Astros are actually underperforming in 2018

HOUSTON, TX - MAY 23: Alex Bregman #2 of the Houston Astros scores on a single by Carlos Correa #1 in the fifth inning against the San Francisco Giants at Minute Maid Park on May 23, 2018 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)
HOUSTON, TX - MAY 23: Alex Bregman #2 of the Houston Astros scores on a single by Carlos Correa #1 in the fifth inning against the San Francisco Giants at Minute Maid Park on May 23, 2018 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images) /

Here is a strong statement for 2018: the Astros have underperformed this season.

The Astros are 32-18 for the 2018 season entering Thursday, May 24th. The third-best record in baseball with a division lead. Not too shabby for the defending champions.

Alas, the Astros have somehow underperformed. Yes, underperformed.

You, as the valued reader, may be slightly perplexed by such a statement. How can the Astros be underperforming if they have one of the best records in the game?

Well, it is possible even for the best to underperform despite positive results. Allow me to explain further.

If you follow FanGraphs, you may already be familiar with the projected standings based on BaseRuns housed on the site. You can find those figures here. I won’t delve into the specifics of each method, but it is a valuable tool to utilize to determine if teams are over- or underperforming.

The Astros are an intriguing case this season as the team has clearly underperformed based on two methods. For example, the Pythagorean Win-Loss method indicates that the Astros should be 38-12 on the season. Yes, a win-loss record of 38-12, or a .752 winning percentage. Six more wins than they currently have in 2018.


There is also a win-loss based on BaseRuns, which indicates that Houston’s record should be 35-15. A 35-15 record would be a .706 winning percentage. By BaseRuns, the numbers of Houston wins is a bit more tempered than the Pythagorean Win-Loss method.

The Astros, by both methods, should have won at least 70% of their first fifty games. That is incredible when you think about it. Any team that wins 70% of its games would likely be counted upon as the best. In the Astros case, they are probably the best team in baseball if you look specifically at these methods. Although the Astros currently possess the third-best record in baseball behind only the Red Sox and Yankees, Houston currently has a run differential of +110 runs. The Red Sox have the second-best run differential at +80 runs. Boston is closer to the Braves at +60 runs, which is the fifth-best in baseball, than the Astros.

A key reason behind the Astros’ unbelievable run differential this early in the season lies on run prevention. As you may know, Houston’s pitching staff has been basically nothing short of terrific. Or amazing. How about historically great? Yes, I believe all apply to this situation.

Anyway, the Astros’ pitching staff has allowed only 2.52 runs per game this season. The second-best pitching staff concerning runs allowed per game, the Brewers, have allowed 3.58 runs per contest. Houston’s pitching staff is over a full run better than the second-best. This pitching staff up to now has been something historic. Simply amazing.

So, in short, the pitching staff has not been the reason behind any underperformance. The Astros’ defense also leads baseball in shifts with 744 in total. Pitching and defense can go hand-in-hand, so run prevention seems to be covered.

The offense then is the primary culprit. For example, the Astros finished last season with a 121 wRC+. The offense last season was a historic one. This season? Not so much as Houston now has a 106 wRC+. Good enough for sixth-best in baseball, so you can’t call this lineup anything else than above-league average. But the offense has been irregular throughout the season. In recent weeks, Justin Verlander couldn’t buy much run support in his starts until Wednesday’s game against the Giants.

The question now becomes this: are the Astros’ bats underperforming in 2018 or did the lineup overperform in 2017? I like to think it is a bit of both. For one, it is unreasonable to expect a team in today’s environment to maintain an historic pace for multiple seasons. Regression and bad timing will happen. At the same time, Houston does have a few underperforming positions compared to their peers. Left field (.683), first base (.639), center field (.661), and designated hitter (.633) are the notable positions struggling in terms of OPS. The lineup has yet to fully click like it did last season.

All of that said, the offense has begun to show more life in recent weeks. It was also unrealistic to expect some of these struggles to last all season long. If this lineup can improve as the season marches along, then the rest of baseball should take notice. This statement will be even more potent if the pitching staff and defense continue to show a remarkable ability at run prevention.

Next: Astros Series Preview: Time to play The Tribe again

So, in theory, the Astros have underperformed. And the thought of that should scare the rest of baseball.

**Statistics and information courtesy of FanGraphs, Baseball Reference, ESPN, and Baseball Savant**