Astros Offense for Dummies 2010 Edition

I thought about making this review of the Astros offense a NSFW (Not Safe For Work) article, because, quite frankly, you might not want to read this at work or let your children see it.

The Astros offense was bad. Doing a google search resulted in the description of the offense as: ineffective, bad, struggles, shrinks, shutdown, really really bad, and patience. That last word is probably the toughest one to swallow.

In the National League, the Astros offense ranked last in OBP, SLG, OPS, ISO (Isolated Power), wOBA (weighted On Base Average). Not many positives are to be had from the offense this past season, unless you believe in the phrase "there is no where else to go but up."

Outside of the outfield, the Astros offense in it's last game looked vastly different from it's Opening Day lineup. Gone are Pedro Feliz, Kaz Matsui, Lance Berkman and J.R. Towles. In their place were Chris Johnson, Jeff Keppinger, Brett Wallace and Jason Castro. Tommy Manzella was the only player in the infield to survive the turnover, but Angel Sanchez could have easily started in his place on the final day of the season. The Astros at one point ran out an all-rookie infield, which kind of gives you a hint as to where the Astros offense is currently.

Along with an uncharacteristic down year from Lance Berkman and Carlos Lee, Feliz, Towles and Matsui failed to produce anything remotely of value offensively.

Matsui was the first one to lose his job. Keppinger, in limited playing time, produced enough offensively to eventually bump Matsui from the starting gig at second base. Matsui was never expected to really produce offensively and was valued more for his defensive ability. With the entire offense struggling though, Keppinger was a no brain upgrade for the offense, even if it meant hurting the defense a little. He was an average hitter for the Astros this season, and should help plug the gap at second base until one of the prospects in the minor leagues can unseat him.

The often maligned J.R. Towles was the next to be replaced. There were rumblings that he was not jiving with the pitching staff in regards to calling a game, the fact that he also wasn't hitting didn't help his case. To avoid taking time away from the fast tracking Jason Castro at Triple-A, Towles was sent down to Double-A. Up came career hitting "black hole" Kevin Cash whom the coach staff was familiar with. Cash was considered more of a place holder until the Astros could be sure Castro was out of super two status. Once Castro was called, he showed why the Astros thought so highly of him, collecting his first hit, first home run, and first walk, in his first three games. The Astros took two of three from the San Francisco Giants, and scored 14 runs in that series. After that series Castro did not hit as well, splitting time with Humberto Quintero, while also more importantly learning the pitching staff.

The next vict....I mean player was Pedro Feliz, who while signed for his defense, was unacceptable offensively at the hot corner. Luckly for the Astros and their fans, there was a prospect in the minors who was tearing it up. The man shares a name with one of the best running backs in the NFL, and has a habit of absolutely crushing balls. His name Chris Johnson. He provided a spark for an otherwise stagnant offense and was the only rookie to accomplish anything above average as a hitter.

Besides Hunter Pence and Johnson the only other above average hitter this team had was traded away at the trade deadline, marking the first steps into a rebuilding mode. While not hitting at his usual elite level, Lance Berkman was still an above average hitter and provided the offense with it's only hitter who could be counted on to take a walk. At the trade deadline he was begrudgingly traded for a Minor League second baseman and a reliever. In his place the Astros sent out Brett Wallace whom had been acquired via a trade with the Toronto Blue Jays. The struggles of Wallace and the invasion of Carlos Lee at first has been well discussed and will continue to be discussed through out the offseason.

The outfield is the only place in which a major overhaul hasn't occurred, however, the production from those three positions has been underwhelming. At the top of the order Michael Bourn, who creates excitement with his speed, has taken a small step backwards from his 2009 numbers. Big booper Lee appears to have fallen off a cliff and looks poised to take playing time away from a developing young player. This leaves Pence who with the departure of Berkman becomes the best hitter on the team. The problem is he hasn't taken that step forward in his development fans have hoped for, causing the percentage of baldness among the Astro fan base to increase with his hair pulling streakiness.

The poor offensive start to the season cost Sean Berry his job at the All-Star break, replaced by Astros icon and hitting guru Jeff Bagwell who was brought in to spark a stagnant offense. It worked, but only marginally. If I told you that the offense under Bagwell hit only slightly better than the offense under Berry, you would call me a liar, grabbin your torches and pitch forks. But before you call me a witch and burn me at the stake let's take a look at the season splits.

In the first half, the offense hit for a .238/.296/.347 line and a .643 OPS. The second half saw only a slight improvement with a .259/.311/.379 line for a .691 OPS. Not the big improvement in the numbers you were expecting. What really allowed the team to take off and start winning games was the starting pitching which went from good to great. There is a positive to be drawn from these numbers though.

The first half numbers are largely a product of the veteran players being written into the Astros lineup. In the second half numbers, those players are gone, replaced with a youth movement. Even though the numbers in the second half only increased slightly, the fact is that was with a core of young struggling hitters, instead of an aging group of veterans. Even with the struggles of Wallace and Castro who are expected to hit, this offense was better than a lineup filled with declining veterans. There are in fact some positives to be drawn from the offense, it just meant digging a little deeper, but it is there.

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