Houston Astros: Is The Slow Start A Death Blow?


Are the 2016 Astros finished already?

The Astros, picked by Sports Illustrated and others to win the 2016 World Series, are off to a horrendous start. After the Sunday, April 24 home loss to the Red Sox, the Astros were in last place in the American League West with a 6-13 record. Poor pitching, bad base running, and weak hitting, especially with runners in scoring position, have all combined to produce a severely disappointing start. Is this the end of their chances to have a good season?

While the dismal start is disheartening, it is not the end of the team’s hopes for success in 2016. Recent history indicates that a number of World Series winning teams had similar poor starts. There is no reason not to expect the Astros to come out of their funk and start winning games.

Pitching has been a huge part of the problem, with the Astros at 27th in the league in team ERA (4.85), third in hits allowed (193), sixth in runs allowed (96), and sixth in earn runs allowed (90). Astros pitchers are 23rd in walks, not a bad place to be at all, but 19th in strikeouts, and 26th in WHIP.

Astros starting pitchers have not fared as well as expected. We can’t blame pitching woes entirely, however, the starters have given up a lot of runs. Staff ace Dallas Keuchel is 2-2, with a 3.71 ERA after four starts, Scott Feldman is 0-2, 4.58 in four starts, and Mike Fiers is 2-1 with a 5.73 ERA. Newcomer Doug Fister is 1-2, 5.94, while last year’s 19 game winner Collin McHugh is 1-3, and a scary 7.56 ERA.

Some of the bullpen guys are off to good starts, with rookie Chris Devenski leading the Astros in ERA (0.66), followed by Will Harris (1.04), closer Luke Gregerson (1.13), and Pat Neshek at 2.70. Gregerson, who had to win back the closer role in Spring Training, has saved four of the six wins. Josh Fields and Ken Giles have not been effective. Both have appeared in nine games, and both have ERAs well above 8.00. Giles has given up three home runs in just 8.2 innings, an especially troubling statistic.

Fielding has been less than stellar, with the Astros seventh in errors, and next to last in Defensive Efficiency Ratio. Yes, it is another saber metric calculation, however it does give an indicator that the Astros are not performing well on defense as a team.

As of Sunday’s game, the Astros are 17th in team batting average (.241), 14th in OBP (.318), 14th in runs scored, 15th in hits, 4th in home runs, 7th in walks, and first in strikeouts (189).

The numbers of groundouts and fly ball outs put the Astros around mid-pack. They are putting the ball in play, but those batted balls are not falling in for hits as much as we would like. The strikeouts are expected, however, sooner or later (sooner, we hope), those batted balls will start resulting in more hits and runs. As mentioned in CTH Editor Eric Huysman’s, Astros: Believe it or Not, the Astros are in the middle of pack in LOB, the Astros are leaving too many runners on base, but not as many as one might think when looking at the won/loss record.

While all of these numbers point directly to a horrendous early season, other teams that have gone on to win the World Series have had similar starts.

  • The 2012 San Francisco Giants were only one game above .500 on May 1 of that season, yet went on to win 94 games.
  • The 2011 St. Louis Cardinals were below .500 until mid-April, then barely above by May, winning 90 for the season.
  • The 2009 New York Yankees hovered around .500 for most of the spring. They ended up winning 91 games.
  • The 2008 Phillies struggled early, winning 86.
  • The 2005 Astros did not win the World Series that year, and they had a difficult time early in the season. On May 1 they were 10-13, on June 1, 20-32, July 1, 36-41, finally going above .500 on July 19. They had a huge turnaround, winning 89 games to finish second behind St. Louis in the division. Their surge carried them through the playoffs to the first World Series in team history.
  • The 2003 Florida Marlins didn’t get above .500 until early July.
  • The 2002 Anaheim Angels didn’t go above .500 until May 9.
  • The 2001 Arizona Diamondbacks were at or below .500 until May 13. They went on to stun the baseball world by beating the powerful New York Yankees in the World Series in seven games.

All of those teams (except the ’05 Astros) won the World Series in years in which they had slow starts. None of this has any bearing on the Astros current season; however, it should give Astros fans hope that their team is not out of the running. An abysmal start does not guarantee season failure. Great teams overcome adversity, and many of us believe the Astros are such a team. This group has the talent to turn it around and start winning games.

Next: Astros’ Infield Scenarios Once Alex Bregman Gets Called Up

While some fans and media are ready to write off the Astros, this poor start is not a death blow. Yes, the Astros are experiencing many problems on the field. These men are professionals, and at some point this season, they will surely put the bad start behind them and resume the same winning ways that sent them to the ALDS in 2015.

**Statistics provided by Baseball-Reference and MLB.com**