Results tagged ‘ Astros ’

A-Rod Fallout Part 2

Yankees superstar Alex Rodriguez will probably require surgery.  When that surgery is going to take place seems to be the only consideration.  With a fairly long recovery time, the Yankees are stuck with a third baseman who will be limited if he plays in the field, and DH is not necessarily an option, depending on whether or not Jorge Posada can catch.

Miguel Tejada 2.jpgThe Dominican Republic’s team in the WBC seems as though it’s comfortable playing Astros shortstop Miguel Tejada at third base to cover for Rodriguez.  My question is this:

Might the Yankees be interested in doing the same thing?

At some point – probably 2010 – Tejada is likely to become an everyday third baseman if he wants his Major League career to continue.  The Yankees, if they were to lose Rodriguez’s production at third, suddenly find themselves behind the 8-Ball.  There aren’t many third basemen who would even approach Rodriguez’s numbers.  Though Tejada isn’t quite A-Rod at the plate, he’s a much better option than any currently-available free agent third basemen, and he comes with just one year left on his contract.

Dan Uggla.jpgMany opinions are floating on the best way to replace Rodriguez, should the Yankees opt to do that.  One of the more intriguing ones has 2B Robinson Cano moving to third base, and the Yankees acquiring either a free agent second baseman like Mark Grudzielanek or Ray Durham, or trading for a second baseman.  Popular opinion puts Florida’s Dan Uggla at the top of this list.

But Uggla’s likely to come with a high price tag.  The Marlins covet prospects, and the Yankees have quite a few that may interest them.  Pitchers Phil Hughes and Austin Jackson are commonly referred to.

What I wonder, though, is if Tejada might entice the Bronx Bombers as an option.  His albatross contract, which is currently strangling the Astros’ payroll, would be a drop in the bucket to the Yankees.  He provides good defense and a solid bat for their lineup, and would no doubt cost less in prospects than would Uggla.

The Astros’ needs are simple, and they begin with starting pitching.  In 2008, the Scranton-Wilkes Barre Yankees had a nice crop of pitchers that helped them place first in the North Division of the International League: Hughes, Jackson, Kei Igawa, Daniel McCutcheon, Ian Kennedy, Jeff Karstens.  The list goes on, but that is a group of pitchers who logged at least 60 innings with ERAs under 4 and WHIPs under 1.20.

Assuming that the Astros want a pitcher on the younger side, under the age of 28, McCutcheon, Kennedy, and Karstens have to look mighty enticing.  Unfortunately, McCutcheon and Karstens were sent to the Pirates in the Xavier Nady-Damaso Marte deal in July.  That leaves Ian Kennedy, as well as some more marginal options, including 24-year-old righty Jeff Marquez, Alfredo Aceves, Phil Coke, and Zachary Kroenke, as well as youngsters Dellin Betances, Zachary McAllister, and Mark Melancon.

Mark Melancon.jpgYou can almost pick and choose any two on the list, though it’s highly unlikely the Yanks would part with Coke, who figures to be a big part of their bullpen at some point this year.  Melancon, who spent time in A+, AA, and AAA ball in 2008, combined to go 8-1 with 3 saves in 95 IP, 2.27 ERA, 0.958 WHIP, 89 K, 22 BB.  In my eyes, he’s easily the most intriguing option.  He’ll be 24 this year, and could make a case to break into the Astros’ rotation if things falter and he stays on his current path.

Brett Tomko.jpgThe Astros would also likely want a pitcher who could pitch in the majors this year as a starter, which would be questionable for Melancon, but the Yankees are short on pitchers they might actually deal.  Certainly, they won’t be giving away C.C. Sabathia, Joba Chamberlin, Andy Pettitte, A.J. Burnett, or Chien-Ming Wang without a return greater than Tejada.  But what they might part with is a non-roster invitee like Brett Tomko.  Tomko would be someone who might pitch a little bit at the big league level until Melancon is ready, probably in 2010.

