Astros’ position reviews: Could 1B and 2B be any more different?

Coming off an Astros’ 2014 season of improvement, possibly no position provided more improvement than second base and possibly no position provides more of a challenge heading into 2015 than first base. Here is a look at each position last season and the outlook for 2015.

Second Base.

In the afterglow of a tremendous 2014 season, it is almost impossible to remember what the feeling was about Jose Altuve after the 2013 season.

In 2013, Altuve had a solid .283 BA, but posted not very robust numbers for OBP (.316) and OPS (.678). For perspective, Robbie Grossman in 2014 had a .337 OBP and a .670 OPS. And Jose led the league in caught stealing (13) and ran into many an out on the base paths. He seemed like a candidate to be sent packing in some shrewd off-season trade.

Apparently, the Astros’ brass thought it might not be time to give up on their 23-year-old (at the time) second baseman (eight months younger than George Springer) and he worked his buns off and was a revelation for the Astros in 2014.

You’ve seen the stats before, but let’s visit them one more time for fun.

  • 1st in the majors in BA (.341) and hits (225)
  • 2nd in the AL / 3rd in the majors in doubles (47)
  • 1st in the AL / Tied for 2nd in the majors in SBs (56)
  • Most multi-hit games in the majors (69) and he also had 24 three hit games and 5 four hit games this season
  • Among 2Bs in the majors – he is 1st in Hits, doubles and BA, 2nd in OBP (.377) and OPS (.830), 3rd in SLG (.453) and 4th in runs scored (85)

He cleaned up his base running, stealing 56 of 65 bases and became the head cheerleader and de facto leader of the club.

So when we are talking about second base for 2015 and beyond (he is signed through 2017 with reasonable team options for 2018 and 2019) we are talking about Jose Altuve.

When we are talking about minor league prospects like Ronald Torreyes, Joe Sclafani, Tony Kemp or Nolan Fontana, we are talking about “What other positions can you play there, champ?”

Astros – Second Base – 2015 – Jose Altuve – Enough said, next topic.

First Base.

One surprise pops out when looking at the Astros’ cumulative team stats for first base: Jon Singleton, while not lifting the stats up also did not drag them down. That is almost hard to believe but here are Singleton’s numbers for the slightly more than half a season that he manned first base vs. the combined stats of Jesus Guzman, Marc Krauss and Chris Carter on the days they played 1B.

 Stat Singleton                 (ABs while at 1B) Guzman/ Krauss / Carter (ABs at 1B)
AB 304 256
BA / OBP .171/ .289 .164 / .261
SLG / OPS .342 / .631 .266 / .527
HR 13 6
R / RBI 42 / 44 18 / 18

As bad as Singleton’s numbers were, the numbers of the other guys on the days they were playing 1B were much worse, especially in run production.

Overall, the Astros’ first basemen were last in the AL in BA/OBP/SLG/OPS and RBIs, next to last in runs scored and 9th in HRs.

They were putrid. So what to do?

One way of looking at Singleton’s numbers is that if he had taken all 560 ABs at 1B this year that even with the terrible BA/OBP/SLG/OPS – he was on pace for 77 R / 24 HR / 81 RBIs. Oh, and a major league record 246 Ks.

Another way of looking at his numbers: If he repeated his September numbers over 560 ABs, he would end up with 61 R / 12 HR / 37 RBI with a .109 BA/.241 OBP/.217 SLG / .458 OPS. Oh, and a major league record 316 K’s.

Based on the improvement seen with Chris Carter from one season to the next – the Astros’ probably will roll the dice and see if Jon Singleton can raise himself up to a livable batting average and lower himself down to a livable strikeout rate.

If not – the options would seem to be:

  • Krauss (.146/.234/.271/.504) or Carter (.109/.236/.239/.475) – with the thought being that their unbelievably bad numbers while playing 1B were just a fluke based on few ABs.
  • Matt Duffy, who played decent 1B at OKC with a solid, unspectacular bat.
  • Mystery free agent
  • Mystery trade target

The mystery free agents (if we assume guys like Billy Butler have their option picked up) include Adam Dunn, Michael Cuddyer, Corey Hart, Paul Konerko, Victor Martinez, Kendrys Morales, Mike Morse, and God help us Carlos Pena.

