What’s the Blueprint? - pt. 2

added 6/8/2005 by Scott Barzilla

Columnist note: This is the second of a four part series on the blueprint for the Astros success. Last time we saw how the best offenses in baseball history have balance between the middle of the diamond and the corner of the diamond. This time we will see what the Astros need to do to bring balance to the offense.

Last time we looked at best eight offenses of the 20th century. Obviously, that is a little out of the reach of the Astros for 2006, but they can go from a bad offense to a very good one in the span of a year. It is very likely that they Astros will either get a somewhat productive Jeff Bagwell back next season or a large part of his salary. They will also get the money from Brad Ausmus and Roger Clemens contracts. I think we should expect that money to be parlayed into strengthening in the offense.

In this edition we will evaluate two plans (the Berkman plan and the Barzilla plan) to see which plan would be better for balance. First, we need to know what to do this year before we start talking about next year. Here we go two routes as well. We can try to compete and do everything necessary (including make trades) or we can play the youngsters.

Youth Movement Beginning?

The Astros say they are trying to win, but the recent moves seem to be saying otherwise. In the span of two days, the Astros called up Chris Burke and put him in left field and designated Raul Chavez for assignment in favor of Humberto Quintero. None of these moves can be seriously questioned, but if the club is trying to tell us these moves were designed to put us over the top then they need to protect themselves from sudden lightening blasts.

In the final game of the Reds series, you had Chris Burke, Willy Taveras, and Todd Self in the outfield. If that isn’t the beginning of a youth movement then I’m a ready to be committed to the nut house. Again, this is something that needs to be embraced. The current crop of veterans have a track record of mediocrity, so your best chance to compete are the rookies. The club could bring in some all-star quality hitters, but we won’t entertain that here. We’ll save that for the “Berkman plan”. Now, a look at the young players where they currently are in their development.

Chris Burke- Burke was called up recently and will be given some extended time in the outfield. Simply put, he has proven all he can at AAA. He could very well be a AAAA player (too good for AAA and not good enough for the bigs), but we will never know for sure unless he plays. At press time, the results are mixed, but he needs at least a couple of months.

Morgan Ensberg- For all of his flaws (high Ks, shaky defense in 2005), Ensberg has emerged to become the player he was in 2003. That player is a keeper. You might start talking a reasonable long-term deal (3 years, 12 million) after the season.

Adam Everett- Everett has five home runs and more than ten doubles as of press time, but he still has a low OBP. Right now, he is a player that could be a keeper depending on how he finishes the season. He must walk more.

Jason Lane- Lane is struggling big time but he has time to get it back. Like Ensberg and Everett, he has some track record to go on, but he may have blown his opportunity at being a long time regular with the club.

Humberto Quintero- Realistically, he is a backup catcher, but he will be catching forty percent of the time, so that should be enough time to see if he has starting potential or not.

Todd Self- I have to admit that I love this guy. He isn’t hitting for high average right now, but he is drawing walks and working some counts. I like him as a potential corner outfielder for the future, but we need to see what he can do.

Willy Taveras- Willy is doing well considering that he has no AAA experience. He is getting enough infield hits to keep his average at .250 or above. He needs to draw more walks to be a true leadoff hitter.

The goal for the remainder of the season should be to determine which of these guys will be a part of the long-term future of the team. In order to do that they need to give these guys regular playing time. We know that Taveras, Ensberg, and Everett will. The club needs to bite the bullet and do the same for the other guys.

The Berkman Plan

A week and a half ago Berkman spoke up about what he wanted to see the Astros do with the extra money coming there way. He said he wanted to trade for Mike Sweeney this season and pick up Brian Giles in the off-season. He mentioned Todd Helton, but we’ll forgive Berkman for his lack of knowledge of salaries, but we’ll give him Mike Sweeney and Brian Giles.

The other part of the Berkman plan will probably involve bringing back the rest of the regulars. Ballplayers are usually partial to their guys. This plan of course assumes that Bagwell can’t go anymore. So, you put a healthy productive player in his stead and then a bonafide stud to add to the lineup. That will fix the situation right? Let’s take a look at the last three year averages.

