We take a break from the managerial search to look at the Astros' 2009 outfield. The three starters in Lee, Bourn and Pence combined to be the most productive portion of the offense in a number of ways. Each totaled over 600 plate appearances and two of the three hit 25 home runs. While the Astros offense has its problems, the outfield isn't one of them. A bigger problem, though, is on the horizon.
Right now, the biggest strength in Houston's farm system is in the outfield. Players like Collin DeLome, Koby Clemens, Jon Gaston and Jay Austin all play the outfield and could be ready to play in Houston by 2011. One question to consider: would you trade one or both of the corner outfielders for pitching depth this off-season, though it may weaken the team for a season or two? Hypothetical questions aside, let's get to the analysis after the jump...
Carlos Lee, LF
2009 Season Stats: 610 PA, .300/.343/.489, 35 doubles, 1 triple, 26 HR, 65 runs, 102 RBIs, 5 for 8 stolen bases, 51 strikeouts, 119 OPS+
Notes: Lee has turned into the opposite of a fan favorite these days. His lack of hustle on the basepaths and his worsening defense in left field make him an easy target, but there are few hitters more consistent than Lee. Last season, Lee collected at least 25 hits in each month except April and had a batting average over .300 in three of the six months in the season. On the negative side, Lee hit just .262/.308/.446 in the 88 Astros' losses while hitting .345/.384/.540. Love him or hate him, as went Lee, so went the Astros offense in 2009. The 33-year old had the second-highest OPS+ for Houston and had a theoretically-low BABiP of .290. Of course, this is largely explained by his low strikeout total and is exactly on the nose of his career BABiP. The distressing part of it is that Lee's OPS+ was his lowest total since the 2005 season in Milwaukee, when he posted a 109 OPS+. Lee does have value, as he's a very good bat in the middle of the order. The only way his bat offsets his terrible other baseball skills is if he continues hitting like a Top 20 guy. Guys his age, with his body type tend to drop off a cliff pretty quickly with the aging curve. Let's hope Lee can put up at least one more decent season before his contract expires.
Michael Bourn, CF
2009 Season Stats: 678 PA, .285/.354/.384, 27 doubles, 12 triples, 3 HR, 97 runs, 35 RBIs, 61 of 73 stolen bases, 140 strikeouts, 97 OPS+
Notes: The reason Bourn's season was an unparalleled success was this: in 2008, he posted an OPS+ of 57 and last season that went up to 97. 40 points in OPS+ is pretty amazing, but not totally surprising, since this was Bourn's age 26 season, which means he's entering his prime seasons. Still, his OPS was technically below league average and his number of doubles was a little low for someone as fast as Bourn. The other problem with Bourn is his strikeouts. Someone with his speed needs to have a better contact percentage than the 26-year old does. On the other hand, OPS+ is a misleading stat for someone with Bourn's skillset. Runs Created incorporates stolen base percentage, which is why Bourn finished third on the team in RC with 95, two behind Astros leader Carlos Lee. His 61 steals led the National League and his 12 triples tied him for second in the senior circuit with Stephen Drew. Add to that an excellent defensive season, by most metrics, and Bourn was immensely valuable.
Hunter Pence, RF
2009 Season Stats: 647 PA, .282/.346/.472, 26 doubles, 5 triples, 25 HR, 76 runs, 72 RBIs, 14 of 25 stolen bases, 109 strikeouts, 116 OPS+
Notes: Pence put up a solid season. That's the best way to describe it. His OPS, his average, his stolen base numbers were all not overly compelling, nor were his 25 home runs. But, he was one of the more solid members of the lineup. You can pick nits with different parts of his game (he still doesn't walk a ton, he chases bad pitches, etc.), but for the most part he is who he is. Pence is a solid starter who will probably never become a superstar. He's not going to suddenly hit 40 home runs or post an OBP of .400. His batting average will probably not flirt with .350 and he most likely won't have 150 RBIs. He will show up, run hard and be a generally good player to have in your lineup. I personally could see Pence hitting in the two-hole and thriving there. With his speed, he'd be an asset, but he wouldn't get as many stolen base opportunities (which is a good thing). He'd also have a little pop to keep pitchers' honest. It's not a perfect thought, as his OBP would ideally need to be higher.
