Houston Astros Early Season Stock Watch

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SEATTLE, WA - APRIL 11: Jose Altuve #27 of the Houston Astros runs to first base after bunting during a game against the Seattle Mariners at Safeco Field on April 11, 2017 in Seattle, Washington. The Astros won the game 7-5. (Photo by Stephen Brashear/Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** Jose Altuve

It’s late April, and the Houston Astros are 10% through their regular season schedule. Sitting at 11-5, with a three game lead over the American League West, it has certainly been a promising start for the young, but talented Astros. While still early in the season, stats are beginning to normalize. Finding both Mike Trout and Bryce Harper in the top three of WAR is a good way to know we can start making some takeaways from the action we’ve seen thus far.

Houston Astros Early Season Stock Watch

There’s still a lot of baseball to be played. Power will begin to shift. Some top contenders are still playing without the top of their rotation – David Price, we’re looking at you. However, it’s time to examine the start of the season for the Houston Astros.

George Springer‘s Powerful Start

Entering Thursday’s action, George Springer is hitting .234/.290/.578 with seven home runs – tied for the MLB lead. Last season, a year in which he hit .261/.359.457 and 29 dingers, it too him 35 games to get to seven home runs. This year he did it in only 15 games. Even if the ball is juiced, it’s impossible to bet that Springer will hit the 71 home runs that he’s on pace for. Ultimately, it’s safe to say that Springer’s average and OBP will rise as same size increases, but this power streak has to end at some point. Verdict: Sell

Dallas Keuchel‘s Return to Cy Young Form

Looking at basic stats it’s pretty simple to see the change in Dallas Keuchel‘s performance from the start of last season to the start of this season. Last season, Keuchel pitched only 168.0 innings – he apparently played most of the season with shoulder pain. This was evident based on his performance in his 2015 Cy Young season to his 2016 season, when his ERA jumped from 2.48 to 4.55 in just one season. Below is data the first four starts of Keuchel’s MVP Season (2015), his underwhelming 2016 season, and the start to this season.

Innings Pitched Hits Earned Runs Walks
2015 First 4 29.0 13 2 11
2016 First 4 26.2 27 11 11
2017 First 4 28.0 16 3 6

While it only represents data from the first four starts to the season, it’s easy to see how Keuchel’s hot start looks very reminiscent of his 2015 season. He’s not going to post a 0.96 ERA this season, and he likely won’t finish the season top 3 in WAR. However, I’m buying that Keuchel is back to being the top-of-the-rotation ace we saw two season ago. Verdict: Buy 

Chris Devenski‘s Versatility and Hot Start

In the days of diverse classification and use of relief pitchers, even Chris Devenski‘s usage seems a little strange. The best title I could think to give him is a “long-distance closer”. Last year, Devenski’s first in the majors, he started five games, closed out 16 games, and appeared before the sixth inning an additional eight times. In his five appearances this season, Devenski is being used more as a typical reliever – he has not made an appearance prior to the sixth inning. However, on two occasions, he’s thrown four innings.

In his five appearances this season, Devenski has thrown 13.1 innings and allowed only two earned runs on seven hits. His SO/9 is at a ludicrous 16.9. In an age where you have to pay over $6 million per win in free agency, Devenski has already accumulated a WAR of 0.6 in 2017 despite making only 554,000 this season. Devenski’s versatility is something that can’t be overstated; his mental makeup makes this an unsellable asset. But his performance has to fall off to some degree. It’s unrealistic to expect the second year pro to post an ERA of 1.35 for the season. Verdict: Sell

The Starts for Altuve and Correa

To break this one down, we’re going to approach it a little differently than how we have looked at the previous three players. Entering the season, the Fangraphs Steamer projection algorithm had projected both Carlos Correa and Jose Altuve in the top 15 in positional WAR for 2017 (Correa at 10. Altuve at 15).  Through 16 games Altuve is at 40th in WAR and Correa is at 125.

Altuve is getting on base just like one would expect – he’s currently hitting .311/.336/.377. In 2016, he hit .338/.396/.531. The obvious difference here is the power. Altuve hit 24 long balls in 2016 and has failed to hit one yet this season. One doesn’t hit 24 homers by accident; Jose’s power will come back.

The difference for Correa is different. He’s simply not getting on base OR hitting for power. 2016 Correa hit .274/.361/.451. The start of this season is a very cold .224/.316/.286. Thankfully, the hand injury suffered a week ago in Oakland seems not to be a major deal. Correa is just too good of a ballplayer to not get back to MVP-candidate form. Verdict: Buy Buy Buy

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