HOUSTON, TX - Fernando Abad of the Houston Astros gestures in the ninth inning after defeating the New York Mets on May 2, 2012. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)
This is my first time for the Three Things column. Let's see if we can find three quick hits about the Astros today.
1. Astros' LOOGYs
LOOGY-- n. definition. Left handed one out guy.
Lately we have seen more discussion than usual about the Astros' LOOGYs (Fernando Abad and Wesley Wright) in the bullpen. This has been prompted by a series of events in the last few games, starting with Abad giving up consecutive HRs in the Reds series, Brad Mills' seeming reluctance to use the LOOGYs in Sunday's game in Cincinnati, and a rather extreme use of one out pitchers, including Abad and Wright, in Monday's game.
Do Abad and Wright have a record which supports their use as LOOGYs, as opposed to being used as normal middle relievers? So far, the evidence says "yes." Their career splits (BA and OPS Against):
Wright---vs. RHB .275 / .904 vs. LHB .217 / .638
Abad-- vs. RHB .307 / 1.050 vs. LHB .247 / .674
So, both pitchers are much more effective against LHBs than RHBs. And that's an understatement. Based on what they have done so far, you really don't want either pitcher facing right hand batters.
The second question is whether the two LOOGYs are a better choice against lefthanded batters than the other options in the bullpen. And, again, the answer appears to be "yes." Here is the Left Hand Batter wOBA-against for the current middle relievers based on the 2011 - 2012 period.
F. Rodriguez .373
(*Note: The extreme value for Lyon includes his injury period last year.)
Wright is very tough on lefty batters and surpasses--by a good margin-- everybody else in the bullpen in left handed hitter run prevention. Abad is superior against LHBs to all RHPs except for Rhiner Cruz, and Cruz's results against lefties is based on a tiny sample. More evidence: Wright and Abad have a FIP of 1.94 and 2.84, respectively, against lefties. The data shows that Wright and Abad should provide what a LOOGY is supposed to provide: an advantage over lefthanded batters.
Some Astros' fans (including me) have criticized Wright for walking, too frequently, the one batter he faces. Ex-Astro (and current Mets' reliever) Tim Byrdak, representing the international brotherhood of LOOGYs, recently provide a spirited defense of Wright against these criticisms. His argument: "You would much rather walk a big hitter on a three and two pitch than groove him something just to get it over the plate," Yeah, I understand the argument, but I'm not totally sold on that defense, counsellor.
Summing up, maybe the Astros' LOOGYs aren't as bad as we thought. In any event, lefty reliever Kevin Chapman is still in AA and won't be pitching in the majors for awhile. Wright and Abad are the best option out of the bullpen against tough lefties....even if we still would like the Astros to keep their eyes open for better lefthanded relievers.
2. Chris Johnson's Big Game Yesterday.
On the heels of David's "Three Things" column lambasting Chris Johnson for his zero home run total, Mr. Johnson turned around and had a 2 HR, 4 for 4, 6 RBI game. That may look like bad timing for David's column---or perhaps, instead, he should take credit for spurring Chris Johnson to hit home runs. Hopefully this is the beginning of a power surge by Johnson this season. The odds may not be great for that scenario, but Johnson is a streaky hitter. And what better way to start a streak than a big game like CJ's Wednesday performance.
I remember another Astros' 3d baseman who started his power surge with a similar multi-HR game. On May 15, 2005, Morgan Ensberg had a 4 for 4, 3 HR, 5 RBI game against the Giants. That game was a turnaround of sorts for the Astros' World Series team, and the beginning of a 36 HR slugging splurge for Ensberg. CJ can only wish that his big game provides a similar turnaround to his season.
3. The Astros' Middle Infield.
Altuve is tied with Ian Kinsler for highest WAR (1.4) by a second baseman, and he leads all second baseman with a .417 wOBA. Jed Lowrie is tied with Rafael Furcal and Derek Jeter for highest WAR (1.2) by a shortstop and is second in wOBA (.392) to Jeter. Yes, it's early and a small sample. But that's an excellent way for the Astros' middle infield to start the season.
Jeff Luhnow frequently talks about "dreaming" on players' futures. How about dreaming of a Lowrie-Altuve middle infield over the next 5 years which could be one of the best in baseball? Perhaps they aren't really that good, but one can always dream, right?