Houston Astros: Plugging in the Astros first base/DH Holes

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Houston, we have a problem at first and DH

Aug 20, 2015; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Astros designated hitter Evan Gattis (11) flips his bat after striking out during the eighth inning against the Tampa Bay Rays at Minute Maid Park. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

A generation ago, during the overlapping Jeff Bagwell and Lance Berkman eras of the 90s and 2000s, baseball experienced an offensive surge. Finding a large, perhaps chemically enhanced gentleman to hit 25 or 30 HRs and get on base was not difficult. In 2003, the league-wide OPS was .755, and those on the less important end of the defensive spectrum (DH, 1B, LF) had an average OPS hovering around .800. For comparison’s sake, Carlos Correa is the only 2015 Astro with an OPS over .800.

Today, things are different. Pitching is back in control, near its late 80’s and early 90’s advantage. The days of being able to find affordable production at the corners – guys like Brian Daubach and John Jaha – have been replaced by an abundant availability of acceptable, keep-you-in-the-game starting pitching on the cheap – guys like Collin McHugh and Mike Fiers.

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Even by the new standards of offensive scarcity, however, the Astros work in 2015 at first base and DH is completely inexcusable. The team has received 4.0 Wins Above Replacement more than the average team should expect at second base and shortstop – the most combined middle infield WAR in the league. They have given every bit of it back at first base and DH, where they have exactly 4.0 WAR less than the average team. They’ve been that bad.

According to FanGraphs, Evan Gattis has been worth negative-0.4 WAR. He’s been worse than a hypothetical nondescript player who could have DH’d from Triple-A, and (as we’ll see) much worse than our actual internal replacement options. Chris Carter has been right there with him, providing negative-0.3 WAR, mostly at first base.

(And please, let’s all avoid the “Gattis has lots of the RBIs!” argument. Any carbon life form batting directly behind Altuve, Springer, and Correa most of the season would have 70+ RBIs. A decent hitter with so-so luck would have 90. Gattis seems like a truly great guy, and a team player, but that doesn’t make his RBI total any more relevant.)

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