Last time I saw Jeff Luhnow, he seemed to have two legs. That means he’s got two shoes. Well, one shoe dropped Thursday when the Astros traded Daniel Mengden and Jacob Nottingham (ouch!) for Scott Kazmir.
Good starting pitching hasn’t really been Houston’s problem this year. Oh, the team’s ERA (3.96) among starters ranks 14th in MLB and 6th in the AL. Well, at the price of two prospects — one of which I fear the Astros will regret losing — this rotation is looking up. Kazmir and his 2.38 ERA will likely replace Vincent Velasquez in the rotation. That’ll allow Velasquez and Lance McCullers Jr. to rest their young arms down the stretch by taking turns in the bullpen.
Preventing runs hasn’t been Houston’s overall problem. Overall, Houston’s team ERA of 3.54 ranks 9th in the majors and 4th in the AL. So, while adding Kazmir is nice — really nice, especially if Luhnow can extend him two or three years — the real problem the Astros have had this season hasn’t been preventing runs.
And that’s where that other shoe might come in
We could pick from several stats here, but I like OPS. Anyone with an OPS over .750 is a very good player, and .700 is the cut off between those marginal contributors and those not making the grade. For example, Luis Valbuena (as of Thursday afternoon) had a .709 OPS and an oWAR of 1.2. Chris Carter had an OPS of .698 and an oWAR of 0.4. Marwin Gonzalez brings a .697 OPS and an oWAR of 0.5.
Of course, you have to figure in defense as well. Valbuena has an overall WAR of 1.2, MarGo brings a 0.8 and Carter’s overall WAR is -0.3. Defense matters.
Anyway, there’s more to it than OPS. This team has a lot of power, but I’ve seen a ton of solo homers lately. Homers are better when shared with a friend … or three.
But that means this team needs people who make contact, get on base, stop striking out like chicks dig it.
So, what hitter in this lineup needs to be replaced the most? Chris Carter (.190 BA, 16 HRs, 115 Ks in 290 AB with 43 RBIs and that .698 OPS), Luis Valbuena (.203 BA, .709 OPS, 19 HRs, 40 RBIs, 75 Ks and 301 ABs) or Jake Marisnick (.231 BA, .639 OPS, 12 SB, 5 HRs, 60 Ks and 216 ABs)? I would add the other two low performers, but I don’t see the Astros trading Jason Castro right now (the lowest OPS at .632 among qualifiers) or MarGo, who is the team’s super sub. Above Valbuena, the next lowest OPS is Gattis at .723. (His oWAR and WAR are both affected by his lack fielding fielding value as a DH.)
Help Begins at Home
The problem is, if you’re going to replace one of these poor performers, who are you replacing him with? Carter or Valbuena may see themselves replaced somewhat by Jed Lowrie when the injured “former shortstop” returns.
As for Marisnick, once George Springer returns, that solves that problem I’d suppose. Do the returns of Lowrie and Springer fill all the Astros’ offensive needs?
Do the Astros need to replace both Valbuena and Carter or just one? If you replace both Valbuena and Carter, does that change the very nature of the Astros’ offense? After all, this is a power offense. Removing two power hitters for a couple of on-base, singles hitters will take a lot of homers out of the lineup in favor of singles.
Replacing both Carter and Valbuena probably requires looking outside of the organization for another trade. For that other shoe. If replacing Carter or Valbuena from the outside is the goal, we’re not looking at Carlos Gomez. Ben Zobrist is probably a bit expensive. Another option might be Atlanta’s utility player Kelly Johnson.
And Now For Something Completely Different
Twice in Thursday night’s game the Astros ran themselves out of a run. Jose Altuve getting caught at third came before two straight walks then a ground out. If the Astros avoid a double play on that ground out, Altuve scores. Later, MarGo gets caught stretching a double into a triple. Correa followed with a double, and there’s another run missed.
Do the Astros need better base coaching? Do some baserunners — even the best ones like Altuve — need an occasional stop sign?
About That Rotation
Keuchel, Kazmir, McHugh, McCullers, Feldman. Is this the best rotation in baseball? Other than Feldman, I expect to win every night with these guys. Even McHugh, who hasn’t been dominant, has an ERA 2.85 in his last seven starts. He’s already tied last season’s win total. He actually compares pretty well to Keuchel who, in his last seven, is also 5-2 with a 2.52 ERA. Add Kazmir and McCullers, who both have sub-3.00 ERAs, and this is a dominant rotation.
A Few More Things To Consider
1. McCullers looked a little rusty Thursday night. Does sitting these guys seem counterproductive?
2. I love me some Preston Tucker, but that ball he misjudged was horrible. Does this make you rethink Jake Marisnick’s value, even if it’s just as a defensive replacement?
3. We’re not even past the trade deadline, but it’s not too early to start looking at Sept. 1. Should the Astros add a lot of players when rosters expand, or should they keep it to a minimum since they will probably be in a playoff race? If Luhnow calls up players, who is on your short list? Tony Kemp? Joe Sclafani? Domingo Santana? Luis Cruz? Chris Devenski?
4. By the end of Sunday’s game, the Astros will have played 100 games. So far, the Astros have won 54 games, and could be as good as 57-43 or as low as 54-46. What’s your over/under for 100 games?
5. Anything else you want to discuss. After all, it’s the weekend, and this blog is free.