"We want to be relevant in August and September, with a chance to play in October," Houston Astros GM Jeff Luhnow said.
The Astros are leading the American League with 20 victories. No, that is not a typo.
This is the same franchise that was considered a Major League laughingstock not too long ago, winning 56, 55, 51, and 70 games over the past four seasons, respectively.
The Astros hot start has many wondering whether they can actually make something of it. Something meaning a postseason birth, or better yet, a division crown.
I, for one, am putting my stock into this 2015 Astros team and am also saying that the best is yet to come for the club.
The Astros' offensive unit is amongst the best in baseball, ranking eighth in weighted runs created plus (wRC+)* with 101. They're second in the big leagues with 45 home runs, and have the third highest walk rate, despite striking out the second most. The Astros also have the second-most stolen bases in baseball.
The Astros' offensive unit has posted 5.2 wins above replacement, seventh in baseball.
The really scary thing about those numbers is that the Astros' team batting average on balls in play (BABIP)** is .275, 23rd in the Major Leagues, and right around struggling offensive units in the Phillies and Reds. The Astros could be even better on the offensive than they are right now. Scary, huh?
Their pitching staff has been closer to how it should be performing than their offense. The Astros staff (bullpen and rotation) as a whole has the eighth-best ERA in baseball at 3.45. As their 3.61 FIP*** and 3.50 xFIP suggest, the Astros pitching is doing pretty much as well as it should be.
"We’ve gotten off to the start that we wanted to," General Manager Jeff Luhnow said during an Astros TV broadcast. "It really is jelling in a way that you get a sense they believe in themselves now. That’s a big difference from this team’s last couple of seasons."
Luhnow has played a big part in the Astros successes this season, bringing in a few key offseason additions. Those include outfielder/catcher Evan Gattis, outfielder Colby Rasmus, shorstop Jed Lawrie (who is injured), and starting pitcher Roberto Hernandez. These cost-effective moves have been effective performers on the field as well.
Luhnow pushed away critics and stuck to his system, even if it meant being one of the worst teams in Major League baseball history three seasons in a row.
As the Astros have a six game lead in the AL West, they're ready to be relevant once again.
*wRC+ measures how well a player (or team) produces runs. However, it is adjusted to park and league factors. A wRC+ of 100 is considered the big league "average," with every point over 100 being worth one percentage point better than the MLB average
**BABIP measures the batting average a player (or team) has when putting the ball in play. A .300 BABIP is considered league-average, so therefore if a player (or team) has a BABIP under .300, they are considered unlucky.
***FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching) takes the defense (good or bad) out of a pitcher's performance and bases how their ERA should be plainly on how well they have been limiting walks and getting strikeouts. xFIP is a variation of FIP that normalizes a pitcher's home run rate (home run rates tend to normalize as season goes on) to league-average to give you a better understanding of how lucky that pitcher has been.
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