The Difference a Month Makes

Projecting everybody to a full season of work shows that Lucas Harrell has been the Astros' most valuable pitcher this season.

On July 14, 2012, I e-mailed David and Tim to inform them I would be temporarily unreliable as the birth of my first child drew near. As an amateur baseball blogger for a team in "sell mode" nearing the trade deadline, it could have been more convenient timing. I blame the baby. My son was born the day of the MLB trade deadline, meaning I was unavailable to comment on the flurry of trades that occurred that day and during the week prior. Incidentally, this is not a "new-dad-brag" article...I actually have a baseball-related point. After a harrowing week or two filled with feeding, doctor visits, and lots of poo, I was able to notify the TCB bigwigs that I am back in the fold and ready to resume my scheduled articles. The official day of my return was August 13, 2012, almost a month after I disappeared.

Baseball is a crazy sport. On the day I went on hiatus, the Astros were defeated by the San Francisco Giants 3 to 2 in 12 innings. Lucas Harrell and six relievers pitched a nice game despite giving up seven walks. But that's not the interesting part. Only a few days before, the Astros had traded Carlos Lee for a bunch of minor league dudes and signed Scott Moore as a stopgap in the majors. On August 13 when I returned, the Astros lost to the Cubs 7 to 1 after Armando Galarraga was bombed with three home runs in five innings.

Here's the crazy part. These games are only a month apart, but look at the lineups:

7/14/2012 8/13/2012
CF Jordan Schafer SS Tyler Greene
2B Jose Altuve 2B Jose Altuve
SS Jed Lowrie 1B Brett Wallace

Brian Bixler RF Steve Pearce
LF J.D. Martinez CF Justin Maxwell
1B Scott Moore C Jason Castro
3B Chris Johnson 3B Marwin Gonzalez
RF Justin Maxwell LF Fernando Martinez

Wilton Lopez
Xavier Cedeno

Fernando Rodriguez P Armando Galarraga

Bud Norris (ph)
Brandon Barnes (ph)

Brett Myers
Rhiner Cruz
C Chris Snyder
Ben Francisco (ph-lf)
SP Lucas Harrell


Fernando Abad


Brandon Lyon


Brian Bogusevic (ph)


Enerio Del Rosario


Matt Downs (ph-rf)

Because I was deprived of the opportunity of offering comment on most of the major league roster changes that occurred during this month, I will take this opportunity to use hindsight and the rest of this article to share my thoughts.

Despite the Astros' almost record-setting failure during this month,--what was it, 170 losses in 33 games or something?--It is difficult to claim that the roster was better in mid-July than it is now in mid-August, no matter what columnists in other NL Central cities may think. In fact, I performed a little experiment. I downloaded all the Astros' stats for the year so far and extrapolated them out to 110 games a piece to take a look at their WAR and counting stats compared to each other. Obviously, small sample size applies, but I am not trying to prove the existance of the Higgs Boson here...I'm just illustrating a point. Most of the new acquisitions have outperformed the outgoing players by a fair margin.

Tyler Greene

So Lowrie got hurt and GM Jeff Lunhow traded for Cardinals "AAAA" shortstop Tyler Greene. I put the AAAA in quotes intentionally because his major league sample size of 576 Plate Appearances over four seasons is not enough to define a guy's career. I like the move. Greene was a first-round draft pick* who hit .291/.350/.477 over 1,204 AAA Plate Appearances. At age 28, he likely won't be the next late-blooming Nelson Cruz or even Luke Scott, but even if he hits .260/.330/.400, he is an offensive improvement over Marwin Gonzalez or Brian Bixler. Currently, Greene is hitting .350/.350/.600 with the Astros, which won't continue. His current stats over 110 games project out to a 3.7 WAR, best on the team, and ahead of Lowrie. This trade was a smart move by Lunhow because in the best case, Greene only needed a scenery change and the opportunity to live up to his first-round pedigree. At the very worst, he's a very useful bench player at a presumably low cost.