Cody Ransom.jpgIn addition, the Astros would need to find someone to fill the gap left by Tejada.  Drew Sutton, Edwin Maysonet, and Tommy Manzella would enter that debate, along with Geoff Blum.  Let’s assume that Chris Johnson will become the full-time starter at third base at some point this season.  I don’t think it’s unfair to ask the Yankees to send someone who can play both shortstop and third base, and they have a former Astro that fits that bill in Cody Ransom

Reegie Corona.jpgBecause Ransom would primarily be a bench utilityman, Tomko is a flyer, and Melancon would probably need time to develop, the Yankees would have to add another prospect – perhaps switch-hitting second baseman Reegie Corona – to sweeten the deal.

So there you have it: Tomko, Melancon, Ransom, and Corona for Miguel Tejada.  Certainly a fair deal for the Yankees, and the Astros receive some prospects and some middling major leaguers, while ditching Tejada’s contract.  The Yankees get a proven hitter who can play third base and not require them to move their established infielders around, and it would cost them a lot less than Uggla would. Sounds like a plan; let’s make it happen.

Pass The Musser

Neal Musser.jpgThis morning, the Astros signed left-handed pitcher Neal Musser, formerly of the Kansas City Royals, to a minor league contract. It begs the question: Are we trying to sign every left-hander that spent time in Kansas City’s system in 2008?

Between Tyler Lumsden, Rule 5 draftee Gilbert De La Vara, and now Musser, it certainly does seem like it.

I didn’t know much about Musser, so I headed over to BaseRef to check him out.  He’s only thrown 25.2 innings in the big leagues, and has gone 0-1 with a 4.21 ERA, 111 ERA+, and a 1.831 WHIP with 19 strikeouts and 15 walks.  Not electric, it would seem, but in such a small sample size, it’s tough to determine.

His AAA numbers are a little better.  Beginning in 2004, he has thrown 317 AAA innings in the Mets, Royals, and Diamondbacks systems.  Though not all statistics, such as wins, are available for these years, the rough breakdown is this:

15-21 (.417), 14 saves, 4.20 ERA, 1.429 WHIP, 248 K, 144 BB, 28 HR

Wesley Wright.jpgAgain, not exactly a world-beater.  And at 28 years old, we pretty much know what we’re getting.  I’m not one to discount the value of left-handed pitching, but Musser seems a bit of an odd pick-up at this point in his career.  Certainly, he lacks the upside of young lefties like Lumsden, De La Vara, and Wesley Wright.

But that’s the beauty of minor league pitching, especially in a weak farm system: You have to throw a lot of spaghetti at the wall and hope some of it sticks.

Spring Training

I love Spring Training.  It’s a time of hope; a time of wondering and talking.  Everyone has the same record this time of year.  Everyone has the same dream: The World Series.

Astros fans have a lot of questions after this offseason: How will our suspect rotation hold up?  Who will man third base?  Who will be the catcher?  I’ve made my predictions in other areas.  This entry won’t be used for that.  Instead, I’d like to turn my attention elsewhere.

56 players reported to the Astros’ Spring Training facilities.  28 pitchers and 28 position players.  And one question on everyone’s mind, especially after hearing so much about our horrible farm system is: What new faces can we expect to see this year?  What can we expect of them?

New Faces
Gone is Ty Wigginton.  Gone is Randy Wolf.  Brad Ausmus.  Mark Loretta.  In their place are some faces many Astros fans may not recognize.  Among them are some big league commodities new to the team:

Alberto_Arias.jpgAlberto Arias – The Astros claimed Arias off of waivers from the Rockies last season, on July 31.  He pitched at Round Rock and, for three games (including 2 starts), in Houston at the major league level.  He didn’t respond terribly well in his limited time, but such a small sample size (8.0 IP) could easily be ignored.  He will be 25 years old this year and has only thrown 29.0 big league innings.  He has nice minor league numbers, and projects well to Minute Maid Park, with about 55% of balls hit off of him being hit on the ground.  Projection: Could spend some time in the big league bullpen, or pressed into service as a starter.  Look for about 50 innings from Arias, but nothing mind-blowing. 

