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How the 2010 Astros could go agley, aftly

"The best laid schemes o' mice an' men / Gang aft agley."--Robert Burns

The 'hope springs eternal' meme gets beat to death this time of year.  How could it not? It’s Spring Training.  We’ve been without meaningful baseball for months and have been forced to chase rumors while digesting signings, trades, and acquisitions.  While that can be fascinating, it’s not baseball.  The only reason we find the offseason interesting is because it directly impacts the six months and one hundred and sixty-two games we will faithfully follow.

Recently, the hope that accompanies this time of year has been playing out, both on the front page and in the comments.  Clack even demonstrated that it’s entirely possible for the Astros to possess a true talent level of 90+ wins.  It’s entirely possible. It's just not likely.  But that’s often the definition of hope.

I have been tasked with the responsibility of stepping back and pointing out all the things that could go wrong with the 2010 Astros (no, I haven’t been asked to write for FanGraphs).  I’ll be honest: This wasn’t as hard of a task as I’d like to make it out to be—other than emotional strain.  There are many pitfalls lining the one hundred and sixty-two game stretch that lies before the Astros. As Robert Burns said, the best laid plans can go awry, and the 2010 Astros are not the result of the best of plans being laid. Much of this has already been discussed this offseason, but never in one concentrated dose.  The purpose of this is not to be a total Debbie-downer, but rather to provide a measure of caution as we pen our expectations of our hometown nine.

I want to reemphasize that fact.  I had to call HLP the other night and be encouraged to still publish this.  There have been at least three moments where I almost just deleted everything so that it couldn’t see the light of day.  I am not sure what has frightened me more: seeing how quickly things could go south if any of these came to fruition OR how easy it is it was for me to envision these things not just occurring in isolation, but the interconnectivity of a number of these scenarios.  Either way, the hope springs eternal part of me did not want this to be published. That way it could just stay something I imagined and not gain the validity of a front page piece.

Unlike clack’s optimistic piece, I am not going to quantify the impact of every damning scenario I posit.  I started off trying to, but it's hard trying to run through every ramification of every scenario, and nearly impossible if you try to combine two or more together. (I’m going this route after trying to juggle just the loss of Roy Oswalt and Bud Norris…I was so deep in my own rabbit hole that I couldn’t even figure out were I was).

Roy Oswalt 

When last we saw Roy, he was exiting early because his back was not right.  Although the Wizard has been a mainstay in the Astros rotation, and a workhorse to boot, Roy is also on the wrong side of thirty to be battling disk issues.  It is entirely possible that the same issue that took Oswalt from the Astros in 2009 could him keep ineffective and sidelined throughout 2010.  If that is the case, Brian Moehler is the logical choice to "eat" the innings.  However, he can’t eat all 89 of them, but could probably pitch 50 more than we are already projecting him.

Losing Roy to injury doesn’t just mean that Moehler will take a lot of those innings, it also means that he will likely wear down more quickly.  Reducing an already near replacement level producer’s efficacy doesn’t help the 2010 Astros.  Moreover, Moehler can’t eat all of Roy’s lost production, if he pitches less than 120 IP.  Brad Mills would then have to comb through Yorman Bazardo, Jeff Fulchino, Chris Sampson, and Alberto Arias as a possible stand-ins (I chose these three as they have previously started games at the MLB level).  At this point, it’s clear why I didn’t try and quantify nightmare scenarios. There is way too much to juggle.  We haven’t even broached the subject of what this could do to the bullpen, but we will in just a bit.

Bud Norris

As frightening as it is to imagine Roy Oswalt going down, it’s less likely than this scenario. In late-May/early-June Bud Norris goes down in flames.  The two scenarios are equally damning.  If Norris falls apart because of last season’s increase in usage, then Moehler is the likely candidate to jump in, but he can’t cover the entire loss of production in this case, too.  The same caveats about Moehler’s reduced performance and the dearth of spot-starters apply. 

Sure, the marginal change in production from Roy Oswalt to Bud Norris is distinct. But if Norris is going to go down, I think he is going to go down earlier than Roy would.  Thus, the Astros would have to replace lesser production over a greater number of innings.

Lyon and Lindstrom 

The first two scenarios, I think, would exacerbate concerns for this scenario: Matt Lindstrom or Brandon Lyon struggle with performance, injury or both.  Without even factoring the added strain that the loss of starter would place on the bullpen, both of these gentlemen are candidates for injury.  And if both came up as red flags in Will Carroll’s team health reports, imagine what added strain might bring.

