Yesterday, my colleague over at Crawfish Boxes, David Coleman, posted his “Three Astros Things.”
One of the Astros things was actually a Rangers thing:
They lost out on Zach [sic] Greinke. They lost out on James Shields. What’s left for the Rangers?
Well, it appears our enemies to the north will try to load up on every other player they can. There’s talk that they may re-sign Josh Hamilton. There’s talk they may push through the Justin Upton trade. They may go after Michael Bourn, Anibal Sanchez, or any number of other players.
But, what if they don’t get anything? How much will the Rangers be hurt if they stand pat? It almost seems like they may be better off not making these moves. They need to replace Josh Hamilton’s offense, but adding Mike Olt may replace some of that offense, right?
Plus, they’d lose draft picks if they have to sign too many big-ticket free agents, which hurts the team down the road. In an Upton trade, they also would have to give up either Andrus or Profar.
I guess the question is are the Rangers good enough to contend without making a splashy move or can they still win the AL West with the team they have now?
My response will be longer than I’d feel comfortable posting in their comments section, so allow me to devote my own article to answering his article.
The usual caveats apply here – since I’ll be spending a lot of energy talking about WAR. WAR is a nice tool, but it’s not the only tool, and it’s certainly not the best predictive tool. But it does put us in the ballpark of a player’s value, so I’ll be using it as a catch-all throughout this article.
I think that, to answer this question, you first have to answer three other questions. Namely:
1. Were the 2012 Oakland Athletics a fluke?
It’s impossible to talk about the Rangers winning or losing the AL West without considering the team that did win the AL West in 2012, the Oakland Athletics. The Athletics seemed to overcome all odds in winning their division, despite having the second-lowest Opening Day payroll in all of baseball. They were built on youth without long major league track records: Yoenis Cespedes, Josh Donaldson, Chris Carter, Derek Norris, and Collin Cowgill were all rookie position players who were worth more than replacement value. Jarrod Parker, Tommy Milone, Ryan Cook, Sean Doolittle, A.J. Griffin, Travis Blackley, Evan Scribner, and Jordan Norberto were all rookie pitchers who did the same.
Pythagoras only put the 2012 Athletics two wins behind their actual performance. Then again, the Rangers only finished one game behind the Athletics in 2012, so I think it’s safe to call that a toss-up. For all intents and purposes, the Rangers and Athletics were equally good in 2012. You could point at any of a number of reasons why the A’s may have a sophomore slump in 2013, or why an additional year of playing together – with postseason experience – could make them play even better. Obviously, it could go either way. But there’s no compelling reason, at this time, to assume that Oakland won’t be in the mix in September and October 2013.
One problem with a young team is trying to define regression to the mean, since they are currently in the process of establishing the mean. As a result, I have no reason to think that the 2013 Athletics will be significantly worse than the 2012 Athletics.
Additionally, the Angels and Mariners could easily improve next season, putting added pressure on Texas to make a move. Or so it would seem.
2. What have the Rangers lost since 2012, and can they replace it?
Since the end of the 2012 season, Texas has lost 11 players with relevant (read: within the last three seasons) Major League experience, and they’ve gained 11 players with relevant Major League experience.
Using a 5/3/2 regression on incoming players, and 2012 rates for outgoing players:
Between Feldman, Napoli, Hamilton, Dempster, and Adams, the Rangers have lost a significant amount to Free Agency this winter. The Geovany Soto “gain” is actually a wash, as Soto was also on the roster in 2012. All told, the Rangers have lost approximately 12 wins from 2012. Prospects, such as Mike Olt, Jurickson Profar, and Leonys Martin, might make up some of the difference, but it’s unlikely they’ll make up all of it. Sure, Mike Trout had 10.0 WAR in his second rookie season of 2012, but counting on 13 wins from a trio of rookies isn’t the best idea in the world.
I would pencil the trio in for somewhere between 4-8 WAR in 2013. We’ll split the difference and call it 6.0. That leaves the Rangers with a 7-win differential from 2012, and an 8-win differential from the 2012 Athletics.
3. What, exactly, constitutes a “flashy signing”?
8 wins is a lot. 8 wins is Buster Posey. Heck, James Shields and Zack Greinke combined would be just over 9 wins. Re-signing Josh Hamilton would eliminate the loss of just 4 wins, and it seems to me that re-signing Hamilton might be a losing proposition. Not only did the Rangers make it clear that Greinke was Option 1 over Hamilton, but they also seem to have downplayed his contributions to an extreme. If I was Josh Hamilton (and let’s make it very clear here that I am not Josh Hamilton), I would look for a payday elsewhere.