*Why do writers insist on saying "former first round draft pick"? Did something happen to alter history to make a player be taken in a round other than the first round? I always thought that a silly use of an unnecessary modifier that doesn't actually mean anything.

Steve Pearce

I like the acquisition of Pearce even more than that of Greene. Pearce can play 1B or both corner outfield spots, which already makes him a defensive upgrade over Carlos Lee. He's had little more success than Greene in the majors so far, but like Greene, he has only had about a season's worth of Plate Appearances (659 over 6 seasons) to state his case. However, in 1,296 Plate Appearances in AAA, Pearce hit .287/.347/.497. With the Astros, he's currently hitting .318/.418/.432. It is reasonable to expect his Average and OBP to go down, but his SLG% to rise a bit. Even with a regression to .260/.340/.450, he already is an offensive upgrade over Lee (Lee is hitting .284/.349/.388 with the Marlins). And compare the cost! Pearce is another smart pickup who probably improves the Astros today, with the upside for 2013 rewards.

Brett Wallace

I love me some Brett Wallace. I love that he's gotten in good shape, and that he's been destroying the ball all year. I love that his power seems to be coming around. I love that he has position flexibility and even has played some shortstop. He may never be a prototypical 30-HR 1B, but he finally looks like the guy scouts projected to hit .300 with 20 HR every year. Anthony Gose, the man traded to acquire Wallace, looks utterly overmatched in the majors and his AAA offensive stats are inflated from an extreme hitter-friendly park and league, so Wallace looks to be a feather in Ed Wade's cap, and Lunhow is using him right. There's no doubt Wallace is an upgrade over both Lee and Johnson at this point, and is a big part of the club's future.

The Outfield

I hope J.D. Martinez can figure out what makes him struggle against major league pitching because he is such a dynamic hitter in the high minors. That said, he's been terrible in 2012 and anybody brought in to replace him should cause a short-term offensive boost. I've reached my tolerance limit for Jordan Schafer and his obnoxious antics. Brian Bogusevic is a nice player to have around, but has not rocked the earth this season. But, it sure is fun to see Justin Maxwell providing Three True Outcomes peformance on a regular basis. His home run to fly ball ratio is now a hilarious 22%. Eventually, his production will suffer if he doesn't improve his walk and strikeout rates, but for now I am enjoying the show. I am really glad that Brandon Barnes is finally getting his shot. He won't show up on any top prospect lists, but he has put together a couple really great seasons in a row in the minors and has a legitimate chance to stick around as a late-blooming contributor. From an attitude standpoint, he seems to be the anti-Schafer, which is a welcome change for somebody who tries to cover the team. I'm also happy to see Fernando Martinez back in the majors. He's another guy who has had plenty of success in the minor leagues but has been jerked around so much in the majors that it's impossible to ascertain his true floor or ceiling. I want to see him in the lineup every day, and barring something odd, I'd like to see him next season all year to.

The Pitching Staff

Here's where I waffle. There's no argument that can be made that the Astros' major league team is better off without Wandy Rodriguez, J.A. Happ, Brandon Lyon, and Brett Myers. But from a long-term view, it's good that Dallas Keuchel and Jordan Lyles are getting some innings of experience. It rings odd that Armando Galarraga is on this team at all when there are so many viable AA and AAA prospects who could use the experience and would likely provide better short term performance.

Fun with Numbers

Here are the Astros' players by WAR, with everybody extrapolated to 110 games for hitters and 30 games for pitchers.

