Tuesday, November 11, 2008

FA FA FA: Houston Astros


Significant FAs: Brad Ausmus (C)

Significant Gaps: SP, OF, 2B, C

The Houston Astros were a slightly above average team last year, and they fell somewhere around league average as a team in most categories. As a team, their pitching staff was 14th in the league in WHIP (1.36). This can certainly be considered decent but they need to look to make improvements if they want to compete in the central division. Roy Oswalt had a good year (1.18 WHIP, 10.71 K/9, 5.00 K/BB, 44.1 VORP) and can be considered a dominant starter. Beyond that, their pitching staff was comprised of players with decent years or poor years, although Wandy Rodriguez showed a lot of promise and should have a better year next season. (1.31 WHIP on .323 BABIP which should come down some although his career average is .311.)

The biggest problem the Astros face is a lack of prospects for call-up purposes or for trades. They traded many of their top prospects to acquire Miguel Tejada (who I will discuss shortly) and Jose Valverde. As a result, their prospects are very young and will require more years of development before they are ready for MLB experience. To make matters worse, their top pitching prospect Felipe Paulino suffered a pinched nerve in his throwing arm this past year. As a result, the Astros will have to make a move on the free agent market to improve their rotation or go with their current starters and hope for improvements from this past season. Brandon Backe in particular has to improve from a 1.67 WHIP, 6.86 K/9, 4.16 BB/9, -7.9 VORP in 2008 in order to even stay in the rotation. Yes, that was a negative VORP.

Regarding Miguel Tejada, he posted a .283/.314/.415 line this past year. It was his second consecutive year of drops in all three categories. His VORP for 2008 was 19.2 which I am guessing was all defensive since his EqA was .249. (I'm still not sure where Dave gets his defensive stats and I am leery of most defensive metrics, but I will say that at least they analyze something other than anecdotal evidence of how good someone is at fielding.) This is not the kind of performance the Astros need out of Tejada in order to justify trading five prospects for him. Although he turns 35 next year the Astros need to stick with him and try to let him return to MVP quality form, mainly because they have no other options.

In the outfield the Astros have one quality starter in Carlos Lee. The other two positions could see significant upgrades as Michael Bourn, while fast, posted a .229/.288/.300 line last year, good for an EqA of .223 and a VORP of -12.0. Hunter Pence had a significant drop from his rookie season in 2007 of .322/.360/.539 to his 2008 of .269/.318/.466. His EqA went from .298 to .264 so I guess the question is which Hunter Pence will show up in 2009? The Astros are hoping for 2007 Pence but unfortunately for them it appears 2008 Pence is more likely closer to his career expectations. His BABIP in 2007 was .378, a number that is almost impossible to sustain, which he didn't as it dropped to .303 in 2008. His production may go up and he at least deserves the chance to make that happen.

At second the Astros are projected to start Kazuo Matsui, who had a decent 2008 with a .293/.354/.427 line, .278 EqA, and 21.2 VORP. What's the problem? He has a career EqA of .256 and has never played more than 114 games in a season. They are going to need help at second due to lack of production, injury, or both.

At catcher the Astros have a small problem in J.R. Towles. Long thought to be a top prospect of the Astros system, in 54 games in the majors last year he posted a line of .137/.250/.253. He had significantly better numbers in the minors upon demotion (.287/.361/.575) so he appears to have regained whatever he lost but he needs to be able to perform at the MLB level this upcoming year in order to restore faith on the part of the Astros. Until he is ready, the Astros appear to be going with Humberto Quintero, a career .230/.271/.304 hitter. I'm sure they are hoping Towles is ready soon.

The question becomes which FAs do the Astros go after? I believe they should make a play at a veteran CF, probably Jim Edmonds or Gabe Kapler. They also need to be going after another starting pitcher. I don't know their salary situation but I think they could at least acquire a midlevel talent like Freddy Garcia, Josh Fogg, or even Sidney Ponson.

My inclusion of Ausmus as a significant FA was more in a nostalgic sense for their organization than production (career .251/.325/.344).


  1. It has been pointed out to me that Fogg and Ponson are terrible. A fair enough point and of course the Astros should try to land someone better than them. I will throw the name Jon Garland out there for no good reason.

  2. Regarding the Tejada commentary, I realize VORP is a strictly offensive category. It was late when I wrote this and I meant to discuss WARP1 not VORP.