Saturday, March 11, 2017

The Worst Seasons in Astros History


First, some disclaimers:
1) I know some of the names of which you are thinking. But those guys probably didn't get enough ABs to qualify for the batting title, or innings pitched to qualify as a pitcher. I'm looking for worst start-to-finish, honest-to-God everyday player in Astros history. So you're not going to see Carlos Gomez, Jon Singleton, Brett Wallace, Jordan Schafer, etc. They didn't play enough in a given season to qualify.
2) I'm using FanGraphs' version of WAR because it's easier to sort. I like easy.

So let's take this in order from (tied for) 5th-worst, to the worst overall season in Astros history.

Three-way tie for 5th-worst:

Ryan Bowen, 1992: -1.2 fWAR

Ryan Bowen was the Astros 1st pick of the 1986 draft (#13 overall), after players like Gary Sheffield, Kevin Brown, Matt Williams, and Greg Swindell had been selected. After the 6th pick of the 1st Round of the 1986 draft, only two players enjoyed a career fWAR over 9.0 (Roberto Hernandez and Luis Alicea). He made his professional debut at Age 19 in Single-A Asheville, going 12-5 with 126 strikeouts in 160.1IP, a 4.04 ERA/1.38 WHIP. He walked 78 batters in foreshadowing of what would be an ongoing issue - Bowen walked 116 batters (but struck out 136) in 139.2IP for Double-A Columbus in 1989.

He made his Houston debut in 1991, allowing 73H/41ER, 49K:36BB in 71.2IP for the Astros. Bowen had a no-hitter going through the 5th of his first Major-League start against St. Louis on July 22...and then allowed four runs in the 6th inning. Bowen did mix in four Quality Starts for the 1991 Astros, and four disaster starts, the low point being a 1.2IP, 8H/8ER, 2K:1BB, 1HBP. But his last three starts saw him throw 18IP, 10H/5ER, 14K:10BB, holding opponents to a .159/.270/.175 slash line.

1992 opened with Bowen starting G4 of the season. The 1992 Astros finished 81-81 but the pitcher with the most wins was closer Doug Jones, with 11. One other pitcher - Jimmy Jones - had double-digit wins. Bowen's season debut didn't exactly pick up where he left off in 1991: 5IP, 8H/8ER, 2K:4BB, 3HR against Cincinnati on April 10. A scoreless inning of relief on April 14 was followed by another start on April 21 against the Giants: 4IP, 6H/6ER, 1K:3BB, 1HR. It didn't really get better. Bowen pitched into the 6th inning once in his nine starts. He didn't make it out of the 2nd inning in three of them. After the season the Astros left him unprotected in the expansion draft, and he was selected by the Florida Marlins.

1992 season line: 33.2IP, 48H/41ER, 22K:30BB, 8HR, 2HBP. 10.96 ERA/2.32 WHIP.

Travis Blackley, 2013: -1.2 fWAR

Blackley was the other Australian pitcher not named Ryan Rowland-Smith, an interesting case in that he was drafted in 2000, made his MLB debut (10.04 ERA/2.19 WHIP) 26IP for Seattle in 2004, didn't pitch in the Majors again until 2007 (7.27 ERA/1.73 WHIP) in 8.2IP for San Francisco. Didn't pitch again in the Majors until 2012, when the A's plucked him off waivers from San Francisco after he allowed 7H/5ER in 5IP for the Giants. With the A's, though, he threw 102.2IP, 91H/44ER, 69(nice)K:30BB. So this led to a trade to the Astros, who were Very Bad in 2013, for Jake Goebbert (whom I really liked).

An underrated part of the 2010-2013 Astros were that they were basically a non-profit organization - helping the poor, the needy, the under-privileged. Did you know that if you appear in one Major-League Baseball game, your health insurance is covered for the rest of your life? So the Astros played a whole bunch of dudes who had no business being on a Major-League roster with the explicit intent of letting them get free health insurance (this is how I'm partially justifying the hell of 2010-2013).

