Bill Gilbert: Astros Bats on Fire in July

SABR colleague and analyst Bill Gilbert presents his monthly report on the July portion of the 2017 Houston Astros MLB season. As always, it is both confirming and informative to anyone who cares to follow the Astros season on a more complete level. As always too, The Pecan Park Eagle thanks Bill Gilbert for all of his contributions to our efforts here.

 

Astros Bats on Fire in July

By Bill Gilbert

billcgilbert@sbcglobal.net

 

When a pitching staff allows a 5.08 ERA as Astros pitchers did in July, a downturn could be expected. Not so with the 2017 team as the Astros batters recorded possibly their best month ever, leading the major leagues in essentially every offensive category by a wide margin and posting a 15-9 record to increase their lead in the AL West division from 13.5 games at the end of June to 16 games at the end of July.

In July, the Astros led the major leagues in batting average (.323), on-base percentage (.380), slugging percentage (.568), runs per game (7.25), home runs (44) and stolen bases (23). Their on-base plus slugging average of .948 was more than 100 points higher than the runner up Colorado Rockies at .840.

Essentially everyone contributed to the offensive explosion in July. Jose Altuve led the way, batting .485 for the month with an on-base average of .523 and a slugging percentage of .727, leading the major leagues in all three categories. Included in the month were a 19 game hitting streak and six straight games with three hits. Carlos Correa and George Springer both batted over .400 and six others batted over .300. Ten players had slugging averages over .500, led by Correa at .833. Evan Gattis and Marwin Gonzalez had a team-leading six home runs and Josh Reddick and Altuve each drove in 21 runs. Altuve was named the league’s player of the month in July and Yuli Gurriel was named rookie of the month. Unfortunately, Springer and Correa, both having MVP caliber seasons, suffered injuries and finished the month on the disabled list.

The pitching was another story. Ace Dallas Keuchel was on the DL for most of June and July. He made only one start in July after returning and lasted just 3 innings. Lance McCullers Jr. came off the DL in late June and made four starts in July, none of which were successful (0-2, 9.64 ERA), before returning to the DL with back problems. Collin McHugh, on the DL all season, finally came back and made two starts. He struggled in his first start but pitched well in the second one.

Another impact of the starting pitcher problem is the toll it puts on the bullpen. Astro relievers posted an ERA of 2.91 in April but it has declined every month since then to 3.88, 5.14, and 5.79 in July. The team used 19 different pitchers in July. Relievers, Will Harris, Michael Feliz and Tony Sipp, finished the month on the disabled list.

Compounding the pitching problem was the failure by the Astros to trade for a front line pitcher before the July 31 non-waiver trading deadline. Unfortunately, their likely opponents in the post season (Red Sox, Yankees, Nationals, Cubs and Dodgers) did. The Astros did pick up a left-handed relief pitcher (Francisco Liriano) who should help but the big need is for more depth in the starting rotation, especially in view of the injury history of the current starters. Before the deadline, the Astros were widely considered to be a likely World Series participant but that sentiment seems to have shifted to the Yankees and Dodgers.

Fortunately, second line starters Charlie Morton, Brad Peacock and Mike Fiers all pitched reasonably well as the team won 11 of the 14 games started by these three pitchers.

The Astros placed six players in the All Star Game played on July 11. Altuve, Springer and Correa were all in the starting lineup but went 0 for 7 with 4 strikeouts, suggesting that the strong pitching they are likely to see in the playoffs will be a notch above what they are seeing in the regular season. Chris Devenski pitched a scoreless inning but Keuchel and McCullers did not appear in the game.

Probably the most remarkable aspect of the Astros successful season is their consistency, particularly in road games, where their record is 32-14. They have done well in interleague games against NL teams with a record of 9-1. Through July, they had played 33 series winning 23 and losing only 8 with two series splits. They have lost only two series on the road and the only teams with a winning record against Houston are the Cleveland Indians, Boston Red Sox and Kansas City Royals, all potential playoff opponents. From June 14 through July 28, the Astros never lost two straight games.

Can the Astros continue this record pace? It will be difficult with the questionable condition of the pitching staff and the uncertain availability of Springer and Correa.   It’s not reasonable to expect July’s offense to continue. Their lead in the AL West Division appears insurmountable with the other teams in the Division unable to mount a serious threat. The focus should be in preparation for the playoffs where they will need to be at full strength to prevail.

8/3/17

********************

Bill McCurdy

Principal Writer, Editor, Publisher

The Pecan Park Eagle

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