An all-too soon look at the 2014 Astros from Brian Todd

It’s September right? The time when teams are making their stretch runs. Well, at least most teams. Today, Brian Todd skips ahead a few months to take an in-depth look at the 2014 Astros.

• •• ••• •• •

I’ve always been a daydreamer. Not the “I’m an astronaut flying around the moons of Epsilon Eridani Three” kind of daydreamer, but the “Someday I’ll ask that cute redhead to go out with me, then we’ll date for awhile and eventually get married” sort.

My daydreams were often about an attainable future … even if the chances were somewhat slim.

So with less than two weeks left in the baseball season, my mind has become untethered from the reality of 100-plus losses, and it is slowly drifting toward 2014 when the Astros open against the Yankees (spit) at the Juice Box.

Will that Astros’ team be better than the current version? Will George Springer finally be free? Will Mark Appel make the team out of Spring Training? Do we have to see Cosart start in AAA again, or does he make the team right away? Will Luhnow spend a little of Crane’s money on a decent hitter or a bullpen?

All these questions and more will be pondered during this ALL TOO SOON 2014 ASTROS OUTLOOK!

Ground rules: I am being optimistic here. I am looking for silver linings while ignoring the fact that those linings often come attached to storm clouds. So don’t tell me I’m an unrealistic dreamer, because I married that cute redhead. And maybe things will be better in 2014.

First Base: AL Rank (by OPS) 11th, OPS .735, SO 204, BB 65, HR 27, RBI 70

I don’t think we start the season with Jonathan Singleton in Houston, so look for more of either Brett Wallace or Chris Carter. Both put in the most ABs at the position in 2013. The big question on Wallace is which guy shows up? The one with an OPS over .800 for July and August, or the guy who couldn’t find a hit with a treasure map in April. Carter meanwhile needs to do two things: Cut down on the Ks and improve his batting average from about .220 to the .270-.280 range he showed in the minors.

Second Base: AL Rank (by OPS) 9th, OPS .682, SO 89, BB 31, HR 5, RBI 52

It’s all about Altuve. Oh, sure, we had some Marwin Gonzalez and Jake Elmore filling in, but we’re at about 600 ABs from the little guy at second base. But as long as he’s not getting run over by Jimmy Paredes or trying to play through a pulled muscle, I think we’re going to see a better version of Altuve than we’ve seen in 2013.

Third Base: AL Rank (by OPS) 9th, OPS .686, SO 104, BB 29, HR 22, RBI 80

Most of this is Matty D, and that’s OK. Unfortunately, I think we’re looking at a guy who hits with an OPS of just about .700 and brings a bit of power. But, oh that glove. And, frankly, we’re not going to replace him with anyone else. Brandon Laird is a better hitter, but his glove is not in the same league. Rio Ruiz is two years away—minimum. So embrace Matty D. If he can learn to walk a bit, we’re looking at a decent hitter.

Shortstop: AL Rank (by OPS) 11th, OPS .652, SO 133, BB 39, HR 7, RBI 35

2013 has been the Tale of Two Shortstops. The Marwin Gonzalez-Ronnie Cedeno experiment was a failure. But Jonathan Villar—errant throws aside—has been an unqualified success. We’re talking a .150 difference in OPS. Add to that the, uh, excitement on the base paths and I think we’re looking at much better performance in 2014.

Catcher: AL Rank (by OPS) 3rd, OPS .782, SO 162, BB 53, HR 23, RBI 66

The numbers here would be even better without 40-plus ABs from Pagnozzi and Clark. I think it’s easy to say this is our best position in 2013, and it could be one of the best in 2014. We’ll do well here, and I don’t see a reason for this to diminish, even if we lose Corporan and have to install Stassi as the backup.

Left Field: AL Rank (by OPS) 3rd, OPS .747, SO 175, BB 43, HR 24, RBI 80

Left and right field (or wherever Springer isn’t playing) will be a kind of mixed bag when comparing next year to this year. That said, we had a lot of quality play from the left field position with the exception of J.D. Martinez (LF OPS .627). He’s a favorite of mine, but the fact is if his 157 ABs in left were given to Crowe (LF OPS .919), Grossman (LF OPS .784), Carter (LF OPS .810) or Barnes (LF OPS .717), we’d be looking at our highest-ranked position in the AL.

