The Houston Astros Need George Springer to Stay Hot
Well, we're two games into the 2017 World Series, and it's already shaping up to be an instant classic.
Game 1 was dominated by the Los Angeles Dodgers and Clayton Kershaw thanks to a historically dominant performance from the southpaw, while Game 2 was punctuated by tons of dramatic late-game home runs. What's on tap for Game 3 is certainly up for debate, because if these first two games are any indication, we're in for an incredibly fun rollercoaster ride -- unless you're a fan of the Dodgers or Houston Astros.
The Astros coming away with a Game 2 win and pulling even in the series was huge for obvious reasons. However, what's important to note is that their elite offense found some life against what had been an automatic Dodgers bullpen.
Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa hit back-to-back bombs and Alex Bregman pitched in two hits with an RBI while Marwin Gonzalez -- Houston's regular-season RBI leader -- drove in his first run in nearly three weeks with a game-tying homer in the ninth inning.
Perhaps the most noteworthy offensive player to break out on Wednesday was leadoff man George Springer. He enjoyed a three-hit day which included the eventual game-winner, a two-run homer in the top of the 11th inning.
If the Astros want a shot at winning the franchise's first World Series title, they'll need him to keep setting the tone.
Impact in the Regular Season
Being a leadoff hitter is important because they help set the tone for the rest of a lineup, and it can be argued that no hitter did that better in 2017 than Springer.
There were 14 different players who spent at least 400 plate appearances in the leadoff spot during the regular season. When measuring their effectiveness in that spot by virtue of wRC+, Springer and Colorado Rockies outfielder Charlie Blackmon were tied at the top with a mark of 141. The only other leadoff hitter with a wRC+ above 120 in 2017 was Minnesota Twins second baseman Brian Dozier (124).
Springer also finished second to Blackmon in wOBA (.414 to .378), OPS (.999 to .894) and ISO (.274 to .240). So while Blackmon probably gets the nod here for being the best leadoff hitter in baseball this season, Springer's performance was still awfully impressive and vital to the Astros' success.
Just about every hitter is going to play better in wins than in losses -- especially impact players such as Springer. However, due to his spot at the top of manager A.J. Hinch's order, it's worth pointing out the difference in his performance given the team's result during the regular season.
The differences are stark across the board, but the one that sticks out here is the number of runs scored. Springer was crossing the plate nearly once a game in victories, but that rate was basically cut in half when Houston lost.
Yes, a leadoff hitter scoring runs is mostly dependent on the teammates batting lower in the order, but it's hard to score runs when you don't get on base, which Springer did with far more regularity in victories.
If we really want to talk about postseason rollercoasters, Springer should be the model here.
The below table details how the 28-year-old outfielder produced in each playoff round so far this October. All the usual stats are here, but Win Probability Added (WPA) is also included. WPA is the change in probability caused by a player during a game, given an average team (per Baseball-Reference). A positive number is good, while a negative number is bad.
|2017 Postseason||PA||OPS||XBH||RBI||R||WPA||HOU Result|
Knowing how crucial of a piece Springer is to this offense, it's even more impressive that they beat the New York Yankees in the American League Championship Series when their leadoff man scored just once in seven games.
This takes us back to the fact that Houston's lineup is among the deepest in baseball, though. If Springer isn't able to produce, there are eight other guys (when they're in an American League park) who can pick up the slack. Having Bregman, Correa, and Altuve occupying the second, third, and fourth spot in the order is daunting for any pitcher, but you know what makes it even worse? Already having a runner on base with them coming to the plate.
Springer and the Astros have successfully put pressure on opposing pitchers all season. His up-and-down ride through the playoffs shows his importance, and it'll be crucial for Houston to keep him hot at the top of their lineup for the remainder of the Fall Classic.