Series Preview: Pirates vs. Astros
The Pirates and Astros limp into this series, near mirror images of one another. Both are buried in the standings, despite residing in the thoroughly mediocre NL Central. Both are searching for new general managers, and, as an extension, a new philosophy. Houston has seen its farm system fall into disrepair, as recent draft picks (such as lefthander Brian Bogusevic, outfielder Eli Iorg, and catcher Max Sapp) have disappointed. Houston’s total disregard for its farm system became apparent this past August, when the Astros (without a first or second round pick) failed to sign its third and fourth round selections. Pittsburgh’s farm system isn’t quite as bleak, but recent blunders and a disregard for the Latin American market has left the Pirates with an alarming lack of talent in the low minors.
Both of these teams need to re-commit themselves to player development, and face long-term rebuilding projects.
Tale of the Tape
Runs Scored/Allowed: 668/737
Pythagorean Record: 66-80
Defensive Efficiency: .682 (26th)
Runs Scored/Allowed: 632/742
Pythagorean Record: 61-85
Defensive Efficiency: .690 (21st)
RHP Ian Snell (112 ERA+) vs. RHP Roy Oswalt (130 ERA+)
RHP Matt Morris (103 ERA+ with San Francisco; 84 ERA+ with Pittsburgh) vs. LHP Wandy Rodriguez (95 ERA+)
LHP Paul Maholm (103 ERA+) vs. RHP Brandon Backe (75 ERA+)
– Has Jack Wilson (.346/.397/.519 in the second half) become a considerably better hitter, or has Wilson been the beneficiary of Lady Luck, a la 2004? Let’s examine Wilson’s walk rate, BABIP (Batting Average on Balls In Play), and line drive percentage figures from 2004 to 2007. Keep in mind, the general formula for a hitter’s BABIP is line drive percentage (LD%) plus .120. A BABIP number that varies significantly from that formula can indicate a fluky performance; a significantly higher BABIP than expected can be seen as a lucky performance, while a significantly lower BABIP than expected can indicate some tough luck for the hitter.
3.8 BB%, .333 BABIP, 20.1 LD%
4.9 BB%, .274 BABIP, 18.0 LD%
5.6 BB%, .298 BABIP, 23.1 LD%
8.5 BB%, .303 BABIP, 18.1 LD%
It appears as though Wilson has made some solid offensive progress. His walk rate has increased each season, and the BABIP and LD% numbers paint his progress as legitimate. Perhaps Wilson’s days as an offensive cipher are over.
– Franquelis Osoria has been a nifty enough pickup as a six-year minor league free agent, but Jim Tracy needs to stop using Osoria against lefthanders, who continually paste the groundball specialist. In Osoria’s career, lefties are hitting an absurd .412/.459/.676 against him, as opposed to a dominant .221/.314/.270 line against righthanders. The Pirates could have a Chad Bradford-type pitcher on their hands, which can be quite valuable if properly utilized.
– Outside of the stellar Roy Oswalt, the Astros have struggled to find competent performers in the rotation. Houston ranks 20th in MLB with a 0.95 RA+ (Park and League Normalized Run Average; anything above 1 is above average, anything below 1 is below average.)
– On the whole, Carlos Lee has turned in a pretty solid performance in 2007 (.295/.349/.515). However, I certainly wonder if the Astros will regret signing Lee to a 6 year, $100 million contract this past offseason. Lee is a good, not great hitter (career line of .287/.341/.497 while playing in cozy ballparks for righthanded hitters) with defensive limitations; his frame and range suggest he isn’t likely to last in left field for the duration of his contract. A .285/.340/.480-type first baseman with a backloaded contract ($18.5 M per from 2009-2012) does not sound attractive.