Each week, we've been looking at players in a small sample size, from the last time this column went live. Now, we'll look back at the roster for the entire season to this point to see who's rising, who's falling and who needs to be sold off.
J.R. Towles, rising - The guy with the highest walk rate and slugging percentage has only got 39 plate appearances this season. That's a travesty, folks. Brad Mills needs to find ways to get Towles' bat into the lineup. If he can't play regularly at catcher because of his defense, put him elsewhere.Try him at third base or second base. Give him the occasional start in left field. Do something to maximize that bat, because this team needs offense.
Jason Bourgeois, rising - Much like Towles, Bourg has made the most out of limited playing time. He's only got 41 plate appearances this season, but Bourg has parlayed that into a fWAR of 0.4. He may not have walked yet this season, but he also hasn't struck out a ton (9.8 percent). Given his speed and defensive prowess, Bourg is really making a strong case for being this club's fourth outfielder, which is bad news for Jason Michaels once he returns from his shoulder injury.
Bill Hall, bottomed out - Well, not to spoil any awards for tomorrow, but the least-valuable position player this season has easily been Hall. He's shown signs of coming around lately, but his early season funk has put him in a bad situation. He hasn't shown the power that was the reason Houston signed him, his defensive numbers (though don't put too much stock into them) are the worst on the team and he's got absolutely the lowest fWAR on the team. Not a very encouraging April for Mr. Hall.
Chris Johnson, very low - Are you trying to say Jesus Christ can't hit a curveball?
Carlos Lee, surprisingly strong - Clack has touched on this before, but the only reason Carlos Lee's numbers look halfway decent in terms of fWAR is he's got that gaudy Fielding number of 3.3, based entirely on his oufield assists. Take that away and he plummets down into the likes of Chris Johnson and Bill Hall. Add to that the ruthless efficiency of Jason Bourgeois and it's only a matter of time before Carlos starts losing playing time. After all, El Bufalo isn't getting any younger.
Hunter Pence, riding high - Slow and steady. That's Hunter's motto. He doesn't like to be flashy, he just gets the job done. It's all about the team and how he can best help the ballclub. Right? Well, Pence is certainly been the leading hitter on the team this season. He loses out slightly to Brett Wallace in fWAR, but his RBI and home run totals are second to none. Pence is just reliable. He's not a star*, but he's as dependable as they come. *-caveat: by star, I mean MVP candidate.
Brett Wallace, meeting expectations - He's exactly the hitter we thought he might be, churning out a high average and hitting for doubles power. In fact, Wallace's line looks suspiciously like the player listed above him here. Take out a few points in batting average for Wallace's ridiculously high BABiP and he's got the earmarks of Hunter Pence's line. Their rate stats are similar. Their ISOs are similar. It's uncanny.
Michael Bourn, underperforming? - Okay, I know Bourn's numbers are solid and he's got the flashy steals total. I know all that. I also know that defensive stats still shouldn't be given too much credence this early in the season. What I can't understand is any defensive metric that says Bourn is not a good defender this season. Has he slipped some and I didn't notice? Is he not getting to balls like he used to, or is there an arm component that we're missing? I'm puzzled, everyone. I really am.
Angel Sanchez, holding steady - I expect that if I had told all of you that Sanchez would have 0.2 fWAR by the time Clint Barmes came back from that hand injury back in spring training, you'd have been very pleased. Overall, I think that's how we should view Sanchez' start. It's going to win him some playing time every now and then, but he's most effective when he's used off the bench. He's not a difference-making player, but he is a nice complementary piece.
Bud Norris, roundhouse punch upwards - I know I've been singing Norris' praises often around here, but looking at his season as a whole, it's hard not to be impressed. Do you know that in the Astros entire team history, they've only had two pitchers come close to striking out 10 or more per 9 innings? Those two pitchers were Nolan Ryan in 1987 and Mike Scott in 1986. No one else broke 10 K/9, which Norris is currently doing this season. I'm not suggesting he's going to keep this up for the next few months, but it does show what august company Budly's keeping right about now.
Wandy Rodriguez, no slow start - There was a lot to worry about with Wandy heading into the season. He signed that big contract in the winter. He had shoulder trouble in spring training. He started slow last season. Aside from one or two bad starts, Wandy has been very good, however. He's got the second-highest strikeout rate of all the starters and the lowest walk rate. He's not generating ground balls with as much frequency as he has in the past, but he's also been unlucky with balls in play, so his ERA figures to lower in the coming weeks and months.
Mark Melancon, big dividends - Do you know which reliever has thrown the most innings this season? And who's appeared in the most games? Or who has the lowest ERA on the team? If you answered Shark for any of those, you get a cookie. Melancon has been as good as we could have hoped in his very small sample size. He's getting strikeouts, he's generating ground balls at a high rate and he's not giving up home runs. Only one of those figures to change this season, as Shark will not go the whole year without giving up a home run. But, while he's here, Melancon has been the most dependable reliever in a pretty mediocre bullpen.
J.A. Happ, breaking even - "There is nothing good or bad, but thinking makes it so." Add up all of Happ's good starts and bad starts and you get something that's perfectly in the middle. He's showing exactly what he did in Philadelphia, which is a remarkable inconsistency. There is enough talent with Happ to encourage you when he spins a start like he did last night in Cincinnati. But, there are also those starts that disgust you, like his first on against Cincinnati. Basically, at this point in the season, we're no closer to figuring out if Happ will be part of this team's future, and that's not a good thing.
Nelson Figueroa, positive underlying markers - The job of a pitcher is to keep batters off the base paths. Failing that, his job is to keep those base runners from scoring. Figgy's downfall this season is he didn't do a good enough job with either of those tasks. His walk rate is legitimately too high and he doesn't strike enough guys out, but he's also been unlucky with his batting average on balls in play. That's one of the reasons why his bloated ERA is mitigated some by his FIP and xFIP. I'm not saying I want him back in the rotation, just that Figueroa may have been a tad unlucky to this point and could turn things around in the bullpen.
Brett Myers, volatile - It's the same song, different verse with Myers. His peripheral numbers say he should be worse than he's actually performing. His LOB percentage is still the highest on the team and both is FIP and xFIP are much higher than his actual ERA. The thing is, Myers is still getting a high ground ball rate and has been pretty unlucky with home runs to this point. In his last start against Milwaukee, if not for those three solo home runs he gave up, that start would have been very solid. That's a big if, I know, but I think Myers is still a top starter in this rotation. He just may not be the best this season.
Fernando Abad, not meeting expectations - There is a tried and true way to be successful as a pitcher at Minute Maid Park. You get as many ground balls as you can, and what fly balls you do give up need to go towards center field. The three pitchers who have struggled most this season (Happ, Aneury Rodriguez and Abad) have the three lowest ground ball rates on the team. That's not to say they haven't been good at times, or that they've only been bad at MMP. But, it's a little reminder of why good pitchers are successful here. Abad is still a rookie and has a lot to learn. His ERA is bad, and it's not getting saved by his FIP or xFIP, which are equally bad. From all the talk in spring training, Abad had a chance to be special and maybe compete for a rotation spot. Now, he's going to be lucky to hold onto a roster spot if he keeps performing like this.