Friday, July 19, 2013

What is the Astros Ideal Lineup for the Second Half?

For the first month or so of the season, the Astros were trucking along with a league average offense in pretty much all statistical categories. No so much, anymore. At the All Star break, the Astros are 28th in runs scored and 28th in wOBA, ahead of just the White Sox and Marlins in both categories. Is there any hope for improvement on that in the second half? Below is one man's opinion for the ideal Astros lineup for the second half. (This man, in case you were curious)

Now, I'm trying to be realistic with this. You and I both might fully believe George Springer would outperform any CF on the 40 man roster, but there is no indication he will be called up anytime soon. Also, this lineup would look a lot better if we gutted the farm system to get Mike Stanton. Not going to happen. Also, while this is designed to improve the offense, you can't ignore defense. A run saved is as good as a run earned.So, the offense might be better if we plugged Carlos Pena as SS, but I won't be suggesting that. I will be using the rest of season projections from ZiPS and Steamer as an objective base, but there will be some subjectivity involved as well.

C- Jason Castro - Knocking out the easiest one first, Castro has been the best offensive player on the team in the first half, and projects to be the among the best offensive players on the team in the second half. I'm a little more bullish than even his projections, which are predicting quite a bit more regression than I anticipate.

1B - Brett Wallace - This one gets tricky. There are three "1B" on the roster right now. I am not a believer in Wallace's resurgence...scratch that, just surgence, any more than I was a believer that he was the worst hitter in the majors back in April. I still believe he is the same guy who put up a 104 wRC+ last year and a 95 the year before, until I see otherwise for more than a couple weeks of hot/cold. Steamer agrees, projecting a rest of season wRC of 102. That said, he remains the best option at first, especially if the goal is to get Chris Carter out of the field. Which mine is.

2B - Jose Altuve - Another easy choice. Altuve is not having as good of a year as he did last year, but he remains the only viable choice for second base. Steamer and ZiPS project more of the same for the rest of the season, but I think he will have a much better second half.

SS - Jonathan Villar - James made an impassioned case for Jonathan Villar the other day, and I have no qualms with giving him a shot. He is problematic for this exercise as neither ZIPS or Steamer has anything to say about him. But, Marwin Gonzalez projects to hit .244/.281/.335 (ZiPS) .248/.287/.335 (Steamer) for the rest of the season. Not good, and not much better than Cedeno's .230/.277/.336 (ZiPS) 238/.290/.359 (Steamer). Elmore's projected line is just slightly prettier, at .247/.326/.311 (ZiPS).266/.338/.317 (Steamer). I mean, it would be hard to get any worse than that.

3B - Matt Dominguez - I had high hopes for Matt Domniguez. Those are waning. Domniguez's power prevents him from being the worst hitter in the majors - just 13th worst by wRC+. Until he learns how to draw a walk, its not likely to get much better. And most of the advanced defensive metrics don't like his glove nearly as much as my eye does. Unfortunately, the only other option is Wallace, who is an absolute butcher defensively at 3B. Obviously, incredibly small sample size, but Wallace has been worth 5 runs below average in only 9 career starts at the hot corner. If he was placed as the everyday 3B, he could wind up costing the team upwards of 50 runs. The better option would be trade for Matt Davidson, who is currently hitting .291/.354/.500 as a 22 year old in Triple A for Arizona.. I've got my fingers crossed.

LF - Marc Krauss - Krauss has not been good. He doesn't project to be good. He certainly does not project to be better than J.D. Martinez. He is about the same age as J.D. Martinez, so its tough to base this on "give the young guy a shot." In fact, there is very little reason for me to put Krauss' name here instead of J.D. Martinez. Still going with Krauss. What do ZIPS and Steamer know, anyway. I guess you could platoon them, but Krauss didn't show much of a platoon split in the minors. I say lets see what he can do.

CF - Justin Maxwell - Maxwell has not shown any of the power he demonstrated last year, with his slugging percentage dropping from .460 to .365 and his ISO dropping from .232 to .135. Other than that, he as essentially been the same hitter - i.e. abysmal if power is not there. ZIPS and Steamer both expect him to get a little of that power back, but not enough for him to be above average offensively again this year. He makes up for some of that with his glove, which is projected to push him to at least above replacement level. Again, Springer might in fact be a better choice here, and likely will be come September. Barnes has been roughly the same batter as Maxwell, but doesn't have anywhere near the power potential.

RF - Robbie Grossman - That's right, the very same Robbie Grossman who hit .198 in his first stint with the team. Steamer and ZIPS both project more of the same, with a low batting average, and no power. But he will get on base. Even with his horrendous first go round, his on base percentage of .310 was significantly better than Barnes' .291. And in the last month before he was sent down, it was .347, which would be tops on the team. He is heating up a bit down in AAA, hitting .340/.435/.509 over his last 14 games, and I think its time to give him another shot.

DH - Chris Carter - This leaves Carlos Pena out in the cold. Thing is, Carter is essentially Carlos Pena three years ago, the one the Astros hoped they were getting when they signed Pena. In 2011 with the Cubs, Pena hit .225/.357/.462, good for a 121 wRC+. Carter is at .226/.326/.469, for a 118 wRC+, and that's trending up. Pena, on the other hand, is a shell of his former self, sporting career lows in OBP, Slugging and wRC+. Lets go with the younger model. But please, oh please, stop letting Carter give back nearly all of production by playing him in the field. He is a DH - which is perfect, since we have that now.

This will not be a good lineup. Not even close - only two, possibly three, even project to be above average offensively over the rest of the year. However, combined with their defensive contributions, each of these players (except for Krauss and Grossman, who I'm expecting more from than their projections) projects to be at least above replacement level for the rest of the season. That's an improvement, considering the Astros position players combined for -1.1 WAR in the first half. I believe this lineup, ran out there most everyday, gives the Astros the best chance at avoiding ignominy in the second half. Now, about that bullpen....