It's been a little while since we last gave out these awards. Our (non-existent) sponsors are getting a little irked. So, to avoid them pulling their (non-existent) support, here is the latest edition of TCB's awards.
Hitter of the Month: Hunter Pence, RF - With a .363 wOBA in May, Pence is one of the few Astros hitters that is regressing back to his expected performance levels. His slash line of .302/.333/.519 in May is a little higher than you could expect him to maintain, but the six home runs and five doubles gave the Astros legitimate power in the middle of the order. In fact, when Mills installed Pence in the No. 3 spot of the lineup, it was not a stretch on Pence's side. If anything, the Astros could benefit from putting Pence third, Berkman fourth and Lee fifth.
Pitcher of the Month: Roy Oswalt, RHP - You might not like this pick, seeing as Roy has publicly stated he wants to be traded. However, there's no denying how good he's been (outside of that ejection game Monday). How good is good? His ERA of 2.82 is almost identical to his xFIP of 2.93. Chalk that up to a K rate of 10.33 this month and a BABiP of .283, but it's still impressive. Now, if he can only calm down, not yell at umpires and kill his trade value...
Defender of the Month: Cory Sullivan, OF - This is probably Michael Bourn's award again, but I wanted to take this opportunity to highlight the value that Sullivan has provided this season. I did not like his inclusion on the 25-man roster and wasn't convinced he couldn't be replaced with a cheaper alternative. He's definitely changed my mind on that count. While someone like Brian Bogusevic or Collin DeLome might be able to come up with those clutch pinch hits (like that double off the wall on Tuesday), Sullivan has provided surprising value in the field. He has one Defensive Run Saved between right, center and left field this season. Both his UZR/150 numbers have been very positive at both corner positions and just above average in center. Those numbers probably are skewed by his small amount of playing time, but he gives Mills a true defensive replacement as a fifth outfielder. That's pretty good for a guy signed when he was.
Astros Stock Watch
Carlos Lee, leveling off - El Bufalo is hitting a problem patch, but it's not what you think. Lee has been hitting very well for the past few weeks, but is still only at .206 with his batting average. He's hitting for more power than in the season's first month, but his consistency level seems to have lowered quite a bit from 2009. What's his upside for the rest of the season? ZiPS has him finishing at .253/.298/.427, which is about where I have him pegged too. Do you think he can rebound to get closer to .300? Or is this just the product of his age and declining skills?
Lance Berkman, spiking - A game-winning double on Sunday and his second-career walkoff hit gave Berkman some much needed confidence. The celebration after Tuesday's game also showed just how close this team can be. Did you see Bourn running out to second base to pound on Lance? His .335 wOBA in May is better than his .227 batting average and shows that he's still got some room to grow offensively this season. His walk rate is still excellent, making him one of the few Astros who can say that. If his BABiP can nudge up from the .261 it's at now, Berkman should round back into form.
Jeff Keppinger, rising - Man, Kepp has been great at the plate lately, hasn't he? As we've pointed out time and again, Kepp will probably regress in a full-time role, since he'll be exposed against right-handers. But, did you realize he's only gotten 43 plate appearances against lefties in 2010, compared to 139 against righties? He's still been able to hit productively, though that's too small a sample size to stay it will continue. That's the difference between predictive stats and observational ones.
Tommy Manzella, finding his level - Someone on another blog called Manzella the definition of Replacement Level. Why is that? Well, his wOBA the past two months have been nearly identical. His defensive numbers are positive but hardly impressive. He loses playing time to Geoff Blum at shortstop. I'm not saying Manzella won't hit better or get more consistent with his defense. I still think he's got the power to post a .400 slugging percentage, but the batting average probably won't ever be there. The Astros can ride Manzella till he starts getting expensive arbitration raises and then they better have a replacement in mind.
Geoff Blum - As I mentioned in the game thread Tuesday, for some reason, Mills has been starting Blum a lot more recently. It's certainly not due to his hitting, as he's .182/.250/.205 this May. That's a wOBA of .215, which isn't very impressive. Those 5 RBIs last month might have come in clutch situations, but he can't hide the eight strikeouts in 48 plate appearances for ever. His defense isn't terrible, but he's been a slight liability at first and third this season, as well. So, why is Mills trying to get him playing time?
Wandy Rodriguez, wobbling - I'm not sure what to make of Wandy. One minute, he's striking out enough batters to look like he could hang on. The next, he's getting absolutely clobbered as we wonder whether his fastball velocity has dropped. Is he injured? I don't know, but if he suddenly gets diagnosed with "biceps tendinitis," we'll know something is up. His peripheral stats (with the exception of the K rate) are solid, which means he could just bounce back from all this.
Jeff Fulchino, volatile - He sported an ERA over eight last month, but had a K rate over 11. That means he's throwing gas and can be effective, but has made too many mistakes in his short time in relief. Part of that problem could be tied into Monday's blowup, but Fulchino has steadily been used less and less late in games. The only reliever with a lower Leverage Index last month was Tim Byrdak. When Fulchino was supposed to be the 7th inning guy, that's a bit of a dropoff.
Comment of the Day and Leaderboard: Tell me something. Are there any Astros fans who like Kevin Cash??
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Joe in Birmingham