One promising development from the Astros slow start

While Juan Soto throwing Mauricio Dubón out at home was a painful outcome, the Astros aggression on the base paths was a promising development
Houston Astros v Miami Marlins
Houston Astros v Miami Marlins / Rich Storry/GettyImages
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The Astros were a fantastic baseball team in almost all facets in 2023. They came up just one game short of another World Series trip, but there aren't a ton of areas for improvement in 2024.

The only glaring issue was their base running. The Astros finished third-to-last in "runner runs" in 2023, which is a metric Statcast uses "to evaluate the performance of baserunners and outfielders in taking or preventing extra bases." Houston finished with -6.

No team had a lower percentage of extra bases taken. The Astros 37% XBT was dead last in baseball.

Houston is also perennially atop the league in double plays. Part of this is a byproduct of their pass-the-baton approach, with so much traffic on the base paths, but Houston can also cut down on this issue with more steals and taking extra bases at a higher clip.

As a result of their subpar base running, Houston came into 2024 with an emphasis on more aggressive base running. The Astros are planning to run the bases without fear and take more calculated risks.

Though the Astros were swept in four games against New York, their aggression on the base paths is a noteworthy positive.

Yes, Juan Soto threw Mauricio Dubón out at home to all but wrap up Thursday's game, but it took a perfect strike to nab Dubie. Also of note, they pulled off a double steal in the third inning of Friday's game, with Kyle Tucker swiping third and Alex Bregman taking second.

Houston stole three bases this year through their first five contests, right at league average. It's an incredibly small sample size, but notable, as the Astros finished 10 stolen bases below league average in 2023.

Now, Dubón's aggression was excusable. It's a third base coach daring a right fielder to make a perfect play. What is inexcusable as Houston attempts to wade these new aggressive waters is Jose Altuve getting backpicked off of third base with runners on second and third and the team's hottest hitter at the plate, which happened on Tuesday.

Altuve got a monstrous secondary jump before getting thrown behind by Jays catcher Alejandro Kirk, and was unable to get back to the bag in time. The Astros went from a chance to extend the lead to three, to clinging to a one-run lead in the ninth. Dubón was aggressive. Altuve was just silly, the latest in a long line of base running gaffes in his otherwise illustrious Astros career. Jake Meyers pinch ran after Yainer Diaz reached to begin the ninth in Tuesday's game, and he immediately tried to swipe second, another instance of aggression. To Meyers' credit, he got a great jump and had the bag stolen...until his shoelaces had other plans. Meyers tripped and fell, finding himself in a pickle. He tried to make it back to first, but was tagged out, and any chance of the Astros coming from behind was effectively squandered. You can't fault the aggression, but the execution was subpar.

Not every aggressive move will pay off. We'll see more baserunners nabbed at home, albeit likely not in as painful of fashion as Dubón. Attempted base stealers will be thrown out. Potential rallies will be killed.

But we'll also see more runs manufactured, crooked numbers put up, double plays avoided, and innings extended as a byproduct of increased aggression.

For better or for worse, these Astros are definitely more aggressive on the base paths. In the case of Dubón and Meyers, the rationale was correct--they just didn't execute. In the case of Altuve, there is simply no defense for such a blunder. Through six games, the Astros find themselves 1-5, victims of a comedy of self-inflicted errors. As the season progresses, their newfound aggression will likely result in more runs and highlights, rendering these early season lowlights a moot point.

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