CHICAGO, IL - JUNE 29: Second baseman Matt Downs #16 of the Houston Astros drops a pop fly after losing it in the sun off the bat of Alfonso Soriano of the Chicago Cubs in the first inning on June 29, 2012 at Wrigley Field in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Brian Kersey/Getty Images)
Currently, 78 major league position players have a fWAR greater than or equal to 2.6. None of these players play for the Astros.
Currently, 45 major league pitchers have an fWAR of 2.4 or greater. None of these players play for the Astros, either.
The Astros are, by a large margin, the worst team in baseball. And the reason why is simple: they simply don't have as many good players as other teams do. Their best players are "starter"-caliber by fWAR, and there aren't many of them. In fact, there are about three (or four). Their worst players are below-replacement or right at replacement level, and there are a bunch of these guys.
So, in a fit of masochism, let's examine why some of these Astros are so bad, and where their positive contributions are coming from.
Jed Lowrie has played pretty darn well this season, and leads the team in fWAR with 2.5. Jose Altuve has done a fine job as well, posting 2.4 fWAR, but has lost almost a full win from his offensive contributions due to poor fielding as judged by UZR. Beyond that, things are really terrible. These two players, along with Justin Maxwell, are the only ones still on the team to post a wRC+ better than league average while playing significant time for the Astros. Everyone else is not hitting. Jason Castro / Chris Snyder at catcher? Not hitting. J.D. Martinez, Jordan Schafer and Brian Bogusevic in the outfield? Not hitting. Matt Downs? Definitely not hitting. The team desperately needs league-average hitters in order to compete at all with other big league lineups.
One item of interest to Astros fans might be the (small sample size) good offensive performances thus far by Justin Maxwell and Brett Wallace. Wallace has a wRC+ of 133 over his 110 plate appearances, while Maxwell has a wRC+ of 106 over 251 PA. Maxwell especially distinguishes himself through 12 homers on the season. However, when we look at a certain peripheral stat, we see, well, bad news.
Maxwell has a strikeout rate of 31.9% on the season. Wallace, not to be outdone, is sitting at 33.6%. Out of curiosity, do you know how that fares among players with at least 100 PA? Not good. Both players are in the top-15 in the majors. They're striking out at a higher rate than Mark Reynolds. Maxwell is probably seeing something closer to his true talent level with all these strikeouts, he's popping enough HR to make him about a league-average hitter with all the strikeouts factored in. But Wallace has a .407 BABIP, which is, as you know, not sustainable. And, I happened to watch Maxwell fail miserably in two squeeze bunt attempts, creating outs from third base. This does kind of affect his value offensively, though not in a statistical sense.
New addition Tyler Greene and center fielder Jordan Schafer also show up in the top-30 list for strikeout percentage in the majors at 100+ PA. Scott Moore and Chris Snyder show up in the top-60. I know strikeouts are up across the league, but this is insane.
But we can't talk about the Astros without talking about their woeful starting rotation as well. Using fWAR as a guide, we can identify Lucas Harrell as the shining star of the Astro rotation, with his whopping 2.3 fWAR over 151.1 innings of work. I don't want to diminish Harrell, because that's actually not bad at all. Seven teams don't have a pitcher with that much fWAR. The problem is, that beyond Harrell, who's pitching like a serviceable #3 starter, there's basically nothing. Bud Norris has eaten innings, but has posted only 0.9 fWAR over his 125 innings. J.A. Happ and Wandy Rodriguez were ok, before they were dealt for more prospects. Now the team is left with only below-replacement level starters filling out the rotation, in guys like Armando Galarraga (-0.6 fWAR, 5 starts), Dallas Keuchel (-0.3 fWAR, 10 starts), and Jordan Lyles (-0.1 fWAR, 18 starts) behind them. It's basically a parade of Triple-A-quality starters in Houston right now.
Of course, Jeff Luhnow and the new Astros management (and ownership) squad has moved to try and acquire all of the prospects. By 2015, some of these players will have worked out to some extent or another, and the team may be ready to be competitive. But boy, oh boy, could this team use some real major league players in the meantime.