Jeff_Fulchino.jpgJeff Fulchino – The Astros claimed Fulchino off of waivers from the Royals on December 8.  He’s only thrown 14.1 big league innings, fourteen of which came last season with the Royals (the other third of an inning was in 2006 with the Marlins).  He hasn’t excelled at any level since the 43 innings he threw for the Jupiter Hammerheads of the Florida State League in 2004.  I don’t like his chances to make the big league club, and if he does we may well be in trouble.  Projection:  The chances are good that Fulchino will get pressed into service at some point this season, but don’t look for anything more than 20 innings or so as an injury callup.

Jose_Capellan.jpgJose Capellan – Astros fans will remember Capellan for his time in the Milwaukee Brewers’ bullpen, though he last pitched for the Rockies in 2008.  Though he hasn’t started in the majors since 2 games in 2004 with Atlanta, he will be allowed to compete for a starting rotation spot in Houston.  His time in the minors has been split between the bullpen and the rotation, with decent results.  Over the past three seasons, he’s thrown 91.2 innings in the minors with a 1.26 WHIP, 7-4 record, 4 saves, and a 4.12 ERA.  Over the same time, he’s thrown 99.2 less impressive innings in the majors with a 1.36 WHIP, 4-5 record, 80 strikeouts to 40 walks, and a 4.69 ERA.  Projection: The hope is always that a little stability will help a player who’s been moved around.  In the past three season, Capellan has pitched for the Brewers, Tigers, and Rockies, not to mention five minor league teams among those three systems, along with the Royals organization.  That’s not likely to change, though, as he looks like he’ll go between Round Rock and Houston frequently.  Look for 60-70 innings in the big leagues, with an ERA in the 4.50-5.00 range.

Danny_Graves.jpgDanny Graves – Most Astros fans will remember Danny from his time in Cincinnati from 1997-2005, most of it as their closer while he moved to #50 on the all-time saves list.  He has bounced around since then, and hasn’t pitched in the majors since 2006, when he threw just 14.0 relief innings with the Cleveland Indians.  He hasn’t had an ERA under 4 since 2004.  2008 was a forgettable year spent in the Minnesota Twins’ organization, most of it with the AAA Rochester Red Wings.  He went 4-6 there, with an ERA of 6.30, WHIP of 1.70, and just 32 strikeouts in 84.1 innings.  Projection: I don’t expect Graves to break through to the Major League level at all this year.  He has not shown that he can consistently be counted on as a pitcher at the big league level.

Clay_Hensley.jpgClay Hensley – Hensley showed a lot of promise early on with the Padres organization, and was projected along with Jake Peavy and Chris Young to be a dominant top of the rotation.  In 2007, he ran into some injury problems, and was sent to AAA Portland after struggling in his minor league rehab stints.  Despite his 5.31 ERA and 1-2 record (mostly out of the bullpen) in 2008 in limited time (39.0 IP) for the Padres, his time in Portland was very productive: 1-1 in 10 starts, 34 strikeouts and 16 walks in 48 IP, a WHIP of 1.29 and an ERA of 3.94.  Prior to his injury-plagued 2007 season, he was 12-13 with a 3.30 ERA, 1.278 WHIP, and 150 strikeouts to 93 walks.  Projection: I have high hopes for Hensley.  I expect him to break camp as the #5 starter.  I’m looking for 7-9 wins out of him, as he returns to form i
n his second season back from injury.

Russ_Ortiz.jpgRuss Ortiz – Ortiz is a fresh face in Houston after missing the 2008 season recovering from Tommy John surgery.  For his major league career, he is 110-82 with a 4.42 ERA, 1.479 WHIP, and 1,121 strikeouts in 1568.2 innings pitched.  Since 2005, he hasn’t thrown more than 115 innings in a season, and hasn’t had an ERA under 4 since 2003, when he went 21-7 and finished 4th in the Cy Young voting (pay close attention to the year.)  Projection: I don’t expect Ortiz to shake the injury bug completely, but do expect him to crack the major league roster for somewhere in the vicinity of 60 IP. 

