30 Players in 30 Days: Luis Valbuena
Luis Valbuena joined the 2015 Houston Astros along with Dan Straily from the Chicago Cubs in exchange for Dexter Fowler. Valbuena began his career in Seattle but only appeared in 18 games with the team. He spent three seasons with the Cleveland Indians primarily as a second baseman before spending his next three seasons in Chicago where they transitioned him to third base.
Coming into 2015, Valbuena, a left-handed hitter, was a career .229/.313/.374 hitter with 45 home runs over parts of seven seasons. His best season was in 2014 with the Cubs when he hit .249/.341/.435 and a then career-high 16 home runs. Valbuena earned the spot over Matt Dominguez as the team’s Opening Day third baseman.
Valbuena had a rough debut offensively with the Astros, going hitless in his first three games with four strikeouts. He followed up with a hit in eight of his next nine games, though, including five home runs. Valbuena hit another five home runs in May but only hit .163 with a .212 OBP on the month. Nearly a third of his hits early on came from the long ball.
At the beginning of the season, A.J. Hinch positioned Valbuena in either the second or third spot in the lineup for most games, but after his averaged had dipped below .200 in late May, he bumped him to the bottom of the line-up. Valbuena continued to struggle to get on base and his season average bottomed out at .179 on June 13, but he was hitting home runs. Valbuena set a career high for home runs when he connected for his 17th against Seattle on June 20 – his 62nd game of the season.
By the end of June, Valbuena already had 19 home runs on the season. He was on pace to hit well over 30 home runs, but his home run production was due to take a dip, and it did. He played 17 games in July without hitting a home run and only hit six more in the season.
After Jed Lowrie had returned from injury, the team decided to try him out at third base. The move bumped Valbuena over to first base where he did well, only committing one error in 31 games.
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Valbuena took a different approach in the second half, and it worked out well for him. His home run production slowed, but his batting average and on-base percentage both rose by 60+ points while his average on balls in play was over 100 points higher. Between September and October, Valbuena hit .320/.407/.580 while cutting down on his strikeouts.
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Because of Lowrie’s struggles and Chris Carter‘s power surge, Valbuena moved back to third base in the postseason and started every game, going 3 for 21 in five games. Valbuena did have the last hit by an Astro in 2015, a two-run home run off of Johnny Cueto in the top of the 2nd inning of Game 5.
More Houston Astros Season Recaps:
- Vince Velasquez
- Tony Sipp
- Jonathan Villar
- Preston Tucker
- Mike Fiers
- Hank Conger
- Chad Qualls
- Jon Singleton
- Joe Thatcher
- Marwin Gonzalez
- Josh Fields
- Jake Marisnick
- Pat Neshek
- Jed Lowrie
What to expect in 2016
Valbuena is a skilled fielder, but he’s more of an asset because of how far he can hit a ball. He’ll likely get a look from the team as the potential Opening Day first baseman, and he’s shown now that he’s capable of hitting 30+ home runs in a full season. Valbuena does not make enough productive contact to be a middle of the line-up hitter (.212 AVG, 29 Ks in 99 at-bats with RISP) and he hits for a much higher average when he is lower in the line-up.
So what do the Astros do with him? Is he just a holdover until they A) make a deal for another corner infielder or B) have a player within the system (A.J. Reed, Matt Duffy, Colin Moran) come up and outplay him? There are worse problems than having a guy that can hit 25 home runs and his .235 BAbip suggests that his .224 batting average is a bit deceiving.
Still, this all depends on other moves in the offseason. If the team decides to move away Chris Carter, they will likely at least start with Valbuena at first, but if they move Lowrie, then Valbuena would move back to third base.