Roster Breakdown: The Infield

This process took a little longer than I expected. In part two of my review of the roster, I looked at every infielders' (including catchers) statistics and make some notes about last season and their future. Not necessarily scientific, but there is some interesting information in here. Friday should see part three, a look at the outfield. Till then, let's see what happened with the first half of the roster...

Lance Berkman, 1B

2009 Season Stats: 562 PA, .274/.399/.509, 31 doubles, 1 triple, 25 HR, 73 runs, 80 RBIs, 7 of 11 stolen bases, 98 strikeouts, 140 OPS+

WAR: 3.0

UZR: -4.5

VORP: 34.9

Notes: Two points to consider about Berkman's season. First, his April and August splits were horrible. His slow start and power vacuum in August led to the perception that his season was a disappointment. Still, though he managed just 12 hits in April, he also walked 17 times and hit five home runs. In August, he hit zero home runs but had an OBP over .400. This also leads into the second point: Berkman is aging, but his power drop over the past three seasons is in part due to an overall power outage in the National League. The Big Puma saw his home run total fall 26 percent over the past three seasons while his extra-base hits have fallen 5 percent. That's almost exactly the same percentage that the NL extra-base hit total dropped over the same time period (5.6%). The NL home run total dropped 8.2 percent, but I'm guessing Berkman's drop in homers is beginning to be due to age. Still, if he hits 30 home runs in the next year or two with 50+ XBH, I'm guessing the Astros will be happy.

 

Kazuo Matsui, 2B

2009 Season Stats: 533 PA, .250/.302/.357, 20 doubles, 2 triples, 9 HR, 56 runs, 46 RBIs, 19 of 22 stolen bases, 85 strikeouts, 75 OPS+

WAR: 0.5

UZR: -1.0

VORP: 0.4

Notes: I'll be up front: I don't care for Matsui. He's overpaid, he's injured too often and he doesn't get on base enough to bat high in the order. That's just my personal preference, but I wanted to get that out in the open in the interests of being objective. Matsui's line is down quite a bit from 2008 but combine the past two seasons and its almost exactly in line with his career line of .271/.325/.387. His Runs Created totals of 64 in 2007, 61 in 2008 and 56 in 2009 have been very consistent, but his BABiP was 40 points lower in 2009 at .285 than the previous season. Add to that a good stolen base rate of 85% over his career and Matsui does have his uses. The problem is, he's a No. 7 hitter, not a leadoff guy. Matsui's numbers should bounce back some in 2010, but don't bet on another .350 OBP.

 

Miguel Tejada, SS

2009 Season Stats: 673 PA, .313/.340/.455, 46 doubles, 1 triple, 14 HR, 83 runs, 86 RBIs, 5 of 7 stolen bases, 48 strikeouts, 110 OPS+

WAR: 2.6

UZR: -8.3

VORP: 43.7

Notes: Tejada had the highest VORP of any player on the Astros roster last season, for good reason. Though his OBP wasn't terribly high, he did hit a ton of doubles and actually had more extra-base hits than Berkman. In fact, Tejada led the National League in doubles in 2009. Tejada also struck out just 48 times, which was his lowest total since his 104 plate appearances in 1997. Of course, the flip side of that is it was also his lowest walk total since 1997, too. Tejada's high batting average was due in part because he had his highest BABiP since 2006, 20 points higher than his career BABiP of .298. Tejada once again led the National League in grounding into double plays and put up his highest season totals since 2006 in plate appearances, RBIs, hits and sacrifice flies. I'm not sure if this was the most successful contract push for a 35-year old in the post-steroids era, but it's got to be up there on the list, right?

 

Geoff Blum, 3B/Util

2009 Season Stats: 427 PA, .247/.314/.367, 14 doubles, 1 triple, 10 HR, 34 runs, 49 RBIs, 0 for 1 stolen bases, 61 strikeouts, 81 OPS+

WAR: 0.6

UZR: 0.3

VORP: -0.5

Notes: Blum was the only regular Astros infielder (besides the catchers) who posted a negative VORP. His crazy hair styles and home runs off the bench were fun and zany in 2004 when the Astros were making their run to the postseason. Now? Blum's a steady defender but doesn't have great range and is aging quickly. His OPS+ of 81 is not good for any position, much less a corner infield spot. Surprisingly, Blum's numbers last season were right in line with his career line of .250/.310/.367, but moving into his age 37 season, he's probably not going to equal those numbers in 2010. Blum started 94 games at third and seven at first, but is probably better suited as being the Astros number one pinch hitter next year.

