For some reason, no one seems to be throwing awards at the 2012 Houston Astros squad.
So I thought it might be fun to distribute my own awards. And, so, introducing the First Annual All-Astros Award Winners:
Rookie of the Year
In theory, this was a wide-open race. Fifteen different players took the field for the Houston Astros who qualified as rookies. On the offensive side of the ball, third baseman Matt Dominguez led the pace. A piece of the Carlos Lee deal with Miami, Dominguez had a slash line of 284/310/477, with 5 home runs and 16 RBI in 31 games as an Astro.
But Dominguez’s output was dwarfed by fellow rookie Lucas Harrell. Harrell had time on his side – he pitched 193.2 innings in 32 games, all of them starts. He was able to keep the ball inside Minute Maid Park, allowing just 13 home runs. He won double digit games (11-11), with a 3.76 ERA, and 2.8 WAR (by comparison, Dominguez had 0.5 WAR, and NL Rookie of the Year Bryce Harper had 4.9. Arizona’s Wade Miley paced all rookie pitchers with 4.8).
So congrats, Mr. Harrell, you are the first-ever winner of the All-Astros Rookie of the Year Award.
Most Valuable Player
It only seems prudent to divide this award between hitters and pitchers. On the offensive side, shortstop Jed Lowrie may only have played in 97 games in 2012, but his slash line of 244/331/438 is very impressive. He had the best walk rate on the team (11.1%) and a pretty decent strikeout rate, too – just 16.8%. He clubbed 16 home runs and had 42 RBI, both second only to Justin Maxwell, his primary competition for this award. But in the end, Lowrie edged out Maxwell in WAR, wOBA, and wRC+, which makes it awfully hard to pick against him.
On the pitching side, Harrell takes home his second trophy of the night. Bud Norris and Wandy Rodriguez were the next-best, but each fell at least a win lower than Harrell in WAR, and neither came close in ERA or wins, either. Wilton Lopez had some impressive numbers out of the bullpen, but pitched 130 innings fewer than Harrell.
Admittedly, it seems strange to go with Lopez over Harrell here, since Harrell did win the team MVP, but if we’re looking for the best pitcher, I still think the nod has to go to Lopez. He didn’t throw nearly as many innings as Harrell, so his cumulative stats are all a lot lower, but his xFIP of 2.80, a WHIP of 1.04, SIERA of 2.53, and a 20.8% strikeout rate (and 3.1% walk rate) are all miles better than Harrell. If the Astros had found themselves in more high-leverage situations, Lopez could have been called on to throw more innings. Since he didn’t, his overall value may pale next to Harrell, but compiling 1.4 WAR in just over 66 innings is nothing to scoff at.
I’m going to break this award up, as well. It’s hard to find a defensive metric where Justin Maxwell wasn’t the best in 2012, but there is one, which we’ll get to later. Maxwell more than doubled his nearest competitor (Brandon Barnes) in UZR. His ARM, RngR, and ErrR are all at the very top of the team. But there is one area where he lost out.
Brian Bixler – signed this morning by the Mets, by the way – may have played just 59 innings at the major league level last season, but he did it all over the field. Second base, third base, shortstop, and both corner outfield positions. His 73.3 UZR/150 is impressive – almost 2.5 times Maxwell’s 29.4. So he wins as the best overall defender, though Maxwell wins as the best full-timer in the field.
As mentioned above, there isn’t an offensive metric where Jed Lowrie didn’t dominate his teammates in 2012. Though Maxwell did end up providing more power (.232 ISO to .194), he simply couldn’t get on base anywhere near as often as Lowrie. Lowrie’s value comes from putting the ball in play. He led the team in wOBA, wRC+, and WAR. It’s difficult to get past Lowrie’s numbers, though Maxwell’s output can’t be denied. Still, in overall offensive capability, I have to go with Lowrie.
There is no doubt in my mind that Fernando Martinez and Justin Maxwell will begin the 2013 season as starting outfielders.
