Is it possible that the Astros were overachievers last season?
This is one topic that I did not desire to give much credence to in 2016. Ironically, if you adhere to Baseball-Reference’s Pythagorean Win-Loss percentage, the Astros underperformed in 2015 when comparing the numbers that they posted (.531 W-L% vs. .575 pythW-L%).
The Astros were coming off such a high in 2015 that I figured that the optimism surrounding the team was justified. And to some extent, that is still probably true. But the aura of the “up-and-coming” Astros has been stripped away little by little in the first 32 games of this so far disappointing season.
There is no denying that the Astros are underperforming at this point. That is no secret. But this is essentially the same team that benefited tremendously from a great start last season. At one point they reeled off ten wins in a row to set themselves up for a playoff push. During that streak, the Astros received timely hitting, solid defense, and sound pitching from unexpected places. But there lies the issue of last season: the help arrived from unexpected players.
Besides Jose Altuve, the Astros received somewhat surprising contributions from all over the lineup in that first month or so of the 2015 season. Jake Marisnick posted the highest wRC+ of any Astros hitter that month at 184. Jed Lowrie was next at 167 then followed up by Altuve at 145. Luis Valbuena posted a 105 wRC+ while hitting five home runs. Colby Rasmus had a 132 wRC+ with four home runs. Of course, strikeouts were still an issue, and the Astros did receive little from Chris Carter at the get-go. There was no Carlos Correa or Carlos Gomez yet. And George Springer had yet to warm up.
More from Climbing Tal's Hill
- Just how much better is the Houston Astros playoff rotation than the rest?
- Houston Astros: A Lineup Change to Spark Offense
- Astros prospect Hunter Brown throws 6 shutout innings in debut
- Always faithful Astros World Series champion Josh Reddick defends the title
- Michael Conforto declines Astros’ 2-year, $30 million offer
The offense though has not exactly been the Astros Achilles’ heel in 2016. Sure, the lack of quality hitting with runners in scoring position has been a disappointment for the most part. Unlike last season, the contributions from center field and third base have been nonexistent for the most part. I am just hesitant to place all of the blame on the offense, though. We are witnessing an offensive turnaround as of late. But the pitching staff that was so good last year has yet to take the field in 2016 as well.
For example, the duo of Collin McHugh and Dallas Keuchel went a combined 6-0 with a 2.0 WAR in April of last year. That same duo this year has combined for a 4-6 record with a combined WAR of 1.3 last month. The 2015 rotation as a whole, even with Asher Wojciechowski and Roberto Hernandez pitching, did not experience the same kind of issues that Keuchel, McHugh, Doug Fister, Mike Fiers, and Scott Feldman are this year. That is why we have seen Chris Devenski come up to the majors probably sooner than the Astros front office projected because of the issues this year in both the starting rotation and bullpen.
Oh, the bullpen, which has just added to the madness that is the 2016 season. Ken Giles imploding, Tony Sipp becoming ineffective at times, and the random “big” inning from the other arms has let the Astros down on more than one occasion. Once a strength of the club last season has now become a shaky unit more times than not.
Normally I wouldn’t be this worried about a “contending” team that just had a rough start to the season. After all, we have all seen various instances of teams with less than ideal starts catch fire in the summer to never look back at their pathetic April selves again. But it seems like some of the issues in April have followed the team into May. Last year’s Astros have the look of an overachiever, and it seems like this year is an under achieving group.
**Statistics provided by Baseball-Reference & Fangraphs**