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Guest column by Bill Gilbert

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From time to time, we here at Climbing Tal’s Hill like to bring in a special guest columnist. We were recently contacted by Bill Gilbert and he was kind enough to share his insights on the season that was and what to expect in the immediate future.

 

Bill Gilbert grew up in Denver and graduated from the University of Colorado. After two years as a Naval Officer and a 33-year career with ExxonMobil, he has spent a good part of his retirement years indulging his lifelong interest in baseball. He was active in Little League Baseball as a coach and administrator for 14 years and played in Senior Softball tournaments for many years.

A SABR member since 1984, Bill has attended 15 SABR Conventions and has given presentations at 13 of them. He has also written articles for The National Pastime and The Baseball Research Journal, as well as other publications and web sites. He was the leader of SABR’s Larry Dierker Chapter in Houston for over 10 years and, after relocating to Austin, founded the Rogers Hornsby Chapter in Central Texas. For the past 17 years, he has worked for Tal Smith Enterprises on salary arbitration and has attended many arbitration hearings.

Bill currently resides in Lakeway, Texas, a suburb of Austin, with his wife of 51 years. They have 4 children and 9 grandchildren.

Astros Finish Worst Year in Club History

The 2013 Astros finished the season with a 15-game losing streak, capping off the worst year in their 52-year history.  The 51-111 record continues a streak of three straight years with the worst record in the team’s history and also the worst record in the major leagues.

Can it get any worse?  Astro fans, or what’s left of them, are asking again as they did after the 2012 season, when it appeared that it was time for the rebuilding project to start showing some results. I expected some improvement in 2013 and I feel safe in forecasting some improvement in 2014. How can it possibly get worse than a 51-111 record culminating in a 15-game losing streak?

Almost anything that could go wrong for the Astros in 2013 did so. First was the forced move to the American League which was about as unpopular as Obamacare. The anticipated rivalry with the Texas Rangers turned out to be a dud as the Rangers won 17 of the 19 games between the two teams. The new TV deal with Comcast which was supposed to bring in a big increase in revenue failed when the Comcast network was unsuccessful in negotiations with major providers leaving viewers in Houston and other Texas cities unable to see Astro games. In view of the team’s performance, maybe that was a good thing.

The Astros were well below average in essentially all aspects of the game. They were last in the major leagues in on-base percentage (.299), slugging average (.375) and ahead of only the White Sox in the AL with an average of 3.77 runs per game. The pitchers ERA was 4.79, worst in the major leagues and the team’s fielding percentage of .979 was the lowest in the majors. Houston also led the major leagues in errors.

The Astros set some other dubious records along the way. They set a major league record with 1535 strikeouts and led the major leagues by being caught stealing 61 times. Chris Carter led the majors in strikeouts with 212.

Jose Altuve had another productive year, batting .283 with 35 stolen bases. Jason Castro led the team with an on-base percentage of .350 and a slugging average of .485. Carter led in home runs with 29, RBIs with 82 and walks with 70. Jordan Lyles led the pitchers in wins with only 7. Jared Cosart had a 1.95 ERA in his 10 starts after being promoted to the major leagues but he walked more batters than he struck out.

Houston minor league teams had an excellent year. The organization’s six top minor league teams all made the post-season playoffs and two of them, Class Low-A Quad-Cities and Short-Season, Tri-Cities, won league championships.

George Springer (photo by Tammy Tucker)

George Springer (photo by Tammy Tucker)

While the farm system has been greatly fortified by good draft picks and trades, it hasn’t yet produced a significant number of players at the major league level that appear to have the potential to be solid major leaguers. The Astros used 25 position players and 25 pitchers at the big league level this year but only Altuve and Castro have established themselves as being the type of players that could be productive on a contending team. Third baseman Matt Dominguez is strong defensively and has some power but doesn’t hit for average. Carter has power but has pitch recognition problems resulting in strikeouts and a low batting average. Center fielder George Springer had an outstanding season split between AA Corpus Christi and AAA Oklahoma City batting .303 with 37 home runs and 45 stolen bases and should be in Houston in 2014.

Of the pitchers, Cosart and Brett Oberholtzer showed promise after being promoted late in the season and Jordan Lyles remains as a prospect. There are some promising pitchers in the minors but they are mostly a couple of years away. The big concern is that there may not be enough high-ceiling players in the system to field a contending team in the next few years.

I expected some improvement in 2013 with at least 60 wins but it didn’t happen. Part of that was due to the move to the American League where the team was even more overmatched than they were in the National League. However, some improvement must be shown in 2014 to begin recovering the dwindling fan base.  A minimum of 63 wins should be attainable to stop the string of 100-loss seasons followed by 70 wins in 2015.

Special thanks go out to Bill for sending in this excellent piece. If you would like to do a guest column of your own, please submit by e-mail to [email protected]

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