CHIPALATTA

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Astros’ DH may take the merry-go-round again in ’14


Sixteen different players served in the role of designated hitter for the Astros in 2013. Don’t expect much different in 2014 as the Astros work through a revolving door that involves first base, some outfield positions as well as a day off here from position rigors from time to time.

While many contenders and other American League teams seek out a solid hitter to fill the DH spot like most teams seek out a #1 starter or star center fielder, the designated hitter is a secondary thought for Houston as the organization searches to find the right players to build around.

No David Ortiz, Victor Martinez or Billy Butler for the Astros. Instead, it’s Chris Carter and friends.

LOOKING BACK

Only the Yankees — yes, those Yankees — performed worse than the Astros in the DH spot last season. Collectively, Astros’ DHs hit a .199/.276/.399 slash line with 16 HRs and 59 RBI, just ahead of the Yankees’ .184/.270/.297 and 14/58.

Carlos Pena was the default DH (37 starts) for the Astros before his release, though Carter (46), J.D. Martinez (9), Jose Altuve (7),  Ronny Cedeno (7), Marc Krauss (12), Brandon Laird (5), Jason Castro (18) also saw time at the position.

MOST LIKELY STARTER

Carter is likely to enter the season as the default DH. Jeff Luhnow and Bo Porter will obviously hope he cuts down on his MLB-leading strikeout total (212).  At 27, however, is it likely that Carter will reverse a trend that has increased at virtually every level of his career?

Still, 29 HRs and 82 RBI is nothing to scoff at.

That said, his season can go two different ways: He can cut down on the Ks or pitchers will continue to learn how to miss his bat, thereby cutting down on the HRs and RBI opportunities.

If Carter decreases Ks and increases average (perhaps a one-in-the-same process), it’s Carter’s job to lose. He shouldn’t be needed in the outfield this season (24 starts in ’13) and he probably won’t see the same time at 1B (54) either.

MOST LIKELY BACKUP(S)

Take your pick. You could say that anyone on the 40-man roster who is not a pitcher is a candidate. If it’s not Carter, expect a merry-go-round. Frankly,  without an Ortiz-like DH, the “position” for the Astros is more of a result of what happens at other positions. Therefore, much may depend on spring training. For example, if Max Stassi tears it up and makes the squad, it could force Jason Castro into the DH spot with Carlos Corporan remaining at backup catcher.

Or, if George Springer and Dexter Fowler are part of the starting outfield April 1, one of the left-over outfielders could slide into the DH competition.

FUTURE ATTRACTIONS

The farm system is replete with possibilities. In fact, other than pitching, no other position in the organization may be deeper than DH. Think about it. In the past, a first base or third base prospect might be blocked. Now, if Jonathan Singleton pans out at 1B, it doesn’t mean a trade or change of position for an up and coming 1B prospect.

Just take a look at Dan’s outfield outlook last week and you’ll see plenty of names.  Singleton, Domingo Santana or even J.D. Martinez are possibilities. But it’s more likely the DH for 2015 and beyond is not on the 2014 team or even in the organization.

Bottom line, DH may be one of the most volatile positions this spring. Carter holds the key and can lock the door with a solid spring and start to the season.

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About Chip Bailey

Chip Bailey lives in beautiful Colorado Springs, CO, and wakes up each morning to the tallest spot in the region, Pikes Peak. He is an author and former sports editor and sportswriter who has followed the Astros for more than 50 years. A native of another picturesque city, Natchitoches, La., Chip enjoys watching baseball at most any level, especially pro and college. Several years ago, he worked as an associate of Pastor John Bosman, who enjoyed giving nick names to his staff. Pastor Bosman came up with Chipalatta, and it has stuck.

15 comments on “Astros’ DH may take the merry-go-round again in ’14

  1. Dan P
    February 3, 2014

    If Carter could just improve to the numbers he put up in Oakland in 2012 – that would be a huge difference. His OPS was .864 vs. .770 and he was on a pace for “only” 186 Ks instead of the 212 Ks and was on pace for 36 dingers instead of the 29.
    But he has to make more contact – period.
    I sure hope we don’t have to DH with Altuve, or the Cedeno/Laird equivalent this season. Have to assume that guys like Wallace (if he makes the team) Guzman and Grossman would be picking up the DH ABs that Carter does not suck up.
    You have to wonder if Carter is a possible trade chip at the trading deadline. But he needs to show more in the first half of the season – even a .250 BA would make a big difference in his final numbers.

    Like

    • Chip Bailey
      February 3, 2014

      Dan, yes on the 2012 numbers, but those numbers could be the result of a number of things. 1. Small sample from his first real taste of AL pitching. 2. Hitting in a better lineup (hmmmm). 3. Pitchers getting more familiar with him (through 2013) and exploiting the holes in his swing. If #3 is the case, he may be destined for 250 K and declining average. Yikes!

