Houston Astros: Helping the Mariners Look Better

This is one of the best players on the Astros and you don’t know his name.

The Mariners are not likely to finish last in the AL West in 2013. I say that partly because Chone Figgins and Miguel Olivo won’t be getting any at bats, and mostly because the M’s have excellent competition for the cellar in the form of the Houston Astros. The Astros will be moving over to the AL West this season, leveling out the divisions at five apiece for the first time since dinosaurs. Let’s meet those Houston Astros, Dan Szymborski style:

Pos/Player

PA

BA

OBP

ISO

wOBA

BB%

K%

WAR

C Jason Castro

384

0.238

0.316

0.106

0.290

9.9%

21.1%

1.2

C Carlos Corporan

204

0.228

0.282

0.120

0.266

5.4%

25.5%

0.2

1B Brett Wallace

604

0.242

0.311

0.145

0.303

7.0%

27.8%

0.4

2B Jose Altuve

672

0.287

0.330

0.116

0.319

5.5%

11.8%

2.5

3B Matt Dominguez

596

0.251

0.296

0.132

0.293

5.5%

14.3%

1.9

SS Jed Lowrie

332

0.253

0.331

0.177

0.331

10.2%

17.2%

1.8

LF J.D. Martinez

578

0.254

0.313

0.120

0.301

7.4%

22.1%

0.3

CF Justin Maxwell

358

0.211

0.297

0.196

0.307

10.1%

35.5%

1.3

RF Fernando Martinez

439

0.241

0.297

0.167

0.303

5.5%

27.3%

0.8

OF Brandon Barnes

575

0.211

0.264

0.134

0.266

6.1%

31.3%

-0.1

DH Carlos Pena

525

0.214

0.341

0.218

0.334

14.9%

29.5%

1.6

Total*

0.242

0.308

0.147

0.302

7.8%

23.4%

11.9

 

Starter

IP

K%

BB%

ERA

FIP

ERA-

FIP-

WAR

Bud Norris

168.3

22.6%

9.4%

4.54

4.15

112

102

1.5

Lucas Harrell

153.3

14.6%

9.7%

4.75

4.28

117

105

0.9

Alex White

129.3

15.1%

10.0%

5.08

4.82

125

118

0.3

Jordan Lyles

165.3

16.0%

6.3%

4.95

4.25

122

104

0.6

Philip Humber

123

16.1%

7.0%

5.27

4.78

130

117

-0.1

Total*

148

17.0%

8.5%

4.89

4.42

121

108

3.2

These are the ZiPS projections for Houston’s probable starters and a couple bonus players. When I looked it over, it was kind of like that scene from Major League where the future janitor from Scrubs looks at the Cleveland Indians roster and retorts, “Who ahr deez fuckin’ guys?”

Some Players to Know

It’s no secret that Houston is in full rebuild mode and has stashed some excellent talent on the farm. But that talent won’t be ready this season. The top-projected Astro is second basemen Jose Altuve, who slashed a respectable .290/.340/.399 last season with a very sustainable .321 BABIP. For comparison’s sake, Dustin Ackley is projected at 3.4 WAR in 2013, nearly a full win better than his Houston counterpart. In fact, the Mariners have five players—including Ackley—projected at-or-above Houston’s best player.

Jed Lowrie has likely generated some optimism among Houston’s ten remaining fans. By the All-star break last season, Lowrie had accumulated 14 dingers and 2.5 WAR, but injuries left him with just 66 plate appearances the rest of the season. Entering his age-29 season, he’s not exactly a spring chicken, but with some injury luck he could potentially produce a 3-or-4 WAR season at shortstop.

UPDATE: Lowrie will definitely be playing in the AL West this season, but not in Houston. He was part of the A’s-Astros trade earlier this month that brought in Peacock (see below). Unfortunately, ZiPS only updated half of that trade it seems. Matt Dominguez can now reasonably be considered one of the Astros’ next-best players to Altuve. But with only 161 major-league plate appearances under his belt, Dominguez is all potential at this point. Most of the projection systems have him down as a plus defender with just enough of a bat to make it at the hot corner, and that makes sense when you consider that his slash line in the minors was just .256/.323/.409.

Because they are likely to be out of contention, Houston will have the flexibility to test out prospects just as the Mariners have done in recent years. The prospect list starts with first baseman Jonathan Singleton. As a 20-year-old much of last season, Singleton scorched the AA Texas League for 21 homeruns and a 16% walk rate, showing a combination of some moderate power and a lot of patience. Singleton will likely make his way to the majors this season, especially now that the Astros have the flexibility to hit him at DH.

Though there are prospects in the Astros system rated higher, starter Brad Peacock will find his way to the show this season. A quick glance at his 6.01 ERA in 2012 might induce a scoff, but some other stats show a healthy set of underlying skills. 139 strikeouts in 134 AAA innings, for instance, is nothing to scoff at, and the combo of a .340 BABIP and the power-heavy PCL can make a lot of decent pitchers look bad. In 2011, between the Nationals’ AA and AAA affiliates, Peacock put together 147 innings with 177 strikeouts versus just 47 walks (3.8 K/BB, 2.39 ERA).

Delino DeShields, Junior, it turns out, lives on Houston’s farm. Like Dad, Junior has a penchant for thievery, though he has only reached A+ ball. In addition to speed, Junior has exhibited another skill: patience. In 2012 alone, he walked 83 times (13%) and stole 101 bases (83% efficiency).  Throughout his minor league career, he has found his way into stealing position via hits, walks and hit-by-pitches 405 times, and managed to steal 136 bases. Though we won’t see him against the Mariners this season, perhaps we’ll get taste of that DeShields lightning again someday.

Effect on the Mariners

In the long term, adding another team to the AL West is one more obstacle in the way of playoffs. The long-run chances at a division title just dropped from 25% to 20% (1/4 to 1/5). However, I think it might help the M’s out in the short term.

Whether you look at winning percentage or run differential, The AL West was the toughest division in baseball last year. There’s no doubt that Seattle, Oakland, Anaheim**, and Texas will welcome the addition of 19 games against the Astros in place of a hodgepodge of AL East and AL Central teams.

No, this won’t make it any easier for Seattle to win the division—since each of the four AL West incumbents gets the same schedule advantage—but it might help a little in Seattle’s quest for one of the two wildcard spots. AL West teams will play Houston 19 times, but other AL teams will play Houston, at most, ten times.  Essentially, each of the original AL West teams will enjoy a slight increase in wildcard probability over the next couple seasons.

With the Astros recent stockpiling efforts, they won’t be bad forever. So let’s enjoy it while they are!

 

*All totals are weighted averages except WAR, which was summed.

**Not a fan of the “Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.”

  • Dude

    Jed Lowrie is not on the Astros.

    • Matthias_Kullowatz

      Oh duh. For some reason the ZiPS page had both he and Peacock on Astros, even though they were traded for each other. Thanks for catching that. Fixed!