2007 Sabermetric Year in Review: Houston Astros

No really, I know the alphabet.  Careful readers of StatSpeak will notice that I was originally going in reverse alphabetical order.  Yet, Florida was a a little bit ago, and now comes Houston.  Eric was originally writing the Houston review (and I had taken Florida), but he had to pull out.  Now, here I am writing the Houston piece.  So, we turn back time to stop #19 on the tour, the Houston Astros.
Record: 73-89, 4th in NL Central
Pythagorean Projection (Patriot formula): 71.98 wins (723 runs scored,  813 runs allowed)
Team Statistical Pages:
Baseball Reference
Baseball Prospectus
FanGraphs
MVN Blog:
The Astros Dugout
More Astros Resources:
Latest News
Contract Status 
Trade Rumors
Overview: So… like… yeah… the Astros.  Outside of the state of Texas, did anyone even notice the Astros last year?  Not bad for a team two years removed from a league championship.  They just… evaporated.  Kinda like Roger Clemens’s perception as one of the greatest pitchers who ever lived (too soon?)
What went right: Now where exactly did Hunter Pence come from?  England?  How many of you had Pence in the “Third Place in the NL Rookie of the Year” pool at the beginning of the year.  That’s right, none of you.  Here’s the bad news: Pence hits about half of his balls on the ground.  Pence had a BABIP of .378.  Now, BABIP is much more stable for batters than for pitchers, but that means a lot of seeing-eye singles that managed to sneak through the infield.  There are players that have this type of profile (high GB%, high BABIP), such as Ichiro, Derek Jeter, and… Mark Teahen.  Pence clearly isn’t the same type of hitter as Ichiro, and Jeter walks about 2.5 times as much.  Teahen might be a good comparison based on walk and strikeout rates.  Not a bad place to be, although I somehow doubt though that Pence can sustain that kind of a BABIP.  Pence will likely regress to the mean… er, have a “sophomore slump.”
Well, given everything else, Carlos Lee didn’t look like such a bad buy.  But, wouldn’t you know it, last year’s big off-season signing didn’t bring a World Championship with him.  Something interesting to note about Carlos Lee: for a power hitter (even if 32 HR isn’t much power any more these days), he only strikes out in about 10% of his plate appearances.  Not a bad feather to have in the cap.
What went wrong: And then there was Woody Williams.  The magic of VORP says that he was a +10 run pitcher last year over the average bench-warmer callup guy.  I guess there’s something to be said for the fact that in his 31 starts, he only failed to give the Astros 5 innings or more three times.  He didn’t give up many line drives either.  But, 8-15, 5.27 isn’t pretty any way you slice it.  Looks like he’ll be back to do it again, but I gotta tell you, there’s nothing in the numbers to say that the results will be any prettier.
It’s become a Sabermetric cliche to sing the praises of Adam Everett, whom the Astros tragically allowed to walk away (yeah, I know they got Tejada).  In 2007, Everett broke his leg and Mark Loretta and Eric Bruntlett took over.  The casual fan dismissed Everett’s absence because he wasn’t much with the stick, hit 8th, but his presence was definitely missed.  Tejada’s offense will make up for Everett’s defense and then some, but exactly how much of an upgrade is he.  Using Baseball Prospectus runs above replacement metrics, let’s compare Tejada’s 2007 and Everett’s 2006 (to be fair and give Everett a full season.)  Tejada was 50 runs better than Everett with the bat and 22 worse with the glove.  So, assuming that these patterns hold, the Astros are about 28 runs better now.  At what cost?  Well, Luke Scott is going to be a good-but-not-great 30 year old corner outfielder.  Neither Matt Albers nor Troy Scott are strikeout machines, although Scott posted some good numbers in the minors and reached the majors by age 21.  So there’s promise there, but as my father is fond of saying, “If you have hope in one hand and…” nevermind.  I suppose it’s a testament to how badly the Orioles wanted Tejada out of Baltimore.  The Astros really only had to give up one player who might be a star.
Yeah, that about sums it up: Number of home runs given up by ‘Stros pitchers – 206. 
When teams get run by their marketing departments: Craig Biggio.  Do I really need to explain this one?  Yes, there’s something to be said for a guy who has given his entire career to a team so that he can reach a landmark that takes him from a borderline Hall of Fame guy to a guy who will make it eventually.  Biggio held out long enough (and it became painfully obvious that he was holding on) to get his 3000 hits (and a .285 OBP).  What was the point?  Is Biggio now magically a better player than he was last year?  What’s odd is that in the minds of a lot of Hall of Fame voters, the answer  is actually yes.
The Brad Lidge Thing: I didn’t quite understand the Brad Lidge thing at the beginning of the year.  I’m sure it had something to do with the bad memories of the 2005 post-season, but once Lidge had a bad outing in mop up duty, Phil Garner politely excused him from the closer role, instead prefering Dan Wheeler.  Wheeler, to his credit, started an inning with a save-worthy lead 27 times and nailed 25 of them down, for a “save” rate of 93% (that counts his time in Hoston and ummm… Tampa Bay).  But, then Phil Garner got fired and replaced with Cecil Cooper.  Wheeler, for his part, was rumored to be on the trading block (a “dump him before he hits free agency” move) and was going to fetch at least some help, but went to Tampa Bay(?) for Ty Wiggington.  Cooper put Lidge back in the closer role ahead of Chad Qualls.  Lidge had a “save” rate of 79% (one of the lowest in baseball), but was better than Qualls (77%).  Then, the Astros traded Lidge to the Phillies and will go with Qualls as their closer this year.  Wasn’t that the plot of High School Musical 2?
Outlook: Here’s how you know that the Astros are in trouble.  Last year, they gave 397 plate appearances to 38-year-old Brad Ausmus, 165 PAs to Eric Bruntlett (29), 259 PAs to Morgan Ensberg (31), 122 PAs to Orlando Palmiero (38), 363 PAs to Chris Burke (27), 555 PAs to Craig Biggio (carbon-14 results not yet available… he played during the Reagan administration!), 236 PAs to Adam Everett (although I understand this one was for defensive purposes), and 192 PAs to Jason Lane (30).  All of them were functioning below replacement level.  Giving a bunch of playing time to young kids going through growing pains is fine if you’re a team on the re-build.  Giving a bunch of playing time to washed up veterans is inexcusable.  What does this say about the Astros?  Since they knew the season was a lost cause, why didn’t they bring up the young talent to go through some growing pains?  Could it be because, Hunter Pence excluded, they’re not exactly busting at the seams with young talent?  Houston, we have a problem.

