MLB Regression Report: Astros hitting, Guardians pitching

By Adam Burke  (VSiN.com) 

June 14, 2022 09:45 PM
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It seems like we’ve had two major-league baseball seasons in the first two months. Based on the data, it looks like May 14 was a turning point for offense, as the baseball started to actually travel farther and perform more like the ball we’ve seen over the last few seasons. That represented a huge departure from the dead ball of April and early May. 

I’ve been trying to cross out what happened before mid-May because those numbers don’t seem particularly relevant based on the run environment we’ve seen over the last four weeks. With that in mind, there are some really interesting teams and position groups that stand out for this week’s Regression Report. 

Positive regression

Houston Astros offense

The Astros lead the AL West and once again look like the class of the division, but the way in which they’ve gotten to that point is really surprising. For the full season, the Astros ranked eighth in weighted on-base percentage (wOBA) at .320 heading into Monday’s games. Since May 14, the Astros are also eighth at .334, which is a good indicator of how offense has improved across the league but also shows how consistent Houston has been … except for one key area.

The Astros are 22nd in wOBA with men in scoring position for the full season and 25th since May 14. Houston’s .295 wOBA over the last month or so ranks better than only the Pirates, Diamondbacks, Cubs, Tigers and Athletics. Houston’s glaring weakness with RISP is hitting for power. The team ranks 24th in SLG for the full season and 26th with May 14 as the cut-off point. 

This offense is too good to continue to lag in that department. Minute Maid Park has suppressed offensive performance, but guys like Yordan Alvarez and Alex Bregman are getting the most RISP chances, and that bodes well. While they’re still performing well in that split, they’re not hitting for power. That should change as the season goes along. 

Even without situational hitting, this is a really good ballclub. Imagine when those fortunes turn.

Negative regression

Cleveland Guardians pitching

Last week, the Guardians offense featured prominently in the Regression Report for their two-out prowess with men in scoring position. This week, the pitching staff features prominently for a similar reason. Cleveland’s hurlers are stranding a lot of baserunners these days. If the offensive and pitching regression come at the same time, this is a team that could go on a prolonged run of losing baseball, which seems plausible. 

For the season, Cleveland ranks 13th in LOB% as a pitching staff and fourth as a bullpen. Since May 14, however, the Guardians were tops in baseball as a bullpen and 5.1% better than everyone else (the Blue Jays were second) heading into Monday’s action. For the pitching staff as a whole, the 82.3% LOB% was 3.1% clear of the Rays for the best in baseball. 

The Guardians are a very strong defensive team, but being that much of an outlier above other teams is very unlikely to continue. The bullpen had a 1.96 ERA with a 3.21 FIP and the pitching staff as a whole had a 2.85 ERA with a 3.98 FIP. Given that offense is a lot more prominent now than it was earlier in the season, Cleveland’s ability to maintain this sort of pace should be taken into question. 

To add more fuel to that fire, the Guardians' schedule since May 14 has featured the Twins, Reds, Tigers, Astros, Tigers again, Royals, Orioles, Rangers and Athletics. When looking at smaller samples, level of competition has to be considered. The Guardians now face the Rockies (at Coors), Dodgers, Twins, Red Sox, Twins again and Yankees heading into the July 4 holiday. I’d expect them to struggle badly through that stretch given all of these regression indicators.

Strength of schedule

The Atlanta Braves have been on a major run lately, entering this week winners of 11 in a row, as they took advantage of playing the Diamondbacks, Rockies, Athletics and Pirates. Nothing makes a team look better than facing a bunch of bottom feeders.

After visiting the Nationals and Cubs this week, the Braves face the Giants, Dodgers, Phillies, Reds and Cardinals. Obviously one of those teams sticks out like a sore thumb, but the degree of difficulty increases soon. It doesn’t take long for MLB teams to fall into tiers, and the tier with bad teams has a lot of really bad teams. Somebody else gets to play those teams now and they may have similar success to what the Braves had. Isolating those runs before they happen may be as easy as looking at the schedule. 

For example, the Seattle Mariners might see an uptick in their performance, as they play seven games against the A’s between June 23 and July 3, with the Angels and Orioles in between. Use the schedule as a guide to find teams that could get hot and go on a run so you can jump in before they get overpriced. 

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