They say it takes five years before you can truly evaluate a trade.
The 2007 season was an important one in the history of the Houston Astros. It brought the end of Tim Purpura’s tenure as general manager, and the beginning of the Ed Wade regime. It brought the beginning of the Carlos Lee era.
And then there’s Travis Phelps. More on that later.
Below is a list of the transactions between the end of the 2006 season and the beginning of the 2008 season, with just enough analysis to make it not completely boring.
October 15, 2006
The Astros had just finished the season, going 82-80, second in the NL Central by a game and a half. They’d won nine in a row and ten out of eleven to move to within a half game of the St. Louis Cardinals, who would go on to beat the Tigers four games to one in the World Series, but Houston lost two out of three to the Braves to end the season out of the playoff picture.
Definitely a disappointing season after Houston’s 2005 World Series appearance, but hopes were still high that they were within striking distance of another National League crown. This had the potential to be a very big offseason, and indeed some big things happened. But before big things can happen in any offseason, first little things have to happen. And on October 15, 2006, those little things involved letting players depart via free agency.
Those players included Travis Driskill, Mike Gallo, Jesse Garcia, Carlos Hernandez, J.R. House, Joe McEwing, Eric Munson, Jailen Peguero, Tike Redman, Walter Young, Alan Zinter, and Brian Gordon.
Travis Driskill – Driskill put together a couple of nice seasons early in his career with Baltimore and Colorado, and his one relief appearance in 2005 may have qualified his as the greatest Small Sample Size (SSS) player on the roster: 1 IP, 2 K, 0 ER, 0 H, 0 BB. He had a FIP of -0.98. That’s negative 0.98. I’m gonna be honest here and admit that I didn’t know a negative FIP was even possible. He had a pretty good year in AAA for the Astros in 2006, striking out over 8 batters per 9 IP, walking fewer than 2 per 9 IP, and finishing 4-8 with a 3.20 ERA.
Mike Gallo – 2006 was the end of Gallo’s miserable four-year run as an Astro. In 116 innings since 2003, he’d walked (3.65/9) almost as many as he’d struck out (5.35/9), going 4-3 with a 4.11 ERA, which actually out-performed his FIP (5.49) by a fairly wide margin.
Jesse Garcia – After a less-than-stellar career with the Orioles, Braves, and Padres, Garcia spent the 2006 with the Astros organization in AAA, where he posted a walk rate under 3% and slugged just .392, with a 72 wRC+.
Carlos Hernandez – Hernandez began his career with the Astros in 2001, and by the end of 2004, he’d thrown 170.2 innings in 35 games (33 starts). But in 2006, he only managed 14 innings for Corpus Christi, walking 10.3 per 9 innings.
J.R. House – House began his career in Pittsburgh, where he was ranked as high as the #21 prospect in all of baseball in 2001. He was signed by the Astros as a free agent prior to the 2006 season. He had a stellar year between Corpus Christi and Round Rock, but went 0-9 with 2 strikeouts in his limited time in the big leagues.
Joe McEwing – McEwing was a good-not-great super utility man for the Mets, Cardinals, and Royals before the Astros purchased him from Kansas City before the 2006 season. He spent the majority of the season mashing in Round Rock, with just 6 appearances at the major league level.
Eric Munson – The third overall pick in the 1999 draft, Munson had played pretty unspectacularly for the Tigers and Devil Rays before signing with Houston as a free agent. He finished 2006 under the Mendoza line, hitting 199/269/348 with 5 home runs and 19 RBI. Though dreadfully unlucky (.219) in BABIP, he didn’t help himself with his walk (7.1%) and strikeout (20.5%) rates.
Jailen Peguero – An amateur free agent, signed by the Astros out of the Dominican Republic in 2000, Peguero never rose above the AAA level in Houston, though he would later go on to pitch 24 mediocre innings for Arizona in 2007 and 2008.
Tike Redman – Signed as a free agent after being released by the Tigers during the 2006 season, Redman had 121 nice plate appearances in Corpus Christi, with a .366 wOBA, but couldn’t find a spot on the big league roster, perhaps owing to his reputation as a poor defender (he’d led the league in errors by a CF in 2005 for Pittsburgh.)
