What is Going on With J.R. Towles

It appears Brad Mills has settled into a catching pattern. From Steve Campbelll at the Houston Chronicle:

"It was earlier, probably even a week ago," Mills said. "I think we see some advantages (using Quintero more) experience-wise.

"There’s no doubt J.R. is doing a great job of what we’re asking him to do. He’s fine right now with what we’re asking him to do and improving the way we need him to improve."

 

I'm not buying.

When J.R. Towles was struggling it was easy to bench him, but now that he's actually hitting it appears Mills is looking for other excuses to keep Towles out of the lineup.

I really don't mind splitting up the time three starts for one and two for the backup, but Mills has got this backwards. Don't get me wrong Humberto Quintero has proven to be a valuable catcher he does have more experience than Towles, he's certainly better defensively, but he's a backup catcher. At the age of 31 that's not going to change.

Towles may very well be the best hitter on this team. Am I jumping to conclusions based on only 57 plate appearances? Probably, but let's not forget the Astros jumped to their own conclusion on Towles offense in almost the same amount of plate appearances the last two years.

Before we dive into why Towles is one of the better offensive players on the team, I want to give a brief overview on the statistic Weighted On-Base Average (wOBA), because we use it a lot around here and I don't think anyone has every taken the time to explain.

wOBA is a statistic from FanGraphs.com and their description of it is:

Weighted On-Base Average combines all the different aspects of hitting into one metric, weighting each of them in proportion to their actual run value.

In layman's terms not all hits are created equal, wOBA gives each hit and walk it's correct value. If you want to dive deeper into the statistics you can go here.

Now that wOBA has been explained let's look at the above average hitters, with at least 50 plate appearances, on the team according to wOBA average.

Player wOBA
Jason Bourgeois .452
Brett Wallace .381
J.R. Towles .372
Hunter Pence .369
Michael Bourn .334

 

.330 is typically league average, but that may vary slightly from year to year.

As you can see Jason Bourgeois was very good right before he got injured, Brett Wallace appears to of gotten it figured out, Hunter Pence and Michael Bourn are doing there thing. Every single one of them has a batting average on balls in play well above average (BABiP), average being .300. 

BABiP gives an indication on the luck of a particular player. A below average BABiP indicates that a players been unlucky, above means they've been lucky. A player can sustain a higher than average BABiP due to speed and LD%. The example I like to use is when players say they're hitting into outs or they're on a streak where they're always finding the holes in a defense, that's BABiP.

With Pence and Bourn it's not an issue because they both have speed which should help them maintain a high BABiP. Wallace and Bourgeois on the other hand both have highly unsustainable BABiP's. Anything above .400 is highly unsustainable even for speed, and both are above that mark. Wallace though does have a good LD% and Bourgeois has speed so they could sustain higher than normal levels of BABiP.

Towles on the other hand has a below average BABiP which means he's been a bit unlucky. When his BABiP begins to regress to the mean (.300) that wOBA is going to go up. Heck even if wOBA isn't your thing look at his triple slash line .271/.386/.458, that triple slash line is going to improve. But the Astros are going to miss out on that improvement because they're only going to play him 40% of the time.

In case you were wondering Quitnero has a .276 wOBA with a .328 BABiP.

Okay so maybe offense isn't your thing and you prefer defense and calling a game. I can't defend Towles defensive ability, it's pretty clear Q is the better defensive catcher. The game calling on the other hand is a different story.

We've discussed the importance of game calling in comments before, so let's explore that. Towles has called every Wandy Rodriguez game, and while Rodriguez got off to a somewhat bad start, he's put together three quality starts and has gone at least 7 innings in six of his eight starts. He's caught Nelson Figueroa twice and let's be fair Figueroa is what he is and seems to of been getting squeezed a bit more than your typical starter. He's also caught Bud Norris twice and both times Bud went 6 innings and allowed at least 3 runs. Q was behind the plate for three 0 ER games, but also for three games in which Bud allowed anywhere from 3-5 runs.

J.A. happ was caught once by Towles, in that game Happ allowed 2 runs in 5 innings. Which leaves Aneury Rodriguez who has had one good game and two bad with Towles behind the plate. Of course yesterdays game could of been better had the defense showed up. Maybe Towles isn't Brad Ausmus, but his game calling and defense isn't so bad that it should keep him out of the lineup 60% of the time.

My final argument is simple, and doesn't even involve any kind of statistics. If Jason Castro hadn't got injured he would most likely of been give a bulk of the time and he has even less experience than Towles.

Experience isn't what this team needs, it needs youth and Towles certainly provides that over Quintero.

Maybe there's something behind closed doors we're not seeing. Maybe it's the way he carries himself, maybe he stepped on someone's shoes or maybe he smells funny, it's behind closed doors. All I know is that he can hit and now that he has been hitting this season the Astros are still looking for reason to keep him out of the lineup.

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