June 2010

The Kids Are Alright

It wasn’t the first hit of Chris Johnson‘s career, but it may have been the most important one.  For when the young third baseman hit a sharp line drive to center field off of the Giants’ Tim Lincecum, it may have signaled the beginning of an era.

Johnson (26) was called up after the Astros’ mind-numbing series sweep in Texas, and it seems that this time, it may be for good.  After a year of speculation that he might become the regular starter at third base – a year that saw such luminaries as Aaron Boone and Geoff Blum man the third sack for the big leaguers, Johnson largely stayed in Triple-A Round Rock, where all he did was go .281/.323/.461 while improving defensively and battling a hand injury.

But if the Houston Astros are going to move forward as an organization, Johnson is going to be a key component of the transition from old to new.  For a team weak on minor league depth, it was important that he show he could produce as the starter.  And for the foreseeable future, he is the Astros’ third baseman.
Another key player in the Astros’ future, catcher Jason Castro, was also called up and started today’s game.  In just his second plate appearance, Castro ripped a Lincecum curveball into center field for his first big league hit.
Despite his ranking as Baseball America’s #41 prospect in all of baseball, Castro was slow to win me over.  I still think that first baseman Justin Smoak, now of the Rangers, would have been a better draft pick; and I still think that Koby Clemens is getting kind of a raw deal; but Castro has won me over – while I still think that there’s a future for Clemens in the organization, it won’t be as the everyday catcher (the Astros have tried him out at many positions in the minors, including left field and third base – his natural position – and now first base).
Because Jason Castro, in addition to playing a solid game behind the plate and producing at the plate, brings a very good batter’s eye to the game, as evidenced by an OBP that has never fallen below .362 for a season at any level of professional baseball.
This year in Round Rock, 23-year-old Castro has walked 32 times in 244 plate appearances.  That’s 7.625 trips to the plate for every walk.  Compare that to last year’s big league club, where only 1B Lance Berkman (5.794) did better.
So welcome aboard, boys.  I’m sure you’re just the first of several who will get called up this season.  But we’re sure glad to have ya.

National League No-Stars

Major League Baseball’s All-Star Game has no equal, at least as far as I’m concerned.  Sure, we could complain about fan voting, and I certainly have.  The very fact that voting is allowed as early as April should give you some indication that statistics play very little part in the choice of fans.

But overall, most of the right guys get in, and MLB has one feature that I absolutely adore: At least one player from every team is guaranteed a spot on the final roster.
I’ve long used my own formula to determine not only my own votes for starters, but to determine the entire roster for both leagues.  It leans heavily on my own Runs Created (RC) scale, as well as WAR for pitchers.  My favorite part, each year, is usually trying to find the guy from each teams who most deserves to be on the squad.  Sometimes, it’s hard.  There is usually one or two teams with extremely unimpressive rosters, and finding the one guy who stands out can be hard.
I hate to admit it, but this year no team was harder to crack than the Houston Astros.
In these cases, there’s usually at least one guy who’s in the top five at his position.  This year, however, there are no Astros that meet that qualification:
C: Humberto Quintero paces Astros catchers with 53.09 RC, good for eighteenth among all NL catchers.  To give you an idea how far off this is, there are two teams within our own division (Milwaukee and Cincinnati) who have more than one catcher ahead of Q.
1B: Lance Berkman ranks fifteenth among all NL first basemen with 88.79 RC – directly in front of the Giants’ Buster Posey.
2B: Jeff Keppinger is at least in the top ten at his position.  He’s ninth among NL second basemen with 119.60 RC.
3B: Pedro Feliz is fourteenth among NL third basemen with 74.18 RC.  Only the Pirates’ Andy LaRoche and the Cubs’ Aramis Ramirez have been worse this season.
SS: Tommy Manzella is number 17 among NL shortstops, with 50.05 RC.
OF: Hunter Pence is twenty-third among NL outfielders with 121 RC.  Clearly the best performance on the team, but well off the pace, set by Cubs’ OF Marlon Byrd (167.41).  Michael Bourn isn’t far behind, at #27 with 113.99 RC; Carlos Lee is thirty-third with 98.21 RC.
Pitchers: No Houston Astros pitchers are in the top five in any meaningful category, though Roy Oswalt is ninth in WHIP, tenth in K/IP, and fifth in K/BB.
Hunter Pence poses with someone who is as likely to be an NL
All-Star as he is.
So what it boils down to is whether you prefer Oswalt or Pence as an All-Star.  I chose Pence, but the case could certainly be made for Oswalt.  One thing’s for sure: Neither particularly deserves the nod.  For the first time since I’ve been keeping my own stats independently, the Houston Astros have absolutely no All-Stars.
For the record, here are my choices for the entire rosters:
National League
C: Brian McCann (ATL)
1B: Albert Pujols (STL)
2B: Martin Prado (ATL)
3B: Scott Rolen (CIN)
SS: Hanley Ramirez (FLA)
OF: Marlon Byrd (CHC)
OF: Ryan Braun (MIL)
OF: Josh Willingham (WSN)
C Miguel Olivo (COL)
1B Adrian Gonzalez (SDP)
1B Joey Votto (CIN)
1B Aubrey Huff (SFG)
2B Brandon Phillips (CIN)
2B Kelly Johnson (ARI)
2B Ricky Weeks (MIL)
3B Ryan Zimmerman (WSN)
SS Troy Tulowitzki (COL)
OF Andrew McCutchen (PIT)
OF Shane Victorino (PHI)
OF Andre Ethier (LAD)
OF Jason Heyward (ATL)
OF Ryan Ludwick (STL)
OF Hunter Pence (HOU)
Ubaldo Jimenez (COL)
Roy Halladay (PHI)
Josh Johnson (FLA)
Yovani Gallardo (MIL)
Mike Pelfrey (NYM)
Livan Hernandez (WSN)
Adam Wainwright (STL)
Tim Hudson (ATL)
Jaime Garcia (STL)
Matt Cain (SFG)
Matt Capps (WSN)
Dan Haren (ARI)
Clayton Kershaw (LAD)
American League
C: Victor Martinez (BOS)
1B: Justin Morneau (MIN)
2B: Robinson Cano (NYY)
3B: Evan Longoria (TBR)
SS: Derek Jeter (NYY)
OF: Alexis Rios (CWS)
OF: Ichiro Suzuki (SEA)
OF: Chin-Soo Choo (CLE)
DH: Vladimir Guerrero (TEX)
C Joe Mauer (MIN)
CJason Kendall (KCR)
1B Kevin Youkilis (BOS)
1B Miguel Cabrera (DET)
1B Daric Barton (OAK)
2B Dustin Pedroia (BOS)
3B Mike Young (TEX)
3B Adrian Beltre (BOS)
SS Marco Scutaro (BOS)
OF Josh Hamilton (TEX)
OF Vernon Wells (TOR)
OF Carl Crawford (TBR)
OF Ben Zobrist (TBR)
OF Jose Bautista (TOR)
Francisco Liriano (MIN)
John Danks (CWS)
Andy Pettite (NYY)
Ervin Santana (LAA)
Ricky Romero (TOR)
Rafael Soriano (TBR)
Jon Lester (BOS)
Jeff Niemann (TBR)
David Price (TBR)
Jeremy Guthrie (BAL)
Jered Weaver (LAA)
Cliff Lee (SEA)
Jon Rauch (MIN)