Astros lose an ugly series opener to the Angels

Astros daily report presented by APG&E: 3 hits from the 9-6 loss

Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images

After consecutive wins to work a series split in the four games with the Rangers over the weekend, the Astros had a tough pitching predicament in front of them for both Monday and Tuesday night's game with no real starter for either game. Here is a recap of the first of four games in Anaheim:

Final Score: Angels 9, Astros 6.

Record: 59-36, first in the AL West.

Winning pitcher: Justin Anderson (3-0, 4.05 ERA).

Losing pitcher: Framber Valdez (3-6, 5.58 ERA).

1) Strong open for Houston

As mentioned, the Astros had no true starter lined up for Monday night's game, causing them to elect to use an opener in Josh James. James filled the role well, getting a 1-2-3 first inning including a strikeout. Wrapped around his solid bottom of the first was Houston's attempt to give Framber Valdez, the extended pitcher of the night, a lead with which to work.

The Astros took advantage of Angels starter Griffin Canning's struggle with the strike zone in the first inning, getting four straight two-out walks to take a 1-0 lead. They extended that to 3-0 in the top of the second, scoring on a wild pitch and an RBI-single by Alex Bregman.

2) Same story for Valdez, different day

Even with the benefit of an opener, Framber Valdez simply could not break through from his recent pitching struggles. He would start his night with a scoreless second inning, but things would get progressively worse from there.

The Angels scored seven unanswered runs over the next three innings, getting a solo home run in the bottom of the third, scoring two more on a couple of hits in the fourth, then working three walks and scoring four runs on one hit and couple of sacrifices in the bottom of the fifth.

That made it a 7-3 game, erasing what was once a 3-0 Houston lead. Houston would not test their luck with Valdez any further, shutting him down after that inning. His final line: 4 IP, 6 H, 7 R, 4 ER, 4 BB, 4 K, 1 HR.

3) Unable to make the comeback

In the top of the sixth, the Astros were able to finally respond to all of Los Angeles' runs, getting a leadoff walk from Myles Straw to set up a two-run dinger from George Springer, trimming the lead to 7-5. With Valdez struggling mightily, Houston made the call to their bullpen earlier than they would have liked, bringing in Joe Smith for the bottom of the sixth.

Smith was able to work around a one-out double, getting a scoreless inning to keep the game at 7-5 going into the seventh. With Houston unable to convert another scoring opportunity in the top of the seventh, Collin McHugh took over on the mound in the bottom half of the inning, but he would be unable to get a clean inning, allowing two more runs to put the lead back at four runs.

George Springer continued doing his part, getting his second home run in as many at-bats to lead off the eighth inning, making it 9-6. Houston tasked McHugh with one more inning to try and conserve as much of their bullpen as possible, and he was able to deliver with a 1-2-3 bottom of the eighth.

Houston would go scoreless in the top of the ninth, ending the all-around ugly game and starting the series with a loss.

Up Next: The next game in this series will be another west-coast start at 9:07 PM on Tuesday. The Angels are expected to start Andrew Heaney (1-3, 5.18 ERA) while the Astros have not decided who they will send out first in what will likely be a bullpen day.

The Astros daily report is presented by APG&E.

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Here's what the data tells us about Bregman. Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images

Alex Bregman had a rough season in 2020 by his standards. He slashed .242/.350/.451 in 42 regular season games. His regular season included a trip to the 10-day IL for a hamstring strain he suffered in mid-August. His surface-level struggles continued in the postseason, where he slashed .220/.316/.300 in 13 games. However, that postseason sample size does include a tough luck game against the Tampa Bay Rays where he went 0-for-5 with five hard hit balls.

All-in-all, 2020 felt like a lost season for Bregman. He never really got going. He got off to a slow start, but he's always been a slow starter. Once he started to pick it up, he strained his hamstring, and he played poorly after returning from the hamstring strain. Then, he started to turn his batted ball quality around in the playoffs, but he hit into a lot of tough luck outs.

Hard Hit % - 33.6%

Barrel % - 3.9%

K% - 14.4%

BB% - 13.3%

Chase % - 18.1%

Bregman comes from the Michael Brantley school of hitters. He has elite plate discipline and elite bat-to-ball skills. This makes Bregman a fairly consistent hitter. That may sound odd considering his 2020 "struggles" but even an extended period of poor performance for him resulted in a .801 OPS and a 122 wRC+. If his valleys are still 22% better than the league average hitter, then that's a pretty reliable producer.

There aren't any alarming trends in Bregman's statistics. Yes, his K% was slightly up, his BB% is slightly down, but it isn't a massive difference in either category. His Chase % was up, but again, 18.1% is elite discipline. The biggest drop was in his Hard Hit%, where he fell from 38% to 33.6%. Even so, his average exit velocity only dropped .4 MPH, so there's not really a catastrophic trend here.

His .254 BABIP (Batting Average on Balls In Play) was low, but he's never put up really high BABIP numbers. In fact, his BABIP has gotten worse every year of his career, from .317 to .311 to .289 to .281 to .254. While his BABIP will likely spike back up next year, it isn't enough to be the difference between the 2019 and 2020 versions of himself. His xBA and xSLG weren't out of whack either. His .256 xBA isn't much better than his .240 AVG, and his .400 xSLG is actually worse than his .451 SLG.

Bregman is as forthcoming with his hitting mechanics, approach, and mental cues as any big leaguer out there. Here is what he had to say about his swing this year. This was a Zoom press conference with the media following the Astros game on September 25th against the Rangers.

Bregman says he wants to hit balls in the air to the pull side and on a line to the opposite field, but in reality, he was hitting flares to the opposite field and hitting them on the ground to the pull side.

The data mostly backs up that claim. In 2019, on balls hit to the pull side, Bregman had an average exit velocity of 90.7 MPH at an average launch angle of 16°, a 40% Hard Hit %, and a 16% HR%. Since Bregman has elite bat-to-ball skills, most of those metrics didn't change. In 2020, his average exit velocity was 90.6, essentially the same as 2019. His Hard Hit % was 42%, a touch better than in 2019. However, his average launch angle dipped from 16° to 11°, which contributed to his HR% dropping all the way to 9%. Bregman hit 47% of his pull side swings on the ground. In 2019, that number was 40%. He absolutely had less production to the pull side in 2020.

The data gets a little hazier going the opposite way when comparing 2019 to 2020, as Bregman actually performed slightly better to the opposite field in 2020 than 2019, but he also only had 20 batted balls to the opposite field all season. Considering the small sample size, it isn't worth diving too deep into the data.

He's right that most of the balls he hit that way were flares. He had an average exit velocity of 83.4 MPH with an average launch angle of 32°, but that's about the same as what he did in 2019. A lot of the statistical drop off comes from balls that were backspun rockets to the pull side in 2019 becoming top spinners or roll overs in 2020.

Bregman also performed horribly against breaking balls in 2020. He batted .150 with a .250 SLG against them in 2020. He had an 84 MPH Average Exit Velocity against them and whiffed 26.5% of the time against them.

It was a far cry from 2019, when he hit .265 with a .588 SLG, 87 MPH average exit velo, and whiffed 18% of the time.

Those numbers lend credence to his statement on his mechanics. It's tough for a hitter to have adjustability against breaking balls if he's blowing out his front side and pulling off of the baseball.

Bregman will spend the offseason working on these mechanical fixes and getting back to the hitter he used to be. If he's consistently hitting the ball in the air to the pull side next year, and he's performing better against breaking balls, then he should be right back in the mix for AL MVP.

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