Chris Carter (Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports)

The Astros Promised Improvement

If you do not have access to the Astros on television, consider yourself lucky. With another horrendous start to the season a fourth straight 100-loss campaign is becoming increasingly more likely. Their 9-19 record through the month of April is a .321 winning percentage — a pace of 52 wins. That would technically be improvement over the 2013 mark of 51 wins.

The offseason included offers to Masahiro Tanaka and Jose Abreu that ultimately were not enough. I thought that the willingness to commit long-term contracts was a sign of good things to come in the 2014 campaign. Expected additions of George Springer and Jonathan Singleton were supposed to compliment the core of Jason Castro, Matt Dominguez, Jose Altuve, and DH Chris Carter.

Baby Stros

As of May 1, Singleton is still in AAA and Springer is hitting .182 through his first 14 games.  Singleton is still very young at age 22 and has done well through the first month for Oklahoma City. He has hit for a .293 batting average alongside smashing 9 home runs and driving in 27 runs.

For Springer, a transition is certainly expected — Mike Trout hit .220 in his first 40 games in the big leagues. But Springer’s five errors are a cause for concern that batting cleanup may be too much pressure for the 24-year old. But through the month of April, the team’s record is far more than a reflection of George Springer struggling.

When Springer was called up, seven of the starting 9 were batting below the Mendoza line. Thankfully most of the regulars are above that, but their statistics are still pretty rough. An overall team batting average of .208 is simply not putting a team in position to win. With runners in scoring position, the team is batting just .185. Certainly not a recipe for success.

In a season following an MLB record setting year for strikeouts at the plate with 1538, strikeouts are still plaguing the lineup. In fact, with RISP, the team has a 25.9% strikeout rate. Chris Carter, who posted a 36.2% rate last season, is at 37% thus far. He had supposedly worked on that in the offseason. But Carter has plenty of company. Only Matt Dominguez (18.6%) and Jose Altuve (7.9%) have a strikeout rate less than 20% among those with at least 60 plate appearances.

Bullpen Still an Issue

The starting pitching has not been too much of a problem this season compared to the bullpen. Spectacular performances by Collin McHugh, who was called up to fill in for Scott Feldman, have resulted in two wins. Feldman strung three consecutive quality starts prior to a rough outing against the Royals. Jarred Cosart has been good, too, with the exception of one start against the Athletics. All in all, the starting rotation has a 7-13 record with a 4.28 ERA**. Perhaps the W-L is more of a reflection of a lack of run support. In eleven of those losses the Astros scored fewer than 2 runs.

**Note: Lucas Harrell‘s 0-3 record and 9.49 ERA are included in Baseball-reference’s statistics.

Matt Albers (currently on DL) and Chad Qualls have attempted to anchor a bullpen full of inexperience. Josh Fields  pitched well for a few games but has struggled lately, and now has an ERA of 9.58. Collectively the relief corps is responsible for a 2-6 record and a 5.86 ERA in 93 2/3 innings of work. Eventually the bullpen will, hopefully, benefit from the new additions.

For now the team is experiencing some significant struggles. Key players have spent time away from the team due to injuries or personal situations. Late in the offseason I had predicted that the team would ultimately improve to a 61-101 record. But the truth is that a fourth consecutive campaign of losing 100 games will likely be unforgivable.

With five months to go and 134 games remaining, the team has time to improve. But thus far, phase 2 of the plan — turning young talent into everyday MLB impact players, has stalled. Springer’s continued struggles in the cleanup spot combined with an overall lack of hitting could be hurting his development.


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Tags: Chris Carter Collin McHugh George Springer Houston Astros

  • Joshua Nathanael Stallings

    Ive always been of the opinion that the bullpen was the easiest fix on a roster. 33 yr old relievers with mid 3 era for some reason could always be had for 2-3 mil a year.

    I think the truth is we have talent for relievers in the minors but they dont want to stunt any potential starter since they are way more valuable.

    • Kennon Riley

      Sipp is a good option for the bullpen. I actually hoped the Astros would snag him in the offseason along with another blogger here. I reallly wanted Ryan Webb who signed with the Orioles.

      It’s an interesting possibility. Would guys like Folty and Nick Tropeano benefit from being added to the bullpen? Could they learn at the MLB level and prove that they are worthy of starting at this level?

      Honestly I do not understand why Josh Zeid is in AAA. He’s got the highest upside of any of the young relievers on the Astros 40-man roster.

  • Bob Hulsey

    If the whole purpose of gutting the big league roster was to rebuild the minors then I want to see those minor leaguers playing for Houston and not 30-something band-aid veterans. We ought to have Springer and Singleton up here. We ought to have Appel and Foltynewicz too. That’s who we were promised, not Jerome Williams or Dexter Fowler.

    And those who said losing big was the “smart way” to rebuild, why are they disappointed that we are still losing big instead of cheering it on? The more we lose big the better draft picks we get, right? The more minor league titles we win, right? The more we get to hear pie-in-the-sky promises of future pennants while the on-field product continues to suck, right? Five more years of 100-loss seasons should make us even better down the road, right? Embrace the suck!

    • Kennon Riley

      I feel your frustrations. I dislike Valdes and Williams being on the roster. But do you take Folty, a guy who is struggling at AAA, and send him into the fire in the majors?

      I think Singleton and Stassi are the only guys ready at AAA Oklahoma City. The continued struggles of Guzman and Krauss at 1B cannot be tolerated for much longer. Singleton, I hope, will be here May 12th.

      With Folty, I think staying in AAA until at least July would be more beneficial. And Appel — I think mid-2015 is a good estimate. Luhnow messed up by only allowing him to have 3 weeks to stretch his arm out. Who knows how long he will be in extended spring training for… but good crop of players there. Crain, Appel, White, Wojo.

    • Bob Gordon

      Not sure I’d classify Dexter Fowler in the “30-something band-aid veteran” category. He’s only “old” by Astro standards, in a lineup where arbitration eligibility qualifies a guy for Social Security checks. At 28, still quite a few seasons before Dexter will reach “past his prime” status.

      On top of that, historically he’s a good (not great) ballplayer. His current stats are quite lackluster, but I attribute the biggest cause of that to recovery from that nasty gastroenteritis bout. He was above .300 before going down with the stomach bug. And while he hasn’t heated up to that level since, Fowler HAS recovered from the slump, batting about .280 over the past couple weeks.