Will the Astros Get Their Clutch Back?

Monday night, in their best game of the season, the Astros clobbered the Oakland A’s, 16-2. Might I add, demolished, humiliated annihilated, extinguished, spoliated the Oakland A’s 16-2.

It was a historic performance, with George Springer achieving the rare 6 hit in a game plateau, the only Astro to do so in a nine inning game and, by the way, one of those was a 462 ft. dinger, Springer style.

It was the third largest margin of victory for the Astros since 2015 (what I call the CHAMPIONSHIP ERA), the fourth most runs, and the second highest WOBA in a game since the obliteration of the Minnesota Twins in the Memorial Day Weekend Massacre in 2017.

Yes Astro fans, you all remember that glorious weekend, when the World Champions would find their World Series mojo, that amazing Memorial Day when they came from behind 8-2 at the beginning of the eighth inning and began the windmill action that would result in a 16-8 humiliation of the poor Twinkies bullpen. Two days later they topped themselves, winning 17-6 with 6 home runs and a game WOBA of .552

Monday night Astros posted a WOBA of .533.

So will Monday’s game, like the MDM (Memorial Day Massacre), be remembered as the game when the Astros’ dormant, underachieving bats finally exploded?

Time alone will tell. Caution: except for being the most runs scored by the Astros this season, last Monday’s game does not contradict a season long pattern.

The Astros have been feast or famine all year. In 37 games they have scored 6 or more runs 17 times but have scored only 1 run in eight games and have been shut out in 3. Their average margin of victory has been 5.2 runs, but their average margin of defeat has been only 2.4.

They have scored 6.67 runs per game in their wins, only 2.3 in their losses. In short, they have tended to have lopsided victories when the offense exploded to easy wins, or close losses when the offense disappeared and the excellent pitching kept the game close.

This year the Astros have been a superb hitting team when they have had a lead, and a very poor hitting team when they are tied or trailing. And they have been abysmally bad in clutch situations. This is almost an exact reversal of their pattern from last year.

According to Baseball Reference, the Astros OPS+ when they lead by 4 or more runs is 125, compared to a league average of 108. When they merely have a lead they hit 117+, compared to a league average of 103.

When the Astros are behind, they hit 88 OPS+, compared to a league average of 106. When the score is tied they hit 87, compared to a league average of 101.

When the game is late and close, the Astros hit 97. The league average is 107.

Here’s the killer. With runners in scoring position and 2 outs, the Astros’ OPS+ is 57, league average 93. (All numbers before Monday’s game)

What this means is this. So far this year, the Astros have tended to score profusely when they didn’t need to, and have often failed to score when they did.

This is almost a complete reversal from last year.

Unfortunately, I do not have statistics for the similar time of the season from last year, but only the season averages, and we know that it was about this time last year that their bats took off. But using season averages we find that the Astros were better when they needed runs than they were when they were ahead. Their OPS+ when behind was 122, league average 101. Late and close the 2017 Astros were 136, league average 101. In a tie game they hit 115 OPS+, league average 100. With runners in scoring position and 2 outs, the Stros slugged at a 136 clip, league average 98.

The Astros were better last year than the league across the board in all situations, but not as good as this year’s Astros when they were ahead by 4 or more runs. Last year they were 110 OPS+ when ahead by 4 or more runs, this year’s Stros 125. Last year, when ahead, the Astros hit 116 OPS+, this year’s team 117.

In general, this year’s Astros are at their best when they are in the least leveraged situations.  Last year’s Astros were at their best when they were in the most leveraged situations.

In other words, last year the Astros were at their best when they most needed to be, in close games, late, and with runners in scoring position, 2 outs. This year’s team outperforms league averages only when they are ahead, and mostly when they are ahead by 4 or more runs. Although the Astros, after last Monday’s slugfest are eighth in the league in OPS, no doubt if one subtracts the pile on games, this ranking would drop. Of course that is true of every team, but the Astros have scored a disproportionate amount of their runs in pile on situations so far in this young season.

So did Monday’s game change the pattern, like the MDM, or is it just the same pattern? Time alone will tell.