Another week and that means another Astros Round Table Discussion with the writers here at Climbing Tal’s Hill. This week we are discussing why Chris Johnson is struggling and if he is entering a sophmore slump as well as the pitching staff issues. If you want to see us talk about something next week, please post your question in the comments section.
Are you worried about the start that Chris Johnson is having? Is a sophomore slump on the horizon for the third baseman?
Brandon: Yes I am worried about the start Chris Johnson is having because he also struggled to start last season and had to head down to the minors for a little bit before he finished the season strong. He has lost some plate discipline that he showed last season as his strikeouts are up and he is walking less. Last year, he had a walk to plate appearance ratio of .41 but that has dropped to .25 for this season. He has also lost some of the power that he showed as he was averaging a home run once ever 31 plate appearances but this season has only one home run in his first 76 plate appearances. I would like to see him work through this slump in the majors but if he continues to struggle he will have to be sent down to the minors like last season.
Trevor: No. The reason for that is that Johnson has been getting decent contact, but his strikeout rate has increased since last year and he is drawing fewer walks. It all boils down to plate discipline. I do not know what is going on in the mind of a Chris Johnson, but perhaps he is putting too much pressure on himself to succeed for a young ball club. His ground ball to fly ball ratio has increased from .69 to .81 which shows that he is hitting less of those laser line drives and more routine fly balls which is concerning, but you have to keep in mind that we aren’t even 25 games into the season. Players slump. It is just that bad starts are magnified at the beginning of the season compared to slumps later in the year when they are mixed in with earlier stats.
Greg: Yes I am concerned with the slow start for CJ. The fact that he continues to swing at terrible pitches in the dirt is quite disturbing. CJ is having a good night tonight (Tuesday )against the lefty but is still below the Mendoza line. It has gotten to the point that I am starting to think he may need to be sent down to AAA to get his confidence back. When Barmes is activated someone will have to go. I wouldn’t mind seeing Sanchez moved to second and Hall to third (so he can increase his trade value when CJ comes back.)
Jesse: I think that most people expected Johnson to regress some this season as he carried an extremely high batting average on balls in play last year, which is something that was expected to deviate closer towards the mean this season. I expected that he would probably hit somewhere between .265 and .285 which would still be good, but not what he did last year. I did however not expect him to be a sub-.200 hitter this far into the season. As for the second part of the question, I think that Johnson will probably wind up hitting around .265 with about 15 homeruns on the season. Many people will consider that to be a sophomore slump given his expectations following last year, but I would call it regression back towards his expected output. In other words, expectations were too high after last season when every external indicator pointed to the fact that he was hitting above his level. In any event, hopefully he will get back on track and improve from where he currently is, because he is very important to the team’s success.
What do you think has been the reasons for the struggles of the starting pitching staff?
Brandon: Honestly, I don’t know why the pitching staff has struggled considering it was suppose to be the strength of this staff. Myers has pitched well so far this season and should not be included in this discussion but the other four pitchers have not been good. The Astros are dead last in pitching ERA at 4.94 and 21st in the majors for Quality Starts at 11, with Brett Myers having four of them. I have to think that this bad start is entirely the pitching staff’s fault as the Astros’ defense has been equally as bad. They have 25 errors through the first 23 games. At the end of the day, if the pitching staff can turn things around, the Astros can be competitive especially with how good the offense has been to this point.
Trevor: Brett Myers has been fantastic to start this season, so I just want to stress that I am excluding him from my answer due to his lack of qualification in this topic. Wandy has never been a fast starter, but his home run allowance is concerning. His post All Star Break ERA is a full 2 points lower than his pre ASB numbers which just makes you wonder if his slow starts are just wired into him as a player (see Adam LaRoche). Bud Norris has had some concerning games, but he has performed at a level that should be expected from him. Happ, on the other hand, has made me wonder if he is someone that you can rely on as a starter in the long run. Happ struggles to work late into games and has shown that he can just look helpless during innings from time to time. After walking in his second run with the bases loaded in Cincinnati earlier this year, I saw the look of desperation that made me wonder if he is capable of working out of jams when we need him to come through. Nelson Figueroa is just not a major league quality pitcher. Last season was a fluke. Call me harsh, but let’s just move on. Ryan Rowland-Smith appears to be struggling at AAA which is why we haven’t even considered bringing him up, but you have to wonder if Lyles will be called up mid May. My vote: yes.
Greg: It’s hard to pinpoint what is at the root of the struggles for the starting pitchers. Our defense has played poorly over the last several games and that hasn’t helped. Early season struggles for Wandy are nothing new. If Norris can continue to develop his changeup it could help lower his usually high pitch count and keep him in games longer. Happ is a mystery and Figueroa looks like he shouldn’t even be in a big league rotation.
Jesse: I will admit that the starting pitching was the one thing that I was not concerned with before the season started, but now that April is coming to an end we see that the offense has performed surprisingly well, but the staff has struggled. One thing to note is that Brett Myers and Bud Norris has been solid. Bud had the one bad outing, but has strung two good ones together in a row, and I am hoping that he can keep it going against the Cardinals, whom he has had a good amount of success against. That leaves us with Wandy, Happ, and Figueroa. I can’t say that I am really surprised with the struggles of these three pitchers so far. For one, Wandy has a history of being a slow starter to the season but usually performs much better in the second half. Happ encountered an injury towards the end of spring training that usually require anywhere from 3-6 weeks to recover from on average, yet he did not miss any time. I have not checked any statistical data yet, but it looks like his velocity is down from last year which could suggest that he is still not quite right. As for Figueroa, I am still not sold on him as the 5th starter. He is a finesse pitcher that walks a lot of hitters, which is not a recipe for success. I’m not for sure who the Astros would use to replace Figueroa if they removed him from the rotation; options include The Hyphen, Aneury Rodriguez, and Fernando Nieve, but you have to believe that his leash is getting shorter with every bad outing.