But what’s interesting is that re-signing Ryan Dempster would bring the Rangers almost as close as re-signing Hamilton would. Of course, if Dempster’s agent is to be believed, Dempster would rather go to an NL team with Spring Training in Arizona (that’s the Diamondbacks, Cubs, Reds, Rockies, Dodgers, Brewers, Padres, and Giants, incidentally).
Dempster might not be as flashy as Hamilton, but he brings you almost as close to making up the win-differential from 2012 to 2013. After that, it’s a matter of “finding” around 5 wins. Now we’re in Michael Bourn/Justin Upton territory. But, heck, now we’re in Jimmy Rollins territory, too. Or Miguel Montero territory. It’s a lot easier to find 5 wins than it is to try and land one big free agent who can bridge the gap by themselves.
In short, I think a couple of non-flashy signings might benefit the Rangers at least as much as a big signing would. Anibal Sanchez has never been worth as many as 4.5 wins. Michael Bourn is coming off a personal-best 6.4, but he has a skillset that deteriorates with age.
I think a flashy signing might look nice to the fans in Arlington, but I have no reason to think that it’s the best thing the Rangers could do to stay competitive. They’d almost be better off letting the prospects play and trying to catch lightning in a bottle the way Oakland did in 2012.
Of course, there’s a reason why Oakland is Oakland, and why Texas is Texas. And I’d certainly never say that a team who has appeared in back-to-back World Series recently has any sort of a flawed method. But I do have to think that rushing out and signing a free agent just to sign a free agent isn’t the best thing the Rangers could do for themselves right now.
Every year. Every year, I join in a chorus of statistical slaves railing against the fan vote, this year witnessed by Derek Jeter (14th in WAR* among AL shortstops, with a paltry 0.2) getting a starting nod. Jeter is at least chasing 3,000 hits. There’s even less explanation for Josh Hamilton (1.6 WAR, 12th among AL outfielders.)
But this year, I’m not stopping there. The whole selection process is pretty silly. Bruce Bochy used his managerial picks to give Ryan Vogelsong an All-Star nod, which raised a lot of eyebrows around the league. But Vogelsong (1.9 WAR, 20th among NL starters) isn’t even the worst offender. Jose Valverde made the squad despite a 0.4 WAR (38th among AL relievers,) as did Brandon League, who is tied with him.
And then there’s Jay Bruce, whose 0.9 WAR ranks him 39th among NL outfielders.
Meanwhile, Bochy snubbed his own third baseman, Pablo Sandoval, who leads all NL third basemen with 2.0 WAR. Sandoval isn’t alone; he’s tied at the top with Chase Headley, who also wasn’t voted in. Neither were Ryan Roberts (1.9) – who wasn’t even on the printed All-Star ballot – or Aramis Ramirez (1.6). That’s right, the NL’s starting third baseman, Placido Polanco, ranks fifth. The reserve third baseman, Chipper Jones, ranks tenth.
The second base situation in the AL is almost as bad. Robinson Cano (2.4, 5th among AL 2B) was voted the starter, and Howie Kendrick (3rd with 3.1) is the backup, leaving Dustin Pedroia (1st with 3.7) as proof that even big-market players aren’t exempt. He’ll have company watching the game; the Rays’ Ben Zobrist is 2nd with 3.6 WAR, and also didn’t receive a nod.
David Robertson is tied with his bullpen mate, Mariano Rivera, to lead all AL relievers with a 1.5 WAR, but he’ll be sitting at home, also.
But it is what it is, and most of the guys who belong there end up there, one way or the other. But would it kill Major League Baseball to rectify this situation somehow? Maybe give the General Managers a vote? Maybe SABR? I don’t know; but I do know that something needs to change. The guys who earn All-Star nods must be allowed to play in the All-Star Game.
I’m all for the idea of the fan vote: Fans should be able to watch their favorite players take the field in July against one another. But if a player out-performs every other player at his position, he should be on that field.
As is my tradition, I’ve taken the liberty of creating my own All-Star team, based on statistics, while maintaining current MLB rules (i.e. at least one player from each team**).