These guys all have some things in common, such as being on the wrong side of 30 years old and the fact that none are even half time first basemen. Guys like Dunn, Hart and Konerko seem to be on a downward arc. Martinez would be a great pickup on a short contract which he probably does not want (and with the understanding he would DH more than 1B). Cuddyer would be an interesting choice, if you don’t believe Colorado inflated his numbers and if you believe you could squeeze 130 games out of him like in 2013 rather than 49 games like in 2014.

Mystery trade target will not be speculated here, yet…..

So …..

  • What are your thoughts about Altuve and 2015? Is there any upside or only some regression?
  • How would you handicap percentage-wise of who is likely to be the main manat1B fortheAstros in 2015?
    • Jon Singleton
    • Chris Carter
    • Marc Krauss
    • A current Astro minor leaguer
    • A 1B picked up in free agency
    • A 1B picked up in a trade
  • And if the first baseman you want is not currently on the team, who do you think the Astros should pursue?

68 comments on “Astros’ position reviews: Could 1B and 2B be any more different?

  1. Look, few Astros in history have had a season like Altuve did. I think some minor regression on some stats — hits, BA, stolen bases, maybe doubles — is to be expected. But if he can keep his OPS up, maybe keep his slugging within 0.20, and do that each year, I’ll be thrilled.

    I think Singleton is about 80% likely to be standing on the right side of the infield on April 6. Crane signed him for $10 million. I’m sure he and Luhnow are banking on some progress from this young slugger. And I don’t blame them.

    I’d rather spend free agent dough on a third baseman or a corner outfield bat.

    One more thing, while technically a free agent, I think Adam Dunn retired.


    • Yeah I think Singleton is likely to get another 1/2 year of chances at least.
      I had not heard about Dunn. Too bad – if we could have had Carter, Singleton and Dunn in the lineup at 1B, DH and LF – we could open the roof and cool the place with their swings and misses.


  2. Dan, the more we move into the off-season and closer we get to spring training and opening day, the more I believe Singleton is the future at first base. Given his success at every minor league level and given the prediction of success at the major league level by virtually every — read every — scout worth his salt, and given the fact the Astros have invested in him for a few years, it would be surprising if he wasn’t the future.

    Now, that said, will he start opening day in Houston or Sacramento? Agree with Brian and others: Put the money into the other corner and into another middle-of-the-order bat or in the bullpen.


    • Got to agree with all of you. Singleton has tremendous power and potential and as y’all say – a track record of improvement. It was bothersome that he fell into a dark hole last September – it was hard to tell if he cared too little or too much – worked too hard or little – but he was awful.
      He is probably happy to have a fresh start.


    • My concern with Singleton is not his ability to eventually succeed at the major league level as a hitter. I am more concerned about his addiction issues. He was very open about his addiction and then agrees to a below-average contract so he can play in the major leagues, which does not test for marijuana. This concerns me. Why would he accept a contract that, by all accounts if he reaches the level expected of him, is probably about $50-75M below his value?


  3. I will probably be wrong but i don’t see it at all and will welcome eating crow on Singleton Sometimes us old farts that have watched a million baseball games just have to trust the eye test at times and not all the stats. I only missed watching about 8 Astro games last year my eyes said Singleton and Domino very average to sub par.


    • Kevin
      I’m not saying you may be wrong because you could well be right – just saying these kids and especially Santana is a kid – need more time to show their real selves. The eye test on Springer when he first arrived said OMG why is this whiff machine a high prospect.
      I don’t like how much many of our prospects strike out and eventually Luhnow may move guys like Singleton and Santana for that reason.
      Just saying the kids need more time and more chances.


      • Like i said I could be way wrong and realize young guys scuffle, but Singleton after maybe the first month when pitchers saw film on him , he wasn’t bad he was horrible. Springer had those scary at bats when you went wow, but he was never horrible for 6 weeks.


      • Young guys struggle. Springer batted .182 in April was tremendous in May, so so in Jun and then batted.160 in July which is pretty horrid before getting hurt.
        I’m just going to give them some time and see if they improve.


    • Dude, I get ya on Santana. He’s the Astros’ #3 prospect right now and listed at #50 overall! But, man, can he swing and miss with the best of ’em.

      Still, the scouts and prognosticators list him ahead of prospects like Kyle Schwarber, Christian Bethancourt, Anthony Renaudo and even the surprise of the World Series…Brandon Finnegan. Unfortunately, Santana is a K-machine and has been at every level.

