Thursday, April 21, 2016

The Astros and hitting with runners in scoring position

Let's be clear about something right off the top: The Astros don't have an overall BABIP problem. Their team BABIP is .297, which is 16th overall in the Majors.

Yes they ground into a lot of double plays - 13 of them (though it feels like that number should be far, far higher) - which is tied for 9th in the Majors, and 6th in the American League. Still, they are costly GIDPs - more so than you might think. FanGraphs has a stat called wGDP, which is the number of runs above or below average a player - or for our purposes, a team - has accumulated based on the ability to not hit into double plays. The Astros - and we're only 15 games into the season, mind you - rank 25th at -0.9. The Royals (!) and Angels are the only AL teams below them at -1.5 and -1.6, respectively. -0.5 is considered Below Average, -1 is considered Poor. The Astros are almost Poor. This is something we knew.

What we're seeing is a complete lack of hitting when the Astros need it most - with runners in scoring position. Let's consider the league splits for a variety of situations with runners on base:

SetOverallNone OnRunners OnRISP

Consider the Astros' BABIP vs. all 30 MLB teams (yes, the Astros are included, so you can adjust this slightly - I'm just not in the mood to check 29 teams and average them out):
HOU Overall BABIP: .297 / MLB Overall BABIP: .293
HOU None On BABIP: .314 / MLB None On BABIP: .288
HOU Runners On BABIP: .273 / MLB Runners On BABIP: .299

There is a massive disconnect between how the Astros hit overall to how the Astros hit with the bases empty, and then to how the Astros "hit" with runners in scoring position. The 2016 Astros have had runners in scoring position with two outs in 52 plate appearances, and have gotten a grand total of six hits (.115/.179/.250). They have struck out to end the inning in 23 of the 52 of these situations.

The Astros have had eight plate appearances with the bases loaded at any point in the inning. They are 1x8 - Springer's Grand Slam against the Yankees, which feels like it happened fourteen years ago.

The Run Expectancy charts say that, from 2010-2015, if you had the bases loaded with nobody out you could expect to score 2.29 runs that inning. The Astros have scored one total run - and that was on a sacrifice fly. The only hit with runners in scoring position in last night's 2-1 loss to the Rangers came via a Carlos Gomez chopper to the side of the mound that Hamels couldn't field cleanly.

This is absurd. Unsustainable. (Right? RIGHT?! he screeched) So let's dig deeper and find someone we can blame for this mathematical monstrosity. But let's keep in mind that the composite average across the American League with runners in scoring position is .231 with a .280 BABIP.

Colby Rasmus and Tyler White are each 4x11 with two home runs when they come up with runners in scoring position. Of the 34 RBIs in situations where the Astros come to bat with runners in scoring position, Rasmus and White have combined for 16 of those RBI. Jose Altuve is 3x10 with 5RBI w/RISP. These three are excused and may now go to lunch.

George Springer is hitting .188 (3x16) with the aforementioned grand slam as his only damage. Carlos Correa is hitting .176 (3x17). Carlos Gomez is hitting .167 (2x12). Just to be clear, Correa and Gomez have almost as many GIDPs with runners in scoring position (4) as they have hits (5) combined.  Marwin is hitting .125 (1x8) with runners in scoring position. Jason Castro is hitting .100 (1x10). Luis Valbuena is hitting .091 (1x11). Erik Kratz, Evan Gattis, Jake Marisnick, and Preston Tucker have yet to hit water by falling out of the boat or blindly fall into a hit based on the randomness of baseball with runners in scoring position. This is a combined 0x19 with runners in scoring position. This is damn near impossible.

Just to get a wider-angle view of these stats, Altuve, White, and Rasmus are a combined 11x32 (.344) with runners in scoring position. The rest of the team (pitchers excluded) is a combined 11x93 (.118).

I don't know what sort of conclusion I can draw from these God-forsaken stats. Possibilities:

1) They're pressing. After all, the Astros have struck out in 43 of 136 plate appearances w/RISP (31.6%). The AL average is a strikeout in 23.2% of plate appearances w/RISP. Springer alone has seven strikeouts in 16 plate appearances w/RISP. Marwin has struck out in five of his eight plate appearances w/RISP. Gattis has struck out in three of his seven plate appearances. Marisnick has struck out in three of his five plate appearances. This makes sense.

2) It's just bad luck. A BABIP that low across the entire team has to even itself out over the course of the season. This makes sense, too. My fear is that #2 will turn into #1. Each player is going to try so hard to get that hit that they end up Springering the ball, and by that I mean "missing it completely by trying to hit a 600-foot home run."

3) Baseball is a faithless whore and because we are fans of the Houston Astros, a cursed team in a cursed city, we will never be able to have nice things. This, too, makes sense.

Are these small sample sizes? Of course they are, but the Astros have lost seven games by 1 or 2 runs, and have left a total of 46 men on base with a combined 6x59 with runners in scoring position in those seven losses. The sample size is small, but the inability to get a hit with runners in scoring position is looming quite large over the first 15 games of the season.