Unless something unexpected happens, we have a pretty good idea what the Astros' offensive roster will look like next year. Sure, we don't know who the utility infielders will be, but that is a relatively minor issue. With the loss of Wigginton, most fans assume that the offense will crater. Of course, the answer also depends on which existing offensive players will perform better or worse than last year.
I will take a stab at quantifying the likely Astros offense in 2009. I average two projection systems together for each hitter: Chone and Bill James. The Bill James projections are shown on the fangraphs player pages. I averaged Chone's projected average ML performance for minor leaguers Sutton, Maysonet, and Manzella to develop the assumed reserves' performance for the middle infield. I averaged Towles and Palmisano's projected ML performance to develop the assumed back up performance at catcher. I assumed Michaels and Erstad split outfield back up duties 50/50, and that Boone is the exclusive back up at third and first base. Then I made assumptions about the playing time of the starters: Berkman, Tejada, and Lee, 95%; Pence, 90%; Matsui, Blum, Bourn, 60%; and Quintero, 50%. The reserves make up the remainder of the performance at those players' positions. I assumed that pitchers take 80% of the at bats in the no. 9 batting slot, and that the outfield reserves take the remainder as pinch hitters. I used Wandy Rodriguez's offense in 2008 as the "typical" Astros' pitcher.
Next, I used Baseball Musings' Lineup Analyzer to estimate the runs which the offense will score. I assumed the following batting order:2d base, shortstop, 1st base, left field, right field, 3d base, catcher CF, Pitcher / PH. The result is 4.337 runs per game. As you would also see on that page, the lineup analyzer indicates that this is far from the optimal batting order, in terms of run production. However, I attempted to show a batting order which is feasible, based on Cooper's past batting order decisions. None of the "better" batting orders (as picked by the Lineup Analyzer) will be used by Cooper.
OK, now let's compare the likely change from last year.
2009 Projection 703 runs
2008 Actual 712 runs
That is 9 less runs scored than last year, or approximately a 1% change. Granted that is not very good; but the offense was weak last year too. The projected team OBP is .314, which is even worse than the terrible .323 OBP last year.
But, if you are a glass "half full" guy, the result really isn't much different than last year, despite the loss of Wigginton. And, of course, when the numbers are that close, it doesn't require an exorbitant amount of good luck to exceed last year's offensive results. If it is still possible that Ed Wade gets authority to sign another starting pitcher before spring training (who knows?), at least, he has managed to keep the offense within range of last year's results. I realize that probably is an excessively optimistic view, and most Astros' fans aren't too optimistic right now.
If you're interested, if the Astros has kept Wigginton at 3d base, the lineup analyzer would project about 725 runs scored, which is 13 runs more than last year and 22 runs more than the expected lineup for next season.
Some observations on the projections, after putting together this exercise:
- Bourn and Pence are expected to have a better season next year.
- Both projection systems like Towles, and think he will be decent.
- The projected sub-.700 OPS at third base is very bad.
- CHONE likes Sutton well enough to project a 700-ish OPS.
- CHONE isn't as bullish on Chris Johnson, Maysonet, or Manzella.
- Both projections see a slight rebound by Tejada.
- CHONE projects better stats for Bogusevic than Bourn.