 

Ivan Rodriguez, C

2009 Season Stats: 344 PA, .251/.280/.382, 15 doubles, 2 triples, 8 HR, 41 runs, 34 RBIs, 0 for 2 stolen bases, 74 strikeouts, 75 OPS+

WAR:0.7

VORP: -1.1

Notes: Ahh, Pudge. Has there been a more controversial free agent signing by the Astros in recent memory? Can someone split a room between stat guys and traditional scouting guys more than Pudge? The 37-year old couldn't walk if he were given two balls at the beginning of every at-bat. He would sometimes throw out baserunners, but was never talked about as a good handler of the pitching staff. Where do we go from there? Pudge started out strong for the Astros but faded late, and did the same thing after being traded to the Rangers. Starting him and Matsui together proved dangerous for the Astros offense, as they both posted sub-80 OPS+. When 1/4 of the starting lineup can't get on base or hit for power, something's not right.

 

Humberto Quintero, C

2009 Season Stats: 168 PA, .236/.286/.376, 8 doubles, 1 triple, 4 HR, 11 runs, 14 RBIs, 0 of 0 stolen bases, 41 strikeouts, 75 OPS+

WAR: 0.5

VORP: -0.4

Notes: Q suffered through a bad concussion this season, but still managed to get into 60 games this season. He started some after Pudge was traded away, but didn't impress offensively. In fact, he's never hit much in the majors, with a career line of .232/.275/.325. Quintero has a strong arm and handles the pitching staff well, but will be 30 next season in his last non-arbitration year. He makes sense as a backup to someone like Towles or Jason Castro, but putting him in the starting lineup is a stretch.

 

J.R. Towles, C

2009 Season Stats (Houston): 53 PA, .188/.250/.354, 2 doubles, 0 triples, 2 HR, 7 runs, 3 RBIs, 0 for 0 stolen bases, 16 strikeouts, 59 OPS+

WAR: 0.0

VORP: -1.7

Notes: What to do with Towles? The 25-year old couldn't stay healthy at Round Rock this season, getting only 56 games with the Express. When he did play, Towles hit the ball well and got on base at a good clip, sporting an OPS of .842 in Triple-A. That didn't translate to the pros in either of his two stints with the team, but it should. All Towles needs is a little time and opportunity.

 

Jeff Keppinger, Util

2009 Season Stats: 344 PA, .256/.320/.387, 13 doubles, 3 triples, 7 HR, 35 runs, 29 RBIs, 0 for 2 stolen bases, 33 strikeouts, 88 OPS+

WAR: 0.4

UZR: 5.7

VORP: 2.8

Notes: Keppinger was a late-spring addition, something former GM Gerry Hunsicker made into somewhat of an art form. Unfortunately, Keppinger didn't work out quite as well as guys like Mike Lamb and Billy Spiers did. That's not to say Keppinger was bad, as his batting was okay for a shortstop. Again, unfortunately, Keppinger played 59 games at third base. His range and glove made him an asset defensively there, but his bat is not good enough to hold up there for long periods of time. Still, Keppinger is a useful player who makes more sense on the bench than most of the Astros' reserves.

 

Darin Erstad, 1B

2009 Season Stats: 150 PA, .194/.268/.328, 8 doubles, 2 triples, 2 HR, 13 runs, 11 RBIs, 0 for 2 stolen bases, 31 strikeouts, 58 OPS+

WAR: -0.9

UZR: 7.9

VORP: -8.2

Notes: Erstad was a surpringly resurgent part of the 2008 team. Of course, in that campaign, Erstad played 40 games in center field. This season? Just one appearance in center field. Erstad could be a useful player, but he doesn't have the bat to be a first baseman, even as a backup, and doesn't have the arm to play in right field. That leaves him as the caddy for Carlos Lee. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but the next manager should not view Erstad as the first bat off the bench to pinch hit.

 

Edwin Maysonet, 2B

2009 Season Stats: 79 PA, .290/.333/.362, 2 doubles, 0 triples, 1 HR, 9 runs, 7 RBIs, 0 for 0 stolen bases, 19 strikeouts, 86 OPS+

WAR: 0.3

UZR: 8.3

VORP: 1.1

Notes: Maysonet wasn't one of the best prospects in the Astros system, but made the best debut of any Astros rookie position player in 2009. His average was high, but his OBP was not impressive. Add to that his complete lack of power and it's not like we have the next Chase Utley here. Still, Maysonet probably deserved more playing time than he got. He'd been known in the minors as a great defensive player and flashed good range in his time with the big league club. The only downside is his minor league track batting record was not very good. Maysonet had a decent season in 2008 at Corpus Christi, but was pretty terrible at Round Rock last season. That could be him reacting to shuttling back and forth from Triple-A to the majors. That could be because he's not ready to hit high-level pitching. Only time will tell.

