Monday, January 7, 2013

The Homerless Astros of 1979

Ok so homerless isn't exactly correct.  The 1979 Houston Astros did hit home runs, just not very many.  Forty-nine to be exact which wouldn't have looked out of place in the deaball era or the late 40's but was astronomically low for the late 70's.

Jose Cruz led the team with nine homers and Terry Puhl was runner up with eight.  Cesar Cedeno, Enos Cabell, and Art Howe each hit a half-dozen dingers.  These five accounted for 71% of the teams totals. 

The team had two regulars who didn't hit a long ball all year: shortstop Craig Reynolds who hit five the year prior with Seattle and Jeff Leonard who later in his career would muscle up to hit 20 or more three times.  The secondbase position failed to hit a round-tripper as neither Rafael Landestoy or Julio Gonzalez went yard.  Four of the teams taters were hit by pitchers as JR Richard and Joaquin Andujar each hit a pair.

The team did have speed and skipper Bill Virdon had the team running often.  The Astros led the Senior Circuit with 190 bases but had just modest success, getting caught exactly 1/3 of the time  Every regular except catcher Alan Ashby had double digit steals with Cabell, Cedeno, Cruz, and Puhl with 30 or more.

Houston's on base skills were nothing special either as they batted .265 good for 8th in the loop.  No one had more than 72 walks and the team on base percentage of .315 was 10th in the league.  


So you may be thinking with this lack of punch that the team must have been pretty bad.  That was far from the case as the Astros won 89 games and led the NL West for a good chunk of the year before the Reds passed them in the last month of the season. They thrived in the comfort of the Astrodome winning 52 at home versus just 37 on the road. Truth be told they may have been lucky as their pythag record indicates they should have been a .500 team at 81-81.

The Astros had a good pitching staff fronted by Richard who dominated batters with a 2.71 ERA and 313 K's in 292 innings.  Joe Niekro had his knuckler working and won 21 games while limiting hitters to a .228 average.  The pair combined for 76 starts and 556 innings pitched.  Other starters included Ken Forsch who no-hit the Braves on April 7, Andujar, Rick WIlliams, and Vern Ruhle. The team ERA was 3.20 good for second in the league. Joe Sambito had a great year saving 21 with a 1.79 ERA in 91 frames as Houston's ace releiver.  The pitching staff did a good job of keeping the ball in the park but the oppositions 90 home runs nearly doubled up the Astros offensive total.

Teams don't need a lineup full of mashers to compete but this lineup could have used a bit more pop in the middle to help move those speedy runners along.  Power just wasn't their game as they had hit just 70 HR the year before and would hit 75 in 1980. The franchise won their first division crown in '80 after they acquired Nolan Ryan and Joe Morgan. Morgan was one of five with 10 or more homers but the Astros lost in the NLCS to the Phillies. 

The 1986 Cardinals who lost their only true slugger Jack Clark to injury mid year, hit only 58 homers, which discounting labor problem shortened seasons is the closest a team has come to matching the low total of the '79 Astros. 

Offensive WAR Leaders:
Cruz 4.4
Puhl 3.2
Reynolds 2.3

Pitching WAR Leaders:
Richard 5.3
Niekro 3.2
Sambito 3.2

1979 Houston Astros on

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