All Things Astros and a whole lot more
When the Houston Astros moved from the National League to the American League for the 2013 season due to agreements/black mail between Bud Selig (spit twice!!), Drayton McLane (spit!!) and Jim Crane (spit!!) they did so lacking one important ingredient for AL play. (OK – actually lacking many ingredients – but one really glaring one). The Astros did not have enough hitters to fill out the position parts of a lineup and definitely had a big doughnut at the Designated Hitter spot.
The good news is that the Astros’ DH position was a success story in 2014 as they built it from scratch to a position of strength by the end of last season.
The following are some cumulative stats for all the Astros that manned the DH spot in 2013 and 2014 and their rank in the 15 team AL.
|2013||.199 / 14th||.615 / 14th||16 / 11th||52 / 15th||59 / 13th||201 / 1st– worst|
|2014||.246 / 9th||.817 / 3rd||38 / T 1st||76 / 2nd||92 / 5th||191 / 1st– worst|
As my old boss in Arkansas used to say “It doesn’t take long to look at this horseshoe.”
It is pretty clear that the DH position went from pitiful to a position of strength in one season. And it is also clear that the main reason was the emergence of Chris Carter into a dangerous hitter (when he made contact) in 2014.
In 2013, Carlos Pena was basically given the DH job out of Spring Training and after 130 poor ABs at the DH spot (and more at 1B) he was released mid-season. Over the rest of the year, DH was an open audition for the Astros rivaling the initial round of American Idol with similar mostly grim results. Twenty Astros took turns at being the Designated Hitter in 2013, which should have been re-named the Designated Misser position. The list of names is long and ugly and includes such dignitaries as Matt Pagnozzi, Trevor Crowe, Ronny Cedeno, Brandon Laird, Jake Elmore and Brett Wallace. Special points if you would have guessed L.J. Hoes was also on the list. Chris Carter picked up in the Jed Lowrie trade had the most DH ABs (169) for the team in 2013 – but was fairly ineffective in that role.
Flash forward to 2014 and while 14 players get DH ABs that season, there is no doubt that Chris Carter with almost 80% of those at bats was the Astros’ DH. The season-long numbers were good to very good compared against the other teams in the league.
The operative part of that last paragraph is “season-long”. For the first half of 2014, especially April and June, Chris Carter was a poor DH with 13 HR and 30 RBIs. For the last half of 2014 – Carter was probably the best DH in the AL with 24 HR and 58 RBIs,
Note: I realize these numbers do not match the baseball-reference first half/second half numbers, but their numbers are based on the All-Star break as the half way mark which is archaic considering the All-Star break occurs in mid-July about 60% of the way into the season.
So, the question with Carter is the same one was answered on the bad side by Matt Dominguez last season. Who is the real Carter? The one who hit poorly in the first half of the previous season or the one who hit so well in the second half of the previous season?
Bottom line, Chris Carter is the DH going into 2015. An injury or a Carter performance issue could change that or a trade offer Luhnow could not refuse or…..Singleton failing which might cause Carter to pick up first base.
Backups. It is probable that DH will be a rest stop for the other starters when they need a day off from the field. Some of this will depend on who else is actually on the team – but a good guess is that most of the non-Carter DH at bats will be taken up by a combination of the following – Jason Castro, George Springer, Dexter Fowler, Jed Lowrie, and – if his head is on straight and his bat is working – Jon Singleton. Overall those are pretty good hands for Carter’s off days.
Breaking News. With the trade for Evan Gattis now a reality, he is another candidate for some time at DH.
Replacements. If Carter went down with a serious injury or was traded away without a DH coming in return, his long-term replacement options might be a bit problematic. It would be difficult to replace him internally off the 25 man roster without hurting another position on the club. The one minor league player who might be ready to replace him based on his recent performance would be Preston Tucker. Tucker has been an RBI machine (103 in 2013 and 94 in 2014) while making stops at A+, AA and AAA. It is quite possible that he might be banging on the major league door by mid-season 2015 for an outfield job. Beyond Tucker, the next most likely player is Joe Sclafani, though he would be an unusual choice at DH due to minimal power. The kid hits and gets on base and could fill DH at least on a part-time basis. Domingo Santana could be an option (he raked in AAA even as he whiffed in the mlb in 2014), but at his tender age he might not be the best choice for the position.
Breaking News – Part II. Ditto on Evan Gattis being a candidate for DH in the long-term absence of Carter.