Welcome to the first installment of our “State of the Team” report. This will be a monthly feature that discusses all aspects of the team, with each of our writers breaking down a couple of areas. This month Greg handles Offense/Defense, I’m taking Pitching/Bullpen and Alex rates the Front Office/Field Manger’s performance. We will also be assigning a letter grade for each aspect. We hope you enjoy it!
Greg is up first with the Offense/Defense topic. Greg writes:
The offense has been outstanding in the early going. After finishing near the bottom in almost every category for the last two seasons the Astros are near the top of the N.L. in several key categories this year. After Sunday’s game the Astros had a .260/.333/.380 slash line. The .260 batting average is good for fourth in the league and the .333 OBP is third. The slugging number is below league average and the Astros are 12th in the league with a total of 13 homeruns. The team has had some trouble against left-handers, hitting only .232/.318/.322.
The Astros have been good at situational hitting and have a .275 average with 2 outs and runners in scoring position. The Colorado Rockies are the only team that has a higher average in such situations. Plate discipline has been another area where the Astros have shown tremendous improvement. Houston is fifth in the N.L. with a total of 80 walks. Patience and clutch hitting have resulted in better run production and the Astros rank fifth in the league with 100 runs scored.
The Astros have outscored their opponents for the season but have struggled to win the close ones. The offense has done their part, so the 8-14 record is a disappointment. Jose Altuve has been incredible! J.D. Martinez has been outstanding and Jed Lowrie has been a considerable upgrade over Clint Barmes at SS. Jordan Schafer seems to be turning into the player we hoped he would and Jason Castro is improving.
Overall Grade for offense: A-
The Astros are in the middle of the pack in most of the defensive rankings. Jose Altuve has been charged with three of the team’s fifteen errors while his double-play partner Jed Lowrie has yet to commit one. None of the Astros infielders are considered to have above-average range. J.D. Martinez is still learning to play the outfield but his arm is strong and accurate. Schafer has been the team’s best defender, rivaling the man he replaced, gold glove winner Michael Bourn.
The pitchers and catchers have had trouble shutting down the running game, namely Fernando Rodriguez and Jason Castro. Chris Snyder has thrown out four of ten runners attempting to steal and Castro has thrown out only one of fourteen. The pitchers have uncorked 15 wild pitches and Castro has had trouble blocking balls in the dirt. Wandy Rodriguez made a costly error in each of his first two starts and has allowed four of the team’s eight unearned runs. The defense has been spotty at times. Still, the 1-0 loss to the Nationals is the only loss that can be directly attributed to poor defense.
Overall Grade for defense: C-
Next up is myself, grading out the Pitching/Bullpen.
The starting staff has actually been relatively good thus far. The staff has 14 quality starts out of a possible 23 and for a relatively young staff that wasn’t projected to do much, that is a great sign. Lucas Harrell started off well but has struggled lately and Kyle Weiland, who recently found himself as the recipient of a trip to the DL, has yet to find his niche that he had during Spring Training. In Weiland’s absence, Jordan Lyles was called up to take his place and did not disappoint as he turned in one of the Astros 14 quality starts. Wandy Rodriguez has been absolutely brilliant and at this rate, Luhnow should have no shortage of suitors for him come the trade deadline in July. J.A. Happ has turned in three of the Astros quality starts and has actually surprised me as he was a guy that I did not believe would make the starting staff out of Spring Training. I would love to be proven wrong on that over a full season. Bud Norris has struggled thus far this season. He does have three quality starts but his 5.46 ERA is worrisome. His K/9 of 8.33 is solid but more and more batters are making contact late into games. He may have some adjustments to make as the season goes along but I am not worried about him in the least.
Overall Grade for starting pitching: B-
Our bullpen has me scratching my head. Outside of Brett Myers, who has proved me wrong thus far, the bullpen has been average. They have blown three out of a possible eight saves and have five losses between them thus far. Myers, as I mentioned above, has been stellar. He has converted all five of his save opportunities and has a very nice 1.35 ERA to show for it. I do not know whether or not Jeff Luhnow will be looking to trade him at the deadline (hopefully he will attempt to) but if Myers keeps pitching this way, he may not have a choice as a team in contention with a need for a closer or solid bullpen arm may shoot him an offer he cant refuse. One guy I really like and hope can prove to be a solid reliever for us is David Carpenter. Carpenter sports a solid 2.79 ERA thus far while striking out seven in 9.2 innings. Rhiner Cruz, the club’s top pick in the Rule 5 draft, has also been solid. Cruz has a 2.08 ERA while striking out eight in 8.2 innings. Both Carpenter and Cruz could be considered as replacements for Myers if and when he is traded if they continue pitching well.
Overall Grade for bullpen: C
Lastly, we have Alex discussing the Front Office/Field Manger’s performance. Alex writes:
One month into the 2012 season and we begin to get a sense of what Jeff Luhnow envisioned over the Winter. Luhnow’s biggest move was to bring in Jed Lowrie and Kyle Weiland. Both have contributed, especially Lowrie. Jed has posted a .283 average, .377 obp and has 2 home runs while playing error free shortstop. Weiland had a couple rough outings but finally put it together in his third start, although now is currently on the DL. Waiver claim acquisition Justin Maxwell has played well in spurts and provided good depth in the outfield. Luhnow will probably stay busy as May begins, rumors are swirling around Brett Myers and the Wandy Rodriguez market should pick up shortly as well. With a few Astros struggling, I expect the first wave of call ups to happen soon and a bit of a shuffle to occur, which should include Jordan Lyles, Paul Clemens and Fernando Martinez.
Overall Grade for front office: B+
As far as Brad Mills, it’s hard for me to actually say how I feel because I want so badly to be patient with him. Coming into the season, we heard about a new Brad Mills that was going to fully embrace rebuilding but all we’ve seen is constant reminders of the Mills from 2011. From his bullpen usage, platoon combinations and lineups, Mills continues to play for wins and care less about development. At this pace, I’m not sure I’ll be able to wait a full year to proclaim Mills is not the answer for the Astros going forward.
Overall grade for Brad Mills: D-
There you have it. Those are our grades for those aspects of the team one month into the season. What do you think? Do you agree or disagree? Let us know!