ANYWAY. The 2013 were bad enough to trade a young player for a 30-year old reliever with a career 5.37 ERA and a 5.8 K/9. The Astros ran Blackley out for 42 appearances in that 111-loss campaign. In his Astros debut he allowed 3H/3ER, 0K:2BB, 1HR against Cleveland in a 19-6 loss. Foreshadowing. Three days later he allowed a homer in 2IP against Seattle (though was credit with a hold. He had periods of showing that he could get hitters out followed by a complete inability to miss a bat. He faced 152 batters as an Astro, 47 of them breached base.

After he allowed a hit and a walk against Boston on August 7, Blackley was traded to the Ramgers for a PTBNL and cash, though I have no idea which player was actually named later. Maybe the PTBNL was a Ramgers fan jumping ship to Houston, and the Astros just took the fan and the $30 he spent at Lids buying a new hat as the cash and the PTBNL. He did not have nice things to say about his time with the Astros. I wrecked him.

2013 season line: 35IP, 30H/19ER, 29K:20BB, 10HR, 4WP. 4.89 ERA/1.43 WHIP, 6.91 FIP. You know how hard it is to post a -1.2 fWAR in 35IP?

John Hudek, 1997: -1.2 fWAR

John Hudek was drafted by the White Sox in the 10th Round of the 1988 draft, taken by the Tigers in the 1992 Rule 5 draft, and selected off waivers eight months later by the Astros. He threw 39.1IP for the 1994 Astros, earning an All-Star nod by allowing 24H/13ER, 39K:18BB, a 2.97 ERA/1.07 WHIP belied by a 4.25 FIP (but nobody knew anything about FIP in 1994, just amphetamines). 1995 went worse. In just 20IP, he allowed 12ER for a 5.40 ERA/1.20 WHIP...but with a 2.90 FIP. So his first two years cancelled each other out. 1996 was a return to his Even Year Form, even with a small sample size: 16IP, 12H/5ER, 14K:5BB - a 2.81 ERA/1.06 WHIP.

Then 1997 happened. He threw 40.2IP for the Astros and while there wasn't ever any game where you'd look and think "Holy crap that guy gotta go," there were prolonged periods of inactivity for a team that won the division yet under-performed their Pythagorean Wins by nine games. After the season the Astros traded Hudek to the Mets for (somehow) Carl Everett.

Perhaps you've seen that John Hudek's daughter, Sarah, was perhaps the first female to get a college scholarship to play baseball. He runs the John Hudek All-Star Baseball Academy in Sugar Land.

1997 Final Line: 40.2IP, 38H/27ER, 36K:3BB, 8HR, 3HBP, 4WP. 5.98 ERA/1.75 WHIP, 6.55 FIP.

Let's call it 3rd-worst:

Al Osuna, 1992: -1.4 fWAR

This cat is weird. Selected in the 5th Round of the 1985 draft by Baltimore AND by the Padres in the 2nd Round of the Secondary Phase (where you could stock your farm systems. It's strange, maybe I don't get it. Read about it here.), Osuna apparently didn't sign with either team, and was selected by the Astros in the 16th Round of the 1987 draft out of Stanford.

Osuna made his major-league debut on September 2, 1990 against Pittsburgh, striking out two but allowing 2H/2ER in the 7th inning. Two days later he started a four-game run where he threw 6IP, 1H/0ER, 3K:2BB including his first ML win. He would give up one run in four of his last seven games of the season. Whatever. He threw 81.2IP for Houston in 1991, allowing a respectable 3.42 ERA/1.29 WHIP, but with 68K:46BB. For what would be his Age-26 Season in 1992, it was a decent jump.