Jason Michaels, OF
2009 Season Stats: 152 PA, .237/.322/.430, 12 doubles, 1 triple, 4 HR, 17 runs, 16 RBIs, 1 for 3 stolen bases, 38 strikeouts, 99 OPS+
Notes: I'll tell you the truth. I was shocked to see how high Michaels slugging percentage was. I just had this perception that his signing was an out and out waste, largely because he seemed to never get hits, either off the bench or when he was in the game. The funny thing is after you looked at his numbers, that's exactly what he should have done. 2009 saw Michaels set a career high for pinch hits in a season with 12 and his pinch hit leverage index was 1.41, .07 points higher than his career index. That means the Astros trusted him in big situations consistently and directly in line with how he was used in his career. If anything was out of the norm, it was his BABiP of .301 was 17 points lower than his career line. The fact Michaels recorded his fewest plate appearances since 2003 could also have played into his number decrease. His Isolated Power was 50 points higher than his career average, which means we probably shouldn't expect the same kind of power next season and I really think the Astros would be better served using someone like Brian Bogusevic as the fourth outfielder.
Brian Bogusevic, OF
2009 Triple-A Season Stats: 581 PA, .271/.342/.365, 25 doubles, 3 triples, 6 HR, 68 runs, 53 RBIs, 22 of 25 stolen bases, 118 strikeouts,
Notes: Speaking of Bogey, this was his first full season as an outfielder and he did admirably well. At Triple-A, in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League, Bogusevic put up fine numbers, but wasn't impressive. The Astros projected him to hit for more power than he's shown (remind you of anyone else? *cough*Johnson*cough*). His strikeouts are concerning and he doesn't walk enough to be an everyday starter, but his speed and baserunning acumen makes him intriguing. Defensively, Bogusevic got to a bunch of balls, recording 283 put outs to lead all Round Rock outfielders. He also had seven outfield assists, second only to Yordany Ramirez. I tracked the defensive numbers a little more in-depth for the first two months of the season and Bogusevic didn't have the most impressive arm. He made some plays but didn't hold runners as well as he could have and looked like he profiled better as a center fielder. As I said above, it makes sense to bring him up as a part-time player and let him learn how to hit in the majors. He's got nothing left to learn at Round Rock.
Yordany Ramirez, OF
2009 Triple-A Season Stats: 477 PA, .256/.275/.381, 22 doubles, 1 triple, 11 HR, 41 runs, 47 RBIs, 14 of 22 stolen bases, 64 strikeouts
Notes: Statistically, I really dislike this guy. Traditionally, though, I can see why the Astros liked him enough to sign him two years ago. Ramirez is a great defensive player and flashes big potential on offense. The problem is that the 24-year old has never been able to sustain that level of play, often falling in really damaging slumps. He's inconsistent on his stolen base success rate and I suspect he has better speed than instincts at this point. Ramirez hit all over the lineup last season for Round Rock before finally settling into the 7-8 spots. That's largely because of a genetic disorder that makes him physically allergic to taking a base on balls. Seriously, in eight minor league seasons, spanning 639 games and 2,420 plate appearances, Ramirez has only walked 78 times. That includes the 11 walks he managed in 2009. At this point, I don't ever see him being any more than an emergency contingency plan at Triple-A in case everyone else on the team gets hurt.
Drew Locke, OF
2009 Double-A Season Stats: 558 PA, .338/.389/.531, 31 doubles, 3 triples, 20 HR, 81 runs, 109 RBIs, 2 of 4 stolen bases, 84 strikeouts
Notes: Locke got a lot of burn this season because of his excellent numbers. He had an OPS of .920 at Corpus Christi, hitting 20 home runs and driving in 109 runs. Of course, the most telling statistic that never gets mentioned is that Locke was 26 years old last season. At that age, he should have destroyed Double-A hitting, even if it was the first time he'd been at that level after spending four seasons in the Dodgers organization. I'm not saying Locke isn't a good prospect at this point. It's just that we should probably temper our expectations somewhat. He's going to be 27 next year in Round Rock and may not see Houston until 2011, but with the injury to Josh Flores and the suspension of Mitch Einertson, Locke may be the most advanced outfielder the Astros have in their system (outside of the two mentioned above).