So, without further ado, my own choices for the 68 Major League All-Stars:
C: Brian McCann (ATL)
1B: Joey Votto (CIN)
2B: Rickie Weeks (MIL)
3B: Chase Headley (SDP)
SS: Jose Reyes (NYM)
OF: Matt Kemp (LAD), Andrew McCutcheon (PIT), Ryan Braun (MIL)
SP: Roy Halladay (PHI)
Cole Hamels (PHI), Cliff Lee (PHI), Clayton Kershaw (LAD), Jair Jurrjens (ATL), Jonny Venters (ATL), Craig Kimbrel (ATL), Eric O’Flaherty (ATL), Mike Adams (SDP), Carlos Marmol (CHC), Ian Kennedy (ARI), Daniel Hudson (ARI), Matt Cain (SFG)
C Miguel Montero (ARI), 1B Prince Fielder (MIL), 2B Danny Espinosa (WSN), 3B Pablo Sandoval (SFG), SS Troy Tulowitzki (COL), OF Shane Victorino (PHI), OF Michael Bourn (HOU), OF Matt Holliday (STL), OF Carlos Beltran (HOU), 1B Gaby Sanchez (FLA), 2B Brandon Phillips (CIN), OF/1B Lance Berkman (STL), 3B Ryan Roberts (ARI)
C: Alex Avila (DET)
1B: Adrian Gonzalez (BOS)
2B: Dustin Pedroia (BOS)
3B: Alex Rodriguez (NYY)
SS: Asdrubal Cabrera (CLE)
OF: Jose Bautista (TOR), Curtis Granderson (NYY), Jacoby Ellsbury (BOS)
DH: David Ortiz (BOS)
SP: Jered Weaver (LAA)
Justin Verlander (DET), CC Sabathia (NYY), Josh Beckett (BOS), James Shields (TBR), David Robertson (NYY), Mariano Rivera (NYY), Jim Johnson (BAL), Aaron Crow (KCR), Sergio Santos (CWS), Felix Hernandez (SEA), C.J. Wilson (TEX), Gio Gonzalez (OAK)
C Matt Wieters (BAL), 1B Miguel Cabrera (DET), 2B Ben Zobrist (TBR), 3B Kevin Youkilis (BOS), SS Jhonny Peralta (DET), OF Alex Gordon (KCR), OF Denard Span (MIN), OF Brett Gardner (NYY), DH Victor Martinez (DET), OF Matthew Joyce (TBR), OF Carlos Quentin (CWS), 2B Howie Kendrick (LAA)
* I calculated WAR by averaging bWAR and fWAR.
** Yankees 6, Red Sox 6, Braves 5, Tigers 5, Diamondbacks 4, Phillies 4, Brewers 3, Rays 3, Reds 2, Dodgers 2, Mets 2, Padres 2, Giants 2, Cardinals 2, Angels 2, Royals 2, Cubs 1, Rockies 1, Marlins 1, Astros 1, Pirates 1, Nationals 1, Blue Jays 1, Rangers 1, Mariners 1, Athletics 1, Twins 1, Indians 1
Minute Maid Park is now over a decade old, but when it opened, it signaled a very obvious change for the Houston Astros organization. Gone were the pitching-friendly confines of the Astrodome, and in their place was a new park with a reputation (deserved or otherwise) as a hitter’s paradise.
On Opening Day, 2000, the ceremonial first pitch was thrown by Kenneth Lay (oops) to open what was then known as Enron Field, now Minute Maid Park. Since then until the end of last season, no fewer than 97 position players and 124 have donned a Houston Astros uniform.
The Astros have been through a lot during that period – 4th place in their division in 2000, and then starting a string of success that would culminate in the 2005 National League pennant, followed by a sharp and dramatic decline.
As we step forward into a new era – one in which no single player who saw that ceremonial first pitch is still an active player for the Astros – I got the idea to look back and answer a very basic question: “Which Astros have been the best players during the Minute Maid Park era?”
For this, I looked at a number of stats, mostly WAR, only factoring in seasons in which the Astros called MMP (or Enron Field) home. Most of the players were chosen for their total team value, though some were given the nod for big contributions over the course of just a few seasons. A twenty-five player roster proved to make some decisions much too difficult, so I expanded it to 30.
What this is not is a look at the best hitters in Minute Maid Park. No attention was paid to home-road splits, although I may revisit that idea down the road. Also, I used B-R’s WAR, which sometimes varies wildly from FanGraphs’ WAR. It is what it is.
The largest single-season WAR for any position player was posted by Lance Berkman in 2008, and the largest single-season WAR for a pitcher was the 7.2 that Roger Clemens put up in 2005. In fact, not surprisingly, it was the pitching that year that propelled Houston into the playoffs. Of the top five single seasons ever put together by an Astros pitcher in the Minute Maid Park era, 3 of them came that year: #1 Roger Clemens (7.2), #3 Andy Pettitte (5.8), and #5 Roy Oswalt (5.3). Only one position player from that season, Morgan Ensberg (third at 6.5), had a season in the top ten of all-time seasons by an Astros position player in the MMP era.
