Tagged: Chris Johnson

All-Bergen Team: NL Position Players

Catchers
Rob Johnson (SDP).  Most backup catchers hit fairly lightly, it’s true, so the Padres probably aren’t too upset at his complete lack of production, but it’s pretty rare that a Major League Baseball player has an AVG, OBP, and SLG under 250.  If Johnson’s slugging falls five points, that’s exactly what he’ll be.  Beyond that, he’s lost 0.2 wins defensively.  Not a good combination.

Dioner Navarro (LAD).  Johnson’s neighbor to the north, Navarro isn’t putting up much better numbers – especially considering he’s had two seasons with an OPS+ of 100 or better, and his 94 OPS+ in his previous stint in Los Angeles (2005).  If he continues on his current pace, he will post his third consecutive negative-WAR season since his All-Star year, 2008.  Unlike Johnson, however, Navarro has a positive dWAR, so at least there’s that.

 

First Basemen
Aubrey Huff (SFG).  Those of you who remember watching Huff struggle in Houston in 2006, only to turn around and have a couple of strong seasons in Baltimore, already know that he is an often-frustrating player to watch.  Imagine, then, Giants fans – who saw Huff post 5 Wins Above Replacement last year, only to put together a -1.3 bWAR so far this season.  He’s done it by slugging worse than he ever has in his career, but the real damage has been done on defense, where he’s lost 1.2 wins.

Lyle Overbay (PIT).  When the Pirates signed Overbay to a $5-million deal this offseason, they likely weren’t expecting the .230/.306/.356 line he’s put together so far this year, or the seven errors he’s accumulated at the halfway point of the season.

Jorge Cantu (SDP).  Even with an offensive decline in 2010, Cantu looked like a solid offseason pickup for the Padres, who was expected to platoon at first base with Brad Hawpe and backup Chase Headley at third for the Friars.  But after watching him stumble to a .194/.232/.285 line through 155 plate appearances, the Padres requested release waivers for him on June 21.

 

Second Basemen
Bill Hall (HOU/SFG).  Arguably the Astros’ biggest offseason acquisition, Hall’s tenure with the team only lasted 46 games, during which he hit just .224/.272/.340 before he was released from the worst team in baseball.  The Giants, no doubt thinking that Hall deserved another chance after the 104 OPS+ he put up in 2010 with the Boston Red Sox.  It’s still only 12 games into his San Francisco career, but he’s already lost almost half (0.4) of the Wins he lost in almost four times as many games in Houston.

Dan Uggla (ATL).  Uggla is a two-time All-Star, and finished third in the ROY voting in 2006.  Last season, he won a Silver Slugger award and finished in the top twenty in MVP voting.  This season, he’s hitting just .175/.241/.330 while remaining the butcher in the field he’s been his entire career.

Wilson Valdez (PHI).  Certainly, starting Valdez at second base thirty-one times wasn’t Plan A for the Phillies, but it hasn’t exactly hurt in their quest to be the best team in baseball, despite the 0.6 wins he’s lost for them, mostly on the defensive side of the ball.

 

Third Basemen
Casey McGehee (MIL).  After two consecutive seasons with an OPS+ well over 100, McGehee looked to be one of the rising stars in Milwaukee, but he’s struggled so far this season, posting just a .221/.272/.305 line, and is on pace to hit just half as many home runs as he did in 2009, his career low (16) – far off of the 23 he hit last season.

Chris Johnson (HOU).  Johnson hasn’t exactly hit poorly this season, though he hasn’t hit particularly well, either.  He’s well off of the pace he set his rookie season, dropping 65 points in batting average; 53 points in on-base percentage; and 88 points in slugging percentage.  But he’s third among NL third basemen in errors, which has helped him lose an amazing 1.6 wins on defense alone.

Jose Lopez (COL/FLA).  Another former All-Star, Lopez struggled mightily at the plate in his first season for Colorado – so much so (.208/.233/.288) that the Rockies released him.  Enter the Marlins, who picked him up after his release.  It took just twelve games, during which he performed even worse (.103/.161/.138) for them than he did for Colorado, before Florida decided to designate Lopez for assignment.

