Friday's Three Astros Things

Bob Levey

Talking about primetime TV, the roster being set and ZiPS projections...

Sorry for the lack of Three Things this week. I've been getting ready to cover the Cotton Bowl tonight, so things have been a little hectic getting to Irving and all. Things should be back to normal next week...

1) Houston's on Primetime

It may be the only time all year that Houston is in a big-time ESPN game, but they'll open the season against the Rangers on the national Sunday night broadcast all the same. I guess the big, historical implications added into a new rival made it a must watch game, right?

Except for me, right now, it just rubs in the fact that Houston was forced to leave the National League. It wouldn't be such a ground-breaking game if they were still in the NL, right?

Otherwise, it seems that some exposure is better than none. How do you feel about this? Is it a good thing that the Astros get a nationally televised game right off the bat? Will they be halfway decent at that time or still in a slump like the end of last season?

2) Roster set?

We got some stories this week that Houston is basically done adding players to its roster. What they have is what you get, which means Lance Berkman will more than likely sign with the Rangers and a little part of me will die inside. Again.

It also means there's still a hole in the outfield that should be filled by the Martinii but could also be filled by Robbie Grossman. What bothers me is it's not clear whether Houston feels that F-Mart or Grossman would be better options in right field or whether they weren't willing to spend the money to bring in a better option.

Every one of Houston's additions this season have been solid, but they have also been on a budget. It's almost like Luhnow is running the team like Billy Beane did for years, eschewing big contracts to aging players and relying on young guys to fill in the gaps.

We've had this debate endlessly this offseason, but it is truly better to avoid costly older players who may only bring a marginal number of wins next season? Is 70 wins all that much better than 62 from a fan's perspective? To me, as much as Delmon Young might look good at this point in left, I'd rather see what Grossman can do, if ZiPS is projecting him at .7 WAR (we'll get to that in a minute), than I would a guy like Young, who won't produce much and may not even get more than a Rob Rasmussen in return at the trade deadline.

3) ZiPS projections

Via Astros County and FanGraphs, we get news that Dave Symborski's ZiPS projections are out for Houston and they're duly grim.

Here's the bad news, distilled into a couple of sentences:

It’s good news for Houston that young third baseman Matt Dominguez — acquired last July in a deal with Miami for Carlos Lee — that Dominguez is projected to post a roughly league-average WAR in 2013. What’s less good news for Houston is that Dominguez is projected to be the second-best player on the team — after Jose Altuve, that is.

The good thing is that Symborski also projected prospects. My guy Jonathan Singleton was projected thusly: .236 batting average, .338 on-base percentage, .419 slugging percentage, a walk rate of 13.9 percent and 19 home runs. That would be a pretty great rookie season, allowing that the ZiPS projections are usually pessimistic. I could totally see Singleton hitting .250/.260 with a .350/.360 OBP and 20 home runs. He'd be the second-best power hitter on the team, according to ZiPS, and would outperform Wally by a big margin.

As for Grossman, he's projected to hit .229/.330/.346 with a 12 percent walk rate and 25 doubles with 10 homers and 12 steals, which is quite a bit better than what Mr. Brandon Barnes is projected to do next season. Of course, for all Barnes' offensive deficiencies, he's still the better defender than Grossman, which is what probably keeps him on the team over our boy Robbie.

Speaking of defensive value, one of the reasons Symborski only projects Singleton for 1.5 WAR is he's got a projected DRS of -2. Some of that is probably positional, but all the reports on Big Jon are that he's very good at first and decently athletic enough to look okay in the outfield. I'd have a hope that Singleton could be a positive DRS guy at first, which only improves his WAR outlook.

Anything else of note? Well, Carlos Pena is projected as the big bopper with 24 home runs and a very promising .214 batting average (OBP of .341, highest on the team). ... The projections also included player comps. Jose Altuve was compared to Steve Sax, Singleton to Calvin Pickering, Lowrie to Jim Lefebvre, Pena to Conroe's own Jeremy Burnitz, Brett Wallace to Lyle Overbay and Bud Norris to...Kip Wells. Wah-waah.

Speaking of the pitching, that's much less hopeful than the hitting. There's not even that optimistic an outlook for any of the prospects. Jarred Cosart is projected to have a K rate under 6 and a walk rate at 5.8 per nine innings. Brett Oberholtzer was the best projected prospect, which means the Michael Bourn trade worked!

Wesley Wright is the only decent pitcher on a list of guys surely hurt by the harder run environment in the AL. Not even John Ely, Alex White or Phillip Humber couldn't get ERAs under 5.00. Maybe there's a problem with the system and ground ball pitchers, which Houston seems to be collecting under the watchful eyes of Mr. Fast and Co.

Otherwise, it looks like silver linings may be hard to come by this season. Again.

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