Walter Young – Young hit 277/309/410 in 366 plate appearances in Corpus Christi after being released by the Padres, but never moved up to Round Rock.
Alan Zinter – A former first rounder (24th overall) by the Mets, Zinter was a journeyman minor leaguer long before arriving Houston, having played in the Mets, Tigers, Red Sox, Mariners, Cubs, and Diamondbacks systems before joining the Astros. It was his second stint with Houston, who’d actually given him 44 of his 84 big league plate appearances, back in 2002.
Brian Gordon – Gordon was drafted out of Round Rock High School, and showed nice peripherals in the minors, but could never manage to stay healthy.
ANALYSIS: This is so early in the offseason that none of these moves can exactly be analyzed yet. Several of the players on this list did, in fact, come back and play for the Astros in 2007. Of those who didn’t, not much was given up. Redman was worth 0.2 wins for Baltimore in 2007, but he’s offset by Jailen Peguero, who lost 0.2 wins with Arizona. House was worth 0.1 wins in 2007 for Baltimore. So we’ve got a NET LOSS of 0.1 wins. Hardly worth mentioning.
October 30, 2006
The Astros let Russ Springer depart via free agency. A piece of the pennant-winning 2005 team, Springer was an extreme (60.5%) flyball pitcher with a tendency towards allowing home runs. He threw 59.2 innings in 2006, going 1-1 with 46 K, 16 BB, 1.039 WHIP, and 3.47 ERA.
ANALYSIS: Springer pitched 116.1 innings over the next two seasons for the Cardinals, going 10-2 with a FIP near 3 and a hefty strikeout total. His HR/9 total dropped from 1.51 to 0.41, owing largely to playing in a park where flyballs didn’t leave quite as frequently. He was worth 1.7 wins over his two seasons in St. Louis, with 1.2 of them coming in 2007. So, a NET LOSS of 1.2 wins.
October 31, 2006
Craig Biggio, Roger Clemens, and Aubrey Huff departed via free agency. Don’t worry, future Hall of Famer Biggio would be back for one final season.
Huff had come over mid-season in a trade with the Devil Rays for Mitch Talbot and Ben Zobrist. It’s a good thing we’re not analyzing that trade, which was a giant loss for the Astros. He hit 250/341/478 for the Astros down the stretch, but poor fielding and baserunning gave him replacement value. Clemens had gone 38-18 with a 2.40 ERA in three seasons in Houston, striking out 505 batters in 539 innings while walking just 101. He won a Cy Young Award in 2004 (his 7th) and finished in the top three in 2005, but 2006 had been a bit of a struggle for him, and all signs pointed toward him heading into retirement.
ANALYSIS: Huff signed with the Orioles for three seasons, and was worth 1 win in 2007. In 2007, he was worth four times as many. After struggling through the first half of 2009, he was traded to the Tigers for Brett Jacobson, who never advanced past the AA level. Clemens pitched for the Yankees in 2007, going 6-6 with a 4.14 FIP. He was worth 1.8 wins. For the 2007 season, this is a NET LOSS of 2.8 wins in 2007.
November 6, 2006
Andy Pettitte departed through free agency. Something of a foregone conclusion after the loss of Clemens, Pettitte had gone 37-26 over three seasons in Houston, with a 3.38 ERA. He’d been worth 3.5 wins in 2006.
ANALYSIS: Pettitte went back to the Yankees in 2007, where he’s pitched ever since. 2007 shows a NET LOSS of 4.5 wins, as he went 15-9 with a 3.87 FIP for the Bombers.
November 10, 2006
Free agent Craig Biggio re-signed. Biggio came back for one final season, in which he hit a pretty lackluster 251/285/381, but he collected his 3,000th hit and solidified his Cooperstown credentials.
November 15, 2006
Free agent middle infielder Jesse Garcia re-signed.
November 24, 2006
Free agent outfielder Carlos Lee and free agent pitcher Woody Williams signed .
Lee had been a powerhouse for the White Sox, Brewers, and Rangers, and was signed by Houston to provide pop from the cleanup spot.