Name G PA HR R RBI SB AVG OBP SLG WAR
Tyler Greene 110 367 18 92 18 18 0.350 0.350 0.600 3.7
Jed Lowrie 110 450 19 52 50 3 0.253 0.343 0.456 3.4
Brett Wallace 110 427 22 48 48 0 0.289 0.381 0.518 2.6
Jose Altuve 110 483 5 67 31 25 0.305 0.358 0.423 2.6
Steve Pearce 110 432 0 16 63 0 0.318 0.418 0.432 2.4
Justin Maxwell 110 288 15 39 45 6 0.239 0.315 0.469 2.1
Brandon Barnes 110 293 18 55 55 0 0.188 0.188 0.375 1.8
Jason Castro 110 397 4 33 39 0 0.251 0.328 0.371 1.6
Carlos Corporan 110 342 18 18 55 0 0.275 0.321 0.471 1.2
Chris Johnson 110 440 10 43 49 5 0.279 0.329 0.428 1.1
Travis Buck 110 270 0 23 20 0 0.216 0.284 0.311 1.0
Brian Bogusevic 110 344 6 37 23 12 0.216 0.302 0.314 0.8
Carlos Lee 110 462 8 40 48 0 0.287 0.336 0.411 0.5
Brian Bixler 110 293 6 34 21 9 0.193 0.253 0.330 0.3
Ben Francisco 110 295 10 20 25 0 0.241 0.305 0.389 0.0
Matt Dominguez 110 220 0 0 0 0 0.250 0.250 0.250 0.0
Jordan Schafer 110 403 5 46 26 30 0.216 0.304 0.302 0.0
J.D. Martinez 110 436 12 36 58 0 0.235 0.308 0.373 -0.3
Marwin Gonzalez 110 312 3 33 18 5 0.237 0.286 0.328 -0.3
Chris Snyder 110 377 9 32 36 0 0.179 0.297 0.296 -0.5
Matt Downs 110 237 10 19 19 3 0.208 0.252 0.377 -0.6
Scott Moore 110 413 21 48 56 0 0.246 0.302 0.468 -1.2
Fernando Martinez 110 363 11 11 55 0 0.121 0.121 0.242 -5.5

Name G GS IP W L SV K BB ERA FIP WAR
Lucas Harrell 30 30 183 13 10 0 128 69 3.81 3.73 2.8
Wandy Rodriguez 30 30 186 10 13 0 127 45 3.79 3.81 2.6
Bud Norris 30 30 171 7 14 0 175 72 5.23 4.42 1.2
J.A. Happ 30 30 174 12 15 0 163 65 4.83 4.49 1.2
Wilton Lopez 30 0 31 3 1 1 27 3 2.35 2.66 0.7
Mickey Storey 30 0 35 0 4 0 41 12 3.12 3.33 0.4
Brandon Lyon 30 0 29 0 2 0 28 9 3.25 3.32 0.2
Wesley Wright 30 0 19 0 1 0 19 6 2.97 3.73 0.1
Xavier Cedeno 30 0 23 0 0 1 19 10 3.93 4.19 0.0
Fernando Abad 30 0 23 0 0 0 22 5 3.86 4.21 0.0
Brett Myers 30 0 26 0 3 16 17 5 3.52 4.27 -0.1
David Carpenter 30 0 29 0 2 0 27 14 6.07 4.55 -0.1
Fernando Rodriguez 30 0 27 1 5 0 26 14 5.51 4.66 -0.2
Enerio Del Rosario 30 0 30 0 0 0 16 14 7.80 4.70 -0.2
Rhiner Cruz 30 0 31 1 1 0 24 19 7.14 5.18 -0.3
Jordan Lyles 30 30 173 4 16 0 116 49 5.47 5.24 -0.4
Chuckie Fick 30 0 43 0 4 0 30 30 3.60 5.40 -0.4
Dallas Keuchel 30 30 170 3 13 0 73 87 5.29 5.80 -1.3
Francisco Cordero 30 0 25 0 15 0 25 20 19.80 9.30 -2.0
Brian Bogusevic 30 0 30 0 0 0 0 0 18.00 16.10 -3.0
Aneury Rodriguez 30 30 180 0 0 0 180 60 3.00 6.43 -3.0
Kyle Weiland 30 30 172 0 30 0 127 68 6.62 6.49 -3.0
Armando Galarraga 30 30 151 0 23 0 119 119 5.75 7.38 -3.8
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