Two Hurdles

added 8/18/2005 by Scott Barzilla

Things have been tough of late. The club finished off the Pittsburgh series with two shutouts (giving the Bucs four shutouts this year against the Astros). Meanwhile, the cries for trades can be heard on every message board in Astros land. Before we look at the August candidates let me revisit a couple of topics of discussion from earlier in the summer.

Some of you may recall the new statistic I introduced called ARV (adjusted real value). I’ve decided to bust it out again after a couple of months to see how the lineup is taking shape. More importantly, the club has been hot as a pistol (overall) since I published that article. As we have seen, the scoring is a little more sporadic, so the club appears to be settling in to where (and who) they are supposed to be. Looking again will give us an idea of where the club is weak.

Adjusted Real Value

To refresh your memory, ARV is calculated by adding batting average and secondary average together and dividing by two. Additionally, these numbers can be compared historically by dividing that sum by the league average, but we don’t need to do that. This concept was first developed by Bill James, but never brought to full fruition. Some of my colleagues tell me that this number explains 91% of offensive production (slightly better than OPS). The key comes in the use of secondary average. It calculates everything batting average doesn’t (power, patience, and speed).

                     AVG    SEC    ARV
CF Willy Taveras    .296   .136   .216 
2B Craig Biggio     .275   .289   .282
1B Lance Berkman    .291   .380   .336
3B Morgan Ensberg   .293   .465   .379
RF Jason Lane       .264   .306   .285
SS Adam Everett     .240   .203   .222
LF Burke/Lamb       .222   .200   .211
C Brad Ausmus       .246   .170   .208

The Astros bench is actually starting to pick things up. Orlando Palmeiro has been a terrific fourth outfielder, Eric Bruntlett is beginning to pick things up, and Jose Vizcaino can always be counted on for veteran leadership. Probably the most important aspect to the improvement in the bench has been the play of Humberto Quintero. Yes, he was hitting only .175 coming into the Cubs series, but he has been hitting close to .250 since his appendectomy.

The two keys to the turnaround come in Lance Berkman becoming Lance Berkman again and Jason Lane continuing to improve. As we can see, four players/positions in the lineup are sub-par. This leads fans, columnists, and pundits to suggest bringing in a proven hitter. Two players’ names have been circulating since August 1st.

                     AVG    SEC    ARV
Ken Griffey Jr.     .282   .369   .326		
Moises Alou         .328   .338   .333
Adam Dunn           .259   .536   .398

No, Adam Dunn is not available, but I threw him in to show how July’s darling compares with the August darlings. Apparently, Ken Griffey Jr. has cleared waivers, so he is available. The question is whether the Astros should make such a deal. John P. Lopez asserts that the club should go after Moises Alou. Alou may or may not be available, but he is also on the disabled list. Of course, Griffey has spent more time on the disabled list between 2001 and 2004 than all of the Astros regulars combined.

The whole idea is to plug either Alou or Griffey into the Burke/Lamb spot. Then, you have three consecutive .300+ ARV guys in the middle of the lineup with a solid Biggio and Lane in the second and sixth position. That obviously looks appetizing, but we need to consider the costs.

The Giants have never listed a price for Alou, but you can expect them to demand at least two very good prospects. Alou is signed through 2006 with a six million dollar price tag for next season. He is due to come off the disabled list on August 18th, but it is unclear as to whether he will be ready by then. Trading for someone that might not be able to play doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, but stranger things can happen. More importantly though, Alou will turn forty during the 2006 season, so spending two prospects on an aging player that has been injury prone is downright dangerous.

Griffey is a more complicated story. He is only thirty-five and reportedly has Houston on his list of teams he would approve a trade to, and he also has reportedly cleared waivers already where Alou reportedly has not. However he is also owed nearly thirty nine million dollars through 2008. The Astros have shown in recent seasons that they are willing to pay that kind of money to a player. Still, you can’t go around spending more than ten million a season cavalierly. Griffey hasn’t played in this many games since the 2000 season (his first in Cincinnati). So, again, do you want to trade two prime prospects (and freeing a division rival out of a bad contract) for a player that has a very good chance of missing significant time in every season until the end of his contract?

DIPS Goes the Rotation

The second thing that sent the club back into mediocrity was the freak injury Brandon Backe suffered a few weeks ago. It seemed that Zeke Astacio and Wandy Rodriguez would pick up the slack. They’ve both struggled in each last three starts. Even with the top three, you cannot make it far in a pennant race with three great starters and two bad ones. Having a solid Backe in the fourth slot was a godsend throughout the run to the top of the wild card chase.

DIPS stands for “Defensive Independent Pitching Statistics”. A lot of coaches talk about “pitching to contact”. The idea is that young pitchers waste their energy trying to strike out hitters. That is true nominally, but more so because of the walks that result from nibbling. The Reds have gone with the system of “pitching to contact.” They lead the league in home runs surrendered. We can predict future pitching performance more accurately by looking at walks, strikeouts, and home runs allowed than by looking at ERA. Wandy Rodriguez might win ten or more games this season, but if he and Roger Clemens traded places Clemens would already have twenty wins.

                 GS   INN    SO/9  BB/9  HR/9
Roger Clemens    24   164.0   8.1   2.4   0.3	 	
Roy Oswalt       25   178.2   6.2   1.7   0.6
Andy Pettitte    23   154.2   6.8   1.8   0.6
Brandon Backe    20   122.1   5.8   4.3   1.0
Wandy Rodriguez  14    78.2   6.5   3.9   1.6
Zeke Astacio     10    52.2   7.7   3.1   3.2	

The key are the home runs per nine innings. Brandon Backe won’t be a good big league starter until he cuts his walk rate considerably, but he is a functional big league starter because he keeps the ball in the ballpark at a reasonable rate. Of course, the failed Jamie Moyer trade seems bigger now, but putting him behind Backe in the September rotation would have been helpful. Of course, everyone can look at Wandy’s 7-5 record and think he’s doing okay. The above numbers demonstrate he is not doing okay, but he is a rookie.

What Now?

I love it when columnists demand teams acquire specific players. If John P. Lopez had done his homework he would have realized two things: Alou is on the disabled list and he has not cleared waivers. Yet, we can’t confuse the situation with facts because that would get in the way of a good story. Griffey is available and willing, but there are a whole host of issues there.

Throughout this process I have always said we should consider 2006. Well, 2006 is closer than we think. We have new regulars in left field, centerfield, and right field and several young pitchers on the pitching staff. That process will likely continue into next year with some additional young players. Do we really want to interrupt that process by picking up another expensive veteran? Going with some young players has made this season both interesting and maddening. Yes, we’ve been shut out more than any team. We’ve also vaulted ourselves into the wild card race. Watching a young team will do that. My advice is to buy the antacid and enjoy the ride.