Looking ahead at Astros’ 2015: DH, a Houston success story

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.

Season BA/Rank OPS/Rank HR/Rank R/Rank RBI/Rank K’s/Rank
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.

So questions:

  • Do you see Chris Carter as the one and only option for DH in 2015?
  • If Carter performs well in the first half of the season, do you see a scenario where the Astros might trade him at the height of his value because he strikes out more often than the front office computers think he should?
  • If they had to bring up a player to take his place from the minors – who do you think it should be?

50 comments on “Looking ahead at Astros’ 2015: DH, a Houston success story

    • Yeah – as I recall this was after Jason Castro got injured (again) and they had called up Max Stassi who took a fastball to the face. They picked up Pagnozzi from (the Rangers??) and he played in a few games with the Astros on the way to his future Hall of Fame career…..


    • This is around the same time as poor Cody Clark went 4 for 38 in his only cup of coffee in the majors. Maybe there was a reason that they lost 111 games in 2013.


  1. The introduction of Gattis into the equation changes a lot of things for the DH. He automatically becomes a candidate to replace Carter there in cases of injury, slump or trade. Carter’s new salary of $4.175mil puts the Astros in a little higher salary bracket than most foresaw, but the fact that the Astros settled for that means they like Carter a lot or they want him signed so that he is tradeable.
    Gattis and Carter being equal with a bat in their hands, Gattis is still more valuable as a backup catcher who is available in an extra inning game when Hinch wants to pinch hit or pinch run for a catcher who is on second base with the winning run, knowing he still has Gattis on the field if needed.
    Let’s face it, Springer, Gattis and Carter are power guys who strike out a lot and all are right handed and a large majority of pitchers are right handed. Tucker projects to a left handed power guy who doesn’t strike out as much, hits for a better average and will probably come into the league later this year at rookie minimum. You would think that the guy who might be traded, of the three power righties, would be the one who is making the big bucks. If the Astros find themselves in a pennant race, they may all be in the lineup, including Tucker.


    • Yes – I think there is a definite spot for Tucker in this lineup and expect he may get called up around the trade deadline – it might tie to a Carter trade or a Fowler trade.


    • I wouldn’t be surprised to see Carter traded at this point.

      I am not sure that Tucker projects as a guy that won’t strike out 30% of the time, at least at first. His K rates have risen level to level, and look pretty similar to Carter’s at those same levels.

      The advantage Tucker affords is as you point out, lefty, should perform similarly, and will be much cheaper, something that Crane has to be clapping for.


  2. I would not be surprised to see Carter traded before the season starts. It would be the same type of deal that brought him here…and partially about clearing salary.

    Aside from those presented, I think Jose altuve is going average a game a week at DH if they can squeeze it in by the end of the season. As a high effort player, he is going to get dinged up from time to time. JL (or should I say Hinch) may want to throw Carter at 1B against some lefties to give Singleton a night off, opening that option.


    • Oops – meant to include Altuve in the occasional DH mix – though I think he will be more like a once every 2 weeks guy. I think he would drive Hinch crazy if he tried to keep him away from 2B once a week.


  3. Similar to yesterday’s posts:

    All Or Nothing For Astros

    While the Astros’ 2015 lineup features three of the most effective home run hitters on a per-at-bat basis from last season, they also may have a real strikeout problem on their hands.

    2014 Strikeout Ranks (Min. 300 PA)

    Astros K pct. MLB rank

    Evan Gattis 24.2% 211th
    Robbie Grossman 24.9% 219th
    Jason Castro 29.5% 245th
    Chris Carter 31.8% 250th
    George Springer 33.0% 257th
    Jon Singleton 37.0% 263rd

    >>Out of 263 players with at least 300 PA

    I keep reading that these are not JL type hitters. Not picking on him because this is just one stat. But obviously ESPN chose to do so.


    • I wonder if in this time of reduced offense and taking pitches out the wazoo that Luhnow is going a different direction than Moneyball with his Earl Weaver (waiting on a 3 run homer) offensive choices.


    • If you add Dominguez and Marisnick to that, and all of those players remain Astros, we will shatter our own MLB record in early September.


