This is not meant to state the obvious, but here we go. To win games, you have to score runs. Without your offense putting runs on the board, your chances of winning are greatly reduced. Perhaps the clearest example of this was the 2012 Astros.
They posted a record of 55-107 and quite simply, they just could not score runs. Teams lose games for all sorts of reasons, both tangible and intangible. There are many variables that go into winning a baseball game. But from an extremely simplistic point of view, you will not win if you don’t score runs.
Aside from any flaws and shortcomings that the Astros had last year, and there were many, the most basic one was that they couldn’t get runners across the plate. The Astros scored a league worst 545 runs coming in 25 runs below the next worst team (Chicago Cubs) and 39 runs below the worst American League team (Seattle Mariners). If we are looking to have some optimism, then after factoring in the 61 runs Carlos Pena drove in last season, the Astros then would have scored 606 runs. That would have placed them 14th in the American League.
Because the Astros were a team in such a high level of transition last season, it is difficult to truly analyze them based on last year’s results. Of their 545 RBI, 49% or 267 RBI are no longer on team. None of the departed RBI really count as a true “loss” and production that must be accounted for. The trade of Jed Lowrie is the closest thing to production that must be made up. As far as the additions go, Pena is it. But nobody really played a full season for the Astros. This is not to say that we should expect a dramatic increase in RBI for the Astros this season, because this number goes far beyond just the ability to drive in runs.
There will be more on this in a future article, but the Astros did not do a good job of getting on base last season, nor did they, aside from Jose Altuve, do a good job of stealing bases. This will limit the RBI opportunities available to your run producers, which would mean something if the Astros really had any true run producers. Pena does have a track record of driving in runs, but the Astros of 2013 are not a team filled with track record. However, they are a team with potential.
This is not a groundbreaking statement, but Justin Maxwell and JD Martinez are two of the biggest keys to the Astros season. These are the young players who will be batting in the middle of the lineup with the expectation that they drive in runs. Last season was an up and down year for both players, but they are run producers. Both can and will hit home runs, but they are not true home run hitters. Their true value lies in the ability to hit line drives into the gaps and drive in base runners. Especially if Altuve continues to get on base regularly like he did last season, it will be important to get him home to give the Astros an early advantage.
Maxwell enters the season with the Astros counting on him to be a critical part of their lineup. He always has had the tools and potential, but last season he came the closest to actually delivering on it. In only 352 plate appearances he drove in 53 runs, which for a bad team is nothing to sneeze at. Maxwell enters this season playing every day and it is possible that he will see his plate appearances doubled. This does not mean that I am saying he will drive in 106 runs, but that is the pace he established last season. I would not be surprised to see Maxwell drive in 85 runs this season which would be a nice development.
Martinez started the season looking like he was headed to the All-Star game and was going to drive in 100 runs. The season did not exactly go as planned, but he did end up with 55 RBI in 439 plate appearances. Considering he also spent 23 games in AAA and had some legit growing pains to deal with, there is certainly some optimism for this season. While he still might have some adjustments to work through, it is clear that Martinez is a run producer and he is another player whose RBI total stands to increase this season.
If that projection holds true, the Astros are already ahead of where they were last season. To simply match their run production from last season, they only would need 306 RBI from the rest of their team. That is very much doable. In order to attain this goal the Astros do need players like Brett Wallace and Jason Castro to step up. The addition of Chris Carter and his 39 RBI last season should also help. This does not mean the Astros are now contenders to make the playoffs, but they should average more than 3.36 RBI per game and that could lead to a few more wins.