If I were to sum up the season in a sentence, I would say that we have been very good at times and very bad at others, with not a lot in-between. I think in April and May Houston played far below its level, but for later parts of the season it also punched way above its' weight. Run creation is still a massive issue, even when we were winning a lot of games, and this led to unnecessary strain on the bullpen, as it had to hold one-run leads night after night, with little margin of error to work with.
Scouting the Sallly has this scouting report on J.D. Martinez, so it might be worth a quick read, before I get on to other things. If you have not read, the Astros have exercised the option of Jason Michaels, while exercising the buyout clause on Geoff Blum's 2011 option. So we'll see Michaels next year, but not Blum.
From June 1st to September 20th, we went 56-43, and still only scored 4.2 runs a game. From July 1st to September 20thh we went 42-29 but scored 4.1 runs a game, holding our opponents to 3.7 runs.
Sure, Carlos Lee takes most of the headlines for his poor offensive contributions, but remember, we started 2010 with Pedro Feliz, Kaz Matsui, Humberto Quintero and Tommy Manzella at starting positions. That's 940 plate appearances right there, and 34 walks between them all. That's a 3.4 BB%, which pales in comparison to Lee's 5.7%. Even Hunter Pence has only a marginal rate better than that, at 6.2%. Apart from Berkman 16.8%, Castro 10.1%, Michael Bourn 9.8% and Jeff Keppinger 8.9% (and decent rates from Bourgeis, Bogusevic and Michaels). Johnson and Wallace stand at 4.1 and 5% respectively.
So pretty much we can't draw walks. But this was one of many problems not offset by anything else the offense did. We could not hit, we could not walk, and we could not hit for power. Lee and Pence are never going to be high OBP guys, and that is fine, as long as you are not depending on them to be the meat of your lineup, which is what we are doing. Advanced sabermetrics have always suggested that Lee was less valuable than people assumed, and it is the fact that he is no longer hitting around .300, (.246) as he has done in the last four seasons that has changed (2006-2009).
The conclusion is pretty clear, not enough people in the lineup are pulling their weight. The Astros experimented with three rookies: Castro, Wallace and Johnson. One in three worked for this season, but it would be silly to give up on Castro and Wallace after seeing them for half a season. I worry that Castro was called up a season too early, being the first 2008 draftee to make it through the Astros' minor leagues, as the only indicator he's done well is his walks, and some of them might be due to the fact he has been hitting in front of the pitcher in the number eight spot of the lineup.
Timmy asked yesterday on TCB whether there was any chance the Astros could pull off a miracle Padre-like turnover next season, and my answer would be: probably not. Keppinger's ceiling is what he did this year, Lee may do better in 2011, but Pence will likely put up similar numbers, the same with Bourn. Pitchers have already started to adjust to Johnson, and his numbers in September (.257/.290.465) are an indication of that. The SLG% is actually holding quite steady, so he may hit 20/25 HR in a full season.
The only way I would see the Astros competing if they could find something truly special to put at short, get something better than Keppinger at second, and would need the sort of season Jason Lane had in 2005 from both Castro and Wallace. They would need much, much more from Lee. Without any impact bats, they would need solid, above average production from every position player. Right now, we do not have that. Our second year players in 2011 need time to develop, and burdening them with false expectations to compete is no way to do that.
Ed Wade is building something long-term here. The players he has drafted to change the face of the organisation are not here, and our last three drafts have been solid, not spectacular. There is still lots of work to do to revive the organisation from the mess it was in 2007. While our roster might be in better shape than it was in May, but we're just not close to contending against teams like the Cardinals and Reds.
.500 may not be out of our reach, but unless Wade pulls rabbits out of his hat, contention should be.
This will be my last post for a month. I'm taking October off. I'll see you back in November for all things Hot Stove. Thanks for reading, and enjoy the offseason.