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Bill Gilbert: Houston Astros' Expectations 2005

We are always glad to hear from Bill Gilbert, whose work on the Astros is always thoughtful and cogent, and are pleased to post this piece emailed us yesterday:

Houston Astros Expectations 2005

by Bill Gilbert

In analyzing expectations for the Houston Astros this year, a reasonable place to start is the opening day starting lineup.

--------------- --- --- -------------
Adam Everett SS 28   2
Craig Biggio 2B 39 16
Jeff Bagwell 1B 36 14
Morgan Ensberg 3B 29   2
Luke Scott LF 26   0
Jason Lane RF 28   1
Brad Ausmus C 35 11
Willy Taveras CF 23   0

Isn?t something missing here? Where are the players with 4-9 years of major league service who should be in the prime years of their careers? The opening day lineup consisted of 3 veterans on the downside of their careers and 5 players who haven?t been in the major leagues long enough to be eligible for salary arbitration.

The Astros do have one position player in the prime of his career, Lance Berkman, age 29 with 5 years of MLS. However, he spent April on the disabled list and the month of May searching for his timing and his stroke.

The top of the pitching rotation (Roger Clemens, Roy Oswalt and Andy Pettitte) along with closer, Brad Lidge, are strong enough to make the team respectable, but not necessarily competitive.

The starting lineup has been strengthened by the return of Berkman, replacing Scott, who failed to hit and was optioned to Triple-A. However, a huge void was created when Bagwell?s shoulder no longer allowed him to play and resulted in surgery which will likely keep him out all year. His number 3 spot in the lineup has occasionally been filled by a utility infielder, Jose Vizcaino.

With a 2004 lineup that included Carlos Beltran and Jeff Kent as well as Bagwell and Berkman, the team could carry defensive specialists with limited offensive capabilities (Everett and Ausmus.) However, with a weakened top and middle of the order, the Astros lineup has been the softest in the major leagues this year. The current lineup has the top 4 players batting in the .280s followed by 4 players hitting under .240.

What does the future hold? Players like Ensberg, Lane and Everett in their late 20s with less than 3 years MLS are more likely to be average players than superstars. There isn?t much offensive help available at the Triple-A and Double-A levels but there are some promising prospects at the lower levels and the Club appears to have drafted well the last couple of years. Pitching should continue to be a strong point with some promising prospects throughout the organization.

Summarizing, it is obviously a shock when a team falls as far as the Astros have this year. However, it should not have been a complete surprise given the makeup of the team. An encouraging aspect is that the team did not give up after the embarrassment of the first two months and is now playing at a competitive level.