Is Luis Valbuena the Man at Third for the Astros?


At the end of last season, the writing was on the wall that changes were needed at third base for the Astros in 2015. Matt Dominguez was in the starting lineup for most of the first 110 games for the Astros in 2014, with the next 52 games being a different story.

Dominguez only started 85% of the last 52 games (44 out of 52), while riding the bench the other 8 games. While he did play in 157 of the 162 games overall, many of those appearances were off the bench as a late-inning defensive replacement.

September 6, 2014; . Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Matt Dominguez was a top prospect when the Astros got him from the Florida Marlins in the Carlos Lee deal. He was promoted soon after, and had some success late in the 2012 season. Dominguez had a breakout season in 2013, leading to rumors that the Astros offered him a 5-year contract extension in May of 2014. With Dominguez not hitting arbitration until after the 2015 season, this rumored extension came as a shock to Astros Nation.

The Astros and their fans have to be glad that the rumored extension never came to pass, because Matt Dominguez continued his regression for the rest of 2014. With the uncertainty of Dominguez’s future in Houston, the Astros made a trade from a perceived strength in outfield to improve a perceived weakness at third base.

Enter the Luis Valbuena for Dexter Fowler Trade

Luis Valbuena was made expendable by the emergence of Kris Bryant who is set to make debut early 2015. In 2014 Valbuena set new career highs in games played with 149, home runs with 16, runs batted in with 51, and OPS of 0.776. Based on his 2014 numbers, he is a step up from Dominguez at third. The question is whether or not he is an everyday impact player for the Astros.

Valbuena had a different year in 2014 compared to Dominguez. Valbuena didn’t start all the time at the beginning of the season, but in the last two months he was rarely out of the lineup. One thing that screams a platoon is that Valbuena is left-handed, and Dominguez is right-handed.

Let’s look at their split stats versus righties and lefties in 2014.

As you can see from the table above that Valbuena is not as effective against the left-handed pitchers, as he is versus the right handers. While Dominguez is not a world beater against left-handed pitchers, he does have a better batting average against lefties. Based on the above splits, I can see Matt Dominguez getting some starts at third base versus lefties, but I wouldn’t call this situation a platoon.

Who’s on Third?

At the bloggers round table event at Astros FanFest on Saturday January 24, some of the local Astros bloggers sat down with Astros President Reid Ryan, GM Jeff Luhnow, and new manager A.J. Hinch. Luhnow was discussing about how everyone is getting excited predicting all the home runs each player would hit, and he made an interesting comment. “Valbuena would hit 15 home runs and Dominguez would hit 15 home runs if they share that role.”

“Valbuena would hit 15 home runs and Dominguez would hit 15 home runs and if they share that role.”-Jeff Luhnow.

While A.J. Hinch did not come out and say anything specifically about third base, he did mention that it was an unsettled position at the moment. “I’m not ready to set the lineup, but Altuve will be hitting near the top, if not in the number one spot. I like Valbuena or Jed Lowrie batting second.”

“I like Valbuena or Jed Lowrie batting second.”-A.J. Hinch

If Valbuena is a platoon player, would he be hitting in the number two slot? I think that Hinch will stay away from rotating players in and out of the number two hole, so he would probably put Lowrie in there if Valbuena is in a platoon.

At Astros FanFest, Matt Dominguez came out and said that he was asked to learn how to play first base as a backup. Here is a statement from Dominguez from Evan Drellich’s article titled Long-time third baseman Matt Dominguez to try his hand at first base, too:

“(Hinch) thinks I’m going to be a third baseman, but he wants to also help me try to make the team by adding a little more versatility and move around a little bit more,” Dominguez said. “Do whatever I need to do.”

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The numbers suggest that Valbuena will take some days off against tough lefties, so that Dominguez can get some at-bats in. In summary, Dominguez is learning to play first, Valbuena was acquired to be the starter, and A.J. Hinch wants Valbuena batting second seems to mean that he gets the job.

My prediction: The job is Valbuena’s to lose, but he still will have to compete in spring training.

What are you thoughts for third base?

Next: Astros in Fantasy Part 4: Jose Altuve