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2009 Houston Astros: So Very Lousy

BaseballEvolution.com Spring Preview
by Gregory Pratt, BaseballEvolution.com
April 3, 2009


Key Transactions
Acquired Pos.
Mike Hampton SP
Aaron Boone 3B
Jeff Keppinger IF
Ivan Rodriguez C
Toby Hall C
Clay Hensley RP
Jason Smith SS
Jason Michaels OF
Departed Pos.
Ty Wigginton 3B
Mark Loretta IF
Randy Wolf SP
Brad Ausmus C

The Houston Astros are going to be terrible this season. I will not mince words. They are one of the worst five teams in the league, despite their managementĎs positive babble. Cecil Cooper says he thinks his team can win 90 games this year because they went 42-24 in the second half last year. Ed Wade thinks that anything can happen and points out that nobody believed in his team last year. I think thatís fine for him to say, but we need to get real. Beyond the fact that their second half last year was so good it would be difficult for any team to match, they do not have the same team, so the point is moot. In fact, theyíve given up several key players from last yearís ďrun,Ē including Ty Wigginton and Randy Wolf. 

So who is on the Astros, and why are they going to be so lousy next year?

2008 Standings - NL Central
Central W L PCT GB Home Road RS RA Exp W% RHP LHP
Chicago Cubs 97 64 .602 0 55-26 42-38 855 671 .609 64-48 33-16
*Milwaukee Brewers 90 72 .556 7.5 49-32 41-40 750 689 .539 57-52 33-20
Houston Astros 86 75 .534 11 47-33 39-42 712 743 .481 60-55 26-20
St. Louis Cardinals 86 76 .531 11.5 46-35 40-41 779 725 .533 59-47 27-29
Cincinnati Reds 74 88 .457 23.5 43-38 31-50 704 800 .442 44-63 25-30
Pittsburgh Pirates 67 95 .414 3.5 39-42 28-53 735 884 .416 52-67 15-28

I considered predicting that the Houston Astros would be the worst team in baseball this year. Only a few things stopped me. One of them plays at first base, and his name is Lance Berkman. He had a great season last year if you look at the overall batting line, but he was the best hitter in baseball during the first two months of the season and one of the worst by comparison in the second half. Still, Berkman has made a career out of being consistently excellent, and thereís little reason to expect otherwise in a normal year. Problem is, itís not a normal year, and that little reason is in his shoulder, as heís been having a nagging pain all through spring training. The Astros need Berkman to perform at Berkman-levels, and if he isnít, their season is doomed. Or, more doomed.

At second base is Kaz Matsui, who has a reputation as a solid leadoff hitter. He missed sixty-six games last season to various injuries and heís getting on in years, but if he can stay healthy and steal a few bases for the Astros, heíll make some contribution.

Which is more than what will be coming out of third base. In one of the most baffling moves of the offseason, the Astros let the steady Ty Wigginton go via free agency in favor of career backup Geoff Blum and an aging Aaron Boone, who is now out for the season with a life-threatening heart condition. Simply put, this is going to be an offensive black hole and there was no reason to allow Wigginton to go. They could have been respectable with him but, alas, that is not to be.


Carlos Lee

One of the more interesting players to watch this season will be Miguel Tejada, who is recovering from a terrible second half last season (he hit two home runs in the last two months!) and from being hassled by Congress for lying to them. Tejada is getting on in years and is starting to decline significantly at shortstop. I expect that to continue, but Tejada will try and say something about that. I donít think the bottom will drop out of him completely, however, and I imagine that he will have a solid season.

Pos '08 '09
C Ausmus/Quintero/Towles I-Rod
1B Berkman Berkman
2B Matsui Matsui
3B Wigginton/Blum Blum/Keppinger
SS Tejada Tejada
LF Lee Lee
CF Bourn Bourn
RF Pence Pence

Ivan Rodriguez, who was the best catcher in baseball ten years ago, is now an aging catcher who canít take a walk, doesnít hit for power, and canít do much but throw out runners. Thatís not without virtue, but it is without VORP!

The Astros have four outfielders whom you can expect to play. Only one of them resembles a complete player.

Carlos Lee, their everyday left fielder, can hit, but he is way too heavy to be playing the outfield.  He is a massive liability on defense. Of course, when I say he can hit I mean it: he can really hit, but he canít field at all.

Their centerfielder, Michael Bourn, meanwhile, canít hit worth a lick (5 HR, 29 RBI, 41 SB, 111 K in 467 AB) but he can steal a few bases and play some good defense. Unfortunately, his stolen bases donĎt offset the lack of offensive production with the bat, and you should expect the aging Darin Erstad to take some playing time in center. Unfortunately, heís old and his ankles are made out of tape, so he wonít be much better.

On the plus side is their right fielder, Hunter Pence, who is good and should continue to improve. He was excellent as a rookie in 2007 and had a solid first year last year. Thereís no reason why he canít be a bright spot, unless he gets injured trying to cover extra ground in center as Bourn tries to cover extra ground in left. But he is a lot of fun to watch.

Astros Team Capsule

3/20/10: Houston Philly Vultures - The Houston Astros may want to change their name to the Houston Philly Vultures.   Over the past few seasons, they have netted Michael Bourn, Geoff Geary, Chris Coste, Pedro Feliz, and Brett Myers directly from the Philadelphia Phillies.   Jason Michaels, who appeared in 102 games with the Astros last season, was originally drafted by the Phillies and played for them from 2001-2005.   --KG


Roy Oswalt
The ace, Roy Oswalt, is awesome at the front of the rotation but nobody else is really worth getting excited about. Oswalt was utterly dominant in the second half last season after having a hip injury in the first; he has made 32 starts or more in five straight seasons and leads the majors in victories since 2001. Simply put, heís good and will continue to be good assuming good health.

Pos '08 '09
SP Oswalt Oswalt
SP W Rodriguez W Rodriguez
SP Backe Hampton
SP Moehler Moehler
SP Chacon Russ Ortiz
SP Wolf/Sampson Backe
CL Valverde Valverde
LP Byrdak Byrdak
LP W Wright W Wright
RP Villarreal Hawkins
RP Brocail Brocail
RP Geary Geary

The only other pitcher in the rotation who might be worth talking about is Wandy Rodriguez, who was dependable last year (3.54 ERA) except for a month he spent on the disabled list, but his career has been marred by inconsistencies. It should also be noted that heís been injured off and on this spring. The other pitchers in the rotation are the junkballer Brian Moehler, the permanently-injured Mike Hampton, and the terrible Russ Ortiz, who been neither good nor serviceable since 2004. Waiting on the disabled list (likely for a Hampton injury) is Brandon Backe, who carried a 6.05 ERA last season. If they were relievers theyíd come out to the song Send in the Clowns.

Fortunately for Houston, the bullpen is a bright spot, or at least not as opaque as the rest of the team. If they were starters, they wouldnít be awful. Jose Valverde is coming back after a 44-save season for the Astros, while Latroy Hawkins, Doug Brocail, and Geoff Geary will be around to reprise their roles as solid, unspectacular middle relievers and setup men. They will have two LOOGY pitchers, Tim Byrdak and Wesley Wright, who they will be counted on to not let games get carried away. I do not like making predictions for relievers because of how inconsistent bullpens are as a rule, but Iím guessing these guys wonít be so bad.

CONCLUSION

Unfortunately, the team is bad. Their upside is a middling contender with eighty wins or so. They are far more likely to lose 100 than they are to make the playoffs, however. That makes me sad for fans of the Houston Astros, but to tell you the truth it makes me saddest for Roy Oswalt, who deserves better.


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