Over the next several days, Brian Todd and Dan Peschong will take a look back — and forward — at each position for the Astros. Brian kicks it off today with the faux pas and what-might-have-beens and the future of the outfield.
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Jose’s on a vacation far away
Now that the season’s over
So many players in the outfield played
You know Fowler’s just a little bit older
I just want to see Springer in right
Yeah. Jake in center every night …
Yep, the Astros’ outfield was like an 80s song. There were some good parts to it, but ultimately if you start singing it(s praises), you’ll feel embarrassed.
Thirteen players roamed to the green grass for Houston in 2014. Can you name them all? Not without saying “Tony Sipp” you can’t. Yep, Bo Porter was trying to prove he could think outside the box, so he trotted Sipp out to right and left field on different nights.
Fun fact: Tony Sipp played more outfield positions in 2014 than Dexter Fowler.
I’m a little stunned too.
So, I could analyze all 13 outfielders from 2014, but I don’t think we need to know what the fielding percentage of Sipp or Marwin Gonzalez was in the outfield. (Sipp never had a ball hit to him. MarGo posted a perfect 3-for-3 on put outs, but had a range factor higher only than Jesus Guzman‘s.)
No, instead I’m going to look at some real options and open up the option of whether Luhnow should spend any of that extra $20 million on the outfield. (No, though if he bought tickets to see The Outfield, I’d understand.)
We start our examination with the man who should start in left field in 2015, Dexter Fowler. Fowler posted a 1.7 WAR, a .276/.375/.399 slash line, and 108 Ks, 66 BBs in 505 plate appearances. I think it’s fairly easy to make the case — both with the eye test and with numbers — that Fowler does not belong in CF. According to Baseball Reference, he posted a negative 1.8 dWAR. Worst defensive WAR on the team. But if you put Fowler in left field, where his range and poor routes won’t matter as much, I think his dWAR could be significantly improved, improving his overall value. And that value starts with him getting on base. A lot. He led the team in walks by 10 over Carter, who played a lot more. And in two-thirds of a season, Fowler had the fourth most total bases. (You’ll never EVER guess who was third on this list. NEVER.)
Fowler will likely make about $9 million or $10 million this year, his last in arbitration. Should Houston trade him? That’s $10 million for a 1.7 WAR player.
Well, he’s also a 3.8 oWAR player, so if Hinch puts him in left field to mitigate his negative defense, Fowler is easily worth the money. Especially if he starts stealing bases again, something he did little of in 2014.
Next, we have George Springer. Here’s where the controversy begins. I think Springer belongs in right field. Now don’t get me wrong, Springer is an excellent center fielder. Great range. Great arm. But in both instances, I think Jake Marisnick is just a little better. The stats on this are mixed because neither really has enough innings for the fielding stats to separate them. But I’ve watched a lot of games. Marisnick has better range. And, with Houston’s deep center field, his better arm belongs in center. Springer’s 2.0 WAR comes from a 2.1 oWAR and a -0.4 dWAR (you don’t just subtract one from the other, it’s more complex than that). His .231/.336/.468 slash line came with 114 Ks and 39 BBs in 345 plate appearances. Springer’s slightly low BaBiP (.294) and the high number of Ks give us a little hope that his pretty good 2014 can become an awesome 2015 and beyond. Whiff a little less, connect a little more and good things will happen. Fun percentage: fly balls that became home runs: 23.8 percent. League average was 6.9 percent. Yeah, I’m not worried that if he swings for the seats a bit less, he’ll turn into a slap hitter.
Third on my list is Jake from State Farm. Marisnick posted a 1.4 WAR. That was a 1.3 dWAR in Houston and a 0.2 dWAR in Miami. He posted a 0.0 oWAR in Houston and a -0.4 oWAR in Miami. Obviously, Jake turned into a better hitter with consistent play. If he can be a level oWAR player next year and post a 2.5 dWAR, I’ll take it. And I’ll use that as proof he belongs in center field. Jake slashed a .272/.299/.370 line with Houston. In H-Town he whiffed 48 times and walked only 5 in 186 PAs. I’ve left his Miami numbers out, because a) they are horrible and b) it was all a bunch of inconsistent playing time.
The other outfielders who had value for Houston in 2014 (sorry Mark Krauss) were Robbie Grossman (1.2 WAR, .233/.337/.333, 105 Ks, 55 BBs, 422 PA) and, well, Alex Presley, sort of. Presley had a WAR of 0.0 in 2014 along with a .244/.282/.346 with 44 Ks, 13 BBs in 281 PA. Everyone else had a negative WAR with the exception of Kike Hernandez, who is fighting for a spot in Miami’s roster.
Both Presley and Grossman can play center field and right field in a pinch, so both have additional value in that sense. In fact, the only one of these five I wouldn’t put someplace is Fowler in right field.
So, what’s available out there? Well, you can blow the whole $20 million wad on Victor Martinez or Nelson Cruz. Melkey Cabrera and Mike Morse would be pricey options. I think Denard Span is probably in that group as well. Guys who might run from $5 million to $8 million a year include Norichika Aoki, Colby Rasmus, Alex Rios and Delmon Young. Nick Markakis has a huge team option that the Orioles probably don’t pay. Of the non-pricey options, Rasmus played fewer games than did Fowler, with a .735 OPS. Markakis was durable, but his .729 OPS is looking like not a ton of production for the money. Aoki and Rios had OPSs just above .700. Delmon Young put up a .779 OPS, but it was in 83 games. He’s also had a few bad years recently, so I’m not sure he’s worth the $8 million or so he’s going to want.
And that’s the thing. There are some good names in here. Rasmus is a quality ballplayer, but we’ve got $20 million in free agent money to spend. At $10 million a season, is he 4.6 WAR Colby Rasmus from 2013 or is he 0.9 WAR Colby Rasmus from 2014? Not sure I want to know.
If we’re looking at the Farm, I don’t think Domingo Santana is someone you can rely upon, but Preston Tucker put up an .885 OPS in Corpus and a .785 OPS in OKC last year. He had a total of 120 Ks in 536 ABs vs. Santana’s 149 Ks in 443 ABs. Andrew Aplin is hitting like a pro in the AFL.
So, here are my questions:
- Is Houston’s outfield (starters and two reserves) on the 40-man roster already?
- Are there any free agents who are worth Houston’s limited spending spree? Or would you rather see that money spent elsewhere?
- What farmhand is most likely to get called up when the need arises. And, yes, I think L.J. Hoes starts the season as a farmhand if he’?
- Who plays where and why?
- Houston’s outfield will cost about $12 million, most of that going to Dexter Fowler. Should Houston trade Fowler (either in the winter or by the trade deadline) to free up more money for other positions?
- Trivia: Tony Sipp played in the outfield in two separate games. How many innings did he log in the outfield in 2014?
- Trivia: Which outfielder committed the most errors in 2014? Most assists? Turned the most double plays?