Home runs are exciting. That is not a secret nor should that sentiment be shocking to anybody. It does not matter what your level of fandom is, a nice home run will always get your attention. This is not to say that it is the most exciting play in baseball, but there is something about a hulking power hitter crushing the ball 500 feet. Just the possibility keeps fans in their seats. But that does not mean it is the only way for teams to score runs.
Unless some unexpected events take place, fans of the 2013 Houston Astros need to remember that fact. Although there are some players that have shown the ability to hit home runs in the past (Carlos Pena and Jed Lowrie) and there are some potential power threats (Jason Maxwell and J.D. Martinez) this is not a team that figures to have much success with the long ball.
There are plenty of reasons why the Astros did not have success last season, but lack of home run power was not the major one. The Astros hit 146 home runs on the season which was good for 21st overall and would have ranked 12th in the American League ahead of Cleveland, Kansas City, and Minnesota.
For those of you looking to be optimistic, those numbers did not include the DH position which is now available to the Astros. If you factor in the 19 home runs Carlos Pena hit, and then subtract the home run hit by Jordan Lyles, that gives the Astros 164 long balls which then moves them up to 16th overall and 10th in the American League. Just to prove the point that home runs are not as vital to a team’s success as you may assume, this total is actually ahead of both World Series teams from last season.
Last season the Astros were a team in flux as players were constantly moving in and out of both the team and the lineup. Of those 146 home runs, there are 93 home runs returning, and 53 home runs have departed.
In all honestly, there is nothing here that would worry me. Matt Downs was a useful player off the bench and filling in at many positions, but his 8 home runs are easily replaceable and I would rather see young players get those at bats. The same logic also goes for Scott Moore and his 9 home runs. Chris Snyder did hit 7 home runs, but Jason Castro had 6, and if Castro gets increased playing time due to Snyder’s departure, those home runs are accounted for. Carlos Lee only hit 5 home runs before he was traded to Miami so that is a non issue. The only player that would potentially have a material effect is Chris Johnson and the 8 home runs he hit prior to his trade to Arizona. But it took him 4 months to hit those home runs and Matt Dominguez had 5 home runs in fewer at bats last season.
The main thing to keep in mind when looking at the returning Astros players and their home run totals is that none of them played a full season in their projected 2013 roles. Justin Maxwell had 18 home runs, but did it 352 plate appearances. Jed Lowrie hit 16 home runs but missed half the season due to injury. Dominguez and Castro, who are both projected starters, were not in those roles all of last season. Brett Wallace had 9 home runs in limited time as he was on the Oklahoma City to Houston shuttle. Despite his struggles last season J.D. Martinez still managed 11 home runs which you should expect to increase. When looking at the returning Astros, these are the potential difference makers for 2013.
Of course there are other factors to consider here as well. The sample size on these players is still small and we all saw what happened to J.D. Martinez after his fast start last season. There will be an adjustment period in both directions as the Astros enter the American League and also for the players themselves as they adjust to playing every day. There are also some players that could surprise Astros fans in good ways and emerge as homerun threats just as Maxwell did last season.
While the 2013 Astros are far from being ready to contend, the ability to hit home runs does not appear to be the defining factor in what holds them back. What do you think? Will Maxwell build on his power from 2012? Will someone that was not a factor last season present themselves into this discussion? Maybe Brandon Barnes or Fernando Martinez? Is a rebound in the cards for J.D. Martinez?
We know this will not be an offensive juggernaut, but do not fret about a lack of home run hitters. It clearly was not an issue for the Giants or the Tigers last season. The amount of home runs the 2013 Astros hit will not determine their fate as there are plenty of other areas to worry about for Astros fans.