      • Yes, because then, the investment in the relievers pays off. An extra .5 runs a game give the team more leads to protect. I am still hoping for Neshek, Gregorsen, Qualls to be late inning guys and Fields comes in throwing darts and steals the closer job. Fields’s stuff, his crazy delivery and his mentality remind me of a young closer. A little bit crazy.
        However, I’m more hopeful if we can move Carter and a prospect for a major league 3B, to go with Lowrie, Altuve and Singleton in the infield, Springer, Fowler and Marisnick in the outfield, Gattis at DH and Tucker, Sclafani, Conger and Torreyes on the bench. There are so many interchangeable pieces there.


      • I have to kid you Old pro because we have 4-1/2 catchers on the 40 man but you have none on the field – but I assume you meant to include Castro.
        The Carter for a 3B is an interesting angle – gives Gattis a DH position matching his defense


      • Dan, yes I was making Castro the catcher, with a switch hitting Conger as the second catcher, and Gattis as a true 3rd emergency catcher, who is actually a real catcher, which is different than taking a fielder and sticking him behind the plate because two guys got hurt.
        Also, making Gattis the DH still gives you the power bat, Carter’s trade fills the 3B hole and Fowler, Springer Marisnick gives you the best defensive outfield in the league. Keeping Fowler gives you OBP to set up the power guys for RBI’s, and when it’s time for Fowler to leave, you have Tucker/Aplin/Kemp to take his spot and Correa ready to fill Fowler’s OBP in the lineup in April, 2016.
        I got this!


  4. I m going to be an optimist today I say for this year

    Gattis 21%
    Grossman if he is still here 22%
    Castro 23%
    Carter 27%
    Springer 25%
    Singleton 25%


    • That would be a lot easier to swallow Kevin. Guys like Springer and Singleton could cut their swings back 20% and still clear most any park in the league.


  5. By my quick count-up – the Astros were 48-13 when they scored 5 or more runs last season. They need a bullpen that holds the line and an offense that puts up more crooked numbers.


    • I’m thinking he will be an “interesting” personality kind of like Houston Texan Arian Foster.
      And he adds to our collection of bearded athletes.
      Now if he makes his permanent home in Austin and hangs out at Hippie Hollow – it will all be perfect.


  6. So, with Cozart, Tropeano, and Folty gone – and not a single MLB ready starter received in trade return – what is the 2015 Astros rotation expected to look like now? McHugh, Keuchel, Feldman, Oberholtzer & Jake-Not-From-State-Farm?

    Some will say slot Peacock in the 5th spot – but at season’s start he will still be rehabbing from hip surgery. And to be brutally honest, he has been pretty horrible so far even when healthy. Guess who led the staff in both BB and HRs allowed last year – by a wide margin in each of those categories – even with only 131.2 innings pitched?

    And what is worse, who do we call on now if/when someone in the rotation goes on the DL?


    • Good questions Mr. Bill – here are some thoughts:
      – The Astros are not done adding players thru FA – they may go after a Vogelsong or the ilk to compete in ST
      – They might trade for another mlb starter – sending Carter or Castro or Fowler or …. fill in the blank
      – They may think that they can fill the spot with Wojciechowski who pitched well at the end of last season
      – Alex White finally is well and returns to the majors
      – Jake not from State Farm – holds things down until Peacock returns.
      – They think that how Peacock performed after figuring out that he was tipping off pitches he is ready to bust out


  7. Deadline tomorrow for arbitration talks:
    Who gets traded outta this group? Rangers were interested in Corporan, and he
    settled for less money this year, than last. Luhnow……..you’re on the clock!


      • My bad………he DID sign for $500k last year! Somewhere in my feeble mind I thought he had signed for a million+ last year. Either way……..he ain’t gonna be here very long…….I really LOVE him as a positive club house guy for these kids!


      • You are right there astro45 – baseball-reference is estimating it at $66.5 million depending of course on arbitration results, but it is right where you are saying


  8. It is my guess they will trade Fowler (along with Corporan, but not in the same deal). If they are going to start Gattis in LF a large majority of the time they probably want either Springer or Marisnick in CF to help cover for Gattis’ lack of range. This is purely speculation on my part.

    Liked by 2 people

      • If they trade Fowler I think they will look to get help for the big league club. I think a 3B with team control for 2 years would be perfect. I am not sure who fits that description, but that is what I would like to see them pursue in any trade involving Dexter.


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