Houston Astros: Three areas where team pitching must improve

Josh James of the Houston Astros (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
Josh James of the Houston Astros (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images) /

Houston Astros fans, there are three big-picture areas where the team’s hurlers need improvement. Take a look to see what’s going on.

After 18 games of action, the Houston Astros possess an 8-10 record, good for third place in the AL West. To some degree due to their on-field struggles, the Astros remain lucky to be near .500 at this point in the season.

Most notably, the Houston Astros’ offense has experienced difficulty driving in runners and currently ranks 29th in the majors by stranding an average of 4.17 base runners per game. But how is the pitching doing?

Area One: Team ERA

Currently, the Houston Astros pitching staff ranks 11th in the majors, with an underachieving 4.03 ERA. As a matter of fact, the difference between where the Astros rank and 22nd place—currently held by the Los Angeles Angels who possess a team ERA of 4.54—is only .45 hundredths. So while 11th place might seem like a solid position for the time being, the Houston Astros’ pitching staff remains a bad outing or two away from plummeting down toward the bottom of MLB’s team ERA rankings.

Area Two: Allowed walks

Furthermore, control remains an issue as the Astros rank second-to-last in the big leagues by allowing 81 walks to opposing batters through this point of the season. Additionally, by allowing so many bases on balls, opposing hitters—even those who do not wind up walking—are likely receiving more hitter-friendly counts, forcing the Astros’ pitchers to throw more get-me-over fastballs in situations that can allow major league batters to make the Astros’ hurlers pay on the scoreboard.

Area Three: Allowed hits

The Astros also rank in the bottom-third of all 30 teams by having allowed 156 hits through their first 18 games. In contrast, Cleveland’s pitching staff leads all teams who have played at least 18 games by allowing just 118 hits on the season—nearly 40 fewer hits than the Astros.

Ultimately the high number of walks and base hits allowed to opposing hitters has earned Houston a 25th-place ranking in the category of WHIP—the number of walks and hits allowed to opposing batters per innings pitched. The Astros’ front office, and manager, Dusty Baker, for that matter, must continue to emphasize pitching command as a prerequisite for earning on-field playing time.

Chasing Cleveland

Right now, it’s hard to say enough about the on-field performance of the Cleveland Indians’ pitching staff. Not only does Cleveland lead the majors in WHIP, they also possess the second-lowest team ERA in the majors among teams who have played at least 18 games. Moreover, Cleveland’s starting rotation also leads MLB by accumulating 15 quality starts—a stat that essentially acknowledges when a starting pitcher throws at least six innings and gives up three runs or fewer.

You might ask, what does that have to do with the Astros? Well, for one, if the Astros’ starters accumulate more quality starts by consistently pitching at least six innings and giving up no more

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than three runs, Houston’s bullpen would receive significantly more rest.

Furthermore, if the Astros’ pitching staff surrendered just 48 walks to this point of the season like Cleveland has accomplished—as opposed to the 81 walks Houston has allowed—33 fewer base runners would have stood on the basepaths against the Astros, perhaps even changing the outcome of the Astros’ overall record. The Astros’ pitching staff desperately needs to contest every allowed base runner in an effort to limit scoring damage and ultimately assist Houston’s offense struggling out of the gate to score enough runs.

The good news for Houston is not only that the ball club should have two-thirds of their season ahead of them to right the ship with 2019 AL Rookie of the Year slugger, Yordan Álvarez, but that Astros’ manager, Dusty Baker, continues to emphasize pitching command as a prerequisite for pitchers to gain on-field playing time, especially for his relievers desiring to earn the right to pitch in high-leverage situations.

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Houston Astros fans, what do you think has been the biggest issue up to this point in the season, and why?