Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Shining a light on the Astros' road troubles

The Astros started out their 2016 season with a 5-3 win at Yankee Stadium. Since then they have gone 1-8 on the road, only snatching a game at Milwaukee in Game 5 of the season. How does this keep happening? Let's look at the ten road games this season and see if we can find a trend.

Game 2 - in case you have done the correct and smart thing and forgotten that this game ever existed - was Collin McHugh's first disaster start of the season, when he allowed 6ER and recorded just one out. The Yankees won that game 16-6.

Since that 2nd game the Astros are 1-7 on the road. Those seven losses have been by a combined 11 runs, with three one-run losses, and the 2016 Astros are 1-5 in road games decided by 1 or 2 runs. The largest road loss margin (since the 16-6 Yankees win in G2) is three runs, with an 8-5 loss in Game 3 and a 7-4 loss at Arlington in Game 16. 

The 2016 Astros have averaged 4.0 runs/game on the road. This is, amazingly, slightly better than the 3.8 runs/game they have averaged at home. 

This is by no means a New Thing for the Astros because the 2015 Astros had the same issues. The 2015 Astros were 33-48 on the road but - and wait for this - outscored their opponents by 25 runs (362-337). I mentioned this on the Lima Time Time podcast Sunday night, but one of the reasons I looked to a division crown in 2016 was precisely because of this. It's just hard to continue that streak of bad luck.

A Pythagorean Expectation Calculator will tell you that outscoring your opponent 362-337 should result in a .536 winning percentage which, over the course of an 81-game road schedule, would result in a road record of a 43-38. Going 43-38 on the road - as opposed to a 33-48 record - would have resulted in a 96-win season in 2015. Yeah, Game 4 against the Royals would probably have happened again, but still, that's enough to win the 2015 AL West handily. 

But that didn't happen, did it? The 2015 Astros loaded up on road wins early in 2015. By the end of May the Astros were 15-8 on the road, outscoring opponents 120-88. So from the beginning of June to the end of the 2015 season the Astros went 18-40 on the road, getting outscored 242-249. 22 games under .500 with a -7 run differential. This is preposterous. It includes fifteen 1-run losses and a further eleven losses by 2-runs. That's 26 losses by one or two runs...in 58 games. The Astros only won 13 road games by 1-2 runs all season. So, all told, in road games decided by one or two runs, the 2015 Astros went 13-33. That's devastating.

So just for comparison's sake, I went through the rest of the AL West to see how the other four teams compared in the Road Games Decided By 1-2 Runs. Here's what I found:

Texas: 29-18
Seattle: 23-21
Anaheim: 16-15
Oakland: 17-25
Houston: 13-33

Of course, a lot of the close road games Houston lost were to division rivals because the Astros play them more. The Astros went 10-16 in road games against division opponents decided by 1 or 2 runs.

And these struggles were particularly amplified by the Rangers: The Astros went 6-13 against Arlington, getting outscored 80-108.

At Arlington: 2-8, outscored 41-64
Vs Arlington: 4-5, outscored 39-44.

I don't know what is causing this. I don't know if it's a young team (and I have some reservations referring to the Astros as a "young team,") learning how to win close games on the road. I thought that progressing to the mean would come around this year, making that 96-win season more likely. After ten road games, though, I'm not so sure if coming out on the wrong end of close road games is the anomaly, or if it's the trend.