2010 Houston Astros:
We Have a Problem - Offense
BaseballEvolution.com 2010 Spring Preview
by Keith Glab, BaseballEvolution.com
March 20, 2010
It wasn't too long ago when the Houston Astros were on top of the world.
They won their first ever postseason series in 2004 and made their first ever
World Series appearance the following October. They appeared to have
several of baseball's best players in their primes in Roy Oswalt, Lance Berkman,
Morgan Ensberg, and Brad Lidge and some able youngsters on the way in
Buchholz, Chris Burke, and Jason Hirsh.
| Key Transactions |
| Acquired || Pos. |
| Brandon Lyon|| RP |
| Matt Lindstrom|| RP|
| Brett Myers|| SP
| Pedro Feliz|| 3B |
| Cory Sullivan|| OF|
| || |
| Departed || Pos. |
| Miguel Tejada|| SS |
| Jose Valverde|| RP|
| Mike Hampton|| SP |
| LaTroy Hawkins|| RP|
| Darin Erstad|| OF/1B|
| Chris Coste|| C |
Things have taken a turn for the worse, to say the least. The Astros
have averaged 76 wins per
season since that World Series appearance. They are now on their fifth
manager in the past seven years. They lost their first two picks in the
2007 draft in order to sign the ancient Woody Williams and the obese Jason
Jennings, plus failed to sign their third and fourth round picks that summer. All that
remains at the big league level are a handful of aging stars, and most of the minor
league help is still a couple of years away.
Still, the Astros have only finished with a losing record twice in the past
nine seasons. Those seasons were 2007 and 2009, which also happen to be
the worst years of Lance Berkman's career. If that is more than just a
coincidence, the Astros may be in trouble. Their 34-year-old first baseman is
going to miss time in April after undergoing knee surgery last week.
Besides Berkman, no other Astro had an on-base percentage of even .355 last
yet, Geoff Blum, who has an ominous .666 OPS over the past seven seasons, is Berkman's backup at first base.
Roy Oswalt, Houston's other star holdover from the 2005 World Series squad,
is similarly coming of an injury and the worst season of his underrated career.
He has a few things going for him, however. He's almost two years
younger than Berkman is, still has terrific peripheral stats, and will enjoy
vastly improved defense on the left side of his infield this year.
Even if Oswalt returns to his old form, he may still play second fiddle to Wandy Rodriguez. Also a member of the 2005 club, Rodriguez has improved
every year since. His 3.02 ERA was 12th among all MLB ERA qualifiers last year and his 193 strikeouts reveal that he is for real.
Since Rodriguez throws left-handed, he should get an even bigger boost from the
improved defense out of third base and shortstop.
Perhaps the Astros' most important acquisition this winter was new #3 starter
Myers. Even though Myers is three years removed from his heyday of
2005-2006, he is just 29 years old and might thrive from a change of scenery.
Since he replaces Mike Hampton in the rotation, it will be difficult for Myers
to disappoint. At $3.1 million this year, Myers is one of a select few
underpaid Astros and could even be one of the steals of the offseason.
Bud Norris and Felipe Paulino are pitchers who may not benefit much from the
improved infield defense. Only 37% of batted balls against Norris were hit
on the ground. Paulino was one home run shy of the team lead in homers
allowed despite not having reached the 100-innings mark. Both Norris and Paulino struck out nearly a batter per inning in their limited action, further
reducing the role of the defense. The 38-year-old Brian Moehler, however,
needs all the help he can get on defense. He fanned just 91 batters in
154.2 innings last year. Even if he can't improve on his 5.47 ERA from
last season, at least he is the #5 or 6 starter this year as opposed to the #3
or 4 guy he was a season ago.
So what is this improvement on the left side of the infield I keep going on
about, anyway? Well, Miguel Tejada is gone after costing the Astros 16
runs at shortstop last season. His replacement, Tommy Manzella, is
supposedly a slick defender. Since he turns 27 in April and has a career
minor league OPS under .700, you have to hope he isn't bad with the glove.
At third base, Secret Weapon Feliz takes over from Geoff Blum. Blum isn't
bad (defensively), but Feliz still ranks among the best defensive third basemen
in the game despite a subpar 2009 by his standards.
