The Red Herring

added 7/2/2008 by Scott Barzilla

They come from all different directions. Some people trash the bullpen and the team's dumping of several good relief pitchers over the last several years. Others trash a rotation that has Roy Oswalt and a bunch of no names. Not surprisingly, the Astros look up at the half way point near the bottom of the standings and under .500. See, didn't they know better? Didn't they know you can't win without pitching?

Didn't the Astros learn their lesson from 2005? Back then, they had the best pitching in the game. The problem was that they had the best pitching in the game. That doesn't happen very often. That pitching hid an offense that had about as much punch as a girl scout. That offense still had very little punch in 2006 and then again in 2007. 2008 was supposed to be different. 2008 was supposed to be a year where the Astros scored runs by the dozens. That hasn't happened.

At this point we usually would point to certain individuals that bring down the ship, but this time we are going to look at the whole picture. Often times, the whole picture can show us the kind of holes that teams have in their talent evaluation. So, we will look at the Astros NL ranking in OBP, SLG, OPS, batting average, and runs scored from 2005 through 2008.

            OBP          SLG         OPS          AVG        Runs
2005         13            7           7           13          11
2006         10           15          15           16          12
2007         10           10          11           12          13
2008         13            7           7            4          10

The Astros have a shoddy track record of scoring runs in general, but the one statistic that they have struggled in consistently is on base percentage. This is where we can begin to look at individual players and how they interact with these statistics. For our purposes we will focus on the hitters' strikeout to walk ratios.

                       PA       SO        BB          SO/100       BB/100
Michael Bourn         327       70        25            21.4          7.6
Kaz Matsui            248       37        23            14.9          9.3
Lance Berkman         345       52        46            15.1         13.3
Carlos Lee            336       36        22            10.7          6.5
Miguel Tejada         348       40        16            11.5          4.6
Hunter Pence          328       65        19            19.8          5.8
Ty Wigginton          191       30        20            15.7         10.5
Brad Ausmus           131       22         8            16.8          6.1

It's never a good thing when your leadoff hitter has the highest strikeout rate on the club. More importantly, only Lance Berkman has what anyone would call a good walk rate. Wigginton is a surprising second, but that still translates to about 50 walks this season. That is your second best hitter in terms of walks. That doesn't exactly inspire confidence. So, while Carlos Lee can continue to accumulate RBIs and Miguel Tejada might approach 200 hits for the season, the offense still sputters.

This is where player development comes in. If you want hitters that exhibit patience then you sign hitters that exhibit patience. If you want hitters that don't strike out very often then you sign hitters that don't strike out very often. Either way, you can blame the pitchers all you want, but the Astros have to score runs before they can get back into the playoff hunt.