So without further delay, I present to you the 30 Greatest Astros of the Minute Maid Park era:
1. Roy Oswalt. Of the ten best pitching seasons in the Minute Maid Park era, Oswalt has four (2002, 2005, 2006, and 2007). He’s far and away the leader in overall WAR, owing largely to the fact that his 291 starts dwarfs any other pitcher – Wandy Rodriguez has the second-most, with 167. Oswalt came up with the Astros in 2001, and played his entire Astros career in the MMP era. With 5 Cy Young top-five finishes, 3 All-Star appearances, 4 appearances in the Top 25 of MVP voting, and a Rookie of the Year runner-up, he’s easily the most-decorated pitcher of the era. But it wasn’t just longevity that aided Oswalt. His 4.2 WAR-per-season as a pitcher is second in the MMP era only to…
2. Roger Clemens. Clemens was already a six-time Cy Young Award winner by the time he needled (see what I did there?) his way into Houston in 2004 to begin a three-year stretch of dominance that saw him win one more Cy Young, a second top three finish in the voting, two All-Star appearances, and two MVP top-25 selections. He also threw at his son, Koby Clemens, who had earlier homered off of him in an exhibition game. I mean, I’m just saying that that happened.
3. Wade Miller. When Miller’s name is mentioned around Astros fans, it usually takes them a moment or two to remember who he was, but he did post double-digit wins three years in a row (2001-03). Unfortunately for him, the World Series year of 2005 was his first away from the club. If one includes the 10.1 innings he pitched during the Astrodome era, Miller was 58-39 as an Astro, with a 3.87 ERA, 117 ERA+, 1.309 WHIP, 7.7 K/9, and 2.15 K/BB. He also struck out 6 Braves in 7 innings in his only playoff appearance, Game 1 of the 2001 NLDS.
4. Andy Pettitte. Astros fans can be forgiven for thinking of Pettitte and Clemens as one in the same. The strong lefty-righty combo came into town – and left town – at the same time, from the same New York Yankees, and back to those same New York Yankees. Pettitte’s 7.5 WAR over that time pales in comparison to the other three names on the list, but he did finish fifth in the Cy Young voting in 2005 and helped propel the team to their first World Series appearance. Pettitte also left town with a cool 1.230 WHIP and more than three strikeouts to every walk he issued as an Astro in the MMP era.
5. Wandy Rodriguez. At first glance, Rodriguez’s place on this list seems to owe itself more to the fact that he’s the longest-tenured current Astros pitcher of the MMP era, and there is some merit to that. His 167 starts is second among Astros pitchers during this time. But his 1.3 WAR-per-season isn’t bad – the only pitchers not on this list who can match it are Shane Reynolds (1.3) and Chris Holt (1.9). Wandy’s been successful as an Astro largely by keeping the ball in the park – he’s allowed just 1.0 home runs per 9.0 innings pitched since coming up in 2005, and his WHIP has been on a downward trend ever since the career-high 1.60 he posted as a sophomore. Rodriguez has also posted three seasons (2008, 2009, 2010) with an ERA+ above 100, and has had three double-digit win totals: His rookie campaign in 2005, 2009, and 2010.
6. Brett Myers. Myers may look out of place on this list, as he’s only had one full season as an Astros pitcher, but that season ranks among the best all-time in the MMP era. His 4.7 WAR-per-season is second only to Clemens’ 5.1, outpacing even Oswalt’s 4.2. In his lone season as an Astro, Myers finished 10th in the Cy Young balloting and posted a career-high 123 ERA+.
1. Octavio Dotel. There aren’t a whole lot of surprises on this list, but the first might be seeing Dotel ranked above closer extraordinaire Billy Wagner. A case could be made for either of the last two in the once-vaunted Lidge-Dotel-Wagner trio that was once used to mop up opponents during the early years of the MMP era, but Dotel wins on tenure. His 10.6 WAR over the course of 5 seasons as an Astro during this period is the best for any reliever, and his insanely-good 3.05 K/BB ratio (which does include 85.1 IP during the Astrodome era) is pretty impressive, too.
