Astros Week: Let's Play Sustainable or Unsustainable

Jose Abreu has been underwhelming at the plate as an Astro so far.
Jose Abreu has been underwhelming at the plate as an Astro so far. Photo by Eric Sauseda
For the third straight year, the Astros have had a mediocre April. At just 8-9, they need to go 3-2 to equal the 11-11 starts of the last two seasons. For a team as consistently good as the Astros, it is an odd anomaly. For fans, it's nerve-wracking to see your team struggle and wonder if this is the year it all goes wrong. This is Houston after all and when Houston sports things go south, they go all the way south.

So, it feels like as good a time as any to play a little game called sustainable or unsustainable. As in, are these players going to continue as they have in April or we will see regression/progression to the mean? Let's make some predictions.

Mauricio Dubon - .340/.357/.396/.753

Watching Jose Altuve's temporary replacement rake has been a pleasure, but Dubon is a career .250 hitter, his best season coming in the COVID-shortened 2020 season when he hit .274 for the Giants. It would be a great story for the utility man, particularly if he could ultimately be a timely hitting bench player, but we smell some regression to the mean at some point in the coming months. We just hope he regresses to the level of his 2020 season.

Jose Abreu - .239/.280/.282/.562 - no home runs, three doubles, 19 SO, 3 BB

Yes, Abreu's power numbers were down last year. Yes, he has looked lost at the plate (and somewhat in the field as well). But the guy is a career .300 hitter with runners in scoring position. The Astros' biggest offseason acquisition needs to get it figured out at the plate and soon, especially the strikeout numbers. He has averaged 132 strikeouts per 162 games for his career. He's never struck out more than 152 times. Currently, he's on pace for nearly 170 if he plays 150 games. Not good.

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Can Mauricio Dubon (left) and Corey Julks keep this up?
Photo by Eric Sauseda
Hunter Brown - 2-0, 1.93 ERA, 8.2 SO/9, 1.018 WHIP
Possibly Sustainable

People love to compare the rookie pitcher to his hero Justin Verlander. We've seen the side-by-side comparisons of their pitching motions, for example. But they have pretty different games and if Brown even gets remotely close to Verlander's success, he will have many years in the league as one of the best pitchers in the league. The question this year comes down to whether his success is repeatable and there is no reason to think he cannot continue to pitch this well. He did it last year as a late-season call up. At this point, believing in Brown isn't just hope, it's a safe bet. As the kids say, he is him.

Luis Garcia - 0-2, 7.71 ERA, 9.6 SO/9, 1.857 WHIP
Possibly Unsustainable

At the beginning of the year, we believed Garcia could have a breakout year the way Cristian Javier did in 2022. He still could, but right now his fastball is getting crushed causing him to rely more on his cutter. It's his best pitch, but only when his fastball can set it up. He is a guy who tends towards the fly ball. This year, he's given up three long balls in two starts, but his strikeout-to-walk ratio (15-0 so far) has been outstanding lending hope to the feeling that he can and will turn it around.

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It feels like both Alex Bregman (left) and Jeremy Peña will see some progression to the mean soon.
Photo by Eric Sauseda
Jeremy Peña - .217/.289/.391/.680 - 19 SO, 4 BB
Likely Unsustainable

There isn't much to draw upon historically for Peña. We all marveled at his poise, particularly defensively, after taking over for Carlos Correa. His hitting came around and he was phenomenal in the postseason. To post a WAR nearing five last season was eye opening for sure. This year, his fielding percentage is better than last year, but he's struggling a bit at the plate. His strikeout numbers are certainly a cause for concern, but we've seen the young shortstop adjust on the fly when it was necessary. His meager .2 WAR should improve as his plate appearances get better, but the strikeouts have to be the first area of work.

Alex Bregman - .197/.338/.303/.641
Likely Unsustainable

Most Astros fans know their third baseman struggles to get going early in the season. It's almost a rite of passage for newbies to get used to Bregman looking mediocre in April. He still gets on base even without the hitting numbers, owed to his knack for the walk (.338 OB percentage with only .303 slugging?), which continues apace in 2023. But, the Astros need Alex Bregman to be the guy he can and has been. He's never much better than a .260 hitter, but he should be a 20 home runs, 90 RBI guy. Should. Whether that happens again this year, we'll have to wait and see, but we wouldn't bet against it.

Corey Julks - .317/.310/.537/.847 - two home runs, three doubles
Please God, Make It Sustainable

Leading up to Spring Training, much of the outfield buzz was centered around Pedro Leon and rightfully so. The young center fielder had been (and continues to) raking at AAA Sugar Land to go with a plus-level throwing arm and excellent speed. But sports hernia surgery derailed Leon's trip to the bigs — at least for the moment. Enter Julks, a kid from Friendswood who went to the  University of Houston, and had spent six years in the minors. Now, it's early and he still strikes out too much, but with two home runs (including one Monday night — his first at home) and an .847 OPS, it is worth wondering if the Astros have found another name to add to the mix in the future outfield.
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Jeff Balke is a writer, editor, photographer, tech expert and native Houstonian. He has written for a wide range of publications and co-authored the official 50th anniversary book for the Houston Rockets.
Contact: Jeff Balke