 

Shortstops
Yuniesky Betancourt (MIL).  Sure, the right side of the Brewers’ infield are starting the All-Star game for the National League, but between Betancourt and McGehee, the other half of the infield holds down the fort in the All-Bergen team.

Edgar Renteria (CIN).  1996 ROY runner-up, 5-time All-Star, two-time MVP top twenty candidate, two-time Gold Glove winner, 3-time Silver Slugger.  But his tenure in Cincinnati has been less than stellar.  Just 1 home run through 150 plate appearances, a .315 OBP, and a .282 SLG is far off of his pace.

 

Outfielders
Raul Ibanez (PHI).  Prior to 2011, Ibanez had posted 10 straight seasons with an OPS+, so the 84 he’s put together so far this year is pretty surprising.  In fact, it’s his lowest since 2000, the last year of his first stint in Seattle.  He’s on pace to lose as many wins this year defensively as last (1.2,) but is also on pace to drop his oWAR by 2.5.

Tyler Colvin (CHC).  Colvin was a pleasant surprise last year in Chicago, so they can be forgiven for thinking that he would continue to grow and flourish.  But he’s dropped more than 400 points in OPS this season, which hasn’t offset his improved defense.  He’s currently on pace to hit one-fifth as many home runs this year as he did last year.  The upside is that Colvin is just 25 this year, and has plenty of time to return to form.

Ryan Spilborghs (COL).  Spilborghs has quietly put together a nice career in Colorado, including three seasons with an OPS+ over 100.  He’s well off the pace this season this year, however, down in almost every offensive category and losing almost as many wins (.04) defensively as offensively (0.5).

Willie Bloomquist (ARI).  What’s always amazing to me isn’t that Willie Bloomquist continues to struggle as a Major League player, but rather that he continues to get chances.  The 85 OPS+ he posted last year (split between Cincinnati and Kansas City) was the highest of his career; he has a career .652 OPS; and he’s had a negative dWAR in almost every professional season in which he’s played.

Mark Kotsay (MIL).  The 35-year-old Kotsay is down over a hundred points from his career OPS this season, and after posting his worst statistical season of his career in 2010, he’s brought it down even farther this year.

Willie Harris (NYM).  Harris has traditionally hit fairly lightly, but this year he’s not hitting too poorly.  Unfortunately, his defense has declined in recent years.  He had -0.2 dWAR in 2009, -0.3 in 2010, and -0.4 so far this year.

Jerry Sands (LAD).  Just 23 years old, Sands has been pressed into service this year for the Dodgers, largely because of a number of injuries they’ve faced.  Sands has been a superstar in the minors, however, belting 35 home runs last year between Great Lakes and Chattanooga.  He’s a bright star on Los Angeles’ horizon, but his Major League season in 2011 has been far less than stellar.

Eric Patterson (SDP).  Patterson hit just .214 in 2010 between Oakland and Boston, but apparently the Padres saw enough potential in him to make him the Player To Be Named Later in the Adrian Gonzalez trade.  Through 103 plate appearances, he was hitting just .180/.272/.292, and was designated for assignment on June 9 before he could do any more damage.

 

Up next: AL Pitchers.

The Kids Are Alright

It wasn’t the first hit of Chris Johnson‘s career, but it may have been the most important one.  For when the young third baseman hit a sharp line drive to center field off of the Giants’ Tim Lincecum, it may have signaled the beginning of an era.

Johnson (26) was called up after the Astros’ mind-numbing series sweep in Texas, and it seems that this time, it may be for good.  After a year of speculation that he might become the regular starter at third base – a year that saw such luminaries as Aaron Boone and Geoff Blum man the third sack for the big leaguers, Johnson largely stayed in Triple-A Round Rock, where all he did was go .281/.323/.461 while improving defensively and battling a hand injury.

