A Sputtering Offense

added 4/9/2008 by Scott Barzilla

When you consider the off-season the Astros had, a 3-6 start is really not all that surprising. Experts questioned their depth in the rotation and others wondered out loud if the bullpen would hold up. Well, beyond the struggles of Jose Valverde (the least likely not to hold up), the Astros pitchers have held up their end of the bargain. It has been the hitters that have failed.

So far, the Astros have produced this line of runs scored in their nine games: 0, 1, 9, 2, 4, 7, 2, 5, 3. If you add the total you get 33 runs. That is an average 3.67 runs per game. That just won't get it done in this age of baseball. As usual for the Astros, the five run mark is the magic number. They are 2-1 in games where they score five runs or more and 1-5 in games where they don't. So, this brings to mind the question of what is happening.

If we take run scoring out of the equation we can analyze the other numbers to determine what is going on. First, we will take a look at the team numbers before we move onto the individuals. We will take a look at walks, strikeouts, home runs, and stolen bases.

Walks: 22
Strikeouts: 54
Home runs: 11
Stolen bases: 10
Extra Base Hits: 31

The good news is that the Astros have a dynamic offense that includes speed and power. They are averaging more than three extra base hits per game and more than one home run per game. Additionally, they are also on pace to have 180 stolen bases on the season. All of that isn't bad.

The problem is the strikeout to walk ratio. Six strikeouts per game is not terrible, but it isn't good either. Meanwhile, the team's 22 walks is well below average. Of course, the culprits can clearly be seen when we look at the lineup's numbers. We'll look at the percentage stats and then K/BB.

Michael Bourn      .212/.293/.273   8/4
Hunter Pence       .179/.179/.282  10/0
Lance Berkman      .241/.313/.586   3/3
Carlos Lee         .278/.297/.611   4/1
Miguel Tejada      .273/.306/.606   4/1
Geoff Blum         .353/.353/.588   4/0
Mark Loretta       .200/.286/.240   4/3
J.R. Towles        .238/.385/.571   3/4

I could care less about batting average after nine games, but the other numbers show the real story. Five regulars have slugging percentages above .500. If Wigginton gets back into the picture it could be six. Obviously, the club is missing Wigginton and Kaz Matsui, but there are some numbers here that need to change.

Many within the club and in Astros Nation wanted Hunter Pence to hit second. These numbers indicate a change may be necessary when Matsui comes back. When your top two hitters combine for nearly as many strikeouts as the rest of the lineup it's not promising. When the second hitter draws zero walks through nine games you have to be alarmed. Pence must learn to lay off of pitches out of the zone or he will have the sophomore slump people are so afraid of.

Michael Bourn is a work in progress. He is tied for the team lead in walks, but he also is second in strikeouts. A leadoff hitter with his speed must make contact in order to be successful. Still, his speed on the basepaths and defense in centerfield are too good to ignore.

So, the question is how much we should worry. Personally, I am waiting for Wigginton and Matsui to come back before passing judgment on this offense. Matsui will offer more speed and Wigginton more power. Still, you have to steal first base before you can become effective as an offense. Like in year's past, the Astros hitters aren't doing enough of that in the early going.

Check out my blog at http://commons.chron.com/barzilla