I wonder if the Houston Astros are enjoying the fall weather like I have been lately?
The slight crisp to the air. Lower humidity. Cooler mornings and evenings. Oh, fall weather in Texas is surprisingly a treat after that first cool front or two pass on through town. And deep down, I yearn to see the Houston Astros on the television, phone, or tablet partaking in postseason baseball. That would be the perfect complement to this kind of weather.
Unfortunately, I, and every Astros fan, won’t experience that joy this autumn.
There were many reasons why we won’t see the Astros compete for the chance to win the World Series in 2016. I am sure that there are numerous statistics that can drive the point home. But here are three that piqued my interest the most.
Statistic #1: .211 winning percentage
Yes, the Astros chief rival in today’s world is the Rangers. There is no other way around it.
But this has been more of a one-sided rivalry for quite some time now. This notion was proven once again in 2016 with the Astros achieving a measly .211 winning percentage (4 W – 15 L) in 19 games against Texas.
In other words, the Rangers have been a, no THE, stumbling block in the Astros way to success in the AL West.
The maddening aspect of this most recent edition of the Lone Star series is not only the amount of games lost, but the manner in which the defeats occurred.
- 1-8 in one-run games
- 1-5 in two or three run games
- Allowed Rangers to score seven or more runs in seven games (2-5 record)
Consider this: the Astros finished the 2016 season with a 84-78 record. Say their record against the Rangers improved by five games to 9 W -10 L, that would essentially pushed the Astros into second place in the AL West and probably clinched a spot in the Wild Card game. The bitter reality for the Astros is that the road to the playoffs goes through Arlington.
Statistic #2: 4.17 FIP
Fielding independent pitching is similar to ERA, yet it has a clear, distinct difference. Essentially, FIP is the measurement of a pitcher’s ERA while removing the role that defense, luck, and sequencing has on ERA.
This time last year the Astros rotation posted quite a respectable FIP of 3.80. Out of all thirty teams, their FIP ranked ninth last year. Of course, the outstanding trifecta of Dallas Keuchel, Collin McHugh, and Lance McCullers were the primary reason behind that level of success. The only teams within the top ten of FIP not to make to the 2015 postseason were the Washington Nationals (3.42 FIP), Cleveland Indians (3.73 FIP) and Tampa Bay Rays (3.74 FIP).
Last year just proved that a quality FIP ranking doesn’t mean playoffs are in the cards. The odds are just likely to be better if you do though.
However, this season saw the Astros dip down to twelfth as a staff with a FIP of 4.17. The only teams to make the 2016 postseason with a worse FIP were the Baltimore Orioles (4.57 FIP) and the Texas Rangers (4.69 FIP). And you can look no further than the Astros top three starters and their struggles to see why the team slipped in 2016.
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
At the end of the day, the Astros pitching was simply worse in 2016 than their 2015 playoff team. Even though the drop wasn’t drastic, it was enough to play a factor in the team missing the postseason. Hopefully regression the other way will allow the Astros to climb the rankings again.
Statistic #3: 79 wRC+
The long-term future of numerous positions on the Astros roster seem to be covered. Shortstop, check. Second base, check. Right field, check. Third base, check.
Sure, there are some roving parts in the infield and outfield. However, there is one position that needs, no MUST, demonstrate improvement from in 2017: first base.
Out of all thirty teams, the players that the Astros trotted out as first basemen ended up posting a weak 79 wRC+. Only the New York Yankees and Washington Nationals had worse production from their first baseman in terms of wRC+. Seriously, that is some weak sauce.
And this glaring lack of production does prevent, even if slightly, the full potential of the offense to come out. A productive first base in the lineup could allow the Astros offense to become one of the most feared in baseball.
The question for the Astros going forward is whether A.J. Reed is the answer long-term at first base. Then there is Tyler White and also Jon Singleton. Yes, I mentioned Singleton. I’m just saying, what is the purpose of eliminating all of the options before the offseason and Spring Training?
For a quick reminder, the last time the Astros had a first baseman achieve a wRC+ higher than 108 was way back in 2008 (155 wRC+) when Lance Berkman was in the midst of his prime. Yes, let that sink in for a moment.
Now with all of that said, I am sure there are more (and better) statistics that can demonstrate why the Astros did not make the 2016 postseason. But each of the statistics mentioned above definitely brought to light at least part of the issue. Who knows, if all three categories improve next year then the Astros could be riding into the playoffs?
**Statistics provided by Baseball-Reference and Fangraphs**