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The Frustrating and Amazing Luis Valbuena for the Astros

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During the offseason, the Astros had too many outfield options even before adding Colby Rasmus and Evan Gattis to the fold. The Astros were not really all that excited about Matt Dominguez, who has since been released by the Astros, so they were actively searching for a third baseman. The Chicago Cubs, like the Astros, have a very young team and could have used a veteran presence on the team. The Cubs had some guy named Kris Bryant coming up soon, so that made Luis Valbuena available for trade.

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Before the season, not too many people knew who Valbuena was because he was a journeyman backup up type player prior to last year. He started off last season in a platoon but became the full-time guy prior to mid-season with the Cubs. The Astros had an outfield that appeared crowded, and the Cubs wanted Dexter Fowler to be on their team. The two sides worked out a trade that had Fowler go to the Cubs and the Astros got Valbuena and RHP Dan Straily in that trade.

When the Astros finished their offseason shopping list, Astros fans were dreaming of how many home runs this team will hit this season. However, I don’t think a lot of people saw the Astros having this type of success this year. The 2015 Houston Astros nickname this year is Crush City, and Luis Valbuena could be the mayor of Crush City. Last season Valbuena hit .249/ 16 homers/ 51 RBI’s with 113 strikeouts in 478 at-bats. It was a breakout season for Valbuena, who tended to be a streaky hitter for the Cubs. This season, the mayor of Crush City is Luis Valbooma.

Jeff Luhnow seems to like lefthanded hitters, so he saw what Valbuena did on a semi-regular basis with the Cubs and saw potential in him as a hitter. Luhnow is good at finding the people on waivers or through trades who can breakout with the Astros. However, he has allowed J.D. Martinez and Jimmy Paredes to leave before they were able to breakout.

Last night, Luis Valbuena went 3 for 5 with two homers and three runs-batted-in with zero strikeouts.

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This season, Luis Valbuena is batting .195/ 19 homers/ 35 RBI’s with 60 strikeouts 241 at-bats. He has 47 hits all season so far, and 19 of those have been home runs. He has 22 singles and six doubles to account for the rest of his hits this year. He doesn’t always get a hit, but when he does, its a 50% chance that it’s an extra base hit. Valbuena’s OPS is .690 this year, which is due to his low batting average.

He’s on a pace to hit 42 homers this season, I wonder if the Cubs are surprised with his power this season? Why does Valbuena have such a low batting average in 2015? Looking at some of his stats via FanGraphs, he is striking out more 22.8% in 2015 versus 20.7% in 2014 while walking fewer times (8.4% vs. 11.9%). With his swing path, he is more likely to hit fly balls that are catchable if they don’t leave the yard. His flyball percentages increased from 48.1% in 2014 to 51.4% in 2015, and his home run per fly ball percentage increased from 9.2% to 18.7%.

The question is, what will happen when Jed Lowrie returns? It was assumed that either Lowrie takes over third base from Valbuena or Lowrie becomes the super utility player for the Astros this season. While Lowrie offers the better overall batting skills such as average and on-base percentage, he can’t match what Valbuena has done this year with power. Then again, Lowrie did have four homers in 18 games before he got hurt.

Can he keep this up, or should the Astros try to deal Valbuena while he’s in the middle of his home run binge? Once again, having to make this type of decision is a good thing because the Astros have too many good players.

Next: Carlos Correa nearly hits for cycle in 13-2 win over the Angels

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