Off Day

“We’ve had off days before. We’ve had off days on days when we played.”
– Whitey Herzog

off-day.  A day for the Houston Astros front office to get together and
decide what in the world they’re going to do.  A day to reflect.  A day
for the players to visit with their families.  With each other.  To try
and become a team.

A day when we can’t lose a game.  Which is
good, because on Saturday, we have a Split Squad game, so we can make
up for lost time by losing two.

Spring Training records don’t
matter, and thank goodness for that, because ours has been lousy. 
Let’s take a moment and recap the statistics of our presumed Opening
Day starters, shall we?
table.JPGPlease note that this does not include exhibition or WBC games.  These numbers are what most insiders would refer to as “bad.”

A team OBP of .272?  A team average of .182?  These are not good things.  A look at the pitching is even scarier.

Carlos Lee, our cleanup hitter, has grounded into as many double plays
(1) as he has hits.  I’m not worried about him, though.  He’ll be
fine.  He got to camp late, he went to play for Panama in the WBC. 
He’s an older guy, he may take longer to get there but I’m sure he will
get there.

In addition, Berkman (our #3 hitter) and Tejada (who will hit fifth or sixth) are doing just fine.  The heart of the order is not the concern, though.  Hunter Pence (who would hit 5th in an ideal lineup, but will probably end up 2nd or 6th) is striking out a lot as he works on getting deeper into counts, but he’s getting on base for the most part.  Michael Bourn is Michael Bourn – he’s doing better than most of us expected. 

That leaves Quintero, Blum, and Matsui.  Now, we all know that Quintero and Blum would not be starters on most rosters.  Blum is an invaluable utilityman who has only had 400+ at-bats twice in his 10-season career.  Quintero is an arm behind the plate who has only had more than 150 at-bats once, and that was last season.

These are not big surprises.  Matsui is a bit of a surprise, especially as he’s the de facto leadoff hitter for the Astros.  The good news is that he’s drastically under-performing right now, so it can generally be chalked up to a bad Spring.  Over the past two and a half seasons, he’s gone .297/.350/.427 in Colorado and Houston (admittedly two hitters’ parks, but that’s where he’ll be playing this year, as well.)

So it comes down to uncertainty about Bourn’s supposed progress, hope that Lee and Matsui will pick it up in time, and dread over the catcher and third base spots.

Simply put, Quintero is not an upgrade to Brad Ausmus, who opted to move out west to be closer to his family.  His other option was retiring, so it’s not as if we could have retained him.  And I realize he didn’t exactly swing a great stick, but over the past 8 seasons with the Astros, he went .240/.311/.319.  Quintero career minor league OBP is .311, there’s no reason to think he can be that productive at the major league level – after he “improved” at the end of last season in August and September after he became more or less the full-time catcher, he scraped together a .306 OBP.

Whether anyone wants to admit it or not, among catchers currently in our system, J.R. Towles‘ .302/.386/.476 over five minor league seasons makes him the best offensive option behind the plate, his poor showing in 2008 notwithstanding.

That said, we still may be better served going out and grabbing a catcher from outside of our system.  Toby Hall‘s injury spoiled things for him, but Johnny Estrada (.277/.317/.400), Paul Lo Duca (.286/.337/.409), and Ivan Rodriguez (.301/.339/.475) are all still available, and neither would cost us a draft pick.

Third base is a little bleaker.  It should be assumed that Christopher Johnson (.353/.409/.588 this Spring) is going to at least begin the season at AAA Round Rock, but will no doubt find his way to the Show as the long-term solution at third base.  Otherwise, he could end up in a position similar to what Towles was handed last year – given the reins a bit too early and written off once he’d failed as a result.

Until that time, we can probably look forward to a platoon of Geoff Blum and Aaron Boone.  In 2003, when that duo would have combined to go .265/.310/.261, that would have been mildly acceptable.  In 2009, when they combined to go .241/.293/.289 the previous year, it’s not quite as exciting (and it wasn’t all that exciting before.)

There’s no help in free agency, unless you were to shift Tejada to third (where he played in the WBC), Matsui to shortstop (where he played before switching positions with Jose Reyes in New York), and getting either Ray Durham or Mark Grudzielanek from free agency. That seems unlikely, so I suppose we’ll have to dig in and wait for the Chris Johnson era to start.  I’m cautiously optimistic that that could happen as early as May.

A word of caution, however, as Johnson’s minor league line (.266/.304/.395) is actually worse than the last promotion-from-within at third base, Morgan Ensberg‘s (.271/.381/.472).  Ultimately, Ensberg lost all confidence at the plate, but let’s remember that he did give us three very solid years at the big league level – 2003, 2004, and 2005 – before his collapse.  Even 2006, the beginning of his “downturn”, he boasted a .396 OBP and a .463 SLG. 

Free agent pitchers are less of a sure thing.  If we were going to enter the market, we’ve missed the window.  All that’s left are a few reclamation projects: Pedro Martinez, Mark Mulder, Ben Sheets, Kenny Rogers, Curt Schilling, El Duque, Sidney Ponson.  Upgrades over Mike Hampton and Brian Moehler?  Possibly.  But it’s unlikely we’d sign any of these guys, and I can’t really blame the FO for passing on them.

