Houston Astros outfielder Preston Tucker needs to play more.
Houston Astros outfielder Preston Tucker has the opportunity to prove he should be a big league regular. The second-year player made the Astros in Spring Training, and although so far he plays only against right-handed pitchers, he could receive a chance to get in the lineup every day.
Tucker’s chance is tied directly to Carlos Gomez and his bat. If Gomez were hitting, then Tucker would stay in a part-time role, but since Gomez isn’t, it leaves the door open for the younger player. Because the Astros have three centerfielders (Gomez, George Springer, and Colby Rasmus), they have options that many other teams do not enjoy. Moving Rasmus from left field to center and installing Tucker in left gives him a chance to prove he belongs in the lineup full time.
The Astros can make these adjustments to get a better bat in the lineup without worrying much about sacrificing defense. For sure, Rasmus and Gomez cover more ground than Tucker, but with Rasmus in center, it lessens the pressure on the left fielder. It does not take a defensive whiz to play left field, and Tucker is competent.
During Tucker’s brief Major League career, his range factor (putouts + assists / games played) is listed as 1.32. His minor league number is higher, at 1.80, with his defensive WAR (Wins above replacement) -1. By comparison, Jake Marisnick‘s left field range factor is 1.50, and his defensive WAR in all outfield positions is 3.0. Carlos Lee, long time Houston left fielder, had a range factor over his 13-year outfield career of 1.78, with a defensive WAR for the Astros of -6.0. Robbie Grossman, who played 129 games in left field for Houston, had a range factor of 1.53, and a defensive WAR of -0.7. Before Grossman, it was J.D.Martinez in left: 1.60 range factor, -2.2 defensive WAR with the Astros.
So in recent Astros history, Tucker isn’t the best left fielder, and he isn’t the worst. Are the Astros going to lose games because Tucker isn’t as good as Rasmus or Marisnick in left? Not likely. Will they win more games with better hitters in the everyday lineup? For sure.
The argument can be made that Springer should play center field. He has the superior arm among all Astros outfielders, and with a good fielder like Rasmus admirably covering center, the great arm of Springer is needed in right field. Houston isn’t losing anything with Rasmus in center, Springer in right, and Tucker in left.
Tucker has not played much against left-handed pitchers in his short time with the Astros. In 65 at bats in 2015 (so far none in 2016) against southpaws, Tucker has hit only .200. In contrast, his minor league records indicate he has fared quite well against lefties. From 2012 through 2015 (Class-A through Triple-A), his minor league average against left-handed pitchers is an outstanding .321 (110 for 343). Obviously, that doesn’t always translate to the big leagues, but it is a track record suggesting the Astros are not giving him enough of a chance to show he can do the same with Houston.
Placing Tucker in left field leaves the DH spot for Evan Gattis and/or A.J. Reed if Gattis gets time behind the plate. Reed, the minor league slugger, is expected to make his big league entrance sometime in June. He will likely get a lot of at-bats as DH, especially against right-handed pitching, a slot that has so far belonged mostly to Tucker.
Preston Tucker needs to play regularly in left field, against left and right-handed pitchers, with Rasmus in center, and Springer in right. With a move like this, the Astros take only a small hit on defense and get more productive bats playing every day.
**Statistics provided by Baseball-Reference and MiLB.com**