But if the Houston Astros are going to move forward as an organization, Johnson is going to be a key component of the transition from old to new.  For a team weak on minor league depth, it was important that he show he could produce as the starter.  And for the foreseeable future, he is the Astros’ third baseman.
Castro.jpg
Another key player in the Astros’ future, catcher Jason Castro, was also called up and started today’s game.  In just his second plate appearance, Castro ripped a Lincecum curveball into center field for his first big league hit.
Despite his ranking as Baseball America’s #41 prospect in all of baseball, Castro was slow to win me over.  I still think that first baseman Justin Smoak, now of the Rangers, would have been a better draft pick; and I still think that Koby Clemens is getting kind of a raw deal; but Castro has won me over – while I still think that there’s a future for Clemens in the organization, it won’t be as the everyday catcher (the Astros have tried him out at many positions in the minors, including left field and third base – his natural position – and now first base).
Because Jason Castro, in addition to playing a solid game behind the plate and producing at the plate, brings a very good batter’s eye to the game, as evidenced by an OBP that has never fallen below .362 for a season at any level of professional baseball.
This year in Round Rock, 23-year-old Castro has walked 32 times in 244 plate appearances.  That’s 7.625 trips to the plate for every walk.  Compare that to last year’s big league club, where only 1B Lance Berkman (5.794) did better.
So welcome aboard, boys.  I’m sure you’re just the first of several who will get called up this season.  But we’re sure glad to have ya.

Movers, Shakers, Rice Krispies Treat Bakers

I got word out of Round Rock this morning that Chris Johnson was moved to the Disabled List retroactive to April 14, but is “doing fine.”

J.R. Towles
left last night’s game with a “very minor head injury” and shouldn’t miss any more time.

In other news, the Phillies organization hired David Newhan as a player-coach at the Triple-A level.  You don’t see a lot of player-coaches these days, so that’s kind of neat.  Good for him; it’s too bad Cecil Cooper is crazy and wouldn’t give him a chance.  Best of luck, David!

Thomas “Tip” Fairchild
signed on with the Somerset Patriots of the independent Atlantic League.  They play some high-quality ball there, and are always being scouted, so if he does well there’s a chance he may end up back in the majors.

That’s it for now, except to say that Mark Mulder’s agent, Gregg Clifton, said this morning that “six, seven, or eight teams” are looking at the free agent pitcher.  That’s agent-speak, of course, for “The Dodgers are going to sign him.”

Slam of the Night

At around the seventh inning last night, I Tweeted: “You know what’s sad is that, if we win this, I don’t even know what to blog about. Complete lack of snarkiness right now.”

Our good friend Susan, over at Astros Fan in Exile, snapped back: “it is hard to fathom that you might not have anything to blog about!”

Ouch (but true.)

Leverage

The big winners in WPA (Win Probability Added) last night are:

  1. Miguel Tejada.214; You know, if he keeps this up and proves me wrong, I’ll be so ridiculously happy.  His current pace is unsustainable, but if he’s learned how to be a contact hitter, I will be thrilled.
  2. Carlos Lee.207; 2-for-4 with a 2-run home run, with absolutely no defensive opportunities.  That is a perfect scenario for Lee.
  3. LaTroy Hawkins.077; I wish he could have done this in the Cubs series, rather than proving all of the Lovable Losers right, but I’ll take it now.

Play Green

I want one of those green Astros Earth Day hats.  I really do.  I have no idea why, but I think they’re super sharp.

Chris Johnson Update

I mentioned earlier that third-base prospect Chris Johnson had been pulled after one at-bat in Friday’s game against Iowa and hadn’t played since.

I just spoke with Round Rock’s Director of Communications, Avery Johnson, who informed me that Johnson was hit on the hand by a pitch in Friday’s game, and is listed as day-to-day with no significant injury.

Astros Come Back For Sixth In A Row

Geoff Geary and the Florida sun allowed the Cardinals to tie today’s Grapefruit League game at 3-3 in the bottom of the seventh inning, but Wesley Wright and Jeff Fulchino shut them down in the final two innings, and Michael Bourn‘s single up the middle in the ninth gave the Astros their sixth win in a row.

Right now, we’re winning games in the same fashion we were losing them just a week ago.  Back then, Jason Michaels losing the ball in the sun or Jason Smith sprinting across the diamond to drop a pop-up while trying to backhand it just feet from Chris Johnson, whose ball it clearly was, would have spelled disaster.

Today, they were mere bumps in the road.

