Looking for hope for Astros? Four positive signs for 2015

Ask any Astros fan — well, maybe not those Chron (spit!) crybabies — and they’ll tell you, three of the keys for Houston’s success in 2015 are the improvement at first base, improvement in the corner outfield, and Chris Carter acting like it is July 1 or later all season.

Oh, sure, we want a better bullpen. We hope Keuchel, McHugh and Altuve don’t regress much if at all. We’d like to see some offense out of the catcher position. And who wouldn’t like another starter?

But these three things could be a big part of Houston’s success in 2015.

First Base
For better or for worse, the Astros are going to give Jon Singleton and his $2 million season every chance to succeed. Last year, that meant a .168 BA, a .620 OPS and 134 Ks (13 HRs) in 310 ABs. Oh, he also walked 50 times in 362 plate appearances.

But it’s not unreasonable to expect much better play out of the 23-year-old. Singleton’s horrid 2014 can easily be explained with a .238 BAbip, which was probably a result of his 16% line drive rate. That LD% was about 9 points lower than the league average. In six minor league seasons, Singleton’s BAbip was (these are my own calculations — hits/at-bats minus Ks — so they might be a point or two off) .380. If we’re just looking at his AAA numbers, his BAbip was .355.

I’m no expert, but my guess is Singleton’s BAbip will go up to somewhere between .320-.340. If that’s the case — and he can reduce his K rate by even 8 percent — Singleton’s BA would go up to about .220. And if he can get his K rate down to his AAA level of .29 percent, his BA would go up to .240.

Oh, the other encouraging thing about Singleton: He usually adjusts after a season at a particular level. Having him get better in 2015 isn’t just wishful thinking. It’s his pattern.

Corner Outfield

After George Springer and Dexter Fowler, the Astros will need to rely on either Robbie Grossman or Jake Marisnick to play like a competent major leaguer. Neither needs to carry the team. But at least one needs to just perform adequately.

Let’s start with a look at Marisnick, because he could play either center or right, letting Springer play either and moving Fowler where he belongs at left field. In 54 games with Houston, Jake from State Farm put up a .669 OPS while striking out 28 percent of the time and only walking 5 times in 186 PAs. Yeah, that’s not going to get it done. That said, despite 330 lackluster ABs over two seasons with Houston and Miami, Jake looks like a better hitter than that.

Marisnick’s LD% was about league average and his .352 BAbip in Houston is probably about the best he can hope for, but if the Astros get a full season of a guy hitting .272 in left field, they’d take that. That said, his 3 percent walk rate in Houston is less than half of his career MiLB rate. And his combined AA/AAA rate of nearly 5 percent looks more sustainable. That would give Marisnick an OBP closer to the .330s, and for a guy destined to bat 6th or 7th in the lineup, that’s not bad. If he can come within .050 of what he averaged in AA/AAA then we’re looking at an OPS over .700.

Would you take that with Jake’s defense? I would.

If Marisnick doesn’t pan out, there’s always Grossman, who is the walking definition of a streaky hitter. Basically, as goes Grossman’s BAbip, so goes his game. Pick a month. If his BAbip is over .300, it’s a great month. If his BAbip is below .300, not so much. That said, we’re talking about a 25-year-old outfielder. Giving up early on Grossman may turn him into the next J.D. Martinez. Honestly, I think another spring with Malle might help Grossman find some consistency.

Either way, we have two guys who are on the verge of good numbers. We just need one to work out. And neither has to be George Springer at the plate. Just act like a decent 6th or 7th place hitter.

All He Does Is Hit

We don’t ask much out of Chris Carter. We just want him to hit the ball.

A few months ago, I noted that Carter cut his K rate from 2013’s 42 percent to 2014’s 36 percent. Three odd things happened from one year to the next. First, his LD% remained the same at 25 percent. And while he was seeing the ball better when it came to Ks, he walked slightly less in 2014. So, making the same contact, but not walking as much. He also saw his BAbip drop from a relatively sustainable .311 to an unbelievably low .267.  For a guy with that LD%, a .267 BAbip is just really bad luck. If you’re betting on someone to see positive regression in 2015, the safe money is on Carter. And that’s a good thing.

So while there are plenty of question marks in Houston for 2015, here are four players we all pretty much expect to see in 2015, but the 2015 version should produce better than what we saw in 2014, especially Carter and Singleton. And that’s encouraging news for a team that needs fewer question marks and more, well, if not exclamation points then at least periods.

Here are some things to consider as the calender is about to flip to 2015:

1. In addition to Carter and Singleton, we’ve also got Jason Castro (for now) as a guy who could do with a better 2015. Which do you expect to take the biggest strides in 2015?

2. Which of those three will be the most pleasant surprise?

3. Jake from State Farm and Robbie Grossman are both question marks for 2015, but look like they’ll be given every opportunity to earn a spot in the outfield. Which do you think is poised for a better offensive output in 2015?

4. Marisnick is a better fielder than Grossman (who isn’t bad, but JFSF just looks like an elite defender to me). How much better will Grossman need to hit to make up the difference on defense?

5. If Singleton hits .230 and raises his OPS to above .700, we get a plus-.700 OPS from the third outfielder, and Carter takes another step forward as a hitter, what will that mean toward the 2015 win total? Do the Astros become a team that’s still fighting for a Wild Card spot in mid-September?

