Astros: Five things the team did well in 2018

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CLEVELAND, OH - OCTOBER 08: Alex Bregman #2 of the Houston Astros celebrates with teammates in the dugout after scoring a run in the eighth inning against the Cleveland Indians during Game Three of the American League Division Series at Progressive Field on October 8, 2018 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
CLEVELAND, OH - OCTOBER 08: Alex Bregman #2 of the Houston Astros celebrates with teammates in the dugout after scoring a run in the eighth inning against the Cleveland Indians during Game Three of the American League Division Series at Progressive Field on October 8, 2018 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images) /
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HOUSTON, TX – OCTOBER 16: Alex Bregman #2 of the Houston Astros hits a single in the first inning against the Boston Red Sox during Game Three of the American League Championship Series at Minute Maid Park on October 16, 2018 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images) /

Making contact all season long

Let’s cut to the chase: The Astros were one of the best teams in 2018 about generating contact. Here are the top three contact rates, by team, in baseball this year:

  1. Indians – 80.6%

  2. Astros – 79.9%

  3. Red Sox – 79.3%

Unsurprisingly, Houston also finished with the highest contact rate outside the strike zone (67.7%) and the third-highest contact rate inside the strike zone (87.2%). The Astros also finished with the lowest strikeout rate (18.9%) and tied with the Indians for lowest swinging strike rate (8.9%) in baseball. When there was a batter with a H-star logo on top of the batting helmet, odds are that generating contact would be the approach. And it worked quite well for Houston as the team won 103 games.

Isn’t it ironic how the 2015-16 Astros were known for its power and high strikeout approach? Fast forward to the next two seasons and now we’ve seen a near 180-degree reversal. Personnel changes were a key factor in the change, but improvement from its core was also key. Let’s use Alex Bregman’s contact rate since his debut as an example:

  • 2016: 74.7%

  • 2017: 85.7%

  • 2018: 88.5%

Yes, Bregman’s debut season in 2016 doesn’t have a large sample size, but it is clear to see how he has improved during the past two seasons. It is one reason why the former second overall pick transformed himself into one of the best third baseman in baseball.

Here is a better example in George Springer:

  • 2015: 69.5%

  • 2016: 73.9%

  • 2017: 78.7%

  • 2018: 78.2%

But the opposite can be true for improvement to take place. Here’s Jose Altuve’s contact rates from 2015 through 2018:

  • 2015: 89.8%

  • 2016: 86.1%

  • 2017: 84.9%

  • 2018: 83.6%

The Astros made a decision to feature a more contact-oriented lineup, completely intentional or not. Their players have made changes to their approach. If anything else, Houston was one of the best teams with adjustments.

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