2. Billy Wagner. When the hard-throwing lefty came up in 1995, he captured Astros nation and held it for nine seasons, five of which came in the MMP era. The final year of the Astrodome era was his best and earned him 4th place in the Cy Young balloting, but he pitched well even in the new ballpark. In fact, it was his final year in Houston, 2003, that saw him post his career-high 44 saves, and he earned 2 of his 3 All-Star Game appearances as an Astro in the MMP era.
3. Brad Lidge. It’s easy enough, after watching Brad Lidge struggle through the end of his tenure as a Houston Astro, to forget how dominant he could be. But from his first full season in 2003 through the World Series year of 2005, he owned opposing hitters, striking out more than 3.75 batters for every one he walked, posting a 1.078 WHIP, and putting together a string of devastating ERA+: 122 in 2003, 230 in 2004, and 185 in 2005. He finished 5th in the Rookie of the Year balloting in 2003, 8th in the Cy Young voting in 2004, and earned an All-Star nod in 20
4. Chad Qualls. Qualls was never quite as flashy as Lidge, Dotel, or Wagner, but he did post consistently-high ERA+ during his tenure as an Astro in the MMP era: 124 (2004), 130 (2005), 119 (2006), and 146 (2007). During these four seasons, he posted a 1.236 WHIP, 6 saves, and 23 wins out of the bullpen.
5. Dan Wheeler. Wheeler has never enjoyed greater success as a pitcher than he did during the 3+ seasons he spent as an Astro during the MMP era, an era during which he posted an amazing 1.088 WHIP and a 145 ERA+ over 268.2 innings. The 3.9 WAR he posted over the course of that time is incredible for a middle reliever, which he’s been for the overwhelming majority of his career.
6. Jose Valverde. Antics aside, Valverde proved a useful commodity in the retooling years of 2008 and 2009, with a 3.3 WAR and a 1.159 WHIP. He struck out 3.16 batters for every walk he issued, and 9.9 for every nine innings he pitched as an Astro – a full 139 of the 552 batters he faced (over 25%).
7. LaTroy Hawkins. Hawkins is much-maligned around certain (ahem, Cubs) circles, largely because he always seemed like a setup man who could never really step up and become a full-time closer. That may well be true, but he pitched well during his Astros tenure, from midway through 2008 through 2009. He held down a 1.71 ERA during those two years, and an amazing 244 ERA+. Like Rodriguez, he was a guy who kept the ball in the park, allowing just 0.7 HR/9, with a 1.091 WHIP. His 3.3 WAR for less than two full seasons is pretty remarkable for a middle reliever.
8. Brandon Lyon. Though Lyon has pitched just one full season in Houston, 2010, his 2.0 WAR in that single season ranks among the best single-season WAR for any Astros reliever during the MMP era. Never truly dominant, he did post a 125 ERA+ and allowed just 0.2 HR/9.
9. Dan Miceli. A case could be made for lefty Tim Byrdak, but Miceli gets the nod for his 1.6 WAR in 2004 and parts of 2003, which saw him pitch for 4 major league teams. His 375 ERA+ over the course of the 30.0 innings he pitched as an Astro that year reek of bad sample size, but striking out 3.03 batters for every walk issued is a pretty solid argument, as well.
1. Brad Ausmus. Ausmus wins on playing time alone. Sure, he posted a 2.8 WAR as an Astro during the MMP era, his second stint with the team, but it took from 2001-2008 for him to do it. He also won three Gold Gloves during this time, and much of his value came on defense, unlike:
2. Mitch Meluskey. Meluskey took to Minute Maid Park like a pig to mud, ranking fifth in Rookie of the Year balloting during the park’s inaugural season, after which he departed, only to return in 2003 to much more dismal numbers. That rookie season alone was enough to win the hot-headed backstop a spot on a thin roster of Astros catchers. Despite losing 0.5 wins to his poor defense, he made up for it at the plate, where he hit .300/.401/.487.
1B Lance Berkman. Since getting 6th place in the Rookie of the Year balloting in MMP’s inaugural 2000 season, Berkman has been a mainstay, first as a corner outfielder (plus who remembers his 1,292.1 innings as a center fielder over parts of five seasons?) and then as a first baseman. With five top five finishes in the MVP balloting and five All-Star selections, the switch-hitter has been nearly-synonymous with the MMP era, picking up where legends like Jeff Bagwell and Craig Biggio left off, as one more Killer B. His 46.1 WAR over this time dwarfs any other player. Of course, as we all learned last night, he isn’t any less deadly in MMP as an opposing hitter, either.
