Houston Astros 2007 Team Preview
by Asher B. Chancey, BaseballEvolution.com
April 2, 2007
2006 Record - 82-80, 2nd Place NL Central, 1.5 games behind the Cardinals
2006 Runs Scored - 735
2006 Runs Allowed - 719
Pythagorean Projection - 83-79
The 2007 Houston Astros face a classic good news/bad news scenario. The good news for the Astros is that they finished the 2006 season in second place in the NL Central behind the eventual World Champion St. Louis Cardinals. The bad news for the Astros is that they finished 82-80, with tied their second worst finish in 13 years.
The success of the Astros for the last decade and a half has been astonishing. As much as is made of the Braves and Yankees, the Astros haven't fielded a bad team since 1991, when they went 65-97 with two rookies named Jeff Bagwell and Luis Gonzalez, a prospect named Kenny Lofton, a reliever named Curt Schilling, and a catcher named Craig Biggio. Since that 1991 season, the 'Stros have finished with a losing record just once, an 81-81 record just once, a winning record 13 times, and six playoff appearances.
Nevertheless, those days would seem to have drawn to a close. Bagwell is gone and Biggio is a shell of his former self. Texas natives Andy Pettitte and Roger Clemens have decided to come play at home, and then decided to leave again. Will the Astros of tomorrow be able to pick up where the Astros of yesterday left off? It doesn't look good.
2006 Starter - Brad Ausmus
Projected 2007 Starter - Brad Ausmus
"Boss-mus" is a fan favorite and Astros mainstay. He handles pitchers well and plays good defense. At least, that is what Astros fans tell themselves to take their minds off of Ausmus' .285 slugging percentage. At 38, it may be time for a new catcher, and career minor leaguer Humberto Quintero hopes to be that new catcher before he turns 30.
Boss-mus on the Road - Last season, Brad Ausmus went .218/.304/.250 in 67 road games.
2006 Starter - Lance Berkman, Mike Lamb
Projected 2007 Starter - Lance Berkman
In 1059 career games, Lance Berkman has tallied 165 games or more at first base, left field, right field, and center field. First base is his best position, and the 31 year old is probably there to stay. Berkman is one of the classiest and least hyped superstars in baseball, and had one of his best seasons in 2006. In ten years we may be talking about Jeff Bagwell and Lance Berkman as the greatest back-to-back players at a position in baseball history.
2006 Starter - Craig Biggio
Projected 2007 Starter - Craig Biggio
Craig Biggio - one of the all-time greats, but destined to suffer through a terrible season. Biggio's road OPS last season was .327 points worse than his home OPS (.868/.541), which means he was a valuable player at home and he didn't have a pulse on the road. His 2006 home performance may have been a modern-era non-Coors Field record.
2006 Starter - Morgan Ensberg
Projected 2007 Starter - Morgan Ensberg
Good news - Ensberg walked 101 times last season, and set a career high with a .396 on-base percentage and a shockingly low 3 double plays.
Bad news - Ensberg played only 127 games, batted .235, and hit 16 of his 23 homeruns at Minute Maid.
Is Morgan Ensberg an elite third baseman, or is he a decent third baseman who has benefitted immensely from his home park? His OPS splits (.953/.764) and homerun splits (63/34) certainly indicate the latter. Not as bad as Vinny Castilla, but not as good as his 2005 season made him seem.
2006 Starter - Adam Everett
Projected 2007 Starter - Adam Everett
The modern day incarnation of Roger Metzger, Everett can't hit or get on base. He has a fantastic glove, though, and has been a valuable part of the Astros' pitching success over the last four years.
2006 Starters - Preston Wilson, Willy Taveras, Jason Lane
Projected 2007 Starters - Chris Burke, Luke Scott, Carlos Lee, Jason Lane
Let's see here:
Carlos Lee's 2007 Contract with the Astros - six years, $100 million
Carlos Beltran's 2005 Contract with the Astros - seven years, $119 million.
Lee is 31 this year, has always been solid, and will probably perform well for the Astros.
Beltran is 30 this year, has been better than Carlos Lee for three of the last four years, has better upside, and is coming off of one of the great offensive seasons of the last twenty years.
I am not saying the Astros should have signed Carlos Beltran. I am saying that if they were going to spend 100 million dollars on an outfielder, they should have just gone ahead and signed Beltran.
