With all of the turnover from the 2012 Houston Astros, it’s easy to get excited about what could be. Between all of the competition for a starting rotation spot, the addition of some power potential and an influx of even more youth, I think we may have overlooked one key part of the game. Base running.
The 2012 Astros were anything but a good base running team. They finished 15th in baseball with 105 stolen bases and were 28th in BsR (Base running runs above average) with 11.2 runs BELOW average. The team’s best base runner was second baseman Jose Altuve who recorded a team high in stolen bases with 33 and lead the team with a 4.2 BsR. Justin Maxwell was second on the team in BsR with a 1.5 while collecting 9 stolen bases in his part-time role. The Astros have parted ways with Jordan Schafer (praise the Lord), who finished second on the team in stolen bases with 27, as well as Brian Bogusevic who finished third with 15. Yesterday the Astros also traded Jed Lowrie, who is no speedster, but he is one of the few players that was actually an above average base runner in 2012 with his 0.4 BsR. This means that one of the worst base running teams in baseball have lost three of their five best base runners. Let’s see what the Astros have gained that can potentially fill those voids.
Carlos Pena was the team’s biggest, offseason free agent signing. The DH/1B puts up huge strikeout numbers but is still able to reach base at a good clip, thanks to his base-on-balls percentage. Unfortunately, walking is about all he can do on the bases, as evidenced by his -4.5 BsR.
Rick Ankiel was once a good enough athlete to switch from being a Major League starting pitcher to being a Major League centerfielder. Even when he was a young, athletic player, he was never much more than an average base runner. Now at 33 years old, it is highly doubtful that he will be able to put up much more than the one stolen base that he had last season.
Chris Carter is one of the newest additions to the Astros’ roster. He came from Oakland in the Jed Lowrie trade and brings with him some enormous power potential. Unfortunately, he also brings some below average speed and base running ability.
Shortstop Jake Elmore was claimed off of waivers from the Arizona Diamondbacks this offseason and could be a player to watch, especially now that Lowrie is gone. He only played in 30 Major League games last year for Arizona, so it is difficult to get an accurate read on how his abilities will translate, but in 108 triple-A games he stole 32 bases. He also walked in 14.5% of his plate appearances, so he has the potential to get on base and do some damage on the base paths. For Elmore to make the roster, he will more than likely have to beat out at least one of either Marwin Gonzalez (who is well below average on the bases) or Tyler Greene.
The Astros have a few players returning that could help the team on the bases if they are given the opportunity. Tyler Greene has always had good speed and he has been an above average base runner. His main problem is that he doesn’t get on base enough. His OBP last season (with St. Louis and Houston) was only .274, which ranked 16th on the Astros among players with at least 100 at-bats. While not quite as good on the bases, Brandon Barnes is in a similar situation to Greene in that he has some speed, but will need to improve his OBP. Jason Castro is as slow as a legless Ethiopian at a cakewalk, but that doesn’t stop him from being a good base runner. He is one of the more intelligent base runners on the team, and while that won’t allow him to steal many bases, he can still be an asset on the base paths.
Unless the Astros transform into a team of sluggers, the team’s base running will have to improve. It’s difficult enough to score runs with minimal hits, but it’s even harder if you have a team full of incompetent base runners.