The second part of our examination of the 2014 Astros with an eye towards 2015 will concentrate on two side-by-side perceived problem areas: third base and shortstop.
The title referring to Problem Children seems appropriate. For the most part the Astros have left the left side of their infield in the hands of the extremely young or the inexperienced.
Four players manned SS in 2014: Jonathan Villar, Marwin Gonzalez, Enrique (Kike) Hernandez and Gregorio Pettit. Villar at 23 years old, Gonzalez (25) and the long gone Hernandez (22) were all youngsters, while Petit is older (29) and had only 25 major league games under his belt entering 2014.
Four players were at the hot corner in 2014: Matt Dominguez (24, only three weeks older than George Springer), Gonzalez, Petit and the soon to be gone Jesus Guzman. Again, the vast majority of the ABs were in the hands of the very young or the inexperienced.
Would you buy a statement that said that the Astros’ offensive performance at SS in 2014 was not a problem?
Here are some numbers based on the combined stats of the 2014 Astros shortstops:
- .258 BA is 7th in the AL
- .699 OPS is 1st !!! in the AL
- .699 OPS is 1st in the AL (I repeated it in case anyone missed it)
- .398 SLG is 2nd in the AL
- 54 RBIs is 8th in the AL
- 14 HRs is 2nd in the AL
This was very surprising and is a product of early season production from Villar and some surprisingly good numbers from both Gonzalez and Petit when manning the shortstop position.
In reality, trading for or signing a better offensive SS than what the Astros have in hand in Marwin G and Gregorio P is non-existent. Gonzalez had a .292 BA and a .747 OPS in 233 ABs at SS. The only better OPSs belong to guys with 60 or fewer ABs (including Petit at .828 OPS in 60 ABs). Both Petit (.379 BA / 1.124 OPS) and Gonzalez (.333 BA / .776 OPS) hit well off of LHPs and Marwin was very respectable against RHPs (.268 BA / .719 OPS).
Villar hit well below the AL shortstop average against both RHPs (.199 / .608) and LHPs (.230 / .644). He has speed that the other two can only dream about, but they have consistency that he can only dream about.
On the fielding side, Villar gets to more balls than the other two. His range factor — RF (Putouts + Assists / 9 innings played) — is 4.06, which is near the top of the AL shortstops but it is no surprise that due to being an error machine (18 errors in 82 games) that he has a lowly fielding percentage (.949) near the bottom in the AL.
Both Gonzalez and Petit are middle of the roaders in fielding: Marwin G (3.89 RF / 6 errors / .979 FP) and Gregorio P (3.79 RF / 2 errors / .973 FP).
In the minors the closest player to the bigs may be 22-year-old Ronald Torreyes (.298 BA / .721 OPS), although with Villar and Petit spending time at AAA, he got most of his starts at 2B.
In reality –- like a couple expecting a baby –- the whole organization is watching how 1-1 draftee Carlos Correa bounces back from his injury, whether he starts at AA and how close to the majors he gets next season.
SS Summary. It would seem to make little sense to spend resources chasing another major league SS in a trade or a FA signing. It would make the most sense to let Marwin G and Gregorio P give you average to slightly above SS play and wait for Correa to appear. In this post-steroid world young Carlos might be the best hitting SS the moment he hits the majors.
While the Astros SS offensive stats were surprisingly decent – their 3B offensive numbers are unsurprisingly terrible.
- 14 out of 15 in the AL in BA (.212), SLG (.321) and RBIs (57)
- 15 out of 15 in the AL in OBP (.255), OPS (.577) and Runs scored (54)
- One decent stat – 8th in HRs (16)
Unlike shortstop – the 2014 3B conversation really revolves around one person, Matt Dominguez, who started 148 games for the Astros at the hot corner. The second half of the 2013 season gave hope that Matty D was starting to get it offensively. He played the first half of the 2014 season as a below average offensive 3B (11 HR / 39 RBI / .237 BA / .652 OPS) and turned into an unmitigated disaster in the second half (5 HR / 18 RBI / .177 BA / .472 OPS) culminating in a last month of the season where he had a .133 BA / .359 OPS with 1 HR and 4 RBIs in 23 games. You can all say “Yuck!” now.
On the fielding side for full time 3Bs (guys who played 100 or more games at the position), Dominguez has the 2nd best Fielding % (.972) and the 5th best Range factor (2.53). So, he does bring value at the position when he is nowhere near the plate.
The other choices for 3B currently at the major league level would be the usual suspects of Marwin G and Gregorio P, though both (in minimal appearances) appear to have much less range and Villar-esque fielding percentages.
A couple AAA possibilities for 3B might be Matt Duffy (.279 BA / .781 OPS) who put up good numbers at OKC or on-base specialist Joe Sclafani (.339 BA / .420 OBP / .858 OPS), if he ever learns to not butcher 3B. A little farther away is young Colin Moran (22), picked up in the Cosart trade who put up a solid .304 BA and .760 OPS after arriving from the Marlins’ organization.
3B Summary – There are many ways the Astros could go in 2015:
- Hope that young Matty D (again basically George Springer’s age) shakes off an insanely bad last half of 2014 and becomes an average offensive 3B.
- Let someone else from the organization (Duffy, Sclafani, Petit) take his spot and wait for Moran or whoever to arrive.
- Make a big splash and sign a FA for this spot. The Panda, Pablo Sandoval has been mentioned as a possibility. He’s still in his 20’s; he has a good, clutch bat; he plays good defense; he is probably not coming here after a WS run ends in the next week or so. Maybe a more likely short term target would be Aramis Ramirez, who at 36 would be looking for a couple of years on his contract. His OPS was down a bit this season, but he has been a consistent hitter for the last decade plus. Of course he could drop like a rock, too.
- Make a trade for a 3B – yes we could dream about an Adrian Beltre or a Josh Donaldson. Make it so, Jeff Luhnow.
So, a few questions to ponder:
- Was the offensive production of Gonzalez and Gregorio Petit real or a small sample fluke?
- Is Villar capable of showing maturity and consistency in 2015?
- When do you think Correa arrives in the bigs?
- Who is the real Matt Dominguez?
- Do you go FA or trade for 3B in 2015? If so, who would you chase and how much would you invest, either FA contract or prospects in trade?
- What will SS and 3B look like the last month of 2015?