Williams was brought in to plug up the rotation with the departure of Clemens and Pettitte. An effective pitcher for the Blue Jays, Padres, and Cardinals, Williams’ tenure in Houston was less successful.
ANALYSIS: Williams struggled in Houston, going 8-15 with a 5.27 ERA through 33 games (31 starts). He was worth -0.1 wins. It’s hard to argue with the Lee signing, as – aside from a subpar 2010 in which his defense negated his 246/291/417 line – he consistently provided positive value. He was worth 10.7 runs over the next 5.5 seasons (at about $9.3m per win). Specifically for 2007, these two signings showed a NET GAIN of 3.3 wins, with Lee offsetting Williams’ negative value.
However, signing Lee forced the Astros to surrender their first round pick (17th overall) to the Texas Rangers. The Rangers used this pick to select Blake Beavan, who they later traded to the Mariners (with Matthew Lawson, Justin Smoak, and Josh Lueke) for Cliff Lee and Mark Lowe.
Lee played the remainder of the season in Texas and then was signed by the Phillies, giving Texas two more draft picks in 2011, which they used to select Kevin Matthews and Zach Cone. Cone, in particular, looks like a win so far for Texas. He hit 262/326/421 in A-ball in 2012 (115 wRC+) and, if he can learn a little more patience at the plate, could eventually prove to be a solid center fielder in the big leagues.
For his part, Lowe has provided 0.4 wins over the past two seasons for Texas.
Losing the first round pick carries its own unique set of hardships, but since we’re evaluating the 2007 season, we’ll stick with the net gain of 3.3 wins.
December 12, 2006
And away we go. Perhaps believing – somehow – that Woody Williams alone wasn’t quite enough to plug up the loss of Andy Pettitte and Roger Clemens, GM Tim Purpura decided to pull the trigger on a trade: Taylor Buchholz, Jason Hirsh, and Willy Taveras to the Colorado Rockies for Miguel Asencio and Jason Jennings.
Whatever Buchholz’s emotional shortcomings may have been (and they certainly may have been), he’d been a pleasant surprise for the Astros in their 2006 campaign. Though he’d gone just 6-10 with a 5.18 FIP, worth 0.4 wins. Nothing to write home about, but his future looked promising enough.
Jason Hirsh had shown command and control problems in his own rookie campaign in 2006, walking 4.43 batters per 9 innings and allowing 2.22 home runs per 9. An extreme flyball pitcher (69.9%), he didn’t fit the profile of a MMP pitcher. But he certainly didn’t fit the profile of a Coors Field pitcher, either.
Taveras was one of those frustrating leadoff hitters, all speed with no on-base skills. He drew just a 5.8% walk rate in 2006, with a wRC+ of 72, but saved 20.3 runs in center field and stole 33 bases. He’d boasted a .333 OBP, aided largely by his insane 42.9% bunt hit percentage.
Asencio had shown some early promise in Colorado, generating lots of groundballs, but could never quite command the strike zone.
Jennings was the real keystone of this piece for Houston. The 2002 NL Rookie of the Year had built a solid reputation in Colorado, going 58-56 with a 98 ERA+. Though he’d gone just 9-13 in 2006, he’d posted career-low ERA (3.78) and WHIP (1.373) totals.
ANALYSIS: For all the buzz that this trade generated, it was more or less a wash. Asencio spent 2007 struggling in the Astros’ minor league system, while Jennings generated the highest flyball percentage (64.8%) and HR/9 (1.73) of his career to date. He went 2-9 through just 18 starts, with a FIP of 5.39 and just 0.2 WAR.
On the other side of the trade, Taveras was worth a career-high 1.1 wins in 2007. Hirsh provided 0.9 wins of his own, going 5-7 with a 4.81 ERA, and Buchholz was worth 1.7 wins in 2007, limiting the long ball and the free passes. Overall, this was a NET LOSS of 3.5 wins for the Astros in 2007.
January 4, 2007
The first transaction of the new year saw the Astros re-sign free agent Eric Munson, as well as signing free agent Kevin Walker, who’d been lackluster for the Padres, Giants, and White Sox. Walker never pitched a big league inning for the Astros.