All told, it will be interesting to see how our team comes together.  If they come together.  At this point in Spring Training, the positives are few, but they exist.  And honestly, if it means that money goes into development and signing draft picks, I’m okay with no moves being made.  Let’s just hunker down and see if we can’t lose us some games!


  1. Elizabeth D.

    Sometimes what I have noticed in ST, is that when guys try new things that they might add to their style, they don’t always produce the same. In other words, when a guy tries to change his batting stance, he probably won’t get the same production, but it’s just something to try for the future. I don’t know if the Astros are doing this, but it may explain some things. Don’t worry too much, it’ll all come out in the wash 🙂

    I think Pudge would be a great acquisition. Have you seen him on the WBC team??

  2. roundrock15

    That’s not untrue, and it’s similar to the reason that it can be hard to evaluate a prospect while watching a minor league game. A few years ago, I was at a Dayton Dragons Midwest League game and Homer Bailey was on the mound. At the time, he was a top prospect, and yet when I watched him he was awful. Turns out it was because they had forbidden him from throwing his fastball. He was throwing changeups and curves exclusively to work on them.

    But that shouldn’t be the case for a veteran like Kazuo Matsui or Carlos Lee. They should be set. They should know what they’re doing by now.

    As for Rodriguez, no one – but no one – is questioning his ability or his production. The question comes in his price. Unlike the Yankees and Red Sox, the Astros don’t have infinitely-deep pockets. We have a set amount we can spend, and we’re actually already over that. I don’t like the idea of bringing in Pudge Rodriguez for one year to make a run at a Wild Card, and invest money that could otherwise go to signing draft picks or developing prospects.

  3. juliasrants

    Maybe they need to try a “Yankees” Day and go play pool! And I’m only half kidding. Some teams seem to take longer to mesh and it becomes evident as you watch them play. I hope the Astros can get it all together.


  4. renaudtn

    RR15…I think this takes us back to our conversation yesterday about having a losing season Nationals style… I agree with you; sure having Pudge would be nice from an offense standpoint, but in my opinion we shouldn’t spend some green on him. We’d be a little more competitive, but if the team turns out to be really bad this year, we would miss the playoffs at the end anyway. Let’s play ball with what we have; if somehow things start clicking and we have a good season and make it to the playoffs, excellent! But let’s keep whatever money we have left to sign our picks. A lot of fans are upset because McLane doesn’t want to spend more money; but they don’t realize that sponsors are withdrawing, and attendance at the ball park is expected to go down…On NPR this morning they were saying that the attendance for ST games was way down compared to last year. It’s probably an indication of how it is going to be this year during the regular season which means that our budget next year will be way below $107 millions (see you Tejada). So the point is, in this economy, in these very uncertain times, paying for a pricy temporary solution (Pudge) doesn’t make much sense even if he brings a bigger bat than Quintero and possibly Towles (hope he brings his AAA numbers with him this year). I think we have a pretty good line-up. If Bourn and Quintero/Towles improve like they’re expected to, we will have a very good line-up. I’m not overly concerned with Matsui’s numbers in ST. He’ll figure it out, and if not it appears that other infielders are tearing the cover off the ball this ST (Smith). Like you said, we also have Johnson who will probably be called up sooner than later. So the main concern remains the starting rotation. I think right now all we can do is trust our scouts, and the moves they’ve made with Ortiz, Capellan, Hampton, and the others and see how it turns out this season. Although it’s still early, aren’t you a little surprised with Graves, Arias, Capellan and Fulchino’s numbers? Who knows…maybe all these players could turn out to be complete steals?

  5. roundrock15

    Yeah, I keep flip-flopping on the catcher situation. My brain tells me Towles is the guy; my gut tells me Paul Lo Duca wouldn’t be a bad insurance policy. He should come relatively cheap and has good upside for a one-year guy. Everyone seems to think Castro is the long-term answer, but his upside isn’t exactly tremendous. He’s not going to be a perennial All-Star a la Brian McCann or Joe Mauer.

    My thing, I guess, is that a move to pick up a Johnny Estrada or a Paul Lo Duca would signal that we acknowledge Q is not the answer. That would make me feel a little better. But, really, my brain knows you’re right – we need to take whatever hit we take this year (and probably for at least two more years.) Swallow our pride, let the naysayers naysay, and rebuild that farm system.

    That’s the prudent move. As a fan, it can be tough to remember that, though.

  6. Kaybee

    It’s still early in Spring Training, and I’m sure you guys will get better. But I know what you mean. The Padres have had three ties this spring so far, and though it felt good not to lose, we really should have won.

  7. renaudtn

    Well, on the ‘relievers keep game within reach late’ article, I just posted a lengthy response to Astrodad1 who doesn’t share our point of view on how it could be a good thing if the Astros do have a bad season this year like everyone is saying. It seems like this topic could be a blog on its own…;)

  8. renaudtn

    well, if you do write a blog about this, I’ll be there to back you up :).
    I could do it but my blog doesn’t have any participants…

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