Tuesday's Three Astros Things

Bob Levey

Talking about revisiting the Michael Bourn trade, historic shutout totals and Rick Ankiel's epic contact problems...

Some things to talk about while J.D. Martinez does a very, very bad thing...

1) Weighing the Michael Bourn trade

At the 2011 trade deadline, Houston flipped center fielder Michael Bourn to the Atlanta Braves for a collection of minor leaguers and prospects, including Jordan Schafer, Paul Clemens, Brett Oberholtzer and Juan Abreu. You may not remember the trade...oh, of course you do! Tim's blood is boiling right now just with the mention of it!

Since a third piece of said trade got called up to the majors on Monday, let's lay out what Houston gave up and got in return so far. It's hard to evaluate a trade subjectively, because prospects pan out at different rates. Luckily, we have a good bar with with to compare players called FanGraphs Wins Above Replacement.

Bourn was traded in his second year of arbitration eligibility, so let's assume he would have played out that season in Houston and then played the entire 2012 season here too. That part is a bit of a fantasy, since we know Jeff Luhnow would have flipped him for Bryce Harper or something crazy, but just go with me.

Here's what the different pieces to the puzzle look like in terms of WAR so far:

Michael Bourn - 0.9 fWAR for Braves in 2011, 6.1 fWAR in 2012, 7.0 fWAR total

Jordan Schafer - 0.0 fWAR for Houston in 2011, -0.6 fWAR in 2012, -0.6 fWAR total

Juan Abreu - 0.0 fWAR for Houston in 2011, did not play in the majors in 2012, was part of Blue Jays trade, 0.0 total fWAR

Paul Clemens - has no WAR yet

Brett Oberholtzer - has no WAR yet

Because of how bad Jordan Schafer was in his brief run in Houston, we have to make up 7.6 fWAR between two players now. It's generally hard for relievers to generate WAR totals, because the way WAR is figured for relievers is somewhat flawed.

However, Oberholtzer may be the key to evening things up here. If he can come up and produce even modestly for a few seasons, he can easily reach 6 WAR and give Houston a shot of recouping value in this trade.

Sadly, though, that's all they can hope for at this point. It looks extremely unlikely that they'll be able to dramatically advance past that 7.6 fWAR total Bourn put up for the Braves. At best, this trade looks like a push at this point.

2) How many shutouts is a record?

So, the Astros were shut out for the third time in seven games last night. That puts them on pace for...nope, not going there. It's dumb and it'll just depress me.

How many times does Houston have to get shut out to set a franchise record, though? Are they going to get close to that mark?

Well, the record for most times getting shut out for the Houston franchise is 23 times in 1963. Only one other Houston team broke the 20-game barrier and that was the 1964 team. In the last 30 years, the highest shutout total came from the 1992 Astros, who were shut out 18 times. Surprisingly, the 2005 World Series team was shut out 17 times.

The record for most shutouts in a season by any MLB team comes from the 1963 New York Mets, who were blanked 30 times. Next highest? It's a tie between the 1972 Texas Rangers and the 1916 Pittsburgh Pirates.

That means Houston is 27 games from making history in 2013. Somehow I'm not comforted.

3) Ankiel's epic contact problems

Dave Cameron noted on Twitter last night how bad Rick Ankiel's contact numbers have been this season in a simple, yet tragic, way.

He followed up with a great article on FanGraphs about Ankiel's contact problems and how sort of unprecedented they are. He goes into more than just result-based statistics and actually looks at Zone Contact rates, graphed and looking at historical patterns to see if anyone matched Ankiel's stretch of futility. Turns out, he has one savior:

Even in tiny sample sizes, even among a class of players who are chosen for skills other than hitting a baseball, Ankiel’s numbers stand out. In fact, only one of those 611 pitcher hitting seasons resulted in a lower in-zone contact rate than Ankiel’s current 37.5%. His savior? Jo-Jo Reyes, back in 2009.

Already, Ankiel's playing time has been eaten into by Brandon Barnes and J.D. Martinez, so we shouldn't expect his numbers to just pop back to respectability. But, he can't be this bad forever, right? Cameron makes a pretty convincing case that this is not just a blip on the radar. It's worth reading the entire article, plus there's lots of neat graphs.

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