Burke Gets the Shaft

added 5/12/2007 by Scott Barzilla

Earlier in the season, I made a pledge to lay off of two Astros. I will continue that pledge today, but it will be difficult to maintain. The Astros had to make a tough decision when they decided to activate Rick White. White is sporting an ERA under 2.00, so bringing him back was easy enough. Who to let go was the difficult decision.

The first decision that had to be made was whether to go with eleven or twelve pitchers. Even though the Astros are 16-19, their pitching staff has been very good. Obviously, Rick White has played a role in that. If we simply look at the bullpen there is no simple answer as to who should have been demoted from that group. Following are the respective bullpen numbers for the current Astros.

                      G      INN      ERA
Dan Wheeler          16      17.0     3.71
Brad Lidge           17      15.2     4.02
Chad Qualls          16      15.1     4.11
Trever Miller        17       9.0     6.00
Rick White            9      13.2     1.32
Brian Moehler         5      12.2     3.55
Dave Borkowski       11      12.1     3.65

When you know that Trever Miller is left-handed you see the immediate problem with sending him out. Let's not even mention that he has a guaranteed contract. There are a couple of rules in sports that teams try not to break. The first is that you shouldn't lose your job because of injury. The second is that you should do whatever you can to keep a productive player. All of the righties in the bullpen have been productive.

The bench is another story altogether. When we look at the bench we see a few prime candidates that could be shipped out. Chris Burke doesn't have a position, but then again, look at the other candidates that could have been sent out. Burke may not have been the best selection.

                     PA    OBP    SLG    OPS
Jason Lane           52   .250   .529   .779
Orlando Palmeiro     28   .345   .174   .519
Chris Burke          88   .344   .388   .732

Okay, I made a pledge, but I will never make a pledge to Orlando Palmeiro. This guy is about as useless as tits on a boarhog. Of course, I've been saying similar sentiments for the past three years. I've heard it all before: "he makes contact," "he's left-handed," and "he's one of the best pinch hitters in history." My personal favorite argument is that Burke needs to play everyday to be ready for the day Biggio moves on.

Chris Burke is 27 years old. He has proven all he needs to prove at AAA. He simply needs to play at the big league level. Burke was upset when he was sent down and eluded to the fact that Biggio has been hanging around a long time. These things happen. I'll bet all the catchers in the White Sox system were ecstatic to see Carlton Fisk hang around until his mid forties. I'm sure there are shortstops in the Giants system that love to hear the fact that Omar Vizquel might play beyond this year. Young players get blocked all the time.

Organizations have to deal with this fact. The Astros had that tough choice when they had Daryle Ward torturing AAA pitching. Obviously, Bagwell wasn't going anywhere, so they converted the rotund Ward into a left fielder. It seems the Astros tact is to take blocked players and convert them into outfielders. Learning to hit big league pitching is hard enough without having to learn a new position. Now, instead of being a hot prospect, Burke is a journeyman type that has never hit more than .260.

Dealing prospect after prospect is hard, but sometimes it beats the alternative. Burke asked to be traded this week when he heard the news of his demotion. The decision might not be a bad one at this point. Mark Loretta could always be signed for another season and the club has a second sacker hitting better than .300 in Corpus Christi. Still, you can't help but think the Astros should have seen this coming three or four years ago. What would they have gotten for Burke back then?

When you look at the club there are a multitude of holes that can be filled. Let's just look at the starting lineup. The numbers will speak for themselves, but I will continue my moratorium on negative comments about particular players. I think you can be the judge for themselves.

                    OBP     SLG     OPS
Craig Biggio       .303    .435    .738
Morgan Ensberg     .325    .333    .658
Lance Berkman      .436    .420    .856
Carlos Lee         .336    .500    .836
Luke Scott         .355    .463    .818
Hunter Pence       .260    .417    .677
Adam Everett       .268    .283    .551
Brad Ausmus        .350    .333    .683

The three through five slots seem to be shaping up quite nicely, but the rest of the order is a disaster. Hunter Pence deserves some time to figure himself out. However, the performance of the respective E's has to be alarming. Everett is a great fielder, but a sub .600 OPS is really hard to maintain. Meanwhile, Ensberg has taken a turn for the worse since I last addressed you. Theoretically, Lamb could take over at third and Loretta could take over at short, but defensively the team would suffer.

Yet, those options aren't there when you have Chris Burke and Eric Bruntlett sitting in Round Rock. Why are they sitting there? They are sitting there because the Astros simply HAVE to have their worthless piece of crap left handed pinch hitter. They have to have someone that couldn't outslug a wheelchair bound resident of one of our finest homes for the elderly. They are down in AAA because it is more important to have someone that makes contact. It doesn't matter that this contact is usually a weak grounder or weak fly ball. Yes, Burke was angry about not being able to play second (as well he should be,) but he probably should have directed that anger to the bench.