Zachary Levine at the Chron.com has a couple of interesting points today. First, he has an article about the lack of lefthanded hitting on the Astros. Second, he discusses the competition for the 5th outfielder spot (behind the first back up slot held by Jason Michael).
With the injury to Jason Castro, Levine points out that the lineup offers little in the way of lefthandedness:
There is a chance that a righthanded pitcher facing the Astros — as a random example, let’s use Roy Halladay on opening day — could get all the way from Michael Bourn at the top of the lineup to Brett Wallace, who may hit in the No. 7 spot, without encountering one hitter in the lefty half of the batter’s box.
And, yes, Mr. Mills says that Wallace is likely to start out in the No. 7 spot.
The first question is whether the lack of lefthanded starters is a significant problem or a minor one. And I think that depends on how well the key RHBs hit against righthand pitching. Carlos Lee has relatively small platoon splits over his career (.838 LHP/.833 RHP OPS), but a lot his hitting problems last year were associated with a large platoon split (.771 LHP/.689 RHP OPS). Is that split a fluke or not? Hunter Pence has mild platoon splits over his career (.842 LHP/.809 RHP OPS), and his results against pitchers from both sides declined more or less proportionally in a down year (.820 LHP/ .776 RHP OPS). Bill Hall has mild platoon splits over his career (.790 LHP/.736 RHP OPS), but oddly large opposite splits last year (.680 LHP/.841 RHP OPS). Hall's 2010 result may be a sample size-related anomaly. Clint Barmes has rather large platoon splits over his career (.820 LHP/.663 RHP OPS). Barmes' split continued to be large last season, with a paltry .612 OPS against RHPs. It's surprising that Barmes hasn't been considered more of a platoon player over his career. Chris Johnson has opposite platoon spits, but given the small sample size, I won't give it much weight. However, with the little available evidence, perhaps Johnson will be a relatively even hitter against both pitching sides. Also, the importance of Brett Wallace providing LH power in the lineup is apparent.
My conclusion--yes, the lack of lefties could be a problem. Don't be surprised if good RHPs shut down the Astros too frequently. Since the lefty/righty hitting becomes more important late in games--when relief pitcher changes can be made on the basis of platoons--this raises the question of who will provide lefthanded hitting off the bench. Brian Bogusevic, and the switch hitters, Carlos Corporan and Anderson Hernandez, are competitors for back up slots who might fit the need.
So, that raises the question as to whether Bogusevic, Corporan, and Hernandez could gain an advantage at winning OF, C, and Infield back up slots. What do you think?
This ties into the second question: who will win the back up outfielder slot? Again, Bogusevic's lefthandedness may give him an advantage in the selection of a reserve outfielder. So far Bogusevic's offense has not been strong this spring, even though the sample size may render those results meaningless. Shuck is also a lefthander, but my guess is that the Astros may prefer that Shuck play full time in AAA, for development purposes, rather than sit on the bench in the majors. Bourgeois is at a disadvantage in terms of platoon, but he is a better defensive player than the other two competitors. The defensive ability may be an important skill to have on the bench. Finally, I wouldn't be shocked if Ed Wade acquires a LHB outfielder as teams cut down during spring training and back up players become available. Your thoughts?