If we consider either of their injuries in isolation from the above, then Sampson, Fulchino Alberto Arias, and Samuel Gervacio are left as likely candiates to move up the ladder.  That’s not a terrible outcome, as I have confidence in all of those reliever’s ability to be successful late inning pitchers except for Gervacio.  This situation would sacrifice bullpen depth, though. 

This team has no chance if the bullpen can’t be relied upon.

Imagine, then, how bad it could be if either Norris or Oswalt (or in my most chilling of nightmares: both) succumbs to injury.  As the toll on the bullpen increase through removing a reliever to fill in as a starter, and the added toll of having to come in early for Moehler and Pitcher X’s starts, the injury bug is likely to show up.  Suddenly the Astros would be faced with a shallow rotation and a shallow bullpen.  Things. Would. Be. Ugly.

Tommy Manzella

How many times this offseason has something similar to this been stated: because of the conscious effort to improve defense, signing/acquisition X is justifiable/savvy? A lot. It's been one of the main threads of hope we've been able to weave through the patchwork that was Ed Wade's offseason.

Tommy Manzella will be manning SS in 2010 and, aside from catcher, no other position on the field is as important defensively. A lot is being leveraged on Manzella's glove. When I took a stab at giving us a reasonable/slightly approximate quantification of Manzella's ability as a defender, what I found wasn't overly inspiring. Our best guess is that he is average. Average defense at short would be an improvement over Miguel Tejada's glove there, but we're just guessing at Manzella's skill level.

In my darker moments, I am almost confident that Manzella will not be a good defender.  Imagine this scenario with me: As April rolls to May, Mills and Wade are forced lean on Manzella for all-around improvement. He has been struggling at the plate as big league pitcher's feast on him. His lack confidence then leads to miscues with an already less than stellar glove.  This is bad not only because Manzella's production plummets. This is bad because Manzella can set off quite a domino reaction.  When Mills/Wade pull the plug on Manzella, the likely replacements are a platoon of Blum/Keppinger.  

Neither of those two can field the position well. The Astros would be replacing Manzella's below average defense with even worse defense.  Chris Sampson and Alberto Arias lose efficacy.  All of the starters probably record two or three less outs than they should per outing because they work themselves into jams, or jams aren't worked out of through double plays. We just got finished reviewing how bad things could go in the bullpen if the relievers are over-taxed. It. Would. Be. Ugly.

Furthermore, with Blum/Keppinger seeing more reps as starters, the bench depth gets replaced by...who?  Exactly.  This offseason, we've found glimmers of hope in both bullpen depth and bench depth.  It's not very hard to see either of those two float away.  Especially if this scenario comes true.

Kazuo Matsui

(See also: Kazuo Matsui circa 2009)

This scenario is easy: Kaz gets hurt. He misses a lot of time. When he is playing, he's not effective because he hasn't been playing.

The result is pretty much the same as what I just described for Manzella in terms of bench depth, only Keppinger and Blum can field at second better than they can at short.

Do I need to elaborate on this further? I'm not.

Totally agley

Hold onto your butts because this gets ugly:

Oswalt and Norris both make a early June exit to the DL, from whence they shall not return. Moehler, Bazardo, and Fulchino eat these innings. These would not be pretty innings.  The added strain on the bullpen results in less effective relievers taking innings, but also the propensity for capable relievers to be overworked.  

By July, either Lindstrom or Lyon has gone down, too.  

Two weeks before the All Star Break, Tommy Manzella, who has been struggling with his glove and bat, is sent back to AAA to regain...they'll say his confidence, but it'll basically be an option to AAAA purgatory.  The entire pitching staff, who have been harmed by Manzella's less than adequate glove, continue to get screwed over by the wonder tandem of Blum and Keppinger at SS.  

Then, while making his morning coffee over the All Star Break, Kaz Matsui herniates two disc in his back because he didn't stretch properly before reaching for coffee filters.  Edwin Maysonet, who has been our new bench guy, takes over at SS, but Keppinger and Blum just slot over to 2B.  By August, Chris Sampson has to leave to get Tommy John, and whomever is left from Lyon/Lindstrom falls apart, too.  The last six weeks of the season make the last six weeks of 2009 look like the last six weeks of 2005.

Discuss. Pick apart, or tell me what I missed.  Also an interesting discussion point: what would the win total likely be if the last paragraph comes true?

Bonus points will be awarded to anyone who can refute everything above.