2B Craig Biggio. The consummate team player, Biggio changed positions with some regularity. After coming up in 1998 as a catcher, he moved to second base, later to the outfield to make room for Jeff Kent, and then back to second base. In my mind, he will always be a second baseman, a position he defined for the Astros over the course of 17,154.2 innings at the position. His finest days may have been behind him once the move was made to MMP, but he never took a pitch off, amassing 10.9 WAR from 2000-2007.
3B Morgan Ensberg. Though Ensberg played in MMP’s inaugural 2000 year, he didn’t work his way into being a full-time starter until three years later. In parts of seven seasons, though, he put together a .266/.367/.475 line, including the 2005 season which saw him finish 4th in MVP voting, earn his only All-Star selection, and win a Silver Slugger award en route to leading the Astros offense that won the NL pennant.
SS Adam Everett. Everett is another player whose value came mostly from having a longer tenure than anyone else at his position during the MMP era, but he also provided 6.9 WAR over 7 seasons as a defender alone.
LF Moises Alou. Alou was already well-traveled, having played for Pittsburgh, Montreal, and Florida before he landed in Houston in 1998 with a campaign that saw him earn an All-Star nod, a Silver Slugger award, and third in the MVP voting. It wasn’t until he resurfaced with the team in 2000 and 2001, though, that he got to be a part of the MMP era. And during his time in Houston, he made his mark on that period with two more MVP top-twenty finishes and another All-Star nod before departing for Chicago to blame fans for interfering with balls he would never have caught in a million years.
CF Richard Hidalgo. Fans may have trouble remembering Hidalgo, who played for the Astros in parts of 8 seasons, including 2000-2004 in the MMP era. Certainly, Mets and Rangers fans would have liked to have seen him continue the .278/.356/.501 line he put up during his tenure as an Astro, or the 17.4 WAR he accumulated, all but 3.3 of which came during the MMP era.
RF Hunter Pence. It’s difficult not to think of Pence, now a team leader in his fifth season with the club, as the goofy 24-year-old that surfaced in 2007 with a rookie campaign that earned him third in the ROY voting. He boasts a 6.6 WAR over that time, despite losing 1.1 wins on the defensive side of the ball (all in 2010), which actually ranks him third after Berkman and Hidalgo among players who have manned right field for the Astros in the MMP era.
1B Jeff Bagwell. Bagwell played five full seasons, and part of a sixth, during the MMP era, and though he might not have been the force he’d been earlier in his career, he did amass three seasons (2000, 2001, and 2003) with numbers good enough to finish in the top 15 of MVP voting, including a 1.039 OPS in 2000. From 2000-2003, he posted four consecutive seasons with an oWAR over 3.5, and all told, he added over 20 wins from 2000-2005.
2B Jeff Kent. One of two future All-Stars to man the second sack for the Astros in the MMP era, Kent had already solidified his career in Toronto, New York, Cleveland, and San Francisco by the time he landed in Houston from 2003-2004, where he posted a .293/.350/.521 line and 5.9 WAR.
3B Ken Caminiti. Caminiti had already spent 8 years in Houston during the Astrodome era before parting for San Diego in 1995, but he would return in 1999 and play his final year for the Astros in 2000, the inaugural year of MMP. The 1.5 WAR he posted that season was far from the best of his career, even of his Astros career, but the fading slugger did well enough that year to warrant a spot on the thirty best.
UTIL Ty Wigginton. After the Rays dealt Wigginton to the Astros in 2007 for Wheeler, he put together probably the best stretch of his career, going .285/.347/.506 in 161 games, split between third base, first base, and both corner outfiel
d spots. The 2.8 WAR he put together in such a short time is the best of any team he’s played for.
OF Michael Bourn. Bourn’s still got a lot of holes in his game, but the All-Star and two-time Gold Glove winner has amassed 7.1 WAR over the last two seasons, after a disastrous first year which saw him give away 2.1. He led the league in dWAR, Total Zone Runs, and Stolen Bases in 2010, and seems to be maturing before our very eyes.
OF Carlos Beltran. Beltran played just 90 games for the Houston Astros after a midseason three-team trade that saw John Buck go to the Royals and Octavio Dotel to the Athletics, but he made his time here count, putting together 3.5 WAR and leading the charge deep into the playoffs, where he posted an OPS over 1.5. Only Lance Berkman has carried this team on his back better than Beltran did in the second half of 2004 during the MMP era.
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.
That 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. 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?
Please note that this does not include exhibition or WBC games. These numbers are what most insiders would refer to as “bad.”
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
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!