Aaron_Boone.jpgAaron Boone – Boone’s most productive years came between 1997-2003 with the Reds, but his most memorable moment in Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS, when he hit the game-winning home run for the Yankees off of Tim Wakefield and the Red Sox.  Since then, he has bounced between the Indians, Marlins, and Nationals. Boone is still a major league commodity.  He plays all infield positions, and though he’s been inconsistent, he does still show flashes at the plate and in the field.  Projection: There’s no doubt Boone will get some starts at third this year, and probably at second and first, as well.  He should hit in the .250 range, with 5 or 6 home runs in 175 or so plate appearances.

Jason_Michaels.jpgJason Michaels – Michaels came to Houston after 8 seasons between Philadelphia, Cleveland, and Pittsburgh.  He’s a career .271 hitter (.345 OBP) with the ability to play all three outfield positions.  Not a standout, but a very good player to have on the bench, and an upgrade when Michael Bourn doesn’t pan out.  Projection: 200 plate appearances with a .260 batting average and 5 home runs.  Will be used, along with Erstad, to spell the outfield starters and provide a defensive replacement in left field late in games.

Toby_Hall.jpgToby Hall – Formerly the starting catcher of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, Hall has spent the last three seasons between the Rays, White Sox, and Dodgers.  Coming into the 2009 season, the Astros were looking for a veteran presence behind the plate to help out their youngsters – Palmisano, Castro, Towles, Quintero – at least through Spring Training.  The news that he has shoulder soreness hasn’t helped his already-weak case to make the team.  Projection: Hall will probably start the season at AAA Round Rock, but uncertainty with the youngsters will virtually guarantee a lot of movement at the catcher position.  He should pick up about 120 plate appearances, hit about .238 with a home run or two.  Don’t expect too much.

John_Gall.jpgJohn Gall – Gall has failed to blow anyone away in his few major league appearances, but hasn’t had much of an opportunity to shine.  Between 2005-2007, he’s had just 53 at-bats with the Marlins and Cardinals.  However, in his minor league career, he’s gone .298 (.356 OBP) with 115 home runs in over 3,700 at-bats over 9 seasons, mostly in the St. Louis organization.  He plays the corners, both in the oufield and the infield.  Projection: I don’t know if Gall will play in the majors this season, but it certainly wouldn’t surprise me, if only because of his defensive versatility – anyone who can play third base should get a chance to ply his trade in Houston this year.  Gall has shown a lot of promise in the minors, and deserves a chance to spend some time in the majors.  I think he will get at least 50 plate appearances this season.

Matt_Kata.jpgMatt Kata – Since 2005, Matt Kata has spent time with the Diamondbacks, Reds, Pirates, Phillies, and Rangers organizations, though very little of that time was spent in the majors.  None in 2008.  He’s a versatile utility man who could be called on in a pinch – he plays all positions but pitcher and catcher and has a .242 career batting average in the majors.  Projections: I don’t expect Kata to break into the majors this year, as the Astros have two utilitymen in Geoff Blum and David Newhan who are significantly better Matt Katas than Matt Kata is.

Jason_Smith.jpgJason Smith – Jason Smith was a questionable signing from the start.  A left-handed-hitting utility infielder who has spent time over the last 8 seasons between 7 teams: The Cubs, Devil Rays, Tigers, Rockies, Blue Jays, Diamond
backs, and Royals.  Not a terrific fielder (3.23 RFg, .968 F%), not a terrific hitter (.221/.259/.286), not a terrific anything.  The quintessential no-tool player.  Projection: If Smith plays at the major league level, the Astros are in serious trouble.  I don’t expect this to happen.

Next up, in addition to the new faces are the young faces: Guys like Bud Norris, Sergio Perez, and Chris Johnson who have come up through the Astros’ system.