24 comments on “Looking for hope for Astros? Four positive signs for 2015

  1. Nice job Brian T
    – I have to pick Singleton as my choice for progression. And remember with as terrible as he performed down the stretch – he was on a 162 game pace for 22 HR and 75 RBIs.
    – I think Castro could be a pleasant surprise. Even if he settled in 1/2 way between good 2013 and below average 2014 that would be a good thing for him and for the team.
    – I think Grossman is poised to be a better offensive player than Marisnick. His patience at the plate and being able to discern what to swing at is leaps and bounds above JFSF. Whether he will earn that chance is another question.
    – For Grossman to displace JFSF – he needs to be hitting something like.280 BA/ .360 OBP/ .720 OPS. Of course, if Marisnick can’t hit over the Mendoza line – he might not need to hit that well to take up some ABs.
    – Hitting improvement will help towards playoff contention just as long as:
    – The bullpen actually does improve
    – There is not too much regression with Keuchel and McHugh
    – Decent 4th and 5th starters perform for the Astros all year long
    I’m still a pitching first guy…


    • I wouldn’t count out Marisnick’s offense. He had a decent LD% and BAbip. I think over the course of the season, he could easily have a .330 OBP. If he can get his SLG near .400 — very doable based on his MiLB numbers — then his defense could really make him valuable.

      And, yes, there are a lot of other “ifs,” but these — especially Carter and Singleton — are a couple of givens we don’t really look at much with all the other concerns.


  2. I hope the light stays on in Carter’s production. If he can produce similar numbers that he produced during the second half of last season and do this over the entire season… what a monster he will be! Singleton should be better if he has his head on straight. I dunno… he just seems to be too full of himself really. Castro needs at least two days off from catching and one day completely off each week. I believe his knee has been bothering him and that will hurt one’s production. All things considered, I look for Singleton to make the biggest strides. A full season of production would make Carter the most pleasant surprise.

    Marisnick has not shown enough offensively for me to make a solid choice here based solely upon offensive production. Grossman has started slow each season and that concerns me. In this case, I would have to go with the unknown Marisnick over the known Grossman. Regarding defense, Grossman cannot hit enough to outshine Marisnick’s defense.

    Finally, yes, if Carter and Singleton produce and we have a good third outfielder, then the team will fight for a wild card spot.


  3. My biggest gripe with the rise if sabremetrics is that we tend to look at things like a workbook and less like a complex and situational game. My belief is that the Astros of the last three years wanted to play Earl Weaver baseball. What actually worked for them was getting Altuve onto first base and creating opportunities for the slugger(s) due to pitchers and defenses needing to hold the runner. I think if the pitching can keep us in the game, you will see Carter and Castro benefit from the speed of Altuve and Springer on the bases. A handful more mistakes not missed is the difference between a bad year and an all star season for either.

    As for Grossman and JFSF, it all comes down to OBP. I suspect RG gets more starts, but JFSF enters a lot of games for at least the last 6 outs. This also ignores all the time we expect Fowler might miss if his injury history holds.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I know I talk a lot of saber but my favorite part of baseball is by far the single game. I have much more appreciation for a manager that can read his players, know where they are in any given day, mix and match up the best combinations that can win, and manage the game effectively. I think the speadsheet is important, it needs to be paid attention too, but so does the player himself.

      The joy of baseball is there are 5 little games going on with every pitch. Fielder position, baserunning, batter/pitcher matchup, are all just as important in any single game as whose OBP is higher right now. Sometimes, in that 162 game drive, we lose that, and we forget to enjoy THAT game.


  4. Fowler and Springer have injury histories at this point. I would expect ample opportunity for both Marisnick and Grossman.

    Getting a .330 OBP from Marisnick is very best case scenario. For those 330+ at bats he has a Oswing rate of 37%. He is really struggling telling balls from strikes early enough in the pitch to be consistent. It is going to be hard to raise his BABIP if he is spending more time hitting the pitchers pitch and not forcing the pitcher to come to him. Grossman excels in oswing, at 20%, 7% below league average and 17% better than Marisnick. Grossman’s problem is Marisnick just hits the ball harder. Robbie could probably use 10 more pounds in the upper body to help that LD rate and BABIP get consistent.

    The dynamic from the two will be interesting. We have seen both are capable of having short spurts of success. Grossman is probably on a much shorter leash given the age difference and the opportunities already provided, but should get first crack at it.

    As for how much Grossman has to hit to outplay Marisnicks defense – depends on the position. Grossman would probably have to post all star numbers from CF, better than average from RF, but if the Astros are intent, regardless of Marisnick, of putting Fowler in CF and Springer in RF, Grossman only has to hit better, not alot better.

    I would expect Singleton to have somewhat of a sluggish start, and get better in the second half. I don’t think we see the best of Jon for another 3-4 years.


  5. So the Astros don’t protect DDJ and then send Downs down. I don’t really need a crystal ball to figure out that DDJ was out of favor. The last picture I saw of him, he looked heavy.


    • I realize there are multiple reasons to protect, trade, etc. I am glad to see Neshek, Lowrie,, and Gregerson. But Presley signing, and protecting guys from Rule 5 but then running them through waivers and leaving 2-3-4 decent prospects unprotected and needing Conger. Man … these are really head scratchers for me. What in the world did Downs do between December 1st and today? Or not do??


  6. “Honestly, I think another spring with Malle might help Grossman find some consistency”
    Does this mean Grossman has been traded to the Cubs? 😉


  7. I don’t think much happens, until Shields, and Scherzer sign somewhere. Hope you guys (and girls) had a nice Christmas……my grandsons brought a crappy case of bronchitis to my house. Nothing like a house full of coughing kids, to celebrate
    Christmas! Becky:)


  8. Five, count ’em, 5 little grandkids makes it hard to think about anything, but last night I managed to fall asleep by trying to make out a batting order for the 2016 Houston Astros. Even putting myself one year into the future, third base is killing me.


  9. 1OP: If the past is prologue to the future may I give you an assist. Here is the primary starters for 2012. Castro, Lee, Altuve, Lowrie, CJohnson, JDMartinez, Schafer, Bogusevic. That should give you a leg up on 2016.


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