The Worst Team in Baseball
The Astros' Offense Is Struggling to Take Flight
May 8, 2010

We are only about one month into the season, but things are taking shape around Major League Baseball.  While the Yankees and Rays vie for the title of MLB's best team, three squads are locked in a heated battle for the rights to the #1 overall pick of the 2011 draft.  While the Baltimore Orioles have the worst record in all of baseball and the Pittsburgh Pirates boast the worst run differential even after beating the Cubs 11-1 Thursday night, it is the Houston Astros that are clearly the worst team in the major leagues.

At 8-21, the Baltimore Orioles are not a good team.  Ty Wigginton has played on some bad squads before, but this is the first year in which he is the best offensive player in the lineup.  There are some absolute zeros on their offense - Cesar Izturis, Nolan Reimold, Luis Montanez, and Julio Lugo - to say nothing of near-zeros Garrett Atkins, Ryne Hughes, Luke Scott, and Adam Jones.  Kevin Millwood and Brian Matusz have been strong in the early going, but the rest of the Baltimore rotation is an unmitigated disaster.  Their closer is a 29-year old named Alfredo Simon.  I do not know what his story is, but he owns a 7.45 ERA in 19.1 career minor league innings.

But part of the reason the Orioles' players have such bad numbers is the fact that they have played against some of the best teams in baseball.  The rest of the AL East is a combined 32 games over .500.  Other than the other four AL East teams, the Orioles have played in Oakland and Seattle - neither of which are easy places for an eastern seaboard team to win - and they are currently playing in Minnesota against the best team that does not reside in the AL East.  The Orioles have played five more road games than they have home games.  You have to think that this team will improve a bit when they reach a more favorable point in their schedule.

The Pirates actually have a respectable record at 13-16, but their run differential of 77 is quite a cause for concern, as that projects to a run differential of -430 over 162 games.  The 2007 Diamondbacks and 1987 Twins are both somewhat famous for their success despite negative run differentials, but I don't think too many teams have succeeded with negative run differentials in the hundreds.  The scary part is that the Pirates have been on fire recently to get this good.  On May 3, their record was 10-15 and their differential was -89.

Still, part of the reason for Pittsburgh's struggles are that two of their rotation spots have gone to Automatic Losses Daniel McCutcheon and Charlie Morton.  All these two have done is allow 58 hits and 47 earned runs in 37.1 innings.  The Pirates even let Hayden Penn throw 2.1 innings.  Most pitchers can't ruin a team in 2.1 innings, but Hayden Penn's special brand of incompetence helped him surrender eight runs on eight hits, three walks, and no strikeouts in that time.  Penn has already been replaced, Morton actually threw well in his last outing, and Daniel McCutchen likely won't be able to hide behind having the same surname as the Pirates' only bona fide star for much longer.  Somehow, this mind-bogglingly unacceptable production is going to be replaced with merely awful pitching, and the Pirates will suddenly have opportunities to win in more than three out of every five games.

The 9-20 Astros actually have pitching that should keep them in just about every game, but their offense is so atrocious that a shutout is practically requisite to give them a chance to win.  They only have three batters on their team hitting over .235.  One is Michael Bourn, who had to take a huge leap forward to become an empty-average hitter last year.  Another is Geoff Blum, a career .250 hitter who only has 54 plate appearances so far this season.  The third is Jeff Keppinger, who is batting .259.  No player on the Astros currently has more than two home runs.  The Astros rank last in the National League in batting average, on-base percentage, slugging, and home runs. They have 52 walks as a team when each of the other 29 teams in Major League Baseball has walked at least 81 times.

A team simply cannot win games with an offense like this.  They have scored two or fewer runs in 16 of their 29 games, one or fewer in 11 games, and have been shut out entirely a remarkable five times already.  Unlike the Orioles, the Astros are not being shut down by the best pitching in baseball.  They have been playing teams like the Pirates, Reds, and Diamondbacks, who have some of the worst pitching staffs in all of baseball.  Carlos Silva, Cesar Valdez,  Ian Kennedy, Barry Zito, and Mat Latos are among the mediocre starting pitchers who have shut the Astros down.  What will this offense do when they face the likes of Chris Carpenter, Ryan Dempster, and Yovanni Gallardo?  Score negative runs?

Sure, we can expect Lance Berkman and Carlos Lee to rebound from their rough starts, but both of them are 34, and they will almost certainly fail to reach their career averages this season.  Hunter Pence is in his prime and coming off a good year, but he doesn't have the kind of established track record to where a recovery from his slow start is certain.  The rest of the lineup has no expectation for improvement, and Houston has no exciting offensive prospects even remotely close to contributing at the major league level.

The Astros have even played 20 home games so far to just nine road contests.  So with all due respect to the Pirates and the Orioles - and even the Royals and Indians, who are hardly great - the Houston Astros are Major League Baseball's worst team.  Unfortunately, they have a pretty bad track record lately when it comes to signing their draft picks, so their high draft slot in next year's draft may not even help them.

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