Things to Know about the Houston Astros

The Mets head south for a three game series against the Houston Astros this weekend. Here’s some stuff you might want to know about them:

Record: 14-23
Manager: Brad Mills
Park: Minute Maid Park. Weird park. Reduces scoring (more strikeouts and fewer walks — hard for hitters to pick up the ball?), but increases home runs, particularly for righthanded hitters.

Can they hit? A little bit
Can they pitch? Nope
Can they field? The worst fielding major league baseball team in years.

CF – Michael Bourn – L
SS – Clint Barmes – R
RF – Hunter Pence – R
LF – Carlos Lee – R
1B – Brett Wallace – L
2B – Bill Hall – R
3B – Chris Johnson – R
C – Humberto Quintero – R

The Astros’ offense has been surprisingly effective thus far. They have hit just 19 home runs as a team (the fewest in the NL) and drawn just 98 walks (second fewest), but are batting .261 (4th in league), pushing the team on-base percentage up to .317 (NL average is .319). The 4.16 runs per game the Astros have scored is exactly average, and looks more impressive when you consider that they play their home games in a park that reduces scoring. And then it’s even more impressive if you consider that four regulars have on-base percentages below .300 – almost all the heavy offensive lifting has been done by Hunter Pence, Brett Wallace, and a couple of bench players.

Oh, but the defense. Houston’s 31 errors leads the league, and their .977 fielding percentage is also the worst. But even that doesn’t tell the real story.

In the NL this season, about 70% of the balls put into play have been turned into outs by fielders. The Rockies have turned 72% of their balls in play into outs, the best mark in the league. The Cubs have turned 68% of their balls in play into outs, the worst if not for Houston. But 29 of the 30 teams in baseball are about 2 points away from that 70% mark . . . except for the Astros, who are turning 65% of balls in play into outs. This would be the lowest percentage by a major league team in at least 15 years. I got bored and stopped clicking through seasons when I got to 1996, but these Astros are probably the worst fielding team in a long, long time. Clint Barmes taking shortstop away from Angel Sanchez should help, but even that might not be enough to drag them from the historic gutter.

5/13: RHP – Bud Norris (vs. Dillon Gee)
5/14: LHP – J.A. Happ (vs. R.A. Dickey)
5/15: RHP – Aneury Rodriguez (vs. Chris Capuano)
Miss: RHP – Brett Myers
Miss: RHP – Wandy Rodriguez

The Astros’ rotation has a 4.89 ERA, second worst in the NL, but the aforementioned terrible defense makes it difficult to evaluate Houston’s pitchers fairly. If you just look at FIP, the ERA-like statistic that only counts a pitcher’s walks, strikeouts, and home runs allowed (i.e., things that don’t involve fielders), the Astros’ rotation drops into a four-way tie for 11th best FIP in the league. (FIP FIP Furray! . . . Sorry.) It’s probably best to say that the pitchers aren’t great, but they could look much better with a merely terrible defense instead of a historically terrible defense.

Bud Norris goes tonight in Game 1: He’s been the Astros’ best starter this season, and with 52 strikeouts in 42.2 innings, he (not coincidentally) relies on his fielders least. Lefty J.A. Happ, Game 2’s starter, does rely on his fielders, and the combination of too many hits and walks has his ERA at 5.75. Old friend Nelson Figueroa (8.69 ERA) has been banished to the minor leagues, so Rule 5 pick Aneury Rodriguez takes the ball in Game 3 after moving out of the bullpen a week ago. He went 5 innings and allowed no runs in his first start, then went five innings and allowed 5 runs in his second start. So my guess for this start: 5 innings, 2.5 runs.

C – J.R. Towles – R
IF – Matt Downs – R
IF – Angel Sanchez – R
OF – Jason Michaels – R
OF – Brian Bogusevic – L

I said this last time, but backup backstop J.R. Towles, a good minor league hitter, is batting .271/.386/.458; he’s 27 years old. Regular catcher Humberto Quintero, age 31, is battting .259/.299/.346, numbers slightly better than his career averages. So here’s the thing: If the Astros are trying to win today, playing Towles makes more sense because he’s a better player. If they’re trying to rebuild for tomorrow, playing Towles makes more sense because he’s the younger player. But there is no scenario where playing Quintero makes sense. So what have the Astros done this season? Towles: 57 plate appearances; Quintero: 88 plate appearances. Astros fans, you all need to start a Free Towles movement. “Hey kids, don’t forget to bring a Towles.”

RHP – Mark Melancon
LHP – Fernando Abad
RHP – Wilton Lopez
RHP – Jeff Fulchino
RHP – Jose Valdez
RHP – Enerio Del Rosario
LHP – Sergio Escanlona

With closer Brandon Lyon on the DL, the Astros’ bullpen can now make a run at the all time record for “bullpen with the most players no one has ever heard of,” as Jeff Fulchino is the only reliever with 3 years or 100 major league innings under his belt (it’s a really big belt). The ragtag bullpen ERA is 5.22, worst in the NL, and it’s not exclusively the fielders this time, as the group’s 4.08 FIP is tied for second worst. The relievers don’t miss bats, and the fielders don’t catch balls, so — puts on Peter Lorre mask — it’s not a pretty picture. I think Mark Melancon is the closer now, but Brad Mills has indicated that it’s still up in the air. Safe to say, if Houston has a lead in the ninth, it will probably be someone we’re unfamiliar with.

And those are some things to know about the Houston Astros.

1 Comment

Filed under Words

One response to “Things to Know about the Houston Astros

  1. Who looking up from under the arc lights
    Watching the baseball soar through the air?
    Who’s looking out for help from the bullpen?
    Everyone knows it’s Wandy!


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