Middles


                    PA       AB      H     BB   HBP     TB
C Brad Ausmus      1453    1300    318    117    12    420		
2B Craig Biggio    2072    1838    490    147    59    789	
SS Adam Everett    1005     859    221     57    19    315		
CF Willy Taveras   1293    1119    332    135    39    408
Total              5823    5116   1361    456   129   1932
OBP: .334
SLG: .378
OPS: .712

We even helped out Berkman by giving Taveras credit for his minor league numbers the last three seasons rather than his numbers this season. However, we can expect Brad Ausmus and Craig Biggio to see a drop in their numbers due to age. In essence, we are looking at a collective .700 OPS from the middles under the Berkman plan. This doesn’t follow the blueprint at all

Corners


                    PA       AB      H     BB   HBP     TB
1B Mike Sweeney    1460    1274    393    158    14    655	
3B Morgan Ensberg  1050     928    257    102     9    425
LF Lance Berkman   2037    1660    496    341    23    919
RF Brian Giles     1964    1598    468    329    19    851
Total              6511    5460   1614    930    65   2850
OBP: .401
SLG: .522
OPS: .923

Certainly this would be a better lineup than the one we have, but would it be the best one? We still would have holes at catcher and shortstop with a possible hole in centerfield. In other words, once you got past the sixth spot in the batting order you would be able to breathe a large sigh of relief. This would be great if you wanted to replicate the 2004 lineup, but if you wanted to replicate those teams mentioned in the first edition you need to go another direction.

The Barzilla Plan

We could go Berkman’s route for about 25 million dollars or we could do what we can to beef up the middle. The funny thing is that we could do it for far less than what Berkman wants to do. Since I gave Berkman some unfair credit involving Taveras (which we will also do here) I will use my own cautious optimism and put Bagwell back into the lineup.

What we will do is sign Ramon Hernandez of the San Diego Padres, Nomar Garciaparra of the Cubs, and Reggie Sanders of the Reds. Hernandez makes a little over four million dollars right now. We will overpay for his services since he is the only good catcher on the market. I will pay him 24 million dollars for three seasons (8 million per season). I realize this is steep for him, but we have to remember my rule of overpaying only for that which you need.

Nomar Garciaparra is making 8.25 million this season, but since he is out for the season and because he hasn’t had a good season for three years, he will likely sign somewhere for less. Drayton could work his magic and get him to commit for six million and one season. You could even install a bonus on it that automatically adds two years and 18 million to it if he gets 500 plate appearances. This leaves Reggie Sanders who is currently making four million. We will assume he will sign for the same four million on his sojourning tour. Unlike the others, his deal will be a one year deal.

This leaves a combined seven million difference between the Berkman plan and Barzilla plan, but Bagwell isn’t leaving either. This leaves a combined four million from Ausmus’ expiring contract. We could use the money to buy either one bonafide setup man (Octavio Dotel?) or two decent relievers like Chris Hammond and another of the plethora of middle relief free agents.

Middle


                         PA      AB      H     BB   HBP     TB
C Ramon Hernandez      1425    1270    332    111    22    539		
2B Craig Biggio        2072    1838    490    147    59    789
SS Nomar Garciaparra   1766    1614    494    104    23    833	
CF Willy Taveras       1293    1119    332    135    39    408
Total                  6556    5841   1648    497   143   2569
OBP: .349
SLG: .440
OPS: .779

Obviously, this group is not going to make anyone forget the 1953 Dodgers, but they are considerably better than the Berkman group. Garciaparra may actually improve with health (or he could be injury prone again) and Hernandez played the last three years in pitcher’s parks. A shift to Minute Maid park could see an improvement in his numbers. Those two events should offset the dip in numbers from Biggio and Taveras.

Corner


                      PA      AB      H     BB   HBP     TB
1B Jeff Bagwell     2072    1748    486    285    24    879 	
3B Morgan Ensberg   1050     928    257    102     9    425
LF Lance Berkman    2037    1660    496    341    23    919
RF Reggie Sanders   1556    1404    371    118    21    702
Total               6715    5740   1610    846    77    2925
OBP: .377
SLG: .510
OPS: .887

This group is not quite as good as the Berkman group, but I think you’ll find that it is a better all around lineup than the Berkman lineup. Even if we assume the worst (Bagwell can’t return) you still have four guys (Jason Lane, Luke Scott, Chris Burke, and Todd Self) that can possibly fill that corner outfield slot. It is the best of all worlds. If Bagwell can’t man the spot then you will likely have some extra money to pad the bench and pitching staff. However, we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Let’s compare the ratios of the two lineups to the composite from last time.


                    PA Ratio  OBP Ratio   SLG Ratio   OPS Ratio
All-time Composite       100        100          93          96
Berkman                   89         83          72          77
Barzilla                  98         93          86          88

The Barzilla lineup doesn’t quite add up to the composite, but it does compare favorably with the 1969 Orioles. The Berkman lineup doesn’t compare favorably with any of those teams. Teams with limited budgets like the Astros can’t turn themselves into a dynasty, but with some intelligent spending they can turn themselves into a pretty good offensive team again.

Coming Up Next

We’re going to look at the same list of dynasties (23) to find the top eight pitching rotations in history (famous rotations) to see if there is anything they have in common. Of course, the Astros rotation doesn’t have nearly as far to go to compete with those clubs as their offense has.

Scott Barzilla is the author of “Checks and Imbalances” and “The State of Baseball Management.”