 

Tommy Manzella, SS

2009 Season Stats: 5 PA, .200/.200/.200, 0 doubles, 0 triples, 0 HR, 0 runs, 0 RBIs, 0 for 0 stolen bases, 4 strikeouts, 7 OPS+

WAR: 0.0

UZR: -11.6

VORP: -0.5

Notes: The Great Shortstop Hope will be 27 next season and hasn't made a dent in the big leagues yet. There were a couple stories in September about how Manzella was learning from Tejada and soaking it all in, but he still needs to play. Manzella was a very consistent hitter for Round Rock in 2009, batting .289/.339/.417 in 133 games. The one good thing? Manzella is a horse, playing 521 games over the past five seasons in the minors. His defense is good, but it's hard to quantify how good it will be in the majors. In all likelihood, Manzella will be given every chance to be the everyday shortstop next season.

 

Chris Johnson, 3B

2009 Season Stats: 23 PA, .091/.130/.091, 0 doubles, 0 triples, 0 HR, 1 run, 1 RBI, 0 for 0 stolen bases, 6 strikeouts, -39 OPS+

WAR:-0.4

UZR: -34.9

VORP: -4.2

Notes: Johnson is one of the few Astros prospects I'm not that high on. He gets a lot of credit for being a power hitter, but only hit 13 home runs last season and averaged 10 homers per year in his minor league career. His defense at third is just passable, but probably could be as good as Blum, given time. The question is: is this Astros team ready to take a chance on a young player going through growing pains at the big league level? It's going to take an adjustment for Johnson to be a productive big league hitter, and I'm not sure the Astros can be patient enough for that to happen.

 

Chris Coste, Util

2009 Season Stats: 112 PA, .204/.259/.252, 5 doubles, 0 triples, 0 HR, 3 runs, 10 RBIs, 0 for 0 stolen bases, 28 strikeouts, 37 OPS+

WAR: -0.5

UZR: -10.9

VORP: -8.1

Notes: After being picked up off waivers on July 10, Coste started a bunch of games when Lance Berkman was injured and then Ivan Rodriguez was traded to the Rangers. The problem is Coste just wasn't that good, either offensively or defensively. Coste didn't hit for much power in his brief stint with the team, but did manage to strike out a ton. So he's got that going for him, which is nice. Seriously, though, by whichever metric you look at, Coste is the prototypical replacement-level player. He's only on the roster because there aren't better options. Hopefully that will change in the off-season.

 

Matt Kata, Util

2009 Season Stats: 52 PA, .200/.212/.220, 1 double, 0 triple, 0 HR, 2 runs, 5 RBIs, 0 for 0 stolen bases, 5 strikeouts, 16 OPS+

WAR: -0.1

UZR: 8.7

VORP: -4.8

Notes: Kata was more useful for his versatility off the bench than his play. As I mentioned at the top, I don't account much for UZR as the ONLY defensive metric to analyze things, especially when we have to extrapolate it out based on small sample sizes. Still, it appears Kata was at least a decent defensive asset on the bench this season. He's now a free agent.

 

Jason Smith, Util

2009 Season Stats: 27 PA, .000/.000/.000, 0 doubles, 0 triples, 0 HR, 1 run, 1 RBI, 0 for 0 stolen bases, 9 strikeouts, -100 OPS+

WAR: -0.6

UZR: 21.6

VORP: -7.4

Notes: Smith didn't get much of a chance to show anything at the big league level. What he did show wasn't good. Smith did better with Round Rock, but is probably best suited as a utility guy on the end of a bench. Smith is a free agent and probably won't be back with Round Rock.

 

Aaron Boone, 3B

2009 Season Stats: 14 PA, .000/.071/.000, 0 doubles, 0 triples, 0 HR, 0 runs, 0 RBIs, 0 for 0 stolen bases, 2 strikeouts, -79 OPS+

WAR: -0.3

UZR: 15.9

VORP: -3.4

Notes: Not much to say here, other than for a guy to go through what Boone did in spring training and still get 14 plate appearances in the same season...well, that's just impressive.

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