Ultimate AL Wild-Card Preview: Houston Astros @ New York Yankees
Thoughts on the Astros’ Roster
Sep 30, 2015; Seattle, WA, USA; Houston Astros pinch runner Jonathan Villar (2) is greeted outside the dugout after scoring against the Seattle Mariners during the seventh inning at Safeco Field. Mandatory Credit: Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports
What can we conclude about our roster? Here’re a few points:
1. The last guys on: Villar and Thatcher. The last guys off: Chad Qualls and Mike Fiers. Villar’s inclusion is for speed and an underrated bat. He is not purely a pinch-runner and has been a better hitter than a post-injury Lowrie, in particular against right-handed pitching. Lowrie is lost against righties (.206/.288/.353 on the season, even worse since his return), and is on the roster only to pinch-hit for Valbuena or Castro against a lefty. I do not think Hinch will start him, but it’s not impossible. A.J. loves his trusty veterans. It comes down to Lowrie vs. Carter, with Valbuena playing the vacated corner spot. I expect Carter.
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In the case of Thatcher over Qualls and Fiers, it comes down to need. Scott Kazmir and Tony Sipp are not traditional lefty specialists, and both could be called on for multi-inning work. I would think Hinch wants to balance his bullpen by including a second LOOGY as well as Perez. The Yankees have several potent left-handed hitters.
2. Man, our lineup is lopsided. The Astros’ top hitters are all elite at punishing left-handed pitching, and merely average to slightly above against righties. The bottom of the lineup, meanwhile, tends to be terrible against lefties, but also average to slightly above against righties.
In practice, that means the Astros have a very flat distribution of lineup value against right-handers, with their stars mortal and their scrubs respectable. Against lefties, they have a few assault rifles followed by a swarm of finger guns. Tanaka being a righty, the numbers suggest the Astros are as likely to get a crucial hit early from Valbuena, Carter or Tucker as they are from Altuve, Springer or Correa.
3. Altuve was our 6th or 7th best hitter vs. RHP this season. He obliterated lefties and is less likely to be overmatched by great pitchers than some of the guys ranked ahead of him. In October, that matters. But there is a huge platoon split in play with Altuve.
In many ways, he reminds me a lot of my childhood idol, Nomar Garciaparra. Like Nomar, Altuve is a free-swinging right-handed batting champion who hits in the low-mid .300s on a regular basis. Also like Nomar, he absolutely destroys lefties to mask only being pretty good against righties. The Yankees, who we’ll get to, are starting a righty.
Call to the Pen
4. Conger has a case to start — at DH. It won’t happen, but carrying Stassi and starting Conger at DH makes some sense based on Conger’s amazing work vs. RHP this year, which was the best on the team (though in an admittedly smaller sample size than the regulars). He was much worse in 2014 with the Angels (.276 wOBA vs. RHP), so I’m fine with the default lineup configuration, and not blowing a roster spot on Stassi.
It is hard to pinch-hit with Conger, by the way, because it leaves the team without another catcher, which means they can’t also pinch-hit for Castro at a critical juncture down the road versus a tough lefty. For this reason, I expect them to give strong consideration to carrying Stassi. They do not want Conger’s defense or Castro’s offense vs. a left-handed pitcher late in the game. A third catcher is the only way around that choice.
Next: Yankees' Wild-Card Roster