      But here’s another thought. If he hits well enough to be a trade chip at the deadline, he should be well worth keeping! If he’s worth trading, he’s likely hitting .250ish or better on track for 30 HRs. As mentioned above, a .250 average should also translate into fewer Ks, so don’t pull the trade trigger too quickly.

      Like

      • Dan P
        February 3, 2014

        The weird thing about watching Carter last season is that I liked his swing. It was not some crazy swing – it was a compact swing. But he seemed way too often to be way late with his swing – like he was delayed in pulling the trigger.
        I agree if he can put up the .250 30 HR 90 RBIs – he would be worth keeping until something better comes out of the minors.

        Like

    • 1oldpro
      February 3, 2014

      The problem with Carter is not to get him to hit better. The problem is finding out why he doesn’t hit at HOME and fix that! Is there another player in baseball with such fine away stats and terrible home stats? Just get him to hit in MMP and the DH problem is solved!

      Like

      • daveb
        February 3, 2014

        Correct, oldpro.

        Like

  2. BrianT
    February 3, 2014

    I think DH will become a place for guys to get some at-bats. Carter probably starts there five days a week, and the other day or two he gets a rest in favor of a bench player. Considering our likely bench, that doesn’t bode well.

    Like

  3. Steven
    February 3, 2014

    There should be a shuffle there that allows the best defensive players in the lineup to be on the field – i.e., if Loes and Grossman are both in the lineup for a power right handed pitcher – Loes is in LF and Grossman is DH. Likewise you get a lefty out there and you want to play Grossman and Carter – Grossman in LF and Carter at DH – or even Loes in LF, Grossman at DH and Caarter at 1B.

    I don’t think anyone will be penciled in at DH for 110 games – it will be a merry go round again.

    I say all this assuming that Fowler and Springer are going to be penciled in CF and RF respectively 150 games each.

    Like

  4. daveb
    February 3, 2014

    I’d leave most of the DH work to Castro and Carter at this point. Carter is a hazard on the playing field. Castro is too brittle if left behind the plate for too long. And as oldpro noted, if Carter learns how to hit in Houston, he’ll be one of the best DH guys in the league, assuming he does not forget how to hit on the road. I’d hate to see Santana in a DH role, as he looks like a real ballplayer out in right, with a strong arm.

    Like

  5. Bo Weaver
    February 3, 2014

    Carter will only get better with a little more protection in the lineup. In other words, when/if the Lastros promote Springer, It seems inevitable that GSpring will bat 3rd, which, again, will help Carter immensely. He could be a steal in fantasy drafts.

    One thing that will be interesting will be GSpring’s SB numbers if Carter hits behind him. Whiffs machines with pop do great with more good pitches to hit, but stink at protecting baserunners.

    Like

    • Dan P
      February 3, 2014

      The plus side to it Bo is that Carter might get better pitches to swing at with a base stealer on ahead of him. Of course he still has to connect.

      Like

      • rj1953
        February 3, 2014

        i think carter benefits from a base stealer in front of him and a better lineup around him

        Like

    • daveb
      February 3, 2014

      Carter had a .925 OPS on the road, .605 at home. He had the same lack of protection both home and away. I can’t buy into that point Bo.

      Like

  6. Dan P
    February 3, 2014

    Following up on Carter’s home and away splits – it is fascinating as in about the same ABs he struck out and walked almost the same on the road as at home. Road – 262 ABs / 34 walks / 105 Ks; Home – 244 ABs / 36 walks / 107 Ks. The biggest difference is in his babip – batting average on balls in play. At home he has a buzzard’s luck babip of .233 and on the road he has a luck of the Irish babip of .383. Chances are that both these numbers trend towards someplace more in the middle in 2014 – and he will still need to make better contact, overall.

    Like

  7. Becky
    February 3, 2014

    Pending a physical……Luhnow signed Jerome Williams as a STARTING
    pitcher. Hmmmm the rotation sure is looking interesting. He was a swing man with the Angels last year, but has some problems with the long ball…….waaay too many for Minute Maid park. That leaves only Obie and Keuchel as the lefty’s in the rotation. As far as Carter goes, I
    think he has a bad case of “home crowd”.

    Like

  8. devin_
    February 3, 2014

    It looked to me as though Carter was guessing / off balance too often at the plate last year. I think he is capable of much better numbers than we saw, and quite frankly, expect it. He’s so strong that if he can just make some adjustments he could really leverage the laughable dimensions of MMP. There is no better option in the system for 2014. Hitting middle infielders or catchers as your DH instead of Carter makes little sense…unless Carter is playing 1B that game.

    Like

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This entry was posted on February 3, 2014 by in Astros.
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