Armchair GMs and Monday morning quarterbacks are the worst. It's easy to second guess every decision that is made from the comfort of a living room or the seats in the ballpark. And here I am about to question Dusty Baker.
No, I have not played in the MLB and Dusty Baker has. No, I haven't managed over 3,000 games in the MLB. Dusty Baker has. What ground do I have to stand on to question his decisions?
Well, two qualifications really. And most of you have them as well. If you have a basic level reading comprehension and understanding of mathematics, it is quite easy to see that Dusty Baker is massively hampering the Astros chances of winning baseball games this season.
The Astros lineup has been hampered by injury all season--this much is true. But even when they are firing on all cylinders, or as close to full strength as they can be, the lineup is held back by its own manager.
The Astros are 16th in the MLB in runs per game, averaging 4.42. Their .244 batting average ranks 18th and their .712 OPS ranks 21st. All the while, they lead the MLB in ERA. Their pitching has been far, far too good to be 4.5 games back in the AL West and tied for the last playoff tiebreaker spot. Why are they struggling you ask? Well, the guy in charge of writing the lineup bears the brunt of the responsibility. He has taken an already limited lineup due to injury and weakened it even more with his decision-making.
Where do we even begin?
Let's start with his indefensible decision-making at DH/left field. When fully healthy, these spots are manned by Yordan Alvarez and Michael Brantley. A second-grader wouldn't screw that part up. But both are currently injured. So who should be playing there?
Well for a team that simply can't score runs, playing their best bats make sense, no?
Chas McCormick's .787 OPS ranks fourth on the team and Yainer Diaz' .750 ranks fifth. With a team OPS of .712, getting those bats in the lineup feels like the right call, right? I mean Dana Brown has been publicly pleading to get Yainer at-bats.
Starting Chas in left and Yainer at DH is a no-brainer...well, unless your name is Dusty Baker.
Instead, Dusty continues to trot out Corey Julks each day. Julks has 38 starts in left field and 12 at DH. Meanwhile Chas McCormick has 10 starts in left field while Yainer has nine at DH. Until one of Yordan or Uncle Mike are back, stop making poor decisions. There just isn't a world where Corey Julks and his .658 OPS and 0.0 bWAR should be playing over Chas McCormick.
Stop rotating Jake Meyers and Chas back and forth each day and play Jake in center and Chas in left. That's the best offensive AND defensive lineup. And not just via counting stats. Take a look at Julks Statcast metrics. He's in the 1st percentile of xwOBA. He's made some of the worst contact in the MLB. And he has 46 starts to his name.
And you wonder why the offense can't score?
The Astros lost 2-1 Friday. Their lone bright spot was Chas McCormick. Chas went 2-3 with a walk and a double. What was his reward? A seat on the bench Saturday while Corey Julks started in his place and batted leadoff? Seriously? Chas was the starting center fielder on the 2022 world champs and now he can't get a start over your 28th-ranked prospect? Are you blindly throwing darts at a board when penciling in your lineup?
Yainer Diaz has a .308 average and .958 OPS in June. Only Jose Altuve might be a better bat with Yordan on the bench. Play the man. Catch him, play him at first, DH him. Just play him. If your team can't score, maybe your top prospect should be getting the at-bats currently going to your 28th-best prospect.
And it's not just who Dusty plays--it's where he bats them.
Jeremy Peña and Alex Bregman are both having subpar seasons. Peña is hitting .252 with a .719 OPS while Bregman hits .234 with a below average 95 OPS+. The Astros won't win many games if those bats aren't producing. If only if there was a way to get them to produce...
Oh there is, you say? You mean in the 16 games Jeremy Peña has batted second, he's hitting .290 with a .968 OPS? The same place he batted when he won ALCS and World Series MVP? The place where he caught fire last season and has a career .868 OPS? Nah, let's bat him 6th instead. His .607 OPS in the sixth-spot will help more.
Oh and Alex Bregman is hitting .286 with an .853 OPS while batting cleanup? The same lineup spot he is hitting .316 with a .985 OPS for his career?
Nope, I like him more second. Why have Peña in the two-hole when you can have Bregman's .699 OPS there.
None of these number are hard to understand. They're simple math. A higher average and a higher OPS is better. Those guys should hit more. It's pretty easy. Well, unless you're Dusty Baker.
Well with runs at such a premium, surely in close games late, Dusty is at least bringing Chas, or Yainer or Mauricio Dubón off the bench to pinch-hit?
If you answered yes, you'd be wrong again. The Astros have pinch-hit 19 times this season, least in the MLB. The league average is 44 times. They're carrying three catchers, but Dusty continually refuses to pinch hit for Maldy with any sembelance of consistency late.
Martín Maldonado has taken 25 at-bats this season in games that are "late & close." He's hitting .160 with 10 strikeouts in that stretch. In high leverage spots, Maldy has 34 at-bats. He's got a .147 average with a .452 OPS and 14 strikeouts to only five hits.
You know what they say: in a close game late, if you can hit a guy with a .452 OPS over your fourth-best hitter, who inexcusably is on the bench in the first place, you simply have to do it.
And now, a day after Jose Altuve goes 4-4, he too is out of the lineup in what Dusty Baker called "my decision." Not a DH day. Not bumped back a day. Just out of the lineup entirely.
Don't fret though. Corey Julks is in it. Chas is too. But again, it's at the expense of Jake Meyers, who is one of the best defensive outfielders in the game and also is a markedly better bat than Julks.
Baseball is a fickle game. Guys believe they can produce if they put on their socks a certain way or wear a specific outfit to the ballpark. They psych themselves out if they don't have the right bat or their cleats aren't tied a certain way. For Jeremy Peña and Alex Bregman, something clicks when they are in the two and four-hole respectively. So bat them there.
Chas McCormick plays great defense and is a markedly better hitter than Corey Julks. So play him.
Martín Maldonado is a great game-caller and brings so much value behind the plate. Yes, start him most games. But pinch-hit for him late. Why else are you carrying three catchers?
I've never played in the MLB. But I can read and I can count.
Yes, the Astros lineup has been impacted by injury. But their manager is making it even more difficult for the team to overcome.
If the Astros are going to run down the Rangers, either Dana Brown gets through to their manager, Yordan Alvarez and Michael Brantley return to the lineup yesterday, or Joe Espada starts making the lineup.
Otherwise, their skipper may dig them too deep of a hole to dig themselves out of.