There's a question that's been nagging at me ever since Houston signed Jack Cust and Chris Snyder. It started when I read this article over at The Platoon Advantage on how historically bad a defense with Jack Cust and Carlos Lee could be.
What I thought at that point is, could Houston potentially have a below-average defensive player at every spot on the field in 2012?
I know, scary thought, right? But, it's not too far off. Walk with me through this lineup:
C Chris Snyder (-3 DRS)
1B Brett Wallace (-3.5 UZR)
2B Jose Altuve (-2.9 UZR)
SS Jed Lowrie (-4.9 UZR)
3B Jimmy Paredes (-2.3 UZR)
LF Carlos Lee (-10 UZR)
CF Jordan Schafer (-2.1 UZR)
RF Jack Cust (-7.7 UZR)
Now, I had to play around with Carlos Lee's UZR numbers in left, since he actually had a positive 2011 number there. But, honestly, is that predictive of how he'll do this season? The rest have very real sample size issues with those numbers, but most are not far off than past experience. Schafer could be above average, as could Altuve, but...
To find another Astros team that could be this bad, we have to go back to 1968. It was a different metric, but that team had none of its fielders who had at least 500 innings with a Total Zone rating above zero.
That's historically bad, and that could be where Houston is heading in 2012.
The myth about Moneyball early after it was published is that these new-wave baseball thinkers didn't care about defense. That defense couldn't be quantified so scouts would always be smarter than dumb statheads.
Yeah, turned out that was all sorts of wrong. Defense became a new inefficiency, which teams tried to exploit. Now, both on-base percentage and defense are pretty well measured on the market.
So, it's a bit ironic that the new Astros GM, someone who's tuned into advanced metrics and cares about all the things Houston teams have stood against in recent years, is assembling such a terrible, terrible defensive team.
Houston has flirted with this very thing for the past few years. Hunter Pence and Michael Bourn were all that held it back for the past few years, as Clint Barmes added a worthy defensive presence last season.
With the trades sending the first two away and Barmes leaving via free agency, Houston is left to scramble for a new lineup. Now, the one I quoted above is very likely not going to see the light of day by Brad Mills. Millsy cares too much about that defense to trot that group out. So, what are some other options? How about this Mills special?
C Humberto Quintero - (2 DRS)
1B Carlos Lee - (2.9 UZR)
2B Matt Downs - (-2.2 UZR)
SS Jed Lowrie - (-4.9 UZR)
3B Chris Johnson (-14.5 UZR)
LF J.D. Martinez - (8 UZR)
CF Jason Bourgeois (-1.1 UZR)
RF Brian Bogusevic (10.4 UZR)
The infield could be pretty bad defensively, depending on how Lowrie does at short. However, the outfield has potential to be very good and Q is a defense-first guy. So, this group would be pretty decent and as apocalyptic as the '68 team.
Other options? Move Lowrie to third, where his UZR is around 1.3 and start Marwin Gonzalez at short. It's not ideal, but it'd potentially put two good defenders on the left side of the infield (if reports of Gonzalez are accurate). The Astros could also put Fernando Martinez in right, but he's at -0.5 UZR at that position in about 59 innings. So, you know, he could be very bad or decent, but lean towards bad.
Jason Castro could be very good defensively once he comes back, and we've already talked about Altuve. Paredes also flashed good defensive skills, but needs refinement.
Most likely, the Astros will have a Carlos Lee/Brett Wallace duo at first with J.D. Martinez and Brian Bogusevic in the outfield. Basically, they'll mix the first and second lineups I threw out there, leaving them probably too good to be as bad as the '68 team.
There's certainly a lot we don't know about how the Astros defensive lineup will shake out, but I'm kind of hoping for a historically bad defense. Not that it'd be any fun to watch, but it'd make for fun game threads, no?
Some other random notes that I came up with looking through FanGraphs' archives:
2002- None over the 3.1 UZR earned by Jeff Bagwell
2000 - Only Hidalgo had a TZ over 0
1978 - Only Bob Watson had TZ over 0
1972 - Two at 2 (Cesar Cedeno, Doug Rader), none other over 0
1969 - Only Johnny Edwards (3) over 0
1968 - No one over 0, Jimmy Wynn highest at 0 but in 500 innings in LF
1965 - No one over 0, Wynn again at 0 but in 1,300 innings in CF