January 5, 2007
The Astros signed free agent Ray Sadler, who’d shown promise in Pittsburgh, but never materialized on the Astros’ big league roster.
January 8, 2007
The Astros signed free agent Mark Loretta. This was Loretta’s second stint with the Astros, having played 21 games for them during the 2002 season. But mostly, he’d been with the Brewers, Padres, and Red Sox. He was an infielder with good on-base skills and a little power, but not a ton in the way of defensive ability. He performed as expected for the Astros, going 287/352/372 in 2007, for a NET GAIN of 1.3 wins.
January 10, 2007
The Astros re-signed free agent Travis Driskill.
January 16, 2007
The Astros signed free agent Travis Phelps, albeit not for the last time during this offseason. They also signed free agent left-hander Steve Randolph. Phelps would not play in the majors for Houston. Randolph, on the other hand, pitched 13.1 innings. He struck out 22 batters in that time (14.85/9), but walked 17 (11.48/9) and gave up 18 earned runs, 21 hits, and 4 home runs. He ended the season 0-1 with a 12.15 ERA and a 2.850 WHIP, providing a NET LOSS of 0.4 wins in the process. Pretty impressive for 13.1 innings.
January 17, 2007
The Astros signed free agent infielder Danny Klassen.
January 18, 2007
The Astros signed free agent outfielder Todd Self.
January 19, 2007
The Astros signed free agent outfielder Tim Raines. Not that Tim Raines.
January 27, 2007
The Astros signed free agent pitcher Brian Moehler. This was Moehler’s second stint with the Astros (he’d thrown 13.2 innings in 2003 for Houston). He’d established himself as a capable pitcher with Detroit, Cincinnati, and Florida. Someone who could pitch out of the bullpen or as a starter. This was a fairly low-key signing, but Moehler would prove to be quite an asset for Houston in 2008, going 11-8 with a 4.57 FIP. In 2007, though, he was a replacement-level pitcher.
January 31, 2007
The Astros re-signed free agent Brian Gordon.
Februrary 2, 2007
The Astros signed veteran lefty Scott Sauerbeck and righty Rick White. Sauerbeck would not pitch at the big league level for the Astros, but White did end up contributing 29.1 miserable innings in 2007, with a NET LOSS of 0.3 wins.
March 2, 2007
The Astros signed free agent outfielder Barry Wesson.
March 6, 2007
The Astros signed international free agent Jose Altuve. Though he wouldn’t begin contributing until 2011, the diminutive seventeen-year-old infielder may have been the second-best signing of the offseason. An All-Star in 2012, he’s been worth 2.1 wins in roughly a season and a half in Houston. Still, for the 2007 season, he’s a wash.
March 26, 2007
The Astros claimed Ezequiel Astacio off waivers from the Rangers. Though he’d pitched before in Houston, Astacio would not re-surface on their roster in 2007 or beyond.
Purpura also pulled off a low-profile trade, sending Wade Robinson to the Nationals for Danny Ardoin. Robinson struggled at the AA-level before Washington cut him, and Ardoin never made it to the big leagues for Houston, despite appearances in the past for Minnesota, Texas, Colorado, and Baltimore.
March 27, 2007
The Astros released Travis Phelps. Poor guy.
March 30, 2007
The Astros released Charlton Jimerson. Jimerson had gone 247/287/445 for Houston’s AAA club in 2006, and had even contributed 0.1 wins for the big league club. After he was released, the Mariners signed him. Though he only had two plate appearances for Seattle in 2007, one of them resulted in a home run, for an impressive (on paper) line of 1000/1000/2500, 1.448 wOBA, 848 wRC+. He also flashed a good glove and stole two bases in his limited time for the Mariners, worth a NET LOSS to Houston of 0.2 wins.
This would be the final move of Spring Training before the Astros began the 2007 season. The dates, moving forward, will have the Astros’ record for the sake of reference.
April 3, 2007 (0-2, t-5th NL Central)
The Astros released Kevin Walker.
April 27, 2007 (9-13, t-5th NL Central)
The Astros signed Travis Phelps. Hey, welcome back!