NL Central Predictions

I’ve never done a set of preseason predictions based on statistical analyses before, at least not on any real scale.  There are so many questions when you start, not the least of which being “Whose stats do I even include??”  A quick look at three random teams’ statistics from 2008 shows an average of 33 batters per team, combining for an average of 5,524 at-bats.  Some of those players began the season in the minor leagues.  Some began the season – or ended it – on completely different teams.  Or on the DL.

Because none of these things can be predicted, I realize that trying to project a Major League Baseball season in early February is a bit… er… “ambitious,” let’s say.  But I wanted to do it anyway, so I felt the need to establish some ground rules.

Methodology

The methodology employed was fairly simple.  I predicted a 25-Man roster for each team, based on offensive performance, but bearing actuals in mind, as well.  For instance, though Jason Kendall ranked #3 on my list of Brewers catchers behind Vinny Rottino and Jesus Salome, I fully realize that he will be the starting catcher in Milwaukee.

The 25-Man rosters included starters and five bench players – including a catcher, two outfielders, and two infielders who could – at the very least – combine to play all infield positions.  I then calculated the Runs Created for the roster (starters, bench players, and starting pitchers), based on the players’ statistics from the past three seasons.  To create a uniform number of games played, I then broke this into RC27 and multiplied by 162 to get the Projected Runs for the season.

To project Runs Allowed, I broke down the pitching staff (12 pitchers, including five starters and a closer) using statistics from the previous three seasons, and calculated BaseRuns.  I then used 1458 (162 games x 9 innings) divided by IP to create a multiplier for the BaseRuns projection, which I then used to project Runs Allowed.

Then, I used the Pythagorean Theorem (with a multiplier of 1.81) to determine an expected W-L%.  Simple enough, but there are some issues with my methodology:

1) Because I am multiplying all statistics for minor leaguers, rate statistics will remain largely unchanged.  For instance, if a player had 100 hits in 300 at-bats at the AAA level, he was a .333 hitter.  In multiplying both hits and at-bats, he becomes 75/225 – still a .333 hitter.

2) Players are not currently weighted as starters and backups.  At present, I am only weighting by average number of games over the past three seasons, adjusted for level.  For instance, J.R. Towles is listed as the Astros’ starting catcher, but only receives 211 AB in 65 games.  Quintero, his backup on my list, is credited with 230 AB in 75 games.  This is also true of starting pitchers and relievers in terms of innings pitched.  This is somewhat offset by adjustments on team totals – I used RC27, multiplied by 162, to determine Runs Scored, and multiplied team runs allowed to cover 1458 IP (9*162) to determine Runs Allowed.  Teams are now evaluated as a unit.  In the future, I would average the number of at-bats per position in the division and do a similar adjustment for individual players.

3) The likelihood of one 25-man roster playing for an entire season is practically nil.  Because roster moves are tough to predict, I’m content simply to allow this for now.

4) 25-Man rosters were chosen by me, using a few factors.  First, I went with the most offensively-sound possibilities, using my own analysis, with some consideration given to actuals.  For instance, despite Jason Kendall’s projections falling third of the four Brewers catchers I projected, I know he will be the Opening Day starter, and so I have slotted him into their roster.  I used whatever information I had available, which is incomplete at times.  Where Rule 5 draftees are concerned, I did my best to predict who would make the roster, and who would be returned.  This is subjective, though a lot of attention was paid to the projections.  Additionally, I included at least one left-hander for all bullpens, even if that weakened the bullpen overall.

Since the methodology is consistent from team to team, for now I am content with it.  At the end of Spring Training, once rosters are set, I will do a new set of projections with some adjustments to my method.

