2022 Houston Astros: Grading Each Player’s First Half
Position Players: B+
Yordan Alvarez: A+
Jose Altuve: A+
Jeremy Pena: A
Kyle Tucker: A-
Alex Bregman: B+
Michael Brantley: B+
Chas McCormick: C
Aledmys Diaz: C
Jose Siri: C-
Yuli Gurriel: C-
Martin Maldonado: D+
The offense got off to a middling start this season, but there wasn’t much concern about it because run scoring was noticeably down league-wide from last season (teams averaged just 4 runs per game in April). Besides, the lineup predictably started clicking as the weeks went on, and there have been a few outstanding hitters on this team of late.
Yordan Alvarez has returned to his rookie-of-the-year form, with an OPS+ of 196. He leads MLB in OPS+ and slugging percentage through his 75 games so far, and while he’s on the IL with a hand injury, he is expected to be activated tomorrow against the Yankees. He has a ludicrous 1.185 OPS against right-handed pitching this year. By those measures (and others), there hasn’t been a better hitter in baseball this year, and he is one of the frontrunners for AL MVP as it stands right now.
As for Jose Altuve, it’s quite impressive that, at age 32, he has been at his most valuable since the mid-2010s. His current OPS+ of 150 would be the 3rd-highest of his career if the season ended today, behind 2017 and 2016, and he’s on pace for a career-high in home runs (37 over a 162-game pace). The fans clearly have his back despite his controversial placement at the forefront of the cheating scandal, as he was deservedly voted to be an All-Star starter. He has arguably been the best second basemen in MLB so far this year.
Jeremy Pena has had an unbelievable rookie season. If it weren’t for Mariners outfielder Julio Rodriguez setting the world on fire, he’d be the clear rookie of the year favorite. He has been a top-tier defensive shortstop with 9 Statcast outs above average, and with 13 home runs and a 115 OPS+, he has more than held his own at the plate. He has given the Astros more than anything he could have been realistically asked to do at the start of the season as Carlos Correa’s replacement, and has suddenly put himself on an elite trajectory long-term.
Kyle Tucker has followed up on a scorching second half last year with a fine start to 2022. With a 131 OPS+, he has become one of the best right fielders in MLB, and his value on the bases makes him a multi-pronged offensive threat. He is 2nd on the team in home runs (behind Alvarez) with 18, and like most of the lineup, he has stayed healthy all year. Even more encouragingly, he appears to be on the brink of a hot stretch similar to what we saw from him in last year’s stretch run (see link above).
Alex Bregman is still not dominating to the same degree as he was in the late 2010s, but he has been having his best year on both sides of the ball since then. His consistent health has helped, and he’s back to walking more than striking out (53 walks to 49 strikeouts), something he hadn’t done since his own glory years in 2018 and 2019. His OPS ranks inside the top-6 among AL third basemen, and even if he never reaches his peak seasons again, he’s still a better option at the hot corner than most teams who have legitimate World Series aspirations can offer.
Michael Brantley is currently on the IL with a shoulder problem and his original ETA has already passed, but when healthy, he was still holding up at age 35. He has also drawn more walks than strikeouts, and remains one of the best contact hitters in the league with a .288 batting average, and his 125 OPS+ has made up for what he lacks in the power department. In his absence, Chas McCormick has done a decent enough job for someone who is a 4th outfielder on a healthy team: his .709 OPS is just above league-average, and his 0.4 bWAR is also par-for-the-course considering his role.
Aledmys Diaz had been a league-average hitter off the bench across his first three years as an Astro, and while he’s having his worst season at the plate in this uniform, his defensive skill and versatility have made him a quality asset as far as bench guys go. He has suited up at 5 different positions this year, and as per Statcast, he has been a plus at 3 of them (left field, second base, first base). The Astros’ coaching staff presumably doesn’t lose sleep putting him in when some of the A-listers in the lineup get a maintenance day.
Jose Siri has gotten into 48 games, which is probably a bit too much for someone with a 54 OPS+ and a strikeout rate in excess of 25%. He has still provided value as a classic no-offense, full-speed-and-defense archetype: his 5 infield hits, 8 outs above average, and 30.3 ft/sec sprint speed make him one of the best dual candidates as a pinch runner and defensive replacement in the game.
Logically, Yuli Gurriel’s subpar season shouldn’t come as a surprise. He’s 38 years old, and his power output had been on a steady decline in seasons prior. It has left a bit more of a sour taste in the fans’ mouths, however, because he was the AL batting champ last year. His OPS has dropped over 150 points, and his batting average is down 81 points from 2021. As a result, the Astros have been connected to some of the potential first basemen on the trade market. Nevertheless, he should be recognized for his success in Houston over the years.
Admittedly, Martin Maldonado is such a hard player to grade. His offensive production is among the worst in the league (60 OPS+, an average of over a strikeout per game), but the pitching staff, coaches, and front office have raved about his contributions to the clubhouse and the young players. In fact, the Astros might not even consider an upgrade at catcher at the deadline because of how good his intangibles are. As such, even though I gave him a “D”, I’d take it with a grain of salt as a reader because everyone within the Astros’ organization would argue that his contributions to the team are impossible to quantify.