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.

Chris Carter

(Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports)

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.