Yeah no. But it was fun at first! In his first 11 games (11IP) Osuna allowed 6H/0ER...but with 7K:9BB. He allowed four earned runs at Pittsburgh, blowing his first save of the season. Two weeks later he got his second loss at St. Louis. He had a pattern, a few outings of decent relief followed by a couple of runs. His nadir came on September 20 at Atlanta when he allowed 5H/6ER, 0K:2BB, 3HR in a 16-1 loss. Before the 1994 season Osuna was traded to the Dodgers for pitcher Jimmy Daspit, who never played in Houston.

1992 Final Line: 61.2IP, 52H/29ER, 37K:38BB, 8HR, 4.23 ERA/1.46 WHIP. 270 batters faced, 85 reached base.


Carlos Lee, 2010: -1.7 fWAR

I think we all knew how this was gonna go when the 6yr/$100m contract was signed. The first few years were gonna be pretty fine, but the back end was gonna be awful. The Astros were counting on that, with Uncle Drayton hoping the Astros could make another Series run before the contract became an albatross, which it did. Over the first three seasons (2007-2009) Lee hit .305/.354/.524 with 86 homers and 321 RBI (and 105 doubles) for a 128 OPS+. I mean, yeah, he hit into 56 GIDPs, which is a lot, but 86 homerz!

2010 was the worst year of his career - a 123-point OPS drop. After eight seasons of an OPS over .800, Lee cratered. He hit .238/.281/.409 against right-handed pitchers a year after hitting .293/.332/.482 against the same pitchers who happened to throw with their right hand. And in 2009 he had a .915 OPS but somehow that turned into a .766 OPS at Minute Maid. I would rather have given him $80m for 3yrs than $100m/6yrs but that's hindsight.

But Purpura and Drayton gonna Purpura and Drayton and the Astros still owed Carlos Lee $55m to post a combined 1.8 fWAR over the last three years of his deal, which included a trade to the Yankees no wait Marlins.

Lee rebounded slightly from 2010 to 2011, a season in which he posted a .275/.342/.446 line for a 2.9 fWAR. But it didn't eliminate 2010, or the Astros unwillingness as a franchise to see that major changes needed to be made - and not in the form of Carlos Lee or Woody Williams - to save the team as a whole.

2010 Final Line: .246/.291/.417, 24 HR, 89 RBI, 59K:37BB in 649 PAs. He made contact, none of it well.

The Worst Season in Astros History:

In 2017 Matt Dominguez will be in his Age 28 season, the point at which (reasonably speaking) a Major-League player should be peaking. But we knew what we were getting with Matt Dominguez: good-glove, no-hit 3B. He's as if Henry Skrimshander got moved to third to make way for Carlos Correa, but only to see if he could hang on to his job. If the Astros could make his bat work, it would be a steal.

The Marlins' 1st Round pick (12th overall) in the 2007 draft (the same round in which the Astros basically sunk the future to sign Lee and Woody Williams, didn't draft until the 3rd Round and didn't sign Derek Dietrich and Brett Eibner, making their first signed pick the 171st overall pick Collin DeLome), Dominguez was traded - in a really sweet piece of symmetry - to the Astros on July 4, 2012...for Carlos Lee.

In 31 games for the Astros in 2012 Dominguez fared well, hitting .284/.310/.477 with nine extra-base hits in 113 PAs. He got his first real shot for the 2013 Astros after the departure of Chris Johnson the season prior. In 152 games, Johnson hit .241/.286/.403 with 25 doubles, 21 homers, 96K:30BB. It was as good as it would get for Full-Time Matt Dominguez...

...because in 2014 Dominguez posted the worst season in Astros history.Because there basically wasn't anyone else who could play 3B at a "major-league level;" meaning the Astros couldn't find someone to not post the worst season ever in franchise history to play third base. Dominguez hit .215/.256/.330 with 125K:29BB. A 65 OPS+. He somehow hit 16 homers, though, with 23 GIDPs. Out of 7,364 Major-League players who had enough PAs, Dominguez's 2014 ranked tied for 7,348th.

2014 Final Line: 607 PAs, .215/.256/.330, 125K:29BB

Have a drink.