1. Chicago Cubs (908 R, 674 RA): 103-59
Catchers: G. Soto, K. Hill
Infielders: D. Lee, M. Fontenot, R. Theriot, A. Ramirez, B. Scales, M. Hoffpauir
Outfielders: A. Soriano, K. Fukudome, M. Bradley, J. Fox, R. Johnson
Starting Pitchers: C. Zambrano, R. Harden, R. Dempster, T. Lilly, S. Marshall
Relief Pitchers: C. Marmol, K. Gregg, A. Guzman, C. Gaudin, N. Cotts, A. Heilman, L. Vizcaino

2. Cincinnati Reds (739 R, 697 RA): 87-75
Catchers: R. Hernandez, R. Hanigan
Infielders: J. Votto, B. Phillips, J. Keppinger, E. Encarnacion, A. Rosales, D. Richar
Outfielders: C. Dickerson, W. Taveras, J. Bruce, N. Hopper, D. Anderson
Starting Pitchers: A. Harang, E. Volquez, B. Arroyo, J. Cueto, M. Owings
Relief Pitchers: F. Cordero, H. Bailey, M. Lincoln, J. Burton, R. Ramirez, A. Rhodes, D. Weathers

3. Houston Astros (759 R, 723 RA): 86-76
Catchers: J. Towles, H. Quintero
Infielders: L. Berkman, K. Matsui, M. Tejada, M. Saccomanno, G. Blum, D. Newhan
Outfielders: C. Lee, H. Pence, J. Michaels, D. Erstad, M. Bourn
Starting Pitchers: R. Oswalt, W. Rodriguez, B. Moehler, M. Hampton, B. Backe
Relief Pitchers: J. Valverde, W. Wright, D. Brocail, L. Hawkins, G. De La Vara, C. Sampson, G. Geary

3. Milwaukee Brewers (750 R, 710 RA): 86-76
Catchers: J. Kendall, V. Rottino
Infielders: P. Fielder, R. Weeks, J. Hardy, B. Hall, M. Lamb, A. Escobar
Outfielders: R. Braun, M. Cameron, C. Hart, T. Gwynn, L. Cain
Starting Pitchers: S. McClung, M. Parra, Y. Gallardo, J. Suppan, D. Bush
Relief Pitchers: T. Hoffman, J. Julio, D. Riske, C. Villanueva, T. Coffey, E. Morlan, R. Swindle

5. St. Louis Cardinals (762 R, 725 RA): 85-77
Catchers: Y. Molina, J. LaRue
Infielders: A. Pujols, A. Kennedy, K. Greene, T. Glaus, J. Hoffpauir, B. Barden
Outfielders: S. Schumaker, R. Ankiel, R. Ludwick, C. Duncan, J. Mather
Starting Pitchers: C. Carpenter, A. Wainwright, J. Pineiro, T. Wellemeyer, K. Lohse
Relief Pitchers: C. Perez, T. Miller, R. Ring, B. Thompson, R. Franklin, C. Manning, J. Motte

6. Pittsburgh Pirates (726 R, 811 RA): 74-88
Catchers: R. Doumit, R. Diaz
Infielders: Adam LaRoche, F. Sanchez, J. Wilson, Andy LaRoche, B. Bixler, A. Boeve
Outfielders: B. Moss, N. McLouth, S. Pearce, E. Hinske, A. McCutchen
Starting Pitchers: P. Maholm, Z. Duke, I. Snell, J. Karstens, T. Gorzelanny
Relief Pitchers: M. Capps, T. Yates, J. Grabow, P. Dumatrait, V. Vazquez, R. Ohlendorf, E. Meek

2009 Astros Lineup

In the Astros forums, we’ve been debating a great many things.  Chief among them (other than our desperate need for a #2 starter) are: Who will play catcher?  Who will start at third base?  What will be our batting order?  I’ve been piecing together some analyses, but I’ve yet to sit down and take an objective look at our roster.

Obviously, answering the third question requires answering the first two, so I sought to answer these, as well.  I decided to focus on the outfield situation, too, as I don’t believe Michael Bourn is a solid option in center field at this point in his career.

I took each player’s stats from the past three seasons, at both the major and minor league levels.  Of course, the farther away from the majors you get, the less dependable statistics become.  So what I did was to multiply AAA stats by 75%, AA stats by 60%, A+ stats by 50%, and A, A-, and Rookie ball stats by 40%.  I then averaged out the stats of the past three seasons to come up with my predictions.  This is a somewhat crude method, but hey.  I’m a somewhat crude statistician.