      Singleton has been on OBP machine and has been at every level. Thus, his early contract since he fits the Luhnow mold.

      It will be interesting to see how Baseball America ranks the Astros’ prospects this off-season…since Singleton, Springer and Foltynewicz won’t be on the list.


  4. oops sorry. i got to see a grand total of 5 games last year, so i didnt get your reference. is he calling the games next year? since i will get to see games next year, i hope so.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Altuve is a star. He may not repeat as batting champion but he’s going to hit over .300. The key is to fill the next two spots in the order with steady production.
    Singleton was terrible. He has huge improvement to just get to average. They need someone ready in case he doesn’t get better.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Interesting thoughts here. Thanks.

    We have to expect Altuve to regress some. Not a lot, but some. If he doesn’t, he’ll be in the running for AL MVP.

    Singleton’s history has been to improve at every level after a rough start. If that holds true, he will be our first baseman for some time to come.

    And if Billy Butler is available and agreeable, we should give him pretty much anything he wants to come to Houston. He would shore up both the 1b and DH situations. Without anyone of his caliber to call on, the front office should concentrate their cash on 3b.


  7. In 2014, Altuve did not get run over by our RF. He also did not run out of gas in early August. I think he continues to be an excellent contact hitter who doesn’t walk very often. I don’t want to see him make drastic changes.

    Singleton was a little too much like Carlos Pena in his prime for my taste. I disagree with the scouts and experts claiming pitchers are exploiting his long swing. He is swinging through too many pitches we don’t want him to hit. He needs to lay off those or put them in the stands in foul territory. Put Springer in the lineup full time and get decent improvement st C and 1B and he will see a lot more to hit.

    I hate the FA options. We could get VMart for or Panda for big bucks, but there is no guarantee either would approach expectations. I want to see who we can get in a trade similar to the Fowler trade.


    • Singletondown the stretch either took good pitches or missed them and then was swinging at bad pitches especially up.
      Yes atrade similar to the Fowler trade might be interesting.


  8. Carrying 240 plus pounds, Butler’s bat might be slowing down at a younger age than some guys. I don’t care about the money, because it’s about time this club puts together a credible payroll, but chances are that Carter will produce at least as much offense at a fraction of the cost. Butler will get on base more, but Carter is good for far more power. Either way, I don’t see room for both guys on the roster. And considering this regimes short history, we’ll end up with the cheaper guy. And we might well be better off.


  9. Unless Singleton has more off field issues this winter or fully self destructs next spring, I just can’t see a scenario where he would not be our starter at least through mid season next year.

    Altuve might not hit .341 again soon, but I’d like to think he’ll get a bit more selective as he continues to mature. Heck, he’s already played in 514 ML games and will still be just 24 on Opening Day in 2015.


  10. I’m puzzled why Singelton was not sent to Winter bal. If there was ever a guy who needed some extra help with the bat it is him. Oh well……at least Villar is playing
    down south. I see no reason to sign Billy Butler, unless we have given up on Carter,
    and since Carter will still be cheap, Luhnow is going to keep him. By the way, Carter is joining Altuve, and Fowler in Japan.
    Don’t forget to turn your clocks back fellas!


  11. Dan………the kid *NEEDS* to get with a “drill sergeant” of a hitting coach, to get through to him, that his name is NOT Barry Bonds Jr. He’s a little cocky.


    • I guess we will see if the new hitting coach has more success than the last one. Not sure it is possible to have less success (and I don’t credit Mallee with Altuve’s success – though that is probably being a little mean on my part)


  12. Our Duffy might be someone to add to the 1B mix because he is a RH option to Singleton AND he can play 3B.
    The team has given Kraus a look and his defense in the OF and 1B seemed lacking and he didn’t hit, but did walk. Duffy seems different in that he can back up two infield positions, gives a RH option at 1B and is going to be 26 and needs at least a shot like Kraus got. I’m not saying he is the answer, but if the club decides to spend their money filling other holes, he is there to provide a decent role position with some power. He hit pretty well last year and would it hurt to give him a looksee in ST?