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7 Responses to 2007 Sabermetric Year in Review: Houston Astros

  1. dan says:

    Kind of an odd place to be. Most of the bad teams at least have a decent farm system (Tampa, Marlins, etc.), but the Astros have like at least a 5 year time period where they have no hope of contending (assuming they don’t go out and buy $150million in free agents). That Jason Jennings trade was horrific in retrospect.

  2. Then, they traded Qualls to the DBacks and Valverde will be their Closer.

  3. Pizza Cutter says:

    Wow, we’re all in this together, once we know who the closers are, they’re all stars and we see that.

  4. RollingWave says:

    And I’m pretty sure it’s Troy Patton not Troy Scottt
    And they threw away Ensberg for nothing.
    The only good news is that they are in a division with the Pirates. and they have two amazing piece in Oswalt and Berkman.
    At this point, they might really be forced to trade these two guys in a couple years time just to restart. that’s sad really. I mean we thought trading away Swisher and Haren was odd, but Oswalt and Berkamn is almost indisputablly even better .

  5. Everyday, of our lives, Valverde into close, gonna hold onto tight, to the lead….
    Yeah, my girlfriend is obsessed and I’ve been to the ice show…

  6. Pizza Cutter says:

    Eric, you sure you want to admit that in public?

  7. I’m confident in my High School Musicality

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