When Should We Be Concerned About the Astros’ Offense?
Between underperforming core players and a lack of support from the new additions, the Astros have not been getting done it at the plate.
Pick any offensive stat you’d like, advanced, traditional or otherwise.
Odds are, you picked a stat in which the Houston Astros ranked among the top 10 across baseball in 2022.
Keep that number in mind and fast forward over a month into the 2023 season. Well, the odds are that the reigning World Series champs haven’t quite matched the total they put up last year in the stat you picked, or any other offensive category for that matter.
|Year||AVG||OBP||SLG||HR||BB%||K%||wOBA||wRC+||Runs per game|
|2022||.248 (12)||.319 (7)||.424 (5)||214 (4)||8.7% (8)||19.5% (2)||.324 (7)||112 (6)||4.54 (8)|
|2023||.238 (21)||.306 (23)||.366 (27)||33 (24)||8% (23)||21.7% (9)||.298 (27)||88 (24)||4.35 (16)|
While they have been without Jose Altuve and Michael Brantley, the rest of the Astros’ lineup hasn’t stepped up and performed to the levels we’ve come to expect for the team down in Houston.
And while it may be early, we are now about a quarter of the way into the season, and trends are beginning to normalize. So, when should we start adjusting those lofty expectations we set coming into the year?
With Altuve, Brantley and Chas McCormick reportedly approaching their individual returns to the lineup and the team holding a 19-18 record — just 3.5 games out of first place — it’s probably too early to hit the panic button on the Astros’ offense just yet.
However, as we get deeper into the season without a tangible change in the numbers, we may be looking at the beginning of a disappointing season from Houston hitters. With that said, let’s take a look at where they stand and when/if we might be able to expect a turnaround.
The Struggles So Far
Outside of Yordan Alvarez, Kyle Tucker and Jeremy Peña, no Houston hitter to appear in 15 or more games has been an above-league-average hitter — and Pena barely cracks the list with a 101 wRC+.
Between the underperformance of star offseason acquisition José Abreu and the need to hand regular at-bats to players like Mauricio Dubón and Corey Julks — who have both shown flashes of being solid hitters but haven’t been consistent enough to grade out above league average — the Astros have gotten worse production from eight spots in their lineup.
|Position||2022 wRC+||2023 wRC+|
The Astros lineup has undergone some turnover since winning the World Series, with Yuli Gurriel, Aledmys Diaz, Trey Mancini and Christian Vázquez — all of whom were on the postseason roster — leaving in free agency.
While none of those players were all that great in 2022, their replacements haven’t produced enough to make up for their departures and the struggles of some core members.
Abreu may be off to the most disappointing start in baseball. After signing a three-year, $58.5 million deal to extend the Astros’ lineup and take over for Gurriel, who had a career-worst season in 2022, the 2020 AL MVP hasn’t shown any of the tools that helped him to a 133 wRC+ over his first 5,506 career at-bats.
If you focus on the right-hand side of the graph below, you’ll see that nothing seems to be moving in the direction the Astros would like to see from their big offseason move:
To put it simply, Abreu is walking less, striking out more, hitting the ball hard less often and chasing more in 2023.
Another player that simply hasn’t delivered so far this season is Alex Bregman. The 29-year-old is posting a career-worst average, slugging percentage, wRC+, wOBA and hard-hit rate.
Bregman has kept himself closer to league average than Abreu, thanks to an elevated walk rate and career-low strikeout rate, but he is falling short of the standard he’s set throughout his career.
The combination of the slow starts from key components of the offense and a lack of breakout from some of the young replacements has been a recipe for disaster in Houston.
When Can We Expect a Turnaround?
Unsurprisingly, the Astros might just be alright going forward.
While things have not gone well for the team so far, the additions of Altuve and Brantley should represent a shift in Houston.
Altuve posted a 164 wRC+ last season, while Brantley finished with a 127 mark and has looked solid in his rehab assignment at Triple-A. They will likely take the spots of Dubón and Julks, who have an 84 and 71 wRC+, respectively.
While Dubón did have a 20-game hit streak, he hasn’t hit for much power and is only walking 2.2% of the time.
On top of adding a couple of All-Stars, the Astros should start to get some better luck from their lineup. Four Houston hitters who should see the lion’s share of the time at their positions going forward have been underperforming their expected stats:
While the expected stats for Abreu and Maldonado don’t suggest that they’d become All-Stars with some improved luck, any semblance of improvement from those two could provide a needed boost to the offense.
The return of McCormick has also provided a boon, as he’s posted a 128 wRC+ through his first 52 plate appearances. Of course, he is out once again with back soreness, but his eventual return to full strength will be another key addition in the near future.
There may be no “when” for an expected turnaround in Houston, but like so many things in baseball, it may just be a gradual improvement we see from Astros’ hitters over the next few months as they look to remain among MLB’s elite offensive groups.
All stats courtesy FanGraphs, from before play on May 11.