Of particular note during this streak is Bourn, who went 1-for-3 today with two walks.  Bourn’s numbers during this stretch are perhaps the single-most encouraging part of the Astros’ Spring Training: .333/.389/.400 with 2 SB in 4 attempts, 2 BB, 2 K, 5 RBI, and 4 R over six games.  It’s a small sample size, to be sure, but holds a lot of promise.  If he can continue to get on base at anything near a .350 clip or above, the Astros’ offense will succeed.

For the first time in 2009, I’m disappointed to have a day off.

Danny Graves.jpgThat day off will be spent by at least one person in Astros camp, Danny Graves, to look for a new job.  Graves was assigned to minor league camp, and had until Tuesday to decide whether to accept the assignment or to ask for his release.  He asked for, and was granted, his release.

Though his spring wasn’t great, neither was it as terrible as the 6.43 ERA suggests.  First of all, he was only given seven innings to show his wares, and though he gave up five earned runs in those seven innings, none were from home runs.  He also only issued one walk, didn’t hit any batsmen, and struck out three for a DICE of 2.57 despite a WHIP of 1.71.

Unfortunately, given human nature, most people will see the high WHIP and ERA and fail to give him a chance to show his wares.  But based on his ability to keep his walks, HBP, and HR to an absolute minimum – even over such a short amount of time – should at least warrant him the ability to go out and show someone what he can do.

I wouldn’t be surprised if this wasn’t the last we heard from Graves.

Off Day

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

A-Rod Fallout

As you’ve no doubt heard by now, Alex Rodriguez may have to withdraw from the WBC due to a hip injury.

You never like to see such a high-profile player go down to injury, but my thoughts immediately turned in a different direction than most people’s.

If Alex Rodriguez misses the WBC, does this make Miguel Tejada the Dominican Republic’s starting third baseman?

Miguel Tejada 2.jpgTejada withdrew from the Classic after hearing a rumor that he was going to be used primarily as a first baseman.  Then, with manager Felipe Alou’s eventual assurance that he would play shortstop, third base, and DH, he changed his mind and joined the team.

With Rodriguez in the lineup at third, and Jose Reyes and Hanley Ramirez at shortstop, it wasn’t immediately clear how much playing time Tejada would get in the infield.  Now, that’s all changed.

Barring whomever would replace A-Rod on the roster, the only other third baseman currently with the team is Willy Aybar.  Given that option, it seems reasonable to assume that Tejada would become the starting third baseman.

And that, as far as I’m concerned, is a problem for the Houston Astros.

Carlos Lee.jpgI’m generally pro-WBC.  I don’t mind players taking the added injury risk to play for their countries.  LaTroy Hawkins, Roy Oswalt, and Carlos Lee are all involved in the classic, and bully for them.  These are three guys who performed for the Astros last year.  They did exactly the job they were asked to do, and they did it well.

But Tejada’s short tenure with the Astros has been tumultuous, at best.  First, he was caught lying about his age.  Then, he suffered a mid-season slump that hurt the team in a bad way.  Next, he was indicted for lying to federal investigators.  Then came the WBC.

Simply put, I feel pretty strongly that Miguel should be in camp.  He should be getting reps as a shortstop.  He should be preparing himself to earn the money he’s getting paid – an albatross contract, signed under false pretenses regarding his age.  That contract, and the five players we gave up to get Tejada from the Orioles, could be singled out as the single-largest reason the Astros were unable to make a move of any merit this offseason.

The news that he may get significant playing time at another position doesn’t sit well with me.

Tommy Manzella 2.jpgOf course, there is another option, given the Astros’ holes at third base.  If Tejada shows himself to be a competent third baseman, perhaps Coop may consider moving him there permanently, and allowing either Tommy Manzella or Drew Sutton to play shortstop, assuming Chris Johnson is sent to AAA at the end of Spring Training.

Knowing Cooper, that seems unlikely, but it is a possibility.  Tejada’s still a better-fielding shortstop than he gets credit for (he had a 4.01 RFg in 2008, six points above adjusted league average), but he is aging (three years more quickly than we’d realized.)


In other news, Roy Oswalt will be on The Late Show With David Letterman tomorrow (Thursday) night for the Top 10 list: “Reasons To Watch The World Baseball Classic.”