The All-Star Break is a good time to look at the grades for the Astros' players. These are my opinions, and I'm sure some of you will disagree. Well, jump in and give your grades, if you like.
1b. Lance Berkman. A+
I shouldn't have to explain this much. Berkman leads all NL players with 23 Win Shares. By comparison, Carlos Lee, who is having a nice year himself, has 13 Win Shares. He leads all NL players in Runs Created, with 86. On top of his obvious excellence in hitting, Berkman's defense has been superb. He leads all NL 1st baseman in Revised Zone Rating (RZR).
2b. Kaz Matsui B-.
If not for his lengthy absences, I would have given Matsui a regular B, because he has done pretty much what the Astros expected. His OPS is a bit light (low .700's), but he is slightly above average for NL 2d basemen in Runs Created. He is one of the few Astros hitters who shows patience at the plate. His base running is every bit as good as advertised. He isn't the best 2d baseman in the league, but he isn't what's wrong with the team either.
SS. Miguel Tejada. C+
I wouldn't have guessed in May that this would be my grade for Tejada. We can only hope the end of season grade is much better. Tejada's .739 OPS is a big disappointment and makes him an average-to-below-average offensive shortstop. If he continued that offensive pace, it would be the worst offensive season of his career. This all might justify a C or C-, but I gave him a C+ because his defense has been outstanding. He leads NL shortstops in RZR.
3b. Wigginton. B.
His .838 OPS is just about even with expectations. He is at least average, offensively, as a third baseman. His fielding is below average for a 3d baseman, but that is what the Astros should have expected. His RZR is worse than the range he exhibited for Houston in 07, but very similar to his RZR at 3d base during other seasons in his career. Since Wiggy has produced as expected, I think he deserves a B.
LF. Carlos Lee. B+
Lee's .899 OPS is slightly above expectations, and puts him in the top 5 NL LFers, in terms of OPS. LF is an offensive position, and Lee leads all LFers with 76 RBIs. His defense has been poor. He is last among starting NL starting LFers in RZR. But, then again, that kind of fielding is what was expected from him, given his history of declining range.
CF. Michael Bourn. D.
Bourn is dead last among NL CFers with a .564 OPS. That isn't just garden variety bad, it's very bad. The best we can say is that, hopefully, he will show offensive improvement in the second half. Despite the fact that he has been the lead off hitter most of the time this season, he only scored 39 runs, which is less than almost any other full time CFer. Bourn's saving grace is that he has played good defense in CF, and his speed has allowed him to make spectacular plays at times.
RF. Hunter Pence. C+..
Pence's .732 OPS is well below what we expected, and puts him in the lower third of RFers, offensively. Despite the generally low offensive performance, Pence still has managed 46 RBIs, which ranks him 4th among NL RFers. Pence's defense in RF has been very good, and his RZR ranks among the top 3 NL RFers.
C. J.R. Towles. D.
Towles .148 batting average and .528 OPS speaks for itself. He was supposed to be the starting catcher. His defense at catcher has been fine. But the offense has been a huge disappointment.
Loretta B+. He is the consummate professional, and has handled his reserve role well. He has proven to be a clutch hitter, and a low .700's OPS for a reserve middle infielder is good.
Erstad. A-. The same could be said about Erstad. He has been better than expected. He has been a clutch hitter, run the bases well, and played very good outfield defense.
Blum. C+.. Blum's offense has not been good, with a .599 OPS. However, that should have been expected to some extent, because Blum has not been a good offensive player for several years. He has played good defense at 3d base; and if his primary role is a defensive one, he has done that well.
Ausmus. C. Ausmus signed on for a different role: mentor and reserve catcher. At times, he has been forced back into the primary catcher position. Ausmus' offense hasn't been good, as indicated by a .222 batting average and .570 OPS. Taking into account his reserve role, and his history of sub-par offense, I view him in a light similar to Blum: his offense isn't much different than expected. His defense is declining with age, but he still provides important intangible on the field, particularly when it comes to working with pitchers.
I will address pitchers' grades in a later article.