This offseason, the Houston Astros main focus has been on upgrading their bullpen. It certainly makes sense, as their bullpen issues were a major part of their struggles last season. Yet, there are other issues for the Astros as well, particularly in left field and in the middle of their lineup.
Last season, Astros leadoff hitters ranked second in baseball in batting average, on base percentage and OPS, only trailing the Milwaukee Brewers in those categories. Their second hitters ranked fifth in OPS and third in on base percentage, which would lead one to expect that the Astros would have scored quite a few runs. Instead, Astros leadoff and second hitters ranked 17th and 19th respectively.
Why was this? Mainly because to call the Astros third and fourth hitters futile would be an understatement. While Jose Altuve and Dexter Fowler were doing their part atop the lineup, the third spot in the Astros lineup only produced a .745 OPS, ranking 21st in baseball. The Astros cleanup hitters were even worse, ranking 29th in baseball with a .658 OPS. Kind of difficult to get those runs home when that spot in the lineup is essentially a black hole.
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Another black hole in the Astros lineup involved left field. Overall, Astros left fielders produced a .218/.286/.317 batting line, good for an OPS of .603, last in baseball. With the Astros in need of a bat in the middle of the lineup, and a left fielder, it may seem as though this would be the perfect spot to upgrade. Perhaps a trade involving Jason Castro and other pieces for a controllable left fielder with a solid bat would make sense.
It certainly could not hurt for the Astros to explore that option. Last year, eight different players received 30 or more at bats in the cleanup spot, so being able to solidify both left and the lineup would go a long way to making those bullpen upgrades all the more meaningful. After all, what is the point of building a stellar bullpen if there is not a lead to protect?
Yes, it is possible that George Springer and Jon Singleton will take the next step. Chris Carter can hit some truly prodigious home runs, but strikes out so often that Rob Deer looked like a contact hitter by comparison. Yet, to ensure that the Astros offense will score enough runs, another bat would sorely be needed.
The Astros are looking to upgrade their bullpen. Yet, Jeff Luhnow also needs to find a way to improve the middle of the lineup.