Center Field: AL Rank (by OPS) 15th, OPS .605, SO 165, BB 35, HR 7, RBI 37

Not one player for Houston had an OPS over .700 while playing CF. Wow! Not JMax. Not Barnes. Not Grossman. Not Crowe. So, what do you think we can get from Springer here? If we can get an OPS of .750 from Springer, we’d go from the worst CF production to one of the top five.

Right Field: AL Rank (by OPS) 15th, OPS .667, SO 149, BB 36, HR 9, RBI 49

If this spot is held by Hoes, we’d be doing better in 2014. Probably not the HRs, but we’d get a plus-.700 OPS. Barnes would probably be an offensive downgrade, but on defense it’d be like having two centerfielders out there compared to Hoes and his questionable route running for the ball (that guy was not a wide receiver in high school).

Designated Hitter: AL Rank (by OPS) 14th, OPS .627, SO 183, BB 49, HR 15, RBI 56

Like 2013, this will probably be a revolving door in 2014. But if we can keep it to second-time-up Wallace or Carter, we’re probably going to do better than in 2013.

OK, so the pitching staff discussion will have to wait for another day. But by jettisoning some of the dead weight the organization started the season with (I’m looking at you Ronnie Cedeno and J.D. Martinez) and replacing it with players who performed well in the second half … or with George Springer in the outfield, we can improve our offensive output from second-worst in the AL to, well, maybe the lower part of the middle of the pack. And that’d be a step in the right direction.

And none of this takes into account any free agents (I mean real hitters, not the Carlos Pena kind) we might sign this offseason.

So, what say you?

  • What position will likely see the most improvement in 2014?
  • Which player will come up and surprise us where?
  • What will continue to be a black hole in 2014?
  • Where is my rosy outlook spot on? Where do I need to stop sniffing the glue?

31 comments on “An all-too soon look at the 2014 Astros from Brian Todd

  1. I checked these stats out two days ago and DH was our weakest hitting position. DH means designated “hitter”. We have to find a hitter to put in that slot. Wallace and Carter have not been hitters. They are swingers!
    Second worst position was CF and we have that covered. No matter what Springer does, it’s going to be a lot better than this year.
    First base batted .220. with 200 K’s this year. You have Carter, Wallace, Amador and maybe Laird to choose from if Singleton starts in AAA. So why does Luhnow buy out a 26 year old 1B’s contract and send him to AZL if he wasn’t interested?
    I think he’ is interested and I think Wallace is in trouble.
    LF is Grossman’s to lose.
    A more mature and settled Villar is an improvement at SS. An immature Villar at SS is not. In 2014, it’s all on him.
    I would love to have Hoes’s bat on the bench because of his OBP. Our PH was terrible this year. Rf is where I’d love to find a decent FA. Dominguez needs to raise his ops 40 points

    #B is Dominguez’s for 2014 but we need his OPS to come up 40 pionts


  2. Brian, good effort.

    Wallace, when it comes down to the numbers, hit .222 in the first half, compounded by his horrific start. But his second half BA is just .229. Not much improvement. Add a .143 average and a .450 OPS against lefties, with 1 BB and 29 K’s, and you pretty much have to pull him later in a game as soon as a lefty comes in from the pen. And then we have Carter who leads the league in K’s with 200. I also don’t think we’ll ever see Carter hitting .270 or .280. But he can’t hit so poorly again next year at Minute Maid, can he?

    As I said yesterday, I’d like to see if Castro can hold his own defensively at first. It would certainly help preserve his fragile knees and pretty much guarantee much better offensive production out of the first base position, without even considering what the eventual impact from Singleton might be.

    Dominguez, Villar and Altuve…..I agree fully, we should see improvement in 2014 from all three guys, but I’d also let Mallee go as soon as the season is over. We’re preaching OBP throughout the minor league system, but yet we’ve got far too many guys that won’t work a count. We give so many innings away to opposing pitchers by letting them walk off the mound having thrown 10 to 15 pitches.

    The catcher position is where I think we’ll see significant change. It’s too bad we didn’t get a longer look from Stassi, but I think he could conceivably play a big role next year. If he produces, Castro can leave that job behind. And a healthy Castro will produce offensively.

