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Ah the Astros. The team that once had the Ryan Express, Mike Scott, Killer-Bs, Terry Puhl (formerly the best hitter Canada produced), Jose Cruz Sr, J.R. Richard, Roger Clemens, Joe Niekro, Billy Wagner, and Joe Morgan. So, where are they today, just 2 full seasons away from their only World Series appearance? Dropping and dropping fast but with some kids in the outfield and catching who give you hope.



After 6 years of above 500 ball they fell to 73-89 last year (still better than the Rays have ever done). This was their 3rd straight year of decline in wins. Last year they had 4 regulars with a 100+ OPS+ (3 outfield positions plus 1B). Of the 6 guys to get 10+ starts only one had an ERA+ of 100+. Of the 5 guys most used in their pen (by games played) just 2 had an ERA+ of 100+, which is pretty sad. The average age of their team (both offence and pitching) was above 30, thus showing they were not exactly testing their young players either.

So the question becomes what is going to happen down in Houston this year? Are they prepping for takeoff or are they like a satellite about to be shot down? Well, new GM Ed Wade has shown no hesitation in making trades and putting kids into positions to prove themselves.  Listed below are Avg/OBP/Slg OPS+ for 2007 plus ZIPS projections

Catcher

2007: Brad Ausmus: 235/318/324 OPS+68 and Eric Munson: 235/313/356 OPS+74

2008: J.R. Towles: OPS+159 over 14 games, Minors: 287/393/447 split between high A, AA, AAA ZIPS:250/322/379

Potentially a major area of improvement here. Towles is just 24 and hopes are high. However, he climbed very far very fast last year after a 907 OPS in A ball the year before. I'd be very nervous about his defense as catchers normally take longer to get ready. John Sickels likes him and thinks PECOTA is underestimating him but that he is a bit of an injury risk due to body type. Ausmus is still around too, for what that is worth.

First Base...
2007: Lance Berkman 278/386/510 OPS+131, Mike Lamb 289/366/453 OPS+112
2008: Berkman ZIPS:277/396/520 - Lamb is now in Minnesota for $6.6 over 2 years.

Very solid with Berkman, but their #1 backup is now listed as Darin Erstad - ugh - see outfield for details.

Second Base...
2007: Craig Biggio 251/285/381 OPS+ 71 and done, Chris Burke 229/304/357 OPS+72
2008: Kaz Matsui 288/342/405 OPS+ 87, ZIPS: 254/307/331; Mark Loretta 287/352/372 OPS+89 ZIPS: 274/344/350

Well, it is an improvement. Nothing great, but good OBP's from both in '07 and at least a shot at a 100 OPS vs last season.  Although ZIPS really hates Kaz.

Third Base...
2007: Morgan Ensberg 232/323/384 OPS+83, Mike Lamb (see 1B), Ty Wigginton 278/333/459 OPS+107
2008: Ty Wigginton ZIPS: 273/335/467, Geoff Blum 252/319/367 OPS+84 ZIPS: 241/305/341

Wigginton was traded for last year for reliever Dan Wheeler who Tampa is using as a closer now. Ty has played a lot of 2B and 1B in his career and is a decent player who should be a big improvement over Ensberg.

Shortstop...
2007: Adam Everett 232/281/318 OPS+56; Mark Loretta (see 2B); Eric Bruntlett 246/346/283 OPS+67
2008: Miguel Tejada 296/357/442 OPS+109 ZIPS: 303/359/461; Blum (see 3B)

Big time offensive improvement. Big time defensive drop. Big controversy. Last year was the first time Tejada didn't get an MVP vote since 1999. They had to live with a mix and match for all but 66 games last year (Everett was hurt big time) so this is a big help, assuming Everett wouldn't have been the best defensive shortstop since Ozzie Smith anymore, and might have been an improvement regardless. Read here for an article on Tejada which points out how he is just 31 and shouldn't collapse.

Left Field...
2007: Carlos Lee 303/354/528 OPS+126 played all 162 games
2008: Same ZIPS: 286/345/503

Three of the past 4 years he has played 161+ games. 3 of the past 4 years his OPS+ was 126 or 127. Durable, talented, consistent. Wow.

Center Field...
2007: Hunter Pence 322/360/539 OPS+130; Misc junk (Lane 56 OPS+)
2008:
Michael Bourn 277/348/378 OPS+85 ZIPS: 250/314/320 - Pence to RF

Bourn is expected to lead off (18-1 in SB last year). Lifetime in the minors (last year was his rookie season for Philly) he has a 377 OBP so it isn't a crazy idea although ZIPS hates him (634 OPS projected). In fact, it could be a very good one if he is solid in CF and the reports I saw said he is. He basically is replacing the CF backups (ugh) and the right fielder of 2007

Right Field...
2007: Luke Scott 255/351/504 119 OPS+
2008: Hunter Pence (see CF) ZIPS: 292/343/510

Pence had a breakout year last season as a 24 year old rookie. Lifetime minor league numbers are 304/377/556 so he looks like a blue chipper. A young and darn amazing trio in the outfield (well, Lee is in his 30's but is darn good). Scott was part of the trade to get Tejada from Baltimore and given he was 4th on their depth chart it makes sense although he would've been a heck of a lot nicer as a backup than Darrin Erstad who has been sub-100 for OPS+ for 7 straight years and sub-90 for 6 of those years, sub 70 the past two. Other backup options include Reggie Abercrombie (55 OPS+ over 361 ML PA's) and Yordany Ramirez (23 years old, minor league numbers include a 649 OPS). Lets pray for no injuries here.

