Houston Astros Disappoint Early in 2016
After a decade of turmoil and frustration, the Houston Astros finally got the monkey off their back and made the playoffs last year. Then they had the Kansas City Royals on the ropes in the American League Division Series, but Houston let them off the hook in Game 4 before getting bounced in Game 5. Kansas City went on to win the World Series. It could have been the Astros celebrating their first title in franchise history.
It might be a while longer before they get another shot. Houston was pegged as a +1600 World Series contender heading into the 2016 campaign, but after a difficult 5-8 start (–4.77 betting units), the Astros have already fallen to +2000. Is it time to cut bait? Or is Houston just going through some early-season growing pains?
Maybe both. This franchise is on the rise under GM Jeff Luhnow, who took over the post in late 2011 after a successful stint in the St. Louis Cardinals front office. Luhnow seems to have the right combination of scouting and analytics to get the job done in today’s game. For example, Luhnow picked up starter Collin McHugh off the scrap heap in 2013 after he was waived by the Colorado Rockies. With some guidance from the computers, McHugh (3.58 FIP in 2015) started throwing more sliders and fewer fastballs, and he ended up earning 8.84 units last year on a team record of 21-11.
Let’s hope those Houston supporters didn’t spend all that money in one place. McHugh didn’t even last one inning in his 2016 debut, giving up five earned runs in a 16-6 loss to the New York Yankees (–128 at home). After splitting his next two starts, Houston is down 1.3 units thus far with McHugh on the mound. Overall, Houston ranks No. 22 in pitching this year with a 4.44 team FIP. That’s a criminal lack of support for a batting order that ranks fifth in the majors at 2.4 WAR.
Lance, Make ’em Dance
Help is on the way. Lance McCullers, who burst upon the scene in 2015 with a 95-mph fastball and a 3.26 FIP, has yet to play as a sophomore because of an inflamed right shoulder. McCullers was scratched from last rehab start after a minor setback, but it looks like he’ll be ready for a call-up sometime next month.
Meanwhile, Houston’s batting order has gotten a boost with the return of catcher/designated hitter Evan Gattis (.748 OPS last year) who suffered from a hernia this past February. The Astros are healthy otherwise. Assuming they stay that way, this bump in the road should be temporary, and Houston should carry some betting value into the summer months.