Astros drop series opener against the Cardinals

Astros daily report presented by APG&E: 3 hits from the 5-3 loss

Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images

After closing out their recent homestand by winning a rubber game against the A's on Wednesday afternoon, the Astros took to the road to start a six-game stretch as visitors. First up was a weekend series against the Cardinals in St. Louis. Here is how the opener went:

Final Score: Cardinals 5, Astros 3.

Record: 66-39, first in the AL West.

Winning pitcher: Andrew Miller (4-4, 3.57 ERA).

Losing pitcher: Ryan Pressly (2-2, 2.03 ERA).

1) Correa is back

Friday night's game ended the Astros' 50-game stretch without their starting shortstop, Carlos Correa. He was back on the field and in the lineup for the series opener, and he saw some action right away defensively, fielding a few groundballs and showing off his arm strength for a few throws to first.

He would not generate the first highlight on offense, though, as that honor would go to Michael Brantley. After a one-out walk by Alex Bregman, Brantley took advantage by launching a two-run homer to put Houston on the board and in front 2-0.

2) Another quality start for Urquidy

Jose Urquidy, who had a surprisingly good seven-inning one-run start against the Rangers his last time on the mound, provided an excellent follow-up against the surging Cardinals. He allowed just one run, which came in the fourth inning after he allowed three singles in what would be his worst inning of the night.

Otherwise, he was efficient and avoided too many high-leverage situations. He went on to complete six innings while allowing just the one run, making it back-to-back quality starts. Urquidy's final line: 6 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 2 BB, 6 K, 0 HR.

3) Houston's bullpen unable to hold up

Unfortunately, though Urquidy would leave in position for the win, Will Harris would allow a game-tying solo home run in the bottom of the seventh. Harris would complete that inning, then would be pinch-hit for by Yordan Alvarez who drilled a one-out double to put Houston in scoring position.

They went on to load the bases with two outs, bringing up Michael Brantley who notched his third RBI of the night, a walk to bring in the go-ahead run. Correa was up next with the bases still loaded but would strikeout to leave all three runners stranded.

Ryan Pressly was next out of Houston's bullpen, but he would have a forgetful inning. He allowed two baserunners then a three-run homer to lead off the inning and give the Cardinals their first lead of the night at 5-3. He would exit without recording an out with Chris Devenski coming in to replace him.

Devenski worked around a walk and a single to get through the eighth, sending the two-run game to the ninth. In the ninth, Houston would not be able to make a comeback, starting the series with a loss.

Up Next: Game two of this series between the Astros and Cardinals will be tomorrow at 6:15 PM and will be nationally televised on FS1. The pitching matchup will be MLB strikeout leader Gerrit Cole (11-5, 3.03 ERA) for Houston going against Daniel Ponce de Leon (1-0, 2.82 ERA) for St. Louis.

The Astros daily report is presented by APG&E.

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The answers in the outfield are becoming clearer than the Astros hoped

*Note: Some Advanced Statistics, courtesy of Baseball Savant, do not include Thursday night's game against the Diamondbacks. Others, courtesy of Fangraphs, do include Thursday night's game*

The Corpus Christi Hooks Twitter account confirmed that Yordan Alvarez is alive and able to take swings, meaning the slugger's return to the Astros lineup is getting closer. Alvarez will get a bulk of the DH at-bats. With Springer being the primary center fielder, and Brantley being the primary left fielder, Dusty Baker will have to choose between Josh Reddick and Kyle Tucker for his primary right fielder. Who should he choose?

How do you boil down picking between two players to one question? What is the most important thing to judge a hitter on? The answer

The better player is the player that does the most damage consistently.

Sounds easy, right? But how do you judge that?

  1. Hard Hit %
  2. BB:K
  3. Contact %

Why these three? Well, hitting the ball hard usually leads to damage, so it is good to hit the ball hard. A player that walks and strikes out roughly the same amount is generally pretty consistent, so BB:K ratios closer to 1:1 (this is extremely rare, and a vast majority of MLB hitters are worse than 1:2) are good. Lastly, players that make contact a lot not only can generally do more of the little things like moving runners over, lifting a ball with a runner on third, or executing a hit & run, but also they generally don't swing and miss at their pitch when they get it. Action happens.

Kyle Tucker has a hard hit % of 38.5% so far in 2020. That is 55th in MLB amongst players with at least 25 batted balls (Tucker has 26). For context, Padres star third baseman Manny Machado is ranked 54th with 38.9%, thorn-in-the-Astros-side Kole Calhoun is t-58th at 37.9%, and Padres star shortstop Fernando Tatis leads the big leagues at 66.7% (wow).

So, more than 1/3rd of the time Tucker makes contact, he hits it hard. That's pretty good...But how often does he make contact?

Tucker has a contact % of 75.6%, meaning he makes contact with the baseball three out of every four times he swings the bat. That is 88th amongst qualified hitters. He is 1% worse than the slumping Jose Altuve, tied with that guy Kole Calhoun again, and about 1% better than the also-slumping George Springer. Tucker is far from elite at putting the bat on the ball, but he isn't terrible either.

However, despite hitting baseball's hard one-third of the time and making contact three-thirds of the time, Tucker strikes out entirely too much. His 29.3% K-rate is the 35th worst in baseball, and he doesn't offset the strikeouts with a lot of walks either. Tucker walks just 7.3% of the time, which is the 62nd lowest. Ultimately, Tucker has a BB:K ratio of 0.25, which is 49th in MLB right now.

Lastly, while it isn't part of the criteria above, Tucker doesn't have a very diverse batted ball portfolio. Tucker hits the ball to the pull side 65% of the time, and he's hit it on the ground 50% of the time. Eventually, teams will start placing heavy shifts on him, and those balls that have snuck through holes in the early parts of the year won't anymore.

But, is Josh Reddick any better? While none of Tucker's numbers blow you away, they aren't terrible, and he's a young prospect that needs playing time to develop.

Reddick has a 31.3% hard hit % so far in 2020, about seven percentage points below Tucker. 31.3% places Reddick in 96th place, between players like Marcus Semien and Yuli Gurriel. So, Tucker has Reddick beat here, but it isn't by a landslide.

Reddick has a contact % of 80.5%, which is 50th in MLB right now. He's better than Tucker by 5%, and he's in the top quartile in baseball. Reddick also sprays the ball around when he makes contact, hitting the ball to center field 43.8% of the time, right field 37.5% of the time, and left field 18.8% of the time. His ground ball rate is also 31%, almost 20% lower than Tucker's. That would explain why Reddick and Tucker's Barrel % (hard hit baseballs hit in the most desired exit velocity) are within a percentage point of one another despite Tucker having a seven point hard hit advantage.

Lastly, Reddick doesn't strike out very much. He strikes out 14% of the time, which is the 34th best K% in baseball (funny enough, Gurriel and Brantley are 33rd and 32nd). While Reddick doesn't walk a ton either, he walks more than Tucker, clocking in four percentage points better at 11.6%. That results in a BB:K ratio of 0.83, which is tied with Bryce Harper and Freddie Freeman for the 30th best in MLB.

Throw in the fact that Reddick plays significantly better defense, and it's really a no-brainer who should play. Astros fans might want the sexier and newer model in Tucker, but it isn't time to trade in old reliable just yet. When Yordan Alvarez returns, Josh Reddick is the right answer in right field.

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