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The Houston Astros’ offense is on a historically good pace

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The Yankees just surpassed them on the all-time list, but the Astros will likely take that position back by the end of the season.

Houston Astros v Kansas City Royals Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images

The Astros currently have the best record in baseball and a ridiculously large lead in the AL West. The starting pitching has been stellar, with Dallas Keuchel and Lance McCullers leading the way with a 1.78 RA9 and 2.93 RA9, respectively. Unfortunately, those two are on the DL at the moment. Fortunately, however, Houston’s offense is capable of making up for the loss.

The Astros are currently second only to the Yankees in runs scored per game at 5.52, and also second in offense when adjusting for league and park effects. The Nationals are a distant third by wRC+. Their Sports Illustrated cover featuring the Astros from three years ago became very famous, thanks to its bold claim of Houston victory in 2017. Predicting the current season’s World Series champ is difficult enough; a prediction three years in advance is... something.

With the Astros’ rebuilding efforts, projecting them to be a great team in 2017 was not exactly a hot take. That being said, I highly doubt that anybody projected the offense to be this good going in April of this year, let alone in 2014.

If we look at the league’s history since 1920, the start of the live-ball era, and sort by wRC+, the current Astros team currently ranks 15th on the list, tied with several other teams. That is 15th out of 2,162 entries. As one would expect, the 1927 Yankees are at the top of the list.

You might have noticed that the current Yankees team is even higher on the list at number nine. I assure you that was not the case a week ago, but then Aaron Judge did things this weekend that left the Orioles and their fans traumatized. He had seven hits in 15 PA with two doubles and three home runs. Two of those home runs were anything but ordinary. One of them broke the Statcast record for exit velocity at 121 MPH, and another one broke the Statcast record for longest home run at 496 feet.

Judge’s barrage in the past week raised the Yankees wRC+ to 120. I covered the Yankees the other day, and how several of their hitters are meeting or exceeding their 90th percentile PECOTA projections. This is why they are on a historic pace themselves, but it is probably less sustainable. They currently rank ninth in the live-ball era. Six of the eight teams ahead of them are also Yankees teams. That’s just... great.

The big difference between the Yankees and the Astros right now is how reliant the Yankees are on a single player for their offensive success. Judge’s .476 wOBA is over 50 points higher than the next best bat on the team. This calculation is a bit rough, but if we filter Judge out of the Yankees offense, their wRC+ drops down to about 113. The Astros’ offense is more spread out and likely more sustainable as a result.

The Astros do have a few players exceeding their mean PECOTA projections, but that is a far cry from seven players exceeding their 90th percentile projections. The big outlier in Houston has been Marwin González, who is hitting .303/.401/.594 with 12 HR in 184 PA. He has never been more than a slightly above-average hitter prior to this season, yet his current wRC+ of 167 is ranked fifth in baseball among hitters with at least 170 PA. His hard-hit rate is in line with his career rate, and his 27.3 percent HR/FB ratio is absurdly high. However, he has more than doubled his walk rate, and he is also spreading his batted balls to all fields. González will come back to earth, but he is likely more than a little bit better than he used to be.

And the rest of the Astros are hitting exceptionally well too. José Altuve’s offense is only slightly worse than his huge breakout last year. George Springer seems to have found his power from his rookie year. Josh Reddick and Evan Gattis are both performing at expectations with above-average offense. After a rough start to the season, Carlos Correa is still Carlos Correa.

Brian McCann was a league-average hitter in New York, but he is currently having his best offensive season since 2008. His contact rates have improved substantially over what he was doing over the past few seasons. His 12.5 percent strikeout rate ranks 20th in baseball among players with at least 160 PA. He has some HR/FB luck, but nothing crazy. He is also locked up through 2018.

The Astros’ offense is accomplishing all of this even with Alex Bregman and Carlos Beltrán having disappointing seasons. Bregman is hitting a mediocre .245/.319/.401. I believe that he will improve based solely on what scouts have said about him. He was projected as having a plus hit tool, and ESPN’s Keith Law had him at the top of his mid-season top-50 prospects list, citing a surprising amount of power. His strikeout and walk rates have improved over last year when he was an above-average hitter in his 49-game debut. Sophomore hitters often go through a rocky period of adjustment; I believe Bregman will improve.

It is harder to be as optimistic about my man Beltrán. He is hitting only .237/.283/.414 as the team’s primary DH. That is the line of a sub-replacement level player. It could be that father time has finally caught up to the 40-year-old future-Hall of Famer. His strikeout rates are the highest of his career, and he is not walking much anymore. His line drive rate is also down substantially. The rest of the Astros are more than making up for Beltrán’s struggles, but it is tough to get so little production from your DH (and remarkable that Houston is hitting so well despite that).

This year might be the Astros’ best chance at winning their first World Series, and I say that factoring in their 102-win season in 1998 and their only World Series appearance in 2005. Along with Jeff Bagwell finally entering the Hall of Fame at the end of next month, this could be a year to remember for Astros fans.

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Luis Torres is a Featured Writer at Beyond the Box Score. He is a medicinal chemist by day, baseball analyst by night. You can follow him on Twitter at @Chemtorres21.