Monday, October 3, 2011

FJM time!

We at Astros County rarely FJM an article. If you're not familiar, go check out Fire Joe Morgan. It's genius. Our continual hesitance to FJM an article has more to do with respect for FJM than anything else. Nevertheless, this article warranted it. Apologies in advance to Fire Joe Morgan.

The Astros' lineup has been a revolving door in the last two years, with blockbuster trades that sent Lance Berkman, Hunter Pence and Michael Bourn to the thick of pennant races, while the Astros welcomed a steady flow of rookies getting their feet wet in the Major Leagues.

A "revolving door" would make you think that, at some point, Berkman, Pence, and Bourn will come back around. Of course, this won't happen, unless they are re-purposed as middle relievers. A more accurate metaphor might be one of a portal to a different planet where the rest of the National League is Terra Nova, and the Astros lineup is a scorched-earth apocalypse where lightning and fire descend on Minute Maid Park in a tangled braid of destruction.

The one constant: Carlos Lee.

This is actually the perfect example of a revolving door. Every time you look at the lineup, there he is. Every July you think you've seen the last of him, but come August 1, there he is, hitting fourth.

The veteran outfielder-turned-first baseman certainly didn't put up the kind of numbers he did in the first three seasons of his six-year deal with the Astros,

That's not necessarily true. Lee made $43m in the first three seasons of his six-year deal, meaning the Astros paid $9,347,826 per WAR. In the last two seasons, the Astros paid Lee $18,095,238 per WAR. Monster numbers.

but he remained the team's most feared slugger and top run producer.

Carlos Lee's OPS+ in 2010: 92. Hunter Pence's OPS+ in 2010: 113. There were actually four players on the 2010 Astros who put up better OPS+ than Lee in 2010. And Pence out-RBI'd Lee, as well. 2011 hitters with a higher OPS+ than Lee: Hunter Pence, Matt Downs, Brian Bogusevic. If by "most feared," you mean, "shortstops who are most on edge that Lee will hit a towering pop-up that will hit their glove with such force that it splits their arm down to the elbow," then yes, this fits.

Lee is the Astros' nominee for the 2011 Hank Aaron Award.

Hank Aaron hangs his head in shame.

What made his numbers this year even more remarkable was the fact he got off to such a bad start in April.

Vote for Lee's relative mediocrity, because he would have been even more cut-worthy had he not sucked it up when the games kinda-sorta mattered.

He hit .194 with two homers and 15 RBIs in the season's first month. He finished the season hitting .275, with 18 home runs and 94 RBIs.

Fact: Take out April, and Lee would have hit .294/.364/.474 over the course of the season. Also, if you take out Carlos Lee, the Astros' payroll would have been $48.5m in 2011.

"That's something I take a lot of pride in my career, driving in runs and getting the best out of it.

"I am very proud of driving in runs at roughly the same rate as Nick Swisher and Shawn Green. The best."

At the same time, that's why you play 162 games," Lee said. "You've got to play and go hard, and it ain't over until it's over."

...Lee said, who has played 162 games twice in his 13 seasons. "You've got to play, and jog down the first base line when you hit a grounder to the left side. It ain't over until I remember how to hit. Take 2011, for example. The Astros were already six games back before I got my average over .200. That's when it's over."

Astros manager Brad Mills has been a staunch supporter of Lee, who is seldom out of the lineup, even when he's struggling.

"Seriously, what choice do I have?" said a weeping Mills, who muted his tearful conversation with Terry Francona to answer. Checking to make sure Francona was still just talking, Mills continued, "The bastard is making over $18 million. Ed Wade won't let me sit a guy making that much money."

"What he's done to be able to get to 90 RBIs is good," Mills said prior to the end of the season.

It's so good, 28 other Major League players achieved as many RBIs as Carlos Lee.

"He's doing some things differently now than he was doing back in April and May, and it's something that we're going to be able to look back on."

"The things he's doing differently? Putting the ball in play. That's different. We hadn't seen that side out of Carlos in April 2011. We'll be able to look back on it. Not fondly, but we'll be able to look back on it."

The big man handled himself pretty well at first base, which wasn't too surprising,

He did well at first base, the place where you stick your biggest defensive liability after they nut it in the second-easiest fielding position on the field, especially in Minute Maid Park, where trying to throw a ball from left field to home plate is approximately the same distance from the yellow line to the 6th bucket in Bozo's Grand Prize Game.

...considering Lee came up through the White Sox system as a third baseman.

His success shouldn't surprising, because as recently as 14 years ago Lee played on the other side of the field.

"It's more of a challenge at first base than it is in left field," he said. "You have to be somewhere on every pitch, you've got to be moving every single pitch."

"I stand in left field, and I can look at the people in the stands. I was probably 30 feet away from that douchebag getting out of the way of the foul ball to let it hit his hot girlfriend. That was a challenging thing to watch. Not nearly as challenging as it is at first base, where I have to concentrate throughout the whole game. And I don't even get to have Michael Bourn standing between me and the dugout, covering foul balls. I had to move constantly. That was more challenging."

"You're more in the game when you're in the infield, and you're always on the move. When you play in [chilly] weather, if you're in the outfield and you're not doing much, you're going to get stiff. At first base, every time the ball's hit, you've got to move."

"Did I mention that my joints get stiff? There used to be entire games where I didn't take one step. Last September, I didn't move an inch. I mean it. I stood in left field next to Jose Tabata even when the Astros were up to bat. Nobody noticed. I got stiff. Couldn't move. Now I move. All the time. It's very tiring. Thank you for nominating me."