Astros: Looking closer at team’s decline on offense

We take a closer look at the Houston Astros decline on offense in 2020.

It’s no secret the Houston Astros have struggled at times this season, and while the pitching staff and injuries take plenty of the blame, the offense isn’t blameless either. At times it’s looked just fine, but it’s also had prolonged stretches of being absolutely listless.

Before we go any farther, I feel the need to make it clear that the struggles have nothing to do with the absence of illegal sign stealing. The Astros led the majors in OPS in 2019 without any help from trash cans or buzzers, so let’s please dispel this ridiculous and erroneous notion now.

The differences between 2019 and 2020 are quite pronounced. The Astros led the major leagues in batting average (.274), on-base percentage (.352), slugging percentage (.495), walks (645) and OPS (.848). They also had the fewest strikeouts in the majors (1,166), and were third in the majors in runs scored, hits, doubles and home runs.

With largely the same lineup, it’s a different story in 2020. The Astros are 18th in batting average (.243), 22nd in on-base percentage (.316), 17th in slugging (.414) and 18th in OPS (.730). They’re 22nd in homers (53) and 18th in walks (151), but they have the fourth-most doubles, fourth-fewest strikeouts and are ninth in runs scored.

Still, it’s a pronounced difference, even in a shortened season. Plenty of things have gone wrong, but the pitching staff has been hit harder by injuries than the offense. A drop is understandable, but this is beyond what we could have expected. Here’s what’s going wrong.

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The Main Culprits

Injuries have taken their toll, of course. The loss of Yordan Alvarez, who played only two games this year, is noticeable in and of itself. He led the team in batting average, slugging and OPS last season, and there really isn’t anyone who could replace that level of production. Michael Brantley, George Springer, Alex Bregman and Jose Altuve have all missed some time as well.

In terms of drops in production, there are many. Altuve’s is the most noticeable, of course, as he went from a .903 OPS in 2019 to a .606 OPS so far this year. Bregman has dropped from 1.015 to .806, Carlos Correa from .926 to .748, Springer from .974 to .822, and Yuli Gurriel from .884 to .768. So one of their key hitters is hurt while five others have experienced significant dropoffs.

In 2019, the Astros had seven hitters hit 21 or more home runs. Through 47 team games in 2020, only two players (Springer and Kyle Tucker) are on a home run pace that would have them hit 21 in a 162-game season. Note that Bregman, Altuve and Gurriel, who all hit 31 or more homers in 2019, aren’t even on a 21-homer pace.

What’s Gone Right

One person who isn’t to blame is Brantley, whose OPS this year (.882) is almost identical to what it was last year (.875). Tucker has been a revelation, albeit a streaky one, with his .833 OPS and his leading the team in RBI, triples, stolen bases and slugging.

Martin Maldonado has been surprisingly good, leading the team in walks. His OPS is still a bit of a downgrade from what Robinson Chirinos put up last year given that Chirinos had significantly more power, but Machete has been better than expected. Josh Reddick is nearly matching his OPS from last year despite a lower batting average, as he’s walking more frequently and hitting more doubles.

But unfortunately that’s about all that’s gone right. Bench players like Aledmys Diaz and Myles Straw aren’t producing as they were in 2019 either, and with all the injuries, the replacement players generally haven’t hit as well. So, in other words, almost everything is going wrong.

It may partially be due to the shortened ramp-up to the season, and we should also take the baseballs into account. Slugging percentages are down across the sport as the league apparently did away with whatever changes were made to the baseballs that resulted in record-breaking home run totals in 2019. The league has also restricted what video can be viewed by players during the game, making it harder for them to adjust from at-bat to at-bat.

All those things would be factors, but there’s probably more to why Altuve, Bregman and Springer have struggled or why Correa’s power seems to have disappeared. As for the team’s struggles as a whole, it’s obvious. When most of your main offensive contributors are putting up far lesser numbers than they did last year, it’s going to lead to some struggles. The team just has to hope most of them come around for the postseason.