Martinez, claimed on waivers from the Mets prior to the 2012 season, was a former top prospect whose development had been hampered by injuries. He had 90 good games in Oklahoma City last season, and even earned 107 wRC+ in his time in the big leagues. Houston may be the only place where he can continue his development on the field at the big league level, and they could certainly use his .477 Slugging Percentage in the lineup. For my money, he can start at either corner outfield spot for Houston.
Maxwell is a different story. He strikes out way too much, but after he began to receive regular playing time with Jordan Schafer on the DL, he looked a lot more comfortable at the plate. His defense was the real story, and he managed to scrape together 2.3 fWAR and 107 wRC+. I’d slot him into center field and challenge someone to try and take it away from him.
The question then must become: Who plays alongside them?
Brandon Barnes was abysmal in his 43 games in Houston (.232 wOBA!? .061 ISO!?). Che-Hsuan Lin, a waiver claim from Boston, shows promise and has a nice low strikeout rate, but nothing immediately leaps off the page at me. Forget J.D. Martinez and his .686 OPS.
A look around the system does show some interesting prospects, however.
Most of the good ones aren’t quite ready. Andrew Aplin had a 187 wRC+ in low-A ball with an extremely lucky BABIP; Preston Tucker put together 165 right alongside him. Speaking of BABIP, 2011 first-rounder George Springer had a .404 on his way to a .955 OPS in Lancaster. Along with his 28 stolen bases and an 11.2% walk rate, it’s not hard to see him as the leadoff man of the future. But that’s the future.
Maybe the two most-intriguing outfield prospects are Domingo Santana and Telvin Nash. Both are power-first guys who are mashing so far. Santana, received as the PTBNL in the Hunter Pence trade from Philadelphia, went 302/385/536 in Lancaster – and he’s just 20 years old. Even with Lancaster’s reputation for power hitting, a .385 OBP looks mighty nice, even if it was aided by a .397 BABIP. Sure, he may strike out 28.2% of the time, but he’s improving: It’s actually his first full season where he struck out less than 30% of the time.
Nash, on the other hand, strikes out more than forty percent of the time – now that’s a problem! Still, it’s really hard not to lick your lips at a .270 ISO, even if it is in Lancaster.
I wouldn’t be surprised to see Santana begin the year repeating high-A ball, but no doubt both these guys will be plugging away in Corpus Christi before July, along with Springer. It could be a glimpse of the future.
There’s also Brandon Meredith, who had 143 wRC+ in Lexington this year, and who should begin 2013 in Lancaster. Meredith’s peripherals look great: 11.2 BB%, 23.2 K%, 278/377/506 line in Lexington.
None of that helps the major league team right now, however.
When I look at possibilities for the Houston club, three names jump to my eye: Marc Krauss, Jimmy Paredes, and Jake Goebbert.
Paredes is an intriguing player – he’s been tried at third and second base, and is transitioning to the outfield, where he seems to be doing a little less damage, defensively. He went 318/348/477 in Oklahoma City last year, but I think he needs to repeat the level to further develop into an outfielder. Something tells me, though, that he might not have the chance, and that his learning curve may take place in the majors.
Krauss came over last year from Arizona in the Chris Johnson trade. He was raking in AA-ball for the D-backs, and in just 7 games in Corpus Christi. His call-up to Oklahoma City didn’t go as well (123/203/123 in 22 games), but don’t be surprised if you see him hanging around Spring Training.
Goebbert seems like he’s been in the Astros system a long time. He’s bounced back and forth between AA and AAA the last couple of seasons, and hasn’t been able to make the adjustment to AAA pitching. Still, his .872 OPS in the Texas League in 2012 is hard to ignore.
Personally, I can see Paredes nailing down the right field spot in spring, with Martinez in left and Maxwell in center. Lin will almost certainly hang around as the 4th/5th outfielder, and barring any sort of a Rule 5 draftee or a low-risk free agent signing, I think Barnes hangs around as a late-inning defensive replacement.
LF Fernando Martinez
CF Justin Maxwell
RF Jimmy Paredes
Bench: Che-Hsuan Lin, Brandon Barnes