The following is a guest post by Bill Gilbert, whom I had the pleasure of meeting at last week’s SABR Convention in Houston.
A SABR member since 1984, Bill has attended 16 SABR Conventions and has given presentations at 13 of them. He has also written articles for The National Pastime and The Baseball Research Journal, as well as other publications and web sites. He was the leader of SABR’s Larry Dierker Chapter in Houston for over 10 years and, after relocating to Austin, founded the Rogers Hornsby Chapter in Central Texas.
by Bill Gilbert
While there were a couple of bright spots for the Houston Astros in July, the dismal record of 8-17 is only part of the story. The Astros had the first pick in the 2014 first-year player draft and they selected Brady Aiken, a highly regarded high school pitcher from California. However, they were unable to sign him after reducing their signing bonus because of a potential elbow problem. This also reduced the allowable bonus money allocated to the team and the result was that the Astros were unable to sign two other highly regarded high school pitchers. The only compensation that the Astros will receive for failing to sign Aiken is the second overall pick in the 2015 draft. However, they will receive no compensation for losing the other two players. The result could be a one-year setback in the Club’s rebuilding plans.
The poor on-field performance in July can be largely attributed to the pitching. The team ERA in July was 5.60, ranking ahead of only the Texas Rangers. They converted only 2 of 9 save opportunities and opposing batters hit .310 against them. Dallas Keuchel with two wins was the only pitcher with more than one win. Keuchel along with Josh Fields and Jose Veras were the only pitchers with an ERA under 4.00 in July.
The Astros fared slightly better on offense, scoring 4.32 runs per game (but allowing 6.0). They led the major leagues in home runs in July with 32. However, the team batting average of .245 and the on-base percentage of .295 were well below the major league average.
The top individual performance was turned in by Chris Carter with 8 home runs and 19 RBIs while batting .289. Carter twice hit 2 home runs in a game in July. Jose Altuve had another outstanding month, hitting .324. George Springer and Jon Singleton continued to provide some power but Springer batted.160 in July and Singleton batted .153 and Springer went on the 15-day disabled list with a knee problem. Kike Hernandez was promoted from the minors and made a favorable impression batting .284 while playing multiple positions but he was traded to Miami at the trading deadline. Prospect, Domingo Santana, was also promoted from the minors early in July but went hitless in 13 at-bats with 11 strikeouts and was sent back. He will get another opportunity in August.
One of the bright spots in July was the series with the Texas Rangers at Arlington. The Astros had their best series in years, sweeping 3 games from the pitching-depleted Rangers by scoring 28 runs in 27 innings. This led to some hopes that the team may finally be turning the corner leading into a potentially big series at home with the Boston Red Sox, normally a strong draw in Houston. However, the Red Sox won 2 of the 3 games with crowds below 30,000. The Astros then came right back with a six-game losing streak later in the month including a 3-game sweep at the hands of the Miami Marlins. The other bright spot in July was taking 2 out of 3 from the front-running Oakland A’s at the end of the month.
Dallas Keuchel (Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports)
Things did not go well in the minor leagues in July. Early in the season, the four full-season minor league clubs had winning records and were in contention. Now the top two teams, AAA Oklahoma City and AA Corpus Christi, have fallen below .500 and are no longer contenders. Class A Quad Cities is right at .500 and is not in contention. Only Class A Lancaster in the California League continues to play well and appears headed to the playoffs. Of the 3 short-season teams, Tri Cities, where many of the recent draftees are playing, is in first place, and the other two are right at .500.
Also in the minors, last year’s top draft choice, Mark Appel, continued to struggle at Lancaster with an ERA over 9.00. After a trip to Houston for a session with Astro pitching coach, Brent Strom, he was sent to Corpus Christi, a controversial promotion, where he was impressive in his first start.
The Astros began the month of July with six straight losses. In August, they are off to a much better start with three impressive home wins against Toronto. Maybe the elusive turnaround is getting closer.