Analyzing slow starts in Astros lineup beyond the boxscore
The Houston Astros entered play Friday against the Seattle Mariners with a positive run differential of 10. The ball club left with a run differential of 0 in a 11-1 loss on the road.
Through seven games this season, the Astros have sent their best lineup card once, as Yuli Gurriel took a trip to the paternity list and Yordan Alvarez hit the injured list due to health and safety protocol, leading to a second Joe Perez callup this month.
Although not testing positive for COVID-19, this is a second-straight year that Alvarez goes to the shelf due to illness against the Mariners in April. That is all but a coincidence, but since the Astros left Anaheim, not all facets of the offense have been clicking.
The sample size is small, and Houston has been notorious for slow starts and red-hot summers in the regular season. Despite the pitching staff exposing its own woes Friday, the offense didn’t get hot against a lefty.
The Astros’ bats aren’t all clicking, so let’s take a deeper look into the advanced metrics side of their at-bats.
Jose Altuve denounced any questions about a slump to start the season in a postgame interview in Arizona, while manager Dusty Baker mentioned that the staff isn’t worried about the All-Star second baseman.
Rightfully so, Altuve has been where he is before, but on the season, the righty is 3-for-24 with a home run across six starts. For this sample, Altuve isn’t hitting the ball as hard as he normally does with a HardHit% of 12.5, a bottom 4% of the league measurement by Baseball Savant.
Just to open the year, opposing pitchers are throwing offspeed pitches at a nearly 5% increase to Altuve, leading to a 22.2 Whiff%. While he hunts fastballs up, Altuve isn’t seeing braking pitches well, whiffing 80% of the time and not making contact outs on said pitches. The season is young, but Altuve isn’t seeing the ball well in the last week.
For Kyle Tucker, the term “unlucky” has been used numerous times to describe his starts to the season. With three hits, two being home runs, through 27 at-bats, the left-hander isn’t finding the outfield grass too much.
Tucker is also not barreling and hitting the ball as hard as he did in a full season. The 25-year-old also has long outs to his name this season, while seeing his best metric in xSLG (87th percentile).
Last season, Tucker sustained a .610 OPS in the months of March and April, while Altuve posted a .679 OPS in the same sample — the two finished the regular season well north of .800 OPS.
For both Tucker and Altuve, adjustments will come with seeing pitchers better out of hurlers’ hands, while progression to the mean and beyond slips past the common eye.
The Astros return to play 8:10 p.m. Saturday in their second contest with the Mariners.