Last year I wrote an article predicting the demise of the HOU Astros offense. The basis was about being able to identify the single best pitcher’s “out pitch” in the game, the slider. The cheating scandal exposed the Astros ability to know what pitches were coming. In the year 2019, they were 39.1 runs above an average offense against the slider, but compared to true league average (-18.9), they were 58 runs better! Their offense was 10x better than the 3rd place MIN Twins. It is embarrassing at how much the advantage of knowing the pitch is worth. In this case, I am only referring to one pitch, the slider. I made the case the HOU Astros would suffer a large loss of productivity. If now you don’t know what pitch is coming, you are at the mercy of your hitters’ ability to pick up spin.
Let’s see if that forecast became reality or not. The Astros finished 2020 #17 in the league in OFF WAR at -0.3 WAR. This is average. However, in 2019, they were #1 in MLB with 201.6 OFF WAR and NYY were 2nd with 128.4. I had surmised the Astros would be at least 57 runs worse. I didn’t know anything about a pandemic imposed short season. Finishing 2020 with -0.3 OFF WAR indicates a drop of much more than 57, but the impact wasn’t noticed as much as if it were to be strung out over the full 162 games. Going from a shameful margin of being #1 to less than middle of the pack, is what I though would happen. This was a dismal season for Bregman, Correa, and Altuve.
The HOU batters are NOT as good as their representation due to their false numbers. Now having been level set, they produced a real number. The Astros were #17 in OFF WAR, #18 wOBA, and #17 in wRC+. They finished #20 in team batting average. An obvious strength in years past, has become a weakness. This does get reflected in their wins and losses. They won 29 games last year while losing 31. They were the only team in MLB to make the extended playoffs with a losing record! BaseRuns suggest that while they finished 2nd to OAK (7 games back), they should have finished 3rd behind the LA Angels as well. BaseRuns is a model indicating what a teams results should have been based on their OFF and DEF play on the field. Coinciding with the drop in offense, the Astros went from the 9th best defense to the 27th best! Maybe this is a sign of the constant pressure to perform under new circumstances, poor morale, or new culture.
Hiring Dusty Baker was a good idea due to his player friendly approach. He also has the ability to move the spotlight on himself so the players do not have to have uncomfortable in dealings with the media. The 2021 season should see a change in the media access to the team. Sure zoom calls will be prevalent to start, but as the season builds, the media will gain more and more access. Someone will bring this topic up and it will be interesting to hear the replies. I suspect, the league will also have more retaliation attempts this season. It was a common topic going into last year, so it was on the forefront in the public. A season later, the players are still upset over the scandal and might seek redemption as the public eye gets removed and put onto other things.
Case made! If a batter knows the pitch that is on the way, the results will be very good. Hence pitchers that tip their pitches get rocked. the HOU Astros are not the team of past World Series and the players are not the great quality assumed that they were. This season will be interesting to see as Correa wants a large deal. Maybe he just isn’t that good. He and Bregman, and Altuve all have something to prove….their worth as a non-cheater!