Astros: Lengthening the Lineup, The Eyeball Test

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Jul 5, 2016; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Astros second baseman Jose Altuve (27) on deck agains the Seattle Mariners in the eighth inning at Minute Maid Park. Astros won 5 to 2. Mandatory Credit: Thomas B. Shea-USA TODAY Sports
Jul 5, 2016; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Astros second baseman Jose Altuve (27) on deck agains the Seattle Mariners in the eighth inning at Minute Maid Park. Astros won 5 to 2. Mandatory Credit: Thomas B. Shea-USA TODAY Sports /
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What do you see when you watch the lineup of the Houston Astros night after night?

We can look up any number of statistics which measure a certain amount of progress, but that is not my purpose here. I want to share with you some of my observations and challenge you to think about what you are seeing without depending on a lot of statistical data.

A frequently heard complaint about the lineup of the Houston Astros earlier in the season was the need to “lengthen the lineup.” With Jose Altuve batting leadoff, George Springer batting second, and Carlos Correa third, people said the team had their only consistent hitters bunched together with six batters in between.

As A.J. Hinch began to look for ways to jump-start the team’s offense, he first moved Springer to the leadoff slot, flip-flopping with Altuve. In my view, that either started or coincided with the trend upward for success for the team.

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Ok, I said I wasn’t going to give you stats, but I’ll make this one exception because I think it is a great point of reference. Since Springer was moved to the leadoff slot on May 24th, the Houston Astros are 29-11. The question is . . . Why? Has the lineup indeed been lengthened or is this just a coincidence? I’ll be glad to give you my view, and I invite yours in the comments.

When Altuve was moved to the three-hole, with Springer remaining in the leadoff slot, that moved Correa to clean up. Already, you’ve lengthened your lineup by one slot. In the two-hole you’ve had, most commonly, Marwin Gonzalez or Luis Valbuena. Gonzalez is a good bat-handler, while Valbuena is more of a power threat. For both, hitting in front of one of the top hitters in all of baseball in Altuve means they are going to get better pitches to hit. When Springer is on base as a threat to steal, that means more fastballs for whoever is hitting second.

Correa struggled early but has seemed to put it together in the cleanup slot. Why? In my view, Correa is better with more on the line, plus, my eyeball test tells me that he seems much more relaxed at the plate since the end of May.

Colby Rasmus most frequently hits in the five-hole against right-handed pitching. If I were going to lean on stats, I would tell you that, in spite of his tendency to be streaky, that his average is still higher than last year, and he seems to be respected more like a real power threat around the league. However, I’m not going to rely on stats (ok, I’m rolling my own eyes at myself on that one).

The eyeball test tells me that the change with the next-most impact has been the increased defensive employment of Evan Gattis. What?? I’ve heard numerous interviews with Gattis, and he has made it clear that he does not want to be a full-time DH. He does not necessarily want to catch every day, but would like to play in the field several days a week.

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I wondered even last year if he was one of those players that did not do as well with the idle time between innings while not mentally and physically engaged on the field. He lost nearly 20 pounds in the off-season to get ready to catch, and once he started catching, he started catching fire at the plate (eye roll again).

Carlos Gomez has responded from his stint on the disabled list to go from being a whirling strikeout machine to someone the league has to respect.

If A.J. Reed can produce at a similar level as he did in AAA, you now have legitimate power threats at as many as seven slots in the lineup.

Next: Astros: With Alex Bregman Rising, Luis Valbuena is Thriving

My eyeball test says that the lineup has been lengthened primarily due to Springer’s emergence as a real lead-off threat, the movement of Altuve to the three-hole and the awakening of a few in the lower half of the lineup. What think you?

***Stats from Baseball-Reference***

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