    I can’t help but feel the outfield will be much better, assuming Springer gets the nod finally. Along with guys like Grossman, Barnes and Hoe, that’s a very solid defensive group. But I really think we need to find a lefty hitter that can play everyday out there, one that will produce against right handed pitching. Barnes and Grossman are actually good hitters against lefties, but struggle against righties. Barnes has gone .315/.375/.843 against southpaws, Grossman, .329/.347/.785 against them. But only Hoes seems to handle lefties well. I don’t see a future for your guy Martinez. Even if he does hit, he does nothing else well.


    • I agree Martinez may not make it, and a lefty bat would be a good free agent find if there’s one we can get.

      One thing I think we often forget this year is how young these guys are. Carter is in his first full Major League season. Same for Dominguez. These are young guys. And while Altuve is a veteran by this team’s standards, he’s 22 or 23, or about the same age Appel will be next season.

      So I expect improvement, and I think that’s a reasonable expectation.


  3. I can’t offer much of a guess here. It feels as if there are missing variables in the equation. Look at OF – Springer (R), Carter (R), Grossman (S), Hoes (R), Crowe (L), Krauss (L), and Barnes (R) are in the discussion. JDM (R) is also there…but I think it’s too crowded for him to stay on the 40 man roster at this point. There aren’t any viable LHH outfielders on the squad. Even Grossman is better as a RHH. Hoes hits RHP better than the rest of the guys though. It should be another scary season in the OF, but at least Springer should be an upgrade.

    That means the smart move is to put Carter at 1B / DH. He’s similar in performance against LHP and RHP. It also allows you to search for another player to plug in at these positions. If you keep Wallace, fine, but don’t expect any improvement.


  4. Strong effort Brian T and I know this took awhile to put together. Here’s to your questions:
    – Most improvement? Wherever Springer plays – probably CF.
    – Player coming up and surprising us….Well, technically not coming up – but maybe Stassi steps into the C spot and Castro and his knees do 1B and DH
    – The black hole – Not sure if Chris Carter is ever going to improve or will he be Adam Dunn Jr…
    – Rosy? I think the OF needs more than Springer arriving.
    – Spot on – I think Villar is the real deal – offensively (though I long for the day when a Correa or Fontana lets us put him at 2B or as a pinch hitter/runner in late situations.


  5. BrianT, excellent piece. Well done. First thing that jumps out to me is 2b with 52 RBIs (hitting lead off a bunch of the time), and CF (37), and RF (49). To improve the record, you have to have some production from your outfield. And DH with only 56. The new AL strikeout record suggests the DH was just about as good as having the pitcher bat this year. Two (2) FAs + Springer – at those positions would NOT get the Astros to the World Series, but would have a huge positive impact. You know, people run out of gas with a working gas gauge reading empty in their car. One would think that Luhnow can read these numbers, but unless he buys some gas this Winter, we will be stranded again in 2014.


  6. The thing that struck me most was the number if Ks by this team. And I’m not just talking about Carter. Only second base and third base have a respectable amount of strike outs. Every other position will easily clear 160 at least this season. That’s just too many.


    • Ankiel and Pena were strikeout guys, as were Wallace and Carter and Maxwell and
      Martinez and Barnes. Brian, the way to cut down on strikeouts is to get rid of the guys who strike out and replace them with ones who strike out less. Out of spring training we could see this trainwreck coming. I am sure Luhnow is not surprised but damn well disappointed and hopefully a lot smarter. This is the major leagues and I don’t see a light going off in any of those player’s heads.


  7. Ok fellas…….I’m going to give Villar winter ball, and Spring training to “work”
    on his errors. He’s young, and has some upside…..BUT if he continues to make
    GLARING errors night after night, he will get no sympathy from me. I don’t buy
    that old saying “he comes as advertised”.


  8. Becky – I was watching last night and Villar did not deserve the error – most of the time he does. They hit a pop up to left. He went back, Carter came in late- at the last second Carter called him off. Villar tried to duck out of the way Carter dropped it. Wrong guy got the error.
    And on a lighter note Altuve walked after 129 PAs. Though it was in extra innings. And intentional.


  9. Dan, you’re right, a terrible call by the official scorer. The club is probably having a hard time finding qualified people to do that job. And a very poorly played game by the home teram. Too many mental errors after 150 games of teaching moments. Probably the worst base running blunder of the year by Altuve. Makes me wonder if Porter is the guy to take this team to the next level.