The catcher position features four hopefuls: Veteran Toby Hall, youngster J.R. Towles, returning starter Humberto Quintero, and Rule 5 draftee Lou Palmisano.  Each comes with question marks – Towles was considered a big prospect entering the 2008 season, began the season as the starter, and quickly flamed out.  Palmisano has never played above AA ball, and hasn’t played at the catcher position since 2007, acting as DH last season due to surgery.  Hall is more or less a career backup, and Quintero has not shown an ability to hit consistently.

Their adjusted stats worked out like this:

J.R. Towles’ numbers pop out here.  More home runs, second-highest batting average, highest OBP, SLG, and Total Bases. Palmisano warrants a look, especially because he walks so frequently and Towles strikes out more often.  But it looks like Towles is the clear winner here.

From here, we move on to third base.  The departure of Ty Wigginton left a sizable gap at third base, and there are three contenders for the slot: Veteran Aaron Boone, youngster Chris Johnson, organizational player Mark Saccomanno, and veteran utilityman Geoff Blum, considered by most to be the favorite to win the battle.

Again, I compared the three players’ stats from the past three seasons, adjusted for level and averaged out by season.  This gave me the following look:

third_basemen.JPG

Much to my own surprise, Mark Saccomanno stood out among this group.  Not only did he display the most power, but he also consistently gets on base, largely owing to his ability to draw walks.  He also had the highest batting average of the group.  This kind of plate discipline, combined with his ability to hit for a little power, made him my favorite.  I should admit that, coming in, I thought Boone would be the guy to beat, but I would actually place him third on my list, behind Saccomanno and Johnson (who I believe needs more seasoning at the AAA level, and should be ready to seriously compete next year, if not by the All-Star break.)

This leaves us with the outfield.  Carlos Lee is definitely the starter in left field, and Hunter Pence will certainly be a starter, as well.  He has some flexibility, though, and can play either center or right.

This leaves three outfielders vying for the third spot: Veteran Darin Erstad, who plays all three outfield positions and first base and who proved to be a good left-handed bat off the bench last season; young speedster Michael Bourn, a left-hander who began 2008 as the starter in center, and who proved to be one of the worst leadoff hitters in the league as he struggled mightily at the plate; and Jason Michaels, the veteran free agent who can play all three  outfield positions.

Their stats, when adjusted and averaged out, look like this:

right_fielders.JPGNone of the other three options leap off of the page, but Michaels has shown the ability to hit for a higher average, as well as get on base and hit for power better than Bourn or Erstad.  Bourn has to merit strong consideration, as he’s not far behind Michaels in either of these categories, plus he runs far better, but at the moment I have to give the edge to Jason Michaels.

So that gives us the following starting lineup:

lineup.JPG

Simply looking at this group points out at least one glaring problem – the lack of a left-handed bat.  Aside from Berkman and Matsui, who are switch-hitters, every player in this list is a righty.  For the moment, I’m not going to let that sway me into one solid option: Moving Pence to right and starting left-hander Bourn into center.  For now, at least, I’m going to go with this group.

Batting Order

When determining a batting order, I always start with the #3 and #4 spots, and then build around those.  The third spot should be the team’s best hitter.  This is the guy who will get the third-most at-bats, and should have the majority of the opportunities with runners in scoring position.  The choice here is pretty obvious.  Lance Berkman combines power and average better than anyone else on this team.  This leaves us with the cleanup hitter.

Most teams expect their cleanup hitter to be able to hit for doubles and home runs to capitalize on any scoring opportunities.  The Astros have a player who fits this mold perfectly in left fielder Carlos Lee, who leads the team in doubles, is second behind Berkman in home runs and SLG, and who actually is also second in OBP, which makes him a very promising candidate for the #4 spot (or, more likely, points out the deficiencies found elsewhere in the lineup.)

