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October 15, 2001

Not-So-Killer Bs


by Joe Sheehan

The Astros exited the National League playoffs over the weekend, about as quickly as they came in. This franchise has never won a postseason series, and over the past five years, is 2-12 in 14 Division Series games.

A disproportionate amount of blame has fallen on the shoulders of the team's two best players in that timeframe, Jeff Bagwell and Craig Biggio. Bagwell and Biggio have a postseason record that pales in comparison to their in-season work:

             AB   H   2B   3B   HR   BB  SO    AVG   OBP   SLG
Biggio       44   8    1    0    0    6  10   .182  .280  .205
Bagwell      46   8    0    0    0   12  16   .174  .345  .174

The "Killer B's," as they've been known (along with, at various times, Derek Bell and Sean Berry and Lance Berkman), haven't matched their regular-season work in the postseason, that's for sure. And as is often the case when that happens, their intestinal fortitude has been questioned, with nasty labels applied to them and their teammates.

There's a much simpler explanation: they've faced disproportionately good pitching in that time. In their four trips to the playoffs, the Astros have drawn the pitching-rich Braves three times. In 14 playoff games, they've faced Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux three times each, John Smoltz twice, and Kevin Brown once. In the other five games, they've seen guys like the 1999 version of Kevin Millwood, the 1998 version of Sterling Hitchcock and the 2001 version of John Burkett.

In 14 games, they've faced a starting pitcher with an seasonal ERA in the 2.00s five times, the 3.00s eight times, and just once have they seen a pitcher with an ERA in the 4.00s (Glavine in 1999). The composite seasonal ERA for all the pitchers they've faced--not weighted for innings thrown in the various Division Series--is 3.16. In a hitters' era, that's simply awesome.

One more illustration. The following chart shows the NL ranking of each opposition starter in the season they faced the Astros, as per Michael Wolverton's Support-Neutral tools:

Year  Ranks

1997: 1, 3, 7 1998: 3 (two starts), 14, 50 1999: 4, 6, 12, 21 2001: 6, 9, 10

Anyway you slice it, the Astros have run into some vicious pitching in October. It hasn't helped that before the first two games of this year's first round, all the Astros' previous Division Series games had been played in good to excellent pitchers' parks: the Astrodome, Turner Field, and Qualcomm Stadium.

This shouldn't be interpreted as an apology for the Killer Bs. They haven't done the job at the plate, and no doubt they would be the first one to say so. But rather than question their abilities, or imply that their lack of performance says something about their character, look at what they've had to face each year.

Joe Sheehan is an author of Baseball Prospectus. You can contact him by clicking here.

Joe Sheehan is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Joe's other articles. You can contact Joe by clicking here

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