a slump. J.D. Martinez was in a huge slump and at one point he was in a 1-34 stretch that saw his average fall all the way to .220. Jose Altuve still leads the team in batting with his .309 average but even he was in the midst of a small slump this year as his average fell from the 330’s.
The Astros currently rank 19th overall in runs and 19th with a .247 batting average. That’s down from the .260 average the team posted in April. Their OBP also sits at 19th with a .315 line while their slugging % is a pedestrian .326, which ranks 26th in MLB.
Overall Offensive rating for the month of June: C-
As a team, the Astros have combined for 34 errors. The leading culprit is Chris Johnson with a team high seven. Jed Lowrie and Jose Altuve are tied for second place with five errors apiece, with all of Lowrie’s coming in May after having a perfect April defensively. Altuve had a team high three errors in April and has committed only two in May. Jason Castro has two errors but has let a ton of balls get past him which leads to runners advancing a base. Overall, the defense is a work in progress with a young team.
Overall Defensive rating for the month of June: C-
How about manager Brad Mills and the new ownership/management team? I’ll start with Mills. I’ve already gone on record as not being a big fan of the Astros skipper. I often question his bullpen usage and/or lack thereof. Mills leaves his starters in too long on a regular basis and his newest tendency is to run a new reliever out there for every batter in the seventh and eighth innings.
The eight pitchers per game strategy has worked out pretty well to this point, but I think Mills is playing with fire. The appearances and the innings are piling up on some of the Astros young bullpen arms. This could be a problem as the year progresses. Mills has flipped his strategy 180 degrees from earlier in the year when he regularly employed relievers for multi-inning outings. I have to give him some credit for trying different strategies to find one that works. I also like the fact that Mills has used different lineups in search of the best combination. I think Mills has done pretty well thus far, especially considering the amount of talent on the Astros roster.
Overall Grade for Brad Mills: B-
I think the change in ownership is one of the best things to happen to the Astros in years. Jim Crane started out by lowering prices and asking the fans for their opinion on some important decisions. Crane hired Jeff Luhnow as the General Manager and Luhnow has surrounded himself with knowledgeable, forward-thinking baseball people who have the future of the franchise looking good.
What can you say about Jeff Luhnow that hasn’t already been said? Well, I’m going to give it a shot. Luhnow seems to care about the fans and their opinions. He regularly reads several of our blogs in an effort to stay in touch with what the real fans are feeling. Tomorrow night the Astros will be holding a “blogger night” and several of us will get to meet Jeff before the game. The internet reporters will get to enjoy the game together in a suite, courtesy of the Astros. Sure, that’s great for me – but what about the team? After a slow start it appears as though both of the Rule 5 draftees, Rhiner Cruz and Marwin Gonzalez, appear to be getting comfortable at the major league level. These two guys have already been better than expected.
The rebuilding process looks to be ahead of schedule but there is still plenty of baseball to be played this year. Things have a way of changing in a hurry. Plus, the move to the American League in 2013 is sure to bring some difficult times. But Luhnow has pretty much done everything right so far. His first trade has worked out nicely. Jed Lowrie has arguably been the team’s best player. Luhnow’s latest deal brought a 20 year-old catching prospect to the organization in exchange for a waiver wire pickup. The team needs more catching depth – so what more could you ask for? Give us a superstar with the first draft pick on Monday and we will all be happy.
Overall Grade for Front Office: A