Leadoff

A good leadoff hitter is a guy who can get on base consistently and run the bases responsibly.  In the current lineup, there are no players who fit this mold.  Even were we to use the speedster Bourn, he does not have a solid OBP.  2B Matsui steals some bases and comes with a nice .286 batting average, but he lacks an ideal on-base percentage.  Towles and Saccomanno actually have better OBPs, but neither is much of a concern on the basepaths.

The best combination of speed and on-base is actually Towles with .355/6 SB/4 CS, but his .265 average is most definitely not ideal.  His high OBP is mostly because of the number of pitches that hit him, as he doesn’t draw walks or hit for average.  For this reason, the best option is likely Matsui, at least until Bourn comes around.

#2 Hitter

Let me start with an admission: I do not believe that there is such a thing as a “productive out.”  This puts me at odds with many baseball fans, which is why I feel the need to tell you up front.  For me, a #2 hitter is one who gets on base himself, and who doesn’t hit into double plays.  Though I try to keep that in mind, OBP
is king here for me. 

This should lead us to Towles, whose .355 on-base percentage is behind only Berkman and Lee, but again I don’t like his low average and walk total.  This leaves Saccomanno and Tejada with their .350 OBP.  Since 2002, Miguel Tejada has only had one season in which he was not have one of the three most double plays grounded into.  In 2008, he had the most by a big margin.  Because I’d rather have a consistent hitter who doesn’t eliminate the leadoff man, allowing the #3 and #4 hitters RBI opportunities even when he doesn’t get on base, I’m going to shy away from Tejada.

That means that my #2 hitter is Mark Saccomanno.

#5 Hitter

The #5 spot is a multi-faceted one.  First, you want someone dangerous enough to keep opposing pitchers honest when facing the cleanup hitter.  You also want him to be able to “cleanup” anything the cleanup hitter hasn’t been able to take care of ahead of him.

When you get to the #5 spot, you become aware that subsequent hitters will be less and less dangerous.  For that reason, someone who gets on base via singles and walks isn’t ideal, as he’s likely to get stranded on base.  The primary job of this hitter is to deliver power.  When choosing this spot, I think OPS is the single-most important statistic.

Hunter Pence is #4 on the team in OPS, behind Berkman, Lee, and Saccomanno.  He’s also fourth in SLG, behind the same three players.  He’s also fourth in batting average, behind Lee, Tejada, and Berkman.  It seems pretty obvious that he should be the #5 hitter.

#6 Hitter

When rating the “10 worst number 6 hitters since 1957“, the Hardball Times came up with possibly the best description of the number six hitter I’ve ever come across: “The great majority of the time, the guy batting sixth is simply the least bad of the remaining hitters.”

They also go on to point out that most teams will get solid at-bats from their third and fourth slots, as well as some pretty good ones from their fifth slot, the #6 hitter is usually a pretty good indication of their offensive run production. 

If that’s true, then the Astros offense may not be in complete jeopardy, as Miguel Tejada is a pretty easy projection here at #6.  Second on the team with a .304 batting average, Tejada also provides some power with 19 home runs and a .454 SLG.  He’s no longer an elite power hitter, but he is still a great option to have this low in the order.

#7 and #8 Hitters

The #7 hitter is generally thought of as the guy who isn’t as bad as the #8 hitter.  His job description, really, is “don’t suck.”  The two players we have left are J.R. Towles, the catcher, and Jason Michaels, the right fielder.  Obviously, we want the guy who will stink up the field less.  It’s ideal if he can also stretch a single into a double.  This way, the #8 hitter can end up with a single and score a runner, rather than relying on an extra base hit.

Once again, I turn to OPS, as this gives us a better indication of the ability to get on-base and hit for extra bases.  With a .791 OPS to Michaels’ .702, Towles is a significantly better candidate here.  For this reason, I put him in at #7 and Michaels at #8. 

This leaves our batting order as this:

batting_order.JPG

I really don’t like the weightedness towards right-handers, but even if Bourn was inserted into center field, that would only change the #8 – maybe the #7 – spot.  This would still give us a lot of right handers. 

However, beyond that concern, I believe this batting order to be the most efficient use of the current Astros’ roster.

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