Ok, after spending most of the 2 hour drive from Flagstaff to Phoenix talking Astros baseball with Andy, I figured it's time for a nice big post.
First of all, I've decided I'm pretty much ambivalent about Carlos Lee. If we give him 5/65, I won't be ecstatic, but I won't be depressed. I will say that I'd rather we give Alou 2/10 and Piazza 1/7. There' s just no way you can convince me that Carlos Lee + Brad Ausmus is better than Moises Alou + Mike Piazza or even something like Luis Gonzalez + Johnny Estrada.
I was cruising around Baseball Prospectus and I found an old article than convincingly argues that it is generally not worth it to give free agent deals to mediocre-to-slightly-above-average free agents. They generally argue for giving big contracts to superstars and going from there. In mathematical terms, the relationship between x=VORP and y=Net Worth is not a linear one, but more of an exponential one. A guy like Albert Pujols with an 85.4 VORP is not worth 10 times more than a guy with an 8.5 VORP. He's worth a lot more than that. With that in mind, I'm psyched that we have Berkman and Oswalt locked up for 5 more years each! Here's a list of the National League leaders in VORP (Value Over Replacement Player):
1. Albert Pujols, 85.4
2. Ryan Howard, 81.5
3. Miguel Cabrera, 78.7
4. Roy Oswalt, 72.4
5. Lance Berkman, 70.1
6. Brandon Webb, 68.9
7. Carlos Beltran, 68.5
8. Chris Carpenter, 67.8
9. Chase Utley, 65.2
10. Garret Atkins, 62.7
VORP doesn't take defense into account, so Berkman falls a little bit (more on this later), but still, 2 of the top 5 players in the league? COUNT IT. Oh, and Garret Atkins?? Wow.
There's a neat article over at The Baseball Analysts that talks about 'net stolen bases'. Essentially it takes stolen bases, caught stealings, and pick-offs into account and lists the best basestealers based on that. Willy Taveras was the best for the Astros, with the following numbers:
which gives a net SB value of 11 = 33-(2*9)-(2*2).
That's not too bad; for comparison, the league leaders were Ichiro Suzuki with 39 and Dave Roberts with 31. So Taveras isn't quite in their tier, but his speed helps the team.
Andy and I generally agree that our biggest hole this offseason is our starting pitching. Our #1 priority needs to be to re-sign Andy Pettitte. We NEED to do this. Pettitte struggled in the 1st half this past year, but in the last 2 years he's pitched 222.3 and 214.3 innings with ERA's of 2.39 and 4.20. He's 34 years old, his strikeout rate is still good, and his most similar pitchers are Mike Mussina and Dwight Gooden. If we don't re-sign him, we're looking at Oswalt and a lot of questions marks. He signed a 3 / 31 deal in 2004; perhaps we could give him that same deal? I think he'd be worth it. He's worth slightly overpaying for if you look at the free agent market for pitchers. I think he's better than Barry Zito and Jason Schmidt, personally.
If we sign Pettitte, we're looking at Oswalt / Pettitte / Hirsh / ? / ?. I personally like giving one of the question marks to Fernando Nieve, but there are many other options: Buchholz, Albers, Chris Sampson, etc. I'd be ok with just giving it to whichever of those guys looks the best in spring training. That leaves one more spot to fill. I've already argued that Woody Williams would make a decent fit (Option A). Here are two other guys that I'll endorse:
Option B: Brian Lawrence. This is Andy's idea, but I like it. He's coming off of surgery, but in 2003-2005 he pitched 210.7, 203.0, and 195.7 innings with ERA's of 4.19, 4.12, and 4.83. His walk rates are fairly low, he doesn't strike out too many guys, but with our excellent infield defense (more on this later), he could be a great fit. He's also very tough on righties (701 OPS allowed, 841 OPS for lefties), which is great for Minute Maid Park, which traditionally benefits right-handed hitters a lot. He'll be 31, and his most similar pitchers include Tomo Ohka and Bronson Arroyo.
Option C: Rodrigo Lopez. I've mentioned him before, but his walk / strikeout / HR rates are similar to Lawrence's, and he has to face the Yankees / Red Sox / Blue Jays lineups a ton. Compare that to the Brewers / Pirates / Cubs. Yum. He has no injury concers and is only 30 years old. I like him a lot. His most similar pitchers are John Thomson and Brett Tomko. Lefties and righties hit him equally well (779 OPS righties, 785 OPS lefties).
If forced to pick between one of Williams / Lawrence / Lopez, I pick the one with the highest groundball rate. Here are each of our three guys GB / FB ratios (so a number >1 means more groundballs, and <1 means more flyballs). Why groundball rate as the tiebreaker? Read on.
Woody Williams - 0.93/0.83/0.90. Worst rates of the three, and he's WORSE against righties.
Rodrigo Lopez - 1.33/1.13/1.23. Pretty solid.
Brian Lawrence - 1.61/1.81/1.46. Your winner, Brian Lawrence!! Tough on righties, a lot of groundalls = SOLID #3 STARTER! Do it, Purpura!! Andy, well done.
Let's talk about defense. Baseball Think Factory has a nice article up about their choices for National League Gold Gloves, and includes defensive stats for every regular. Here are the Astros stats, measure by Runs Saved / 150 games:
Catcher: Brad Ausmus, 0
First Base: Lance Berkman, -5
Second Base: Craig Biggio, 6 (!)
Shorstop: Adam Everett, 28 (!!) - Easily leads all SS in the NL. I quote from the article:
If Ozzie Smith was as good as Adam Everett, he was incredible. Everett is on the verge of saving the most runs on defense over the last 20 years. He’s truly incredible at outpacing his peers.
Third Base: Morgan Ensberg, 12 (!) - Barely leads all 3B in the NL (Feliz, Rolen are close).
Left Field: Preston Wilson, -31 (!!!) - Partially caused by the tiny left field at Minute Maid, but YIKES.
Center Field: Willy Taveras, 6 - 7th in the NL
Right Field: Jason Lane, -16 (!) - Ugh. Outfield defense besides Taveras = BAD.
So in summary, infield defense = great, outfield defense except for Taveras = BAD. Hence my desire for groundball pitchers. And that's some pretty high praise for Adam Everett.
Ok, that ought to give you some Astros tidbits to mull over. There's more that I'd like to talk about, but it basically boils down to Brad Ausmus being the bane of my existence, hoping we look into trading for Johnny Estrada, and Phil Garner rating pretty highly on a study of managers who get the most out of their players. Later.