5 Astros players who need to step up before it’s too late

The Astros are in a decent spot, but they have a few guys that need to be better if they want to be real contenders.
Jun 14, 2023; Houston, Texas, USA; Houston Astros first baseman Jose Abreu (79) runs up the base
Jun 14, 2023; Houston, Texas, USA; Houston Astros first baseman Jose Abreu (79) runs up the base / Erik Williams-USA TODAY Sports
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The Astros need Martin Maldonado to stop being terrible

Houston has had a strange attachment to Martin Maldonado for a while now, but previously it made more sense. Maldonado was a highly rated defensive catcher who was very familiar with the Astros' pitching staff. He was never a good hitter except during the COVID shortened 2020 season, but Martin made up for that more or less with his defensive acumen.

However, 2023 has seen a massive dropoff from Maldonado defensively to the point where he is all but a waste of a roster spot. Our friends over at Call to the Pen put together a really nice write-up on Maldonado's shortcomings recently that you should definitely give a read here. The short version is that whatever you prefer when it comes to defensive metrics, Maldonado has regressed in basically all of them. The best course of action is probably to bring in another catcher, but at the bare minimum Maldonado needs to figure out how to provide some value on the field or the Astros will be operating at a massive handicap the rest of the season.

The Astros need Jeremy Pena to take a step forward at the plate

Here again we have a player in Jeremy Pena that has been a very reasonable, if unexciting, player. Coming off his excellent rookie campaign, he has been good defensively at a premium position while slashing .250/.305/.402 at the plate. That adds up to being the fifth best player in the Astros' lineup by fWAR at 1.4 in 2023. In short, Pena has been far from the Astros' biggest problem.

The problem, again, is that Houston offense that needs a boost and while Pena may not have the same expectations at the plate that Abreu has, the Astros do need him to be an above average hitter and that is where he falls short. At a 96 wRC+ this season, he needs to be doing more at the plate. He doesn't have to go wild like he did for stretches last year although that would be nice. A defender of Jeremy's caliber need only be at around 105 wRC+ to be an extremely valuable player that would give the rest of the offense a welcome boost. Houston just has to hope that he can get there and boosting his 5.3% walk rate would be a nice place to start.

The Astros' bullpen could sure use a better second half from Ryne Stanek

We wanted to include a bullpen arm here and Rafael Montero is the easiest target here given that he both has been terrible and is owed a bunch of money. However, he is all but a lost cause at this point, so we will go with Ryne Stanek here as a guy that needs to step up out of the bullpen. His 4.21 ERA in 28 appearances is okay but not great and his strikeout rate of 9.82 K/9 is perfectly reasonable.

For him to take that next step towards being a consistently reliable reliever, he is going to have to get the walks under control. He has always walked a lot of batters, but a 5.61 BB/9 is just not sustainable when it comes to long-term success. Stanek's stuff is legitimately exciting, but giving up so many free passes is impacting batters' willingness to chase after his pitches out of the zone. If he makes that step, though, then the Houston bullpen gets a whole lot deeper.

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