    • That brings up an interesting question daveb – who the heck do they get to be the official scorer these days. In the old days it might be a long time baseball writer like a Dick Peebles. In these days of the Brian T (other Brian T) Smith’s of the world – are there any real sports journalists at these games anymore? And are they bothered to be an offical scorer.
      Maybe they are using the snow cone guy who they caught taking his goods into the restroom.


  10. I think it was Jose de Jesus Ortiz, because instead of the Reds getting the “Winning Run” — it was scored as a “GOOOOOOOoooooooooooollllllll.”


  11. I think I’ve made my last Astros comment in the chron as okwhatever. It is just way too frustrating to deal with people who want to hate everything the Astros are trying to do. I think I will try to stay away from people who think free agency is the ticket to paradise and that the vast majority of our top prospects will fail. Maybe I should take up knitting. I have been always been afraid that my results would turn out looking like a rainbow jersey.
    Mr. Correa, would you sign my rainbow sweater? Thanks!


    • I think that’s why Chip is here. Too many negative people who can’t understand that Drayton’s “Win now” attitude is what got us in this mess in the first place.


    • 1oldpro: Didn’t realize you and OK were one and the same. From reading your posts, it would appear that you and I were in school when there were only 47 states and Arizona was still a territory. I always enjoy your comments, but we sometimes reach different conclusions.


      • Of course we reach different conclusions. That’s why we share thoughts in the first place. I’ve always liked our differences because they are normal and are indicative of our mutual passion for baseball.
        If we all picked our preferred opening day lineup for next year, not one of them would be the same.


  12. The Chron didn’t like having a blog that people ACTUALLY LIKED! They hired a few guys who were so dang negative, Nick Mathews and I had some chilly emails about.
    We’ve been with Chip far too long to give up now.


  13. The chronicle is full of impatient, casual baseball fans that want instant success, but yet fail to provide a plan how to get there. I was under the name stros1fan and tried to keep an open mind, but everyone just bashed everything the Astros did and I was glad to find Chip’s blog. I will still make comments there, but I will gladly spend more time on this blog.


    • Not trying to be mean, but the people posting there still come across as… um…’not the brightest’. I read a recent comment where the guy said he gave up on the Astros when they….ahem…’traded Nolan Ryan’. Quite. I’m amazed some of them figured out how to turn the computer on in the first place.

      Becky, I feel your pain regard Villar’s defense. One can only hope he’ll get better


      • i was the one giving Minor league reports at Midnight after all the games were over but when I did that this year I got tons of flak, so I’m done. This blog is like a new life.


      • Some of us appreciated your minor league posts very much. It’s a shame how easily one negative poster can ruin the comment sections.


  14. Base running in the last 3-4 games have cost this club………..somebody’s getting fired after the season is done.
    1oldpro…….I enjoyed reading your reports!


  15. Even though we sometimes disagree over here – the discussion and arguments are intelligent – not knee jerk dumbness like at the chron. Chip tried to run it that way over there also – but it has been even better since the switch.
    1oldpro – welcome over – your insight is appreciated.

    And just for the macabre humor of it – it has been 145 plate appearances since Jose Altuve drew a non-intentional walk. Back on August 16th he walked two at bats in a row and has had only one intentional walk (two days ago) since. He has gone about 20% of the season since that last one. I’m not sure if that is a record or not for a non-pitcher.


  16. Thanks for the welcome. Cannot belive Altuve hasn’t drawn a normal walk since Aug 16th.
    Can you believe that Astros County post where they used Fangraghs to calculate the WAR of every team’s relievers since 1871 and this year’s Astros bullpen is the worst in baseball history, easily beating out the ’66 Mets? Travis Blackleys WAR is the third worst ever in Astros history for a season!
    And yet, I still can’t wait til next spring. I am one sick puppy.


  17. Been AWOL for a long time and this 100+ loss thing is getting real tiresome. I am looking forward to Springer. Making a play for McLouth would be nice but I think looking for salvation in FAs is a pipe dream in 2014. I cannot picture anyone but a salary hog coming to Houston (a la Carlos Lee) or a real LONG shot like Ankiel, Pena, Cedeno et al. A veteran winner, which is what this team needs, would never consider Houston until we get a lot better. The test for me with regard to Luhnow is whether he will trade some of our young pitching inventory on position player upgrades. I think that is his best bargaining chip by far and probably the only way to get MLB every day players here at this stage.

    1oldpro: I think your minor league updates and insights were great and I hope you continue.


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