Sunday, September 18, 2011

Season Review - Infielders

A couple weeks ago, we took an early look at what happened to our pitching staff in 2011. Now we shift our focus to the other eight positions on the field.  We'll look position by position comparing expectations, reality, and possible path forward to 2012.

At catcher, the earliest hopes were that Jason Castro would have a solid first full season, but early on those hopes were snapped along with Jason's ACL. With Castro out for the season, we were looking at a combination of J. R. Towles and Humberto Quintero.  We knew with Quintero we were going to have a solid defensive but weak hitting catcher, best suited for back up duty. Towles, we hoped, would regain his confidence and finally become what we all hoped he would be in 2009. After a promising April he quickly disintegrated and was sent back to Oklahoma in July. That left Quintero to carry the bulk of the duties behind the plate, where he's essentially been what we expected. As backup, Carlos Corporan has received entirely too much playing time as he's "hit" .192/.257/.258 and thrown out less than 20% of basestealers in 49 games. Any hope of improvement next season lies with Jason Castro both recovering from a severe knee injury and living up to our expectations.

At first, Brett Wallace was going to be given every opportunity to establish himself as a major league hitter. After a hot start, Wallace cooled off in June and was demoted to OKC in July as Carlos Lee became our 1B1.  I, for one, still don't understand this move by the front office.  Even with his struggles in June, Wallace was still a roughly league average hitter in his first full season. He may not have shown much power, but his on-base skills were still solid. Perhaps they just needed a spot for Lee's contract bat. Admittedly, Lee has been better than many expected at first. He's still getting paid too much, but he's arguably been our best offensive weapon since Pence and Bourn were traded. I would not be surprised to see Lee be our first baseman again next year with Wallace languishing away in AAA, hopefully finding the power stroke the Astros want him to have.

At second, Ed Wade decided Jeff Keppinger wasn't a starter, despite his outstanding season in 2010, and signed Bill Hall. Hall was said to be bringing a power bat and that all important veteran leadership. Hall showed none of the power we were looking for, but made up for it by striking out alot and refusing to take a walk. Hall was released in early June. Keppinger then stepped in and continued hitting like he did in the previous season, stabilizing the position for a month before getting traded to San Fransisco. That opened up the starting spot for Jose Altuve, promoted from AA Corpus. Though he's been slumping the last couple weeks, Altuve has more than held his own following the two level jump, and shows a lot of promise heading in to 2012.

Shortstop saw us looking to Clint Barmes, who had a reputation as a good fielder with some pop at the plate, but overall a below average hitter. After missing a month early with a broken hand, Barmes has slightly outperformed expectations. By some measurement, he has been the second best fielding SS in the NL, and is a better than average hitting SS as well. Barmes is a free agent at the end of the season, but has expressed an interest in returning to Houston. With no prospects knocking on Houston's door, the Astros could do a lot worse than bringing him back for another year or two.

Third base was a position of both promise and concern coming in to 2011. Chris Johnson gave us some hope with a good late season showing last year, but there were indicators that it was luck driven and a regression was expected. Just how much remained to be seen. After a brutal April, Johnson showed good improvement in May and June. In another inexplicable demotion, Johnson was sent down in July with Wallace and Jimmy Paredes was brought up from Corpus. Jimmy is doing his 2010 Chris Johnson impersonation with a good showing so far driven by an unsustainable BABIP to go with strikeout rate of 25% and a walk rate of 5%, which is actually higher than is minor league BB%. I suspect next season's starter will be decided in spring training, with an edge given to Paredes due to his age and prospect status.

Outfield review to come...