The Astros officially have a glaring problem at first base

Five games into the season, one theme has emerged: the Astros still have a glaring issue at first base.

New York Yankees v Houston Astros
New York Yankees v Houston Astros / Tim Warner/GettyImages

Less than a week into a 162-game season is hardly the time for hot takes and overreactions. The Astros started the campaign 0-4, their questionable rotation looked great, their dominant trio of relievers were touched up, Yordan Álvarez can't get an extra base hit and Jeremy Peña is hitting .444.

It's much too early for blanket statements about one specific player or position...with the exception of one obvious trouble spot.

The 2024 Astros have a glaring problem at first base

If Houston is serious about trying to win a third World Series in eight seasons, they must figure something out at first base.

The Astros signed José Abreu before the 2023 season in an effort to extend their reign of terror over the American League. I, and many others, heaped praise on Houston for such a move. The Astros were slotting one of the best hitters in baseball and an MVP candidate into an already fearsome lineup--what could go wrong?

Then the season began. As we all remember, Abreu was a shell of himself. Abreu followed up his three-year, $58 million deal with a .237 average and .680 OPS. His defense was shoddy at best. His 90 RBI were more of a byproduct of Dusty Baker's stubborn refusal to move him down in a loaded lineup than actual run production.

After a late-season stint on the IL, Abreu showed signs of life and looked like the hitter Houston believed they were getting. A .295 average, .945 OPS and four home runs in the postseason buoyed that belief.

Yet five games into the year, it looks like the Astros are back at square one. Abreu picked up his first hit of the year Monday night, capping a 1-for-15 start. Again, one hit in 15 at bats is a small sample size, so to say his .067 average is a problem is too narrow of thinking. The issue isn't the average; it's the quality of the at-bats.

After all, Yordan Álvarez was hitting only .100 entering play on Tuesday night. That said, Alvarez sported a .259 xBA and a .586 xSLG. Alvarez may not have any extra-base hits, but he's made plenty of hard contact.

Abreu once again looks incredibly uncomfortable at the plate. He holds only a .159 xBA and .208 xSLG. In his batted ball profile, he's been under the ball 54.5% of the time and topped it 27.3% of the time. He has yet to barrel a ball, and is whiffing on 1/3 of swings with only a 69.6% zone contact. His max exit velocity is only 101.2 mph.

Abreu has only reached base three times this year, picking up one hit, walking once, and being hit by a pitch.

Even his hit-by-pitch showed how badly things are going at the plate.

The fastball from Stroman was never close to the zone. This wasn't Jhoan Duran throwing his turbo fastball 102 mph with a foot of run. This was a 90 mph fastball that never sniffed the zone that Abreu offered a full-swing at for strike three, and was generously awarded first base after swinging at a fastball that hit his hands.

Find another clip of a big leaguer completing 80% of a swing on a fastball that hits them. It just doesn't happen. He's pressing again already.

On top of the offensive woes, he made a brutal error Saturday on a routine ground ball to bring home New York's first run. Defense has never been his calling card, and if he isn't hitting, his defense simply isn't good enough.

Behind Abreu, the Astros have Jon Singleton. Singleton made the team because he's a lefty and is out of options.

In a befuddling decision on Opening Day, Joe Espada pinch hit Singleton for the finally confident Jake Meyers, who had gone deep in the second inning, with the go-ahead runner on third. Singleton dribbled a first-pitch sinker back to the mound.

Singleton has some ok plate discipline, but he's now 1-20 in his career pinch hitting. Aside from working an occasional walk, he's a non-threat when pinch hitting.

So what do the Astros do?

They still have $39 million committed to Abreu through next season. After a dominant Spring Training, the Astros opted to keep Joey Loperfido in Triple-A to begin the year. He's working on first base while down there.

Loperfido continued his torrid start to the year, going deep three times in his first two games with Sugar Land.

If Abreu continues to be a non-threat at the plate, might we see the lefty prospect up in May to play first? If he doesn't turn it around, do the Astros make a move at the deadline for a first baseman on an expiring contract like Paul Goldschmidt, another massive investment, to go all in for another ring? Pete Alonso, Rhys Hoskins, Josh Bell, Mark Canha and Rowdy Tellez are other impending free agent first basemen that may be on the market at the trade deadline.

Could Houston do the unthinkable and even DFA the struggling veteran? That would come as a massive shock, as he still works exceptionally hard and seems to be pretty beloved in the locker room. It would take months more of baseball without results, and even then, it would seem unlikely to see Jim Crane eat that much money.

Maybe it's all an overreaction. Maybe we look up in a month and Abreu is hitting .270 and driving in runs in bunches.

But after a disastrous 2023, the quality of at-bats to begin 2024 don't leave much room for hope. The Astros may have serious hopes of winning a World Series, but if they are going to, they'll have to overcome a massive issue at first base.