  13. Suggested Letter to Billy Butler:

    Dear Billy: You are coming off a down year for you. You have always been able to hit and hit with power. We have a need for a 1st baseman and DH. However, we only have a need for a single year. You have $1 Million of KC money to live on plus we can offer you an additional $8 Million. Now we realize that you would prefer a multi-year contract, but if you come to Houston and have the year that we firmly believe that you can have, your market value should sky rocket again. With Hosmer in KC, you will not be able to display your 1st base skills as often as you would in Houston. So lets do a win-win. You come and improve your market value with the Astros and then you will be better prepared to enter free agency to earn the money you deserve. Signed: Your admirer and friend, JL


    • Nice letter, but there is no way he signs for just one year when he can get a 3-4 or maybe more years elsewhere. I would have no problem with signing him for a year to split 1B and DH with CC while JS spends next year in Fresno, but it will never happen. Otherwise, Butler is not an upgrade over CC. Our money can and should be spent fixing the bullpen. I think any offensive upgrades will be done via trade.


  14. It’s hard to believe the failure of the Astros organization when it comes to filling
    the first base position. It’s mind boggling that you have Wallace, Frieman, Laird, Pena, Guzman, Kraus, and now Singleton and get nothing out of any of them. or worse yet, a negative nothing.
    I’m really tempted to say that Luhnow just doesn’t quite know what to do there. Is it just a matter of money, a thought process that anybody should be able to play that position, or is it just that the organization is really bad at judging the abilities of the prospects they have, especially at this one position? What do you guys/gals think?


    • Some thoughts on their attempts at filling the spot –
      – Pena – that was just a cheap shot in the dark and it did not work out
      – Guzman – Hey I thought it was a good pickup at the time. In 2013 – Guzman was great on the road – .865 OPS – 9 HR / 26 RBI in 154 ABs and terrible in PETCO park (which is a pitcher’s paradise) .457 OPS – 0 HR and 9 RBI in 134 ABs. He looked like someone who needed to get out of his bad situation – but no.
      – Wallace – was a leftover from the Wade trades – seemed like he was worth a flyer as someone who was a very good hitter at the higher levels of the minors.
      – Krauss – Probably was given a shot because Luhnow targeted him in the Chris Johnson trade. Again – good numbers in the minors have not translated at the major league level.
      – Freiman – They did not think enough of him to keep him after the Rule 5 pickup. It is not like they gave up resources for him.
      – Laird – He was just a roster filler – not a serious contender for 1st
      – Singleton – again a leftover from the Wade trades. I think he could still work out.
      I’m not sure if 1B is a black hole like the drummers for Spinal Tap. I am confused why it is such a struggle so far. But let’s face it – it is not like they invested $30 million over 3 years here – they’ve gone the cheap route.


    • I think it’s possibly due to two reasons: poor preparation and organizational offensive strategy. It looks too often like the players are seeing pitchers for the first time. Is the advanced scouting bad? Are the players unable to prepare on their own? Also, it seemed like the offense was giving away too many first pitches.

      I saw Wallace at AAA last year. He had 4 hits, including a HR that game. I always thought his problem was an inability to get to mediocre or better fastballs on the inner half, but he turned on a couple fastballs clocking at 98 on the gun just fine. I think MLB pitches exploit his holes and get him crossed up too easily. I have more faith that he hits well in the futute than JDM…but think the right team/setting is necessary for either.


      • Well JDM completely re-worked his swing and he had a strong year as a result (plus batting in a real lineup).
        I do wonder about the hitting strategy Devin. It seems that the Moneyball strategy of working the count and taking pitches is working against teams – the hitting baseball-wide last season was the worst in a long time. Pitchers know that players will be taking those early pitches and they are not afraid to throw strikes early in the count.


  15. I’ve always been a little uneasy with considering taking walks as a skill. If it is a skill it is a passive one and relies on the failure of the pitcher. I think I read somewhere that the Astros led the world in called strike outs. Now if a guy like Berkman walks a lot its because he hits well enough that pitchers feared throwing him strikes and he was skilled enough to lay off. Guys like Grossman who look for walks don’t strike me as the kind of hitters who strike fear into the pitcher. Then you have guys like Singleton and even Carter who walk a fair amount but can’t hit strikes. I was dismayed this season at how much Singleton whiffed at fastballs in the middle of the plate.


    • It kind of reminds me of early Little League where some kids would go up with no intention of swinging with the hope of walking. Taking bad pitches to get a good pitch to tattoo should be the aim.
      Singleton was missing everything at the end of the season – have to hope he worked thru things this offseason.


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