It’s cruel to live in a world without baseball. For Yankees fans, it’s especially cruel due to the inability to watch Gerrit Cole in pinstripes after the team signed the ace right-hander to a record deal in December. For many other fans in baseball, Yankees supporters included, this year feels like a missed chance to see just how big of a difference, if any, the Astros’ production would be now that their sign-stealing operation has been brought to light.
Houston’s scheme was undoubtedly the story of the offseason, and the response from fans reflected that in the short spring training stint where the team was heckled with signs and trash cans everywhere they went. The regular season would have brought more of the same, but an even bigger question was how the team that denied the Yankees a chance at the World Series in two of the last three years would fare without an audible noise at their disposal.
According to our MLB The Show simulation, Houston would struggle without the external help. Maybe it’s the fatigue of dealing with all of the justified questions thrown their way about regret, the scandal’s impact on the game, etc. Maybe Houston’s stacked lineup doesn’t carry as much muscle when it doesn’t know what pitch is coming. But as we stand on May 17 in our simulation, the Yankees had just taken two out of three games from the Astros in a weekend series in Houston, dropping the Astros to 23-26 on the year.
Houston managed just four runs the entire series against the Bombers, with three of them coming in the series finale, a 3-2 win in 11 innings. Those offensive struggles have lingered for much of the season, leaving them six games back in the division behind the Angels, desperate to get Mike Trout into the playoffs.
The most staggering outcome of our simulation comes from the fact that this series was at home, where the majority of the Astros’ sign-stealing took place. With two home losses to the Yanks, Houston is now 9-17 in its home ballpark, compared to 14-9 on the road. The Astros were 60-21 at home last year! That’s a huge difference.
The Astros were third in the league in runs scored last season, but currently sit tied for 16th in simulation land with 210 runs scored over 49 games. They were also third in the league in home runs last year, but in simulation land, they’re currently tied with the Mariners and Cardinals for 20th in the league, and that’s helped by a breakout season from Yordan Alvarez, who has slugged 13 home runs. Nobody else on the team has more than seven.
Now, let’s look at the individuals that have made up Houston’s three straight ALCS teams. We mentioned Alvarez, who is mashing to the tune of a 1.046 OPS, and Alex Bregman hasn’t been bothered, holding a .938 OPS. But George Springer has an .837 OPS, barely above league average, and Jose Altuve’s is .863. Carlos Correa’s is just below .800 at .790. For context, Bregman’s OPS is nearly 70 points lower than last year’s mark, Springer’s is nearly 150 points lower, Altuve’s is 40, and Correa’s nearly 140 (though he was hurt much of last year).
Now, there is still an interesting stat that contradicts those numbers. Currently in our simulation, Houston is tied for the fewest number of strikeouts in the league, so the team is making contact, but clearly not of the quality it has been since 2017. Perhaps that means the Astros are just in a team-wide slump and will eventually break out, or it’s harder to put the barrel on the ball when you don’t know what pitch is coming. Either way, Houston’s first season with the “cheater” label on its head isn’t going too well.