As for Luke Scott, the 29 year old outfielder looked fantastic last season, but as with so many Astros players, looks can be deceiving. Scott had 249 plate appearances with the Astros last season, and posted an astounding 1.047 OPS. Just for fun, let's take a peek at his home/road splits:
| Split || PA || R || H || 2B || 3B || HR || RBI || BB || SO || AVG || OBP || SLG || OPS |
| Home || 110 || 15 || 36 || 10 || 4 || 8 || 25 || 12 || 14 || .375 || .455 || .812 || 1.267 |
| Away || 139 || 16 || 36 || 9 || 2 || 2 || 12 || 18 || 29 || .305 || .403 || .466 || .869 |
Make no mistake about it - a .400 OBP on the road is fantastic. Nevertheless, his numbers are clouded by his performance at Minute Maid Park. When your Home slugging percentage is almost as high as your Road OPS, red flags start to pop up everywhere.
Chris Burke, who will be 27 this season, could be a serious sleeper for the Astros this season. Right now, Craig Biggio is slated to bat leadoff for the club, which has more to do with allegiance to the face of the franchise than anything else, but Burke could take the position once Biggio retires. Burke got on-base at a .372 clip in the minors, and has the speed to steal plenty of bases.
The Astros have announced an intention to work Jason Lane into the lineup, which only stands to delay the development of Burke and Scott, who aren't getting any younger. After what seemed a breakout season in 2005, in which Lane hit 26 homeruns but only managed a .316 on-base percentage, Lane regressed last year, hitting .190 on the road and starting only 14 games in the second half.
2006 Starters - Andy Pettitte, Roy Oswalt, Wandy Rodriguez, Taylor Buchholz, Roger Clemens, Fernando Nieve, Jason Hirsh, Brandon Backe
Projected 2007 Starters - Oswalt, Jason Jennings, Woody Williams, Wandy Rodriguez, Chris Sampson
The Astros hitting builds you up like a house of cards, and the Astros pitching staff comes like a gust of wind and blows you down.
Roy Oswalt is one of the top five starting pitchers in major league baseball. Only injuries can stop this guy, but haven't in four years. His strikeout numbers have been down the last years after topping the 200-mark twice in three years from 2002 to 2004, but his walks totals have also dropped, which is not a bad thing overall.
Jason Jennings enjoyed his best season in the majors with the Rockies last year, which indicates that he will be a sleeper to perform well with the Astros this year.
Wandy Rodriguez now has 264.1 innings of major league experience, and is 19-20 with a 5.58 ERA, and 178/116 K/BB ratio. Velocity was his thing in the minors, but it doesn't seem to be enough in the bigs thus far. Woody Williams got lit up with the Padres two years ago, and then turned in a very respectable season with the Padres in 2006. He still managed to give up 21 homeruns in 145.1 innings last season, which means he could approach 40 if he pitches 200 innings this season with the Astros.
The "Jimmy Morris Award" for this season goes to Chris Sampson, who retired from baseball after the 1999 season when it became clear that he wouldn't make it as a shortstop. During his retirement, he took a job coaching baseball for Collin County Community College in Plano Texas. While pitching batting practice, he discovered a penchant for pitching, and contacted the Astros about a tryout. In 524.0 innings in the minors, Sampson has posted a 2.94 ERA and a 334/78 K/BB ratio. Sampson then posted a 2.12 ERA with 15 K and 5 BB in 34.0 innings with the big club in 2006. Sampson will start the 2007 as the Astros number five starter, but frankly sound better than Rodriguez or Williams at this point.
Ironically, Sampson decided to retire from baseball in the fall of 1999, right as Jimmy Morris was lighting up Triple-A hitters in his comeback with the Devil Rays.
2006 Relievers - Brad Lidge, Chad Qualls, Dan Wheeler, Russ Springer, Trever Miller, Dave Borkowski
Projected 2007 Relievers - same
Astros Fun Fact - The 2006 Houston Astros had ten players play 100 or more games, and only three of them finished with OPS+ over 100.
Brad Lidge's nickname for the 2006 season was Brad "Houston, We Have A Problem" Lidge. After playing magnificently for three seasons, Lidge suddenly lost the handle in 2006, watching his ERA balloon to 5.28. He gave up more runs in 2006 than in 2005 and 2004 combined, and he set a career high for homeruns given up.
The Astros return essentially the same bullpen from a year ago, and they are all solid. Lidge will be the key in 2007.
Outlook for the Season
The Astros do not have good pitching or legitimate, stable hitting this season. If Luke Scott is for real, Morgan Ensberg has an on-again season, Craig Biggio actually contributes on offense, and Carlos Lee doesn't disappoint, the offense could be fine. But that really does nothing to dress up a rotation with Wandy Rodriguez, Woody Williams, and Chris Sampson.
Questions? Concerns? Comments? Asher lives in Philadelphia, PA, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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