Averaged 16-8 3.13 in eight seasons before 2009
|Josh Towers Candidate|
This guy hasn't been a productive pitcher in a decade
It isn't all roses on defense, however, as the loss of Ivan Rodriguez will be
a difficult one to shoulder. The Astros were just one game below .500 in
I-Rod's starts, but a whopping 13 below the break-even mark when someone else
started at catcher. Their options this year are top prospect Jason Castro, who had
just a .747 OPS and only threw out 28 % of basestealers at Double-A last year,
and J.R. Towles, who has hit .188 in 234 big league at-bats and battles injuries
every year. Humberto Quintero will back up one of them as a quintessential
all-glove, no-bat backstop.
The biggest overhaul in team personnel can be found in the bullpen, but the
overall change in its effectiveness should not be substantial. Jose Valverde and LaTroy Hawkins, both of whom sported earned run averages in the
low-2's last year, are gone. Replacing them are Brandon Lyon and
Matt Lindstrom. Lyon has 54 career saves and has boasted a sub-3.00 ERA in
two of the past three years. Lindstrom had a 5.89 ERA last year, but
he did save 15 games in 17 tries. He had ERAs in the low-3's in his first
two big league seasons on the strength of his upper-90s fastball, and a new grip
on his slider has contributed to five scoreless outings to begin spring training
for him. Lindsrom and Lyon are unlikely to duplicate the low ERA provided
by the Valverde/Hawkins tandem, but they may actually improve on that duo's save
efficiency, which was not great.
Speaking of not great.... it's time to discuss the offense. Can this
year's lineup really score fewer than the 643 cobbled together by last year's
offense? Unfortunately, it really could. Most notably, the
difference between Tejada's .313 batting average, 46 doubles, and 86 RBI and
whatever Manzella provides will be a .313 batting average, 46 doubles, and 86
RBI, as Manzella is going to provide zero offense. Pedro Feliz, while a
defensive upgrade over Blum, isn't any better with the stick. Any game
Blum is playing first base instead of Berkman is a game in which the Astros'
starter had better throw a shutout if he wants to win.
The Astros do have two seemingly solid hitters in their primes: Michael Bourn
and Hunter Pence, both of whom will be 27 during the season. Bourn
seemingly became a competent leadoff hitter last season, but his .366
batting average on balls in play was really high/lucky, even for someone with Bourn's
speed. I'm not saying that he will regress into the disaster he was in
2008, as he is drawing more walks now, but Bourn still strikes out way too much
and would be very fortunate to repeat his .285 batting average and .354 OBP from
a year ago. Pence is someone I have never liked, but even I am impressed
with the way he cut down on his strikeouts and drew more walks last season
without sacrificing much power. He is the one player in the Astros' lineup
who might reasonably be expected to perform better than he did the year before
(besides Towles, who could add 50 points to his batting average and still be an
inadequate offensive player).
The rest of the lineup is dominated by thirtysomethings: Kaz Matsui,
Lee, Lance Berkman, and Pedro Feliz. Lee and Berkman are still good
hitters, but clearly on the decline. If Berkman's injured, Lee will have a
very hard time being an "RBI Horse," as no one will ever be on base ahead of
him. Feliz and Matsui are just awful and figure to get even worse.
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
The Astros' lineup was remarkably healthy last year. Not only is there
no help ready in the minor leagues, but there is nobody exciting on the bench, either.
Blum and Quintero will be joined by Jeff Keppinger, Jason Michaels, and
Sullivan. Should Berkman's injury escalate, or should one of Houston's
outfielders suffer an injury, there is a real danger that this squad scores the
fewest runs in all of baseball.
For a team replete with deficiencies, the biggest additions to this Astros
team were by subtraction. While shedding Tejada might give Oswalt an Rodriguez
nice fantasy seasons, it still doesn't help the Astros' win total, as his
offensive production wasn't replaced. Basically, the Astros figure to
have a better rotation, similar bullpen, and worse lineup as compared to last
Without Ivan Rodriguez starting, the team went 19-32 last year. I-Rod is gone.
Without Lance Berkman, they went 12-19. Berkman is gimpy. Pythagorus expected the
Astros to win 68 games last season, and I expect
them to win a similar total this year.
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