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Astros' offense at 3d base and shortstop in the 2000's

Let's look at what kind of offense the Astros have gotten from the left side of the infield in this decade.   This idea for this post came to mind after I commented on HLP's article about Tommy Manzella taking over the shortstop position next year, making that position defense-first, like it was in the Adam Everett era.  My comment pointed out that Everett generally was accompanied by a stronger offensive performance at 3d base than the Astros received last season.  As I cogitated, I realized that the Astros generally have had "either / or" offensive performance from shortstop and 3d base.  By that, I mean either the shortstop or 3d baseman is a good offensive player--but not both.  That may be by design, or perhaps just the way things turned out.

To examine this tendency, I used Baseball-Reference's OPS+ for the Astros' third base and shortstop positions for each year 2002 - 2009.  The stats are based on the offense of all the Astros hitters who played the position.   As most of you know, OPS+ is a park adjusted index relative to league wide OPS.  !00 is the base, with lessor and higher values reflecting above or below average OPS performance.  I also calculate an average for the two positions to get an idea of the combined offense from the two positions.

 year 3d base shortstop average
02 122 91 107
03 110 89 100
04 99 93 96
05 140 77 109
06 101 75 88
07 82 95 89
08 85 105 95
09 76 116 96


Do you detect a pattern here?  Generally 3d base was the stronger offensive position until 2007 (when Everett suffered a season end broken flbula), when the Loretta - Bruntlett offense at shortstop was better than third base, where coincidently Ensberg's offense fell off a cliff.   With the trade for Tejada, the 2008 and 2009 shortstop position dominated offensively and the 3d base position became the weak offensive position.  The combined offense of shortstop and 3d base was decent through 2005, but the positions' combined offensive contribution fell off in 06 and 07.  Whatever faults one might see with the Tejada trade, the acquisition was successful in pushing the combined offense of shortstop and 3d base closer to the level which prevailed prior to 2006.

The only season in which the 3d base and shortstop were roughly the same in offense was 2004.  Mike Lamb and an injured Morgan Ensberg shared time at 3d base, combining for league average offense.  Adam Everett had his best offensive year, with a .706 OPS, but suffered a late season injury, and was replaced by Jose Vizcaino, who had a hot streak.

The best single seasons of combined offense were 2002 and 2005 (when the Astros went to the World Series).  The 2002 season featured one of Geoff Blum's best season (OPS of .807) and a decent offensive performance by Julio Lugo (.710 OPS).   The 2005 season featured an out-of-this-world offensive performance by Morgan Ensberg (.945 OPS), which more than made up for the first of several sluggish offensive seasons by Adam Everett (OPS of .653).   Both of the highest offensive seasons at shortstop were associated with Tejada's two seasons in 08 and 09.   Unfortunately, the Blum - Wigginton platoon in 2008 was only a slight improvement over the tumultuous 3d base situation in 2007.  The 3d base performance declined further in 2009 when Keppinger replaced Wigginton in the platoon.

If Manzella takes over 3d base in 2010, and the shortstop OPS+ returns to the Everett levels of 05 - 06--perhaps an OPS+ of 75-- then the combined OPS+ is likely to be the worst of the decade for the Astros---unless the Astros retain Tejada at 3d base or acquire another offensive upgrade at 3d base.   A return of the Blum - Keppinger platoon would likely put the combined OPS+ at 80 or lower, which would be even worse than the losing season of 2007, which cost manager Phil Garner his job.   Although one can hope for a breakthrough season by rookie Chris Johnson, the more likely scenario is that he would produce an OPS+ no higher than the Blum - Keppinger platoon.

In case you are wondering about the photograph for this article, that is Adam Everett of the Detroit Tigers.