Early this off season, I was contacted by a denizen of the Reds Reporter to see if I would help them with their NL Central preview. About two months later, I finally finished answering the questions I was asked to repsond to and I figured that I'd be lazy and turn it into a post so we could kick around my observations.
What is the starting lineup going to look like?
The starting line-up will look something like this:
Matsui – 2B
Pence - RF
Berkman - 1B
Lee - LF
Tejada - SS
Blum/Boone - 3B
Bourn/Abercrombie - CF
Pitcher du Jour - P
It’s not the greatest line-up, but I think it’ll be a lot better than Cooper’s idiotic persistence in keeping Bourn (a sub .300 OBP) leading off for as much as he did last year. I think that Pence is due for an uptick in OBP and that means that there will hopefully be someone on-base for Berkman and Lee early in the game.
One of the Astros beat writers and clack, did some analysis of a true platoon split for Blum/Boone and Bourn/Abercrombie. The results indicated that adhering to the true platoon projects a .722 OPS for Blum and Boone (a notable mark-up in their individual contributions from both sides of the plate) and for Bourn and Abercrombie, a .318 wOBA—a pretty major increase of either of their individual contributions. I’m not sure the Astros are savvy enough for this move, but the potential for a very solid line-up—all the way through the line-up—is there.
Who is likely to see the majority of the starts at each position?
1B – Berkman
2B – Matsui, but we’re all only expecting about 400-450 ABs for him this season. Drew Sutton, will probably get the call up from AAA whenever Kaz inevitably goes down.
3B – Blum/Boone, with Blum probably getting a slight edge in playing time because he’ll be taking the left side of the platoon.
SS – Tejada, but my own analysis this off-season indicated that at least a day off a week would make him much more effective, or at least from what we know from last season when he got breaks it would seem that way. Eho we use as that back-up though, is a mystery.
LF – Lee
CF – Bourn (although they really should go with the platoon)
RF - Pence
What is the rotation going to look like?
In a word: ugly.
Roy Oswalt will hopefully be back to his dominant self for the entire season, instead of just half the season. Most of us at the CFB believe that Wandy will have the break through—finally—and become a true #2 starter; take it with a grain of salt though because it’s us hoping for that.
After those two, it just gets messy. Hampton, Moehler, and Backe look to be the favorites (probably in that order).
When the Astros signed Mike Hampton, I shot Will Carroll, of BPro, an email to get some insight on what we might expect from him. Carroll said it is possible we might get value out of Hampton, but more than likely (and this is my inference) we’ll probably get about 100 IP out Hampton before he breaks down again.
Moehler looks like he’s due for a massive regression following his rather impressive—for him—2008 campaign. An ERA hovering around 5.00 and maybe a 160 IP is about all we can expect.
Backe, is kind of an enigma. He was either on or off in 2008 and unfortunately he was more off than he was on. He was a coming back from an accelerated recovery from Tommy John surgery, so maybe Backe rebounds. Even if there is a rebound, we don’t see great things, but just mediocre things.
Since Hampton and Moehler are probably due for a DL stint, I think Alberto Arias could be a surprise sixth starter for the Astros. He’s got impressive stuff, but has spent the last few years in the Rockies organization as a reliever, which might limit his capacity for a real starting job. He’s my dark horse candidate from the pitching side.
Feliepe Paulino and Fernando Nieve have long been coveted arms in the Astros farm system, but health has been their stumbling block. Both seem to be getting heat from the organization to step it up or move on in Spring Training. Paulino features a mid-nineties fastball and a cutter/slider that has turned a few heads as well.
Nieve has solid all around stuff and better command than his younger counterpart. Being out of options and competing in the WBC will probably hamper his chances to make the club out of Spring Training and will have to clear waivers before he can be optioned to Round Rock.
Who are the key bullpen arms?
Valverde, Hawkins, and Brocail are the big three. They’re fairly well known so I won’t say anything more.
The key bullpen arms in terms of our success will be Geoff Geary and Chris Sampson—both of whom are coming off of off season surgeries. Geary had a hip abductor surgery (if memory serves correctly) and should be fine. Samspon, on the other hand, had right elbow surgery to repair a tear. He’ll be a little behind in Spring Training, but is said to be fine. Their presence in the bullpen was crucial to our success and will be again this year because of our over reliance on bullpen due to terrible starting pitching.
Wesley Wright will be another guy to watch as our current LOOGY, but a guy who also looks like he might have the stuff to be a closer someday too. At 23, he seems to have a bright future and a spot in a bullpen that is light on lefties.
Where are the biggest strengths/weaknesses on the club?
Strength (in descending order):
Who could sneak up on the league and have a breakout season?
Alberto Arias, Drew Sutton, and Brian Bogusevic.
What does the farm look like, who are the big prospects?
Like it was neglected for five years.
Our biggest prospects at the higher levels are Drew Sutton (2B) who tore up AA and the AFL last year; Brian Bogusevic (CF/RF), who is trying to be the next Rick Ankiel of sorts; Chris Johnson (3B), a high K-rate but solid slugger with a solid enough glove; and Bud Norris, who projects to be a set-up man or maybe a fifth starter.
At the lower levels, last summers draft stocked us with Jason Castro at the backstop, who could possibly see some playing time as September call up, and then Jordan Lyles and Ross Seaton are two starting pitchers who project to be solid, front-end of the rotation guys.
Who are the biggest losses from last year? Who are the key acquisitions?
Biggest Loss: Ty Wigginton
Key acquisition: …Saying a key acquisition is impossible, no one we acquired is key.
How do you see them finishing record-wise, and what would you do to get them back in the playoffs?
Record wise we look to be about an 82-83 win team from our community projection project. For us to get back to the playoffs would require solid starting pitching, and I don’t see that happening.
What's the deal with Tejada? What are your feelings on that deal one year later?
After finding out that Tejada was two years older than he was, I was pretty upset. After seeing the declining SLG that accompanies that, I was even more so upset. I’m pretty ambivalent towards the guys we traded to acquire him so I can’t say I’m too critical of Ed Wade for this move, especially since Tejada played admirable defense for us. He’s way over paid for the value he provides, but it is what it is at this point.
Now if he could just keep his name out of the headlines for lying and steroids…