by Dan Peschong
Unless Jeff Luhnow springs another spring training surprise as he did with the Jed Lowrie trade last year – the Astros’ second baseman in 2014 will be Jose Altuve. Whether you think that is a good thing or bad thing may well depend on whether the real Jose Altuve played in 2012 or 2013.
Though Jake Elmore, Marwin Gonzalez and Jimmy Paredes all played a few games at second base in 2013 – there was no doubt that the position belonged to Altuve who started 145 games there along with a handful of games at DH.
If this were the 1960s looking at the old school stats of importance – 2013 would have looked pretty solid for Altuve, especially for a 2nd baseman in the middle of an anemic lineup. Of all the players who had more than a cup of coffee with the big team – only L.J. Hoes nudged out Jose’s .283 BA. He was tied for the team lead in runs scored at 64, third in RBIs, led the team in stolen bases – hey – everything was good – right?
But when you look a little deeper at more modern stats and compare him against his 2nd base peers in the American League – he had a very inefficient offensive season in 2013. For the most important Moneyball stat – on base percentage – he was a truly pitiful .316 driven by his inability (lack of interest?) in drawing walks. His walk rate was under 5%, and he would go through BB droughts – early in the season going through one 18 game stretch without a walk and later on putting up a truly phenomenal 30 game stretch without a freebie. The guy is 5′-5″ tall and he still does not make the pitchers pitch to his tiny zone.
So, compared against the other nine 2Bs in the AL who are “qualifiers” (more than 3.1 plate appearances / game) – he is 8th in OBP. His OPS – a critical stat for showing hitting prowess – was last vs. those nine. He’s ninth in RBIs, 7th in runs.
In the modern stat WAR (wins against replacement) he rates a 1.0. We can debate whether we believe WAR stats – but basically this signals he was worth only 1 more win vs. whoever you might bring up from the minors. In general – All-Stars like Cano and Pedroia put up WARs in the 6 to 8 range…. reserves put up a 1.0.
Now the Astros really did not have a better option last year – but they sure need more production out of this position going forward.
Most Likely Starter
If you look at the current 40 man roster – the only three players you would “trust” to play middle infield are Altuve, Gonzalez and Jonathan Villar — and trust is a stretch for the current starting SS (but that is a post for another day).
So, as constituted – Jose Altuve is the starting 2B heading into 2014. The hope is he can re-touch on the All-Star (OK, All-Star by default) numbers he put up in 2012. The .740 OPS was good, the .340 OBP was livable, the 80 runs scored was solid and he had no ABs in the third spot in the lineup where he was a fish out of water in 2013.
The other big difference between his 2012 and 2013 stats is that he lost a lot of ground against left handed pitchers – moving from an outstanding .911 OPS to a pedestrian .733 OPS against pitchers of the contrarian persuasion.
Most Likely Backup
As things sit right now – the most likely backup will come from Marwin Gonzalez (only backup middle infielder on the 40 man roster) or one of two veteran non-roster invitees Gregorio Petit and Cesar Izturis. Frankly none of the three could hit the ground if thrown from the team plane – but if the choice was from those three I would choose Marwin, who at least has youth on his side.
The other two non roster invitees in camp will be 19 year old Carlos Correa, who probably could outplay Altuve tomorrow but is likely going to be at AA this season and 21 year old Ronald Torryes, who the Astros picked up from the Cubs and has not played above AA.
One other possibility would be the Astros picking up a veteran / real SS and making Villar the swing sub.
The AA and AAA contingent of middle infielders from 2013 is not very inspiring – filled with guys who are gone (Paredes, Elmore) or too old (Jose Martinez & Andrew Simunic) or unspecial (Ruben Sosa) and therefore not considered the next big 2B thing.
Sclafani had stops at A and A+ ball in 2013. His 94 runs scored in 111 games fueled by getting on base more than 40% of the time really stand out along with having more walks than strikeouts.
For Fontana – a year after posting an insane .465 OBP despite a poor .225 BA he moved up to A+ Lancaster and scored 88 runs in 104 games and posted a .415 OBP and a .814 OPS. He also walked (102) more times than he K’d (100).
Those are my thoughts on the Astros 2B situation – how do you see it – what do you agree with – what do you think I missed?