Starting Pitchers (ERA+ listed for guys with 10+ starts ZIPS ERA for 2008)
2007: Roy Oswalt 138; Wandy Rodriguez 96; Woody Williams 83; Chris Sampson 96; Matt Albers 75; Jason Jennings 68
2008: Oswalt 3.48; Rodriguez 4.72; Williams 5.23; Sampson 4.99; Brandon Backe lifetime 93 ERA+, just 71 IP in the majors the past two seasons 5.02 ZIPS;

Well, they could get better. Shawn Chacon (96 ERA+ lifetime) has had 3 starts this spring. Not a lot of good stuff to look at outside of Oswalt. All are 29+ years old so I figure what you see is what you get. AAA guys will get a shot, lets hope someone is up to the challenge.
Brian Moehler is trying to shift from the pen to the rotation and rookie Mark McLemore (not the hitter) is trying to make the staff but will probably be in AAA. 

Bullpen (50+ IP ERA+ ZIPS ERA)
2007: Brad Lidge 131; Chad Qualls 144; Trever Miller 90; Dave Borkowski 85; Dan Wheeler 87; Brian Moehler 108
2008: Jose Valverde 177 3.13;
Doug Brocail 132 ; Geoff Geary 105 3.70; Oscar Villarreal 100; Borkowski 4.56;

Valverde should do nicely as the closer given his 47 saves for Arizona last season.
Doug Brocail is 41 and mediocre. Geoff Geary is a younger Brocail (just 31); Oscar Villarreal looks decent at 26; Borkowski returns; Qualls and Lidge were both traded. Should be a deeper pen but not as good as what we have in Toronto.

Finally, a few notables on their non-roster invite list...
Former Jays: Alberto Castillo, Tomas Perez, and Jose Cruz Jr.
Talented but never gets a shot:
catcher JR House
Family history:
Lance Niekro (1B), son of Joe, nephew of Phil

This is a team that once was known exclusively for their pitching. Now it is hitting all the way with Oswalt and pray for 4 days of rain. Wandy, Woody, and the bullpen is weary.

A nice blog I found about Houston is the Crawfish Boxes where they mention the GM is now getting very, very desperate for pitching.

I figure this team is due for a rebound from their 4th place 73-89 record of last year.  Given it is the NL Central I'd say if any kids can make it into the rotation and the outfield and #1 catcher stay healthy and the kids are better than ZIPS the Astros could be back in the playoffs quickly with an 83-79 record and an outside shot at 90 wins if the starters can pull it together fast and the young hitters outperform ZIPS, followed by a GM of the year award to Ed Wade.  My real view is 79 wins and less than 10 games from the NL Central title.
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The following comments are owned by whomever posted them. This site is not responsible for what they say.
cascando - Friday, March 14 2008 @ 11:33 AM EDT (#181035) #

I think 79 wins is optimistic, even in a weak division.  It is just really hard to have faith in a team with that kind of pitching.  If Oswalt goes down for any period of time, I fear they'll lost 100 games.

ZIPS is really pessimistic on the offence, but I think likely more accurate than the general perception which is that the Astros have a strong offence.  They have Berkman, Lee, Pence, whatever is left of Tejada and a whole bunch of question marks that will likely range from mediocre to terrible.  I don't like it.  I predict 67-95 and battling the Pirates for 6th place.

dogbus - Friday, March 14 2008 @ 11:47 AM EDT (#181037) #

I'm inclinded to agree with Cascando.

Houston makes me sad.  I used to love them as a franchise because of their pitching strength and character guys like Biggio.  Now they are reminding me far to much of Baltimore over the last few years.  Not alot of pitching, over-rated guys (Lorreta, Wigginton, et al) and a guy named Tejada at shortstop.   I have an un explainable inclination Tejada is done.  I have a feeling that the steroids issue will hit him harder than most and he is obviously well past his prime.  I would predict this year to be his worst.  I think he comes with far too much baggage.

I've always been a big fan of Carlos Lee and Roy Oswalt but if either of them go down, even for a month, I like the Pirates to climb out of the cellar.

 

CaramonLS - Friday, March 14 2008 @ 12:05 PM EDT (#181040) #
I too feel that this team has absolutely no shot at the post season and 70-75 wins will be the best they do next year.

Just shocking they traded all that to Baltimore for a declining Tejada - cleaned out their farm pretty good on a team that really should be rebuilding, instead of trying to plug holes.

John Northey - Friday, March 14 2008 @ 12:19 PM EDT (#181042) #
Sadly in the NL Central 75 wins puts you in contention. A bit of luck and you are over 80 and in the playoffs. Ick.

I was a Houston fan in the 80's (#1 team was Toronto, #2 Montreal, #3 Houston, #4 KC - one per division) so it was fun to look at the team again after a long break. The keys are the outfield kids, the catcher, and the starting pitchers.

If Towles (24 years old), Bourn (25 years old), and Pence (25 yrs old) can outperform ZIPS and be closer to their minor league numbers this team will be scary for offense. Those ages are prime for career years (someday I'll redo the study I did years ago that showed 25 as the prime age for career seasons and see if it still holds true) and also for growth. Pitching depends 100% on someone developing. They lost an amazing SS for defense, but moved last years CF to RF and brought in a guy with a good rep for CF.

This team has a wide range of possibility. If the kids flop and the staff gets worse they will be around 100 lost. If things go well they could be as high as 85-90 wins. Kids change everything, and I give Wade credit for putting a few in position to show if they can or cannot do something.
Magpie - Saturday, March 15 2008 @ 09:40 AM EDT (#181069) #
This might be one of the worst defensive teams in baseball. Yikes.
Houston Astros 2008 | 5 comments | Create New Account
The following comments are owned by whomever posted them. This site is not responsible for what they say.