The day after the All-Star Game is one of the saddest on the baseball calendar. With no big league games, it's just a reminder how close we are to the end of the season and life without baseball for four or five months. Of course, with this Astros team...Let's just skip ahead to our Players of the First Half. Yes, I'm aware the break doesn't happen exactly on the halfway point and yes, I'm aware that most people do report cards or far-reaching looks at the team. We're sticking with our (soon-to-be-sponsored) Players of the Week format, mainly because I'm stubborn.
Hitter of the Half: Lance Berkman - It's easy to be the Belle of the Ball when your competition is stoners and goth kids. It may not be that bad for Berkman, but the Astros are one of the worst offensive teams in the majors. They rank dead last in wOBA. Luckily, Berkman has been pretty good (when he's played). He's got a wOBA of .365 this season, which leads the team. He's also leading or tied for the team lead in home runs, walks and WAR, while coming in second in RBIs and third in doubles. As I mentioned a while back, Berkman is on pace to equal his offensive output in most of his categories from 2009. The problem is we expected more. I think he could still get to 30 home runs with a little luck in the second half and could get his batting average up around .280.
Pitcher of the Half: Roy Oswalt - We talk about Roy frequently. He's named here frequently. He's brought up in constant trade scenarios. But, let's not lose sight of what Roy's season is shaping up to look like. Though he has a pedestrian 6-10 record, his 3.08 ERA would be his lowest since 2006, his xFIP of 3.46 would be his lowest since 2005 and he's on pace for his highest inning total since 2007. His K/9 rate is the highest it's been since his rookie season and he figures to end up with more strikeouts than at any time since 2005. That's all assuming he starts 14 more games and throws 88 more innings. Add just 14 innings to that total and he's looking at possibly his first 200 strikeout season since 2004. Oh, and there's that little point about him being two wins away from breaking the record for most victories in franchise history. All in all, it's been a good first half for Oswalt.
Defender of the Half: Michael Bourn - I'm already on record as saying that Bourn may cruise to his second straight Gold Glove. He's done nothing to dispel that thought lately. His UZR of 6.4 is the highest on the team by far and his Defensive Runs Saved total is almost twice that of Carlos Lee. Just think about how many jaw-dropping plays he's made this season. He currently leads the team with 50 Out of Zone plays, 10 more than the next-closest player (Hunter Pence). Bourn is also on pace to post his highest UZR of his career, which is pretty impressive to think about. All three of these choices were no-brainers, but Bourn was the first name I typed, without even having to look at the numbers to support it. He's that good.
Scouting Mier: Not to be a bummer about Mier, but this is yet another bad scouting report on him this season. I'm not yet ready to throw in the towel on his upside, because he is young for his level and showed some power last season. However, these reports have to be given some credence. Whether Mier is going to be the next Adam Everett, Craig Reynolds or Nomar won't be decided for a few years yet. He still has plenty of time to add power and it's important to note how hard it is for baseball players to maintain weight over the course of a season. So, Mier still has plenty of upside. It's clear, though, that his bat is the area he'll have to improve most.
Scouting Velasquez: In case you missed our breakdown on 2010 second-round pick Vincent Velasquez, here's Andy Seiler's take on him. Note that Velasquez did ultimately sign with Houston and is pitching with rookie-level Greeneville.
Here's the upshot from Seiler's report on Velasquez as a pitcher:
On the mound, he has number three starter potential....On the mound, he looks like a prototypical projectable starter with smooth mechanics, and he was 90-92 with his fastball at his best, touching 94 a couple times this spring. He adds in an above-average curveball and a potential plus changeup that’s inconsistent, so you can see the potential.
Montero v. Smoak: Three different articles have been written in the past two days talking about the Cliff Lee deal from a prospect perspective. The first claims that the Mariners picked Smoak because he's older and more likely to hit his peak under team controlled salaries. Since Montero is younger, it'll take him longer to reach his potential in the majors and will make him exponentially more expensive.
The second article says that Montero is clearly the better prospect, despite not really having a defensive position. His age relative to his league and his good hitting abilities make him a uniquely valuable prospect. Smoak's tendency to strike out and his sub-par numbers away from Minute Maid Park will dampen his value, especially in Seattle.
Who's right? The most compelling argument I see is that Smoak, the left-hander, will hit better at Safeco. I believe the quote was something like "Know Thyself." I can totally buy that, but I don't know that it automatically makes him a better value than Montero, who's younger and may have a higher upside.
Lastly, this is one of the most intriguing points I've read in a long time. Teams may want to trade within the division to weaken other teams! For as long as I can remember, GMs espoused the exact opposite theory. I wonder, though, with the premium being placed on prospects, if that kind of thinking is changing? Would it benefit the Astros long-term to trade Roy Oswalt to the Reds, knowing that they'd then weaken Cincy's farm system? Would the long-term benefits outweigh the short-term negative effects?