May 20, 2007 (21-22, 2nd NL Central)
The Astros released Travis Phelps. Oh, hey, never mind.
June 7, 2007 (24-35, 5th NL Central)
The 2007 Rule 4 Draft was, more or less, an unmitigated disaster for Houston. They didn’t select until 111th overall. In total, they selected 42 players, only one of whom ever played in the major leagues. That one, Robbie Weinhardt, was drafted in the 38th round. He didn’t sign. In 2008, Tigers drafted him in the 10th round, and he’s contributed 0.4 wins for them
The small amount of upside is that they were able to flip 10th-rounder Matt Cusick to the Yankees for LaTroy Hawkins, who would go on to be worth 1.1 wins for Houston, but not until the 2008 season.
11th-rounder Robert Bono was part of the package sent to Florida for Matt Lindstrom in 2010. Lindstrom was worth 0.3 wins that season, and was later sent to Colorado for Jonnathan Aristil and Wes Musick, both of whom pitched in Oklahoma City in 2012.
June 12, 2007 (27-37, 4th NL Central)
The Astros signed veteran free agent pitcher Chan Ho Park. Park would not end up pitching in the majors for Houston, though he would have a productive year two years later for Philadelphia.
June 19, 2007 (31-40, 5th NL Central)
The Astros released Scott Sauerbeck.
June 28, 2007 (33-46, 5th NL Central)
The Astros released Rick White.
July 28, 2007 (46-58, 4th NL Central)
Despite being ten and a half games out of first place, Purpura still believed Houston had a shot, owing largely to the reputation the Astros had put together of being a “second-half team.” It was the pressure to make a push for the postseason, no doubt, that prompted him to trade Dan Wheeler to Tampa Bay for Ty Wigginton.
At the time, this felt very similar to the deal that sent Talbot and Zobrist to Tampa for Aubrey Huff. Huff and Wigginton were both part-time rentals from Tampa Bay. They both played third base. They both had some power. In reality, though, this trade hurt Houston far less. Wigginton turned in a career-best 3.1 WAR in 2008, limiting his defensive liabilities. In just 187 plate appearances in Houston in 2007, he went 284/342/462 and was worth 0.8 wins.
Wheeler had been a key piece of the Houston bullpen in 2005 and 2006, and had been moderately less effective in 2007. He never again matched his 05/06 peak, finishing the season with 0.3 WAR for Tampa, but contributing 0.3 more over the following three seasons combined. This resulted in a NET GAIN of 0.5 wins for Houston in 2007.
July 31, 2007 (46-60, 4th NL Central)
Wigginton’s signing made it pretty clear that Morgan Ensberg’s days in Houston were done. Ensberg had been electric during the 2005 season, with 6.5 WAR, and another 3.8 in 2006. But he struggled in 2007, both in the field and at the plate, and was responsible for -0.5 WAR. He rebounded slightly after being traded to San Diego for cash considerations. This move resulted in a NET LOSS of 0.5 wins.
August 22, 2007 (57-70, 4th NL Central)
Danny Ardoin was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals for cash considerations.
September 11, 2007 (63-81, 6th NL Central)
The Astros purchased Dennis Sarfate from the Brewers.
September 20, 2007 (67-86, 5th NL Central)
Ed Wade was hired as the general manager of the Houston Astros.
September 24, 2007 (68-88, 5th NL Central)
Wade’s first move as GM is to ship Jason Lane off to San Diego for nothing. Lane, once one of the Astros’ most highly-touted prospects, floundered at the Major League level, and in 2007 he was worth -0.5 WAR. Even after the trade, he resulted in a NET GAIN of 0.1 WAR. He’s currently trying to rebuild his career as a pitcher.
Altogether, a net loss of a little over 7 wins. The 2006 Astros had won 82 games; eight fewer puts them at 74. Though they actually only won 68 games, Pythagoras had them good enough for 72. Between expected regression, a few bad bounces, and personnel decisions, two games of variance isn’t too bad for this experiment.
The Chicago Cubs won the NL Central in 2007 with 85 wins, or roughly the cost of trading pieces for Jason Jennings and not replacing Andy Pettitte’s value.
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.
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!