Looking ahead to the All-Star Game

added 7/1/2009 by Scott Barzilla

When you look at the All-Star Game, you hardly ever discuss pitchers because all of the pitchers get selected by the manager. Also, a fifth place team like the Astros rarely have a pitcher that has built up the requisite amount of wins to be considered. Sure enough, Roy Oswalt is stuck on four despite some very good outings lately and Wandy Rodriguez has six despite being among the league leaders in ERA for most of the season. So, this brings us back to the position players.

It's hard to call Ivan Rodriguez an All-Star candidate. While he is probably the best all-around catcher the Astros have had since..um..ever, that's not quite good enough to be the best in the league. Still, I suppose history is on his side, so we can't rule him out. Similarly, Michael Bourn has really improved a lot and has become a very good leadoff hitter, but there are too many really good centerfielders.

This leaves four worthy candidates. While it seems far-fetched to consider Lance Berkman a candidate, we shouldn't completely pooh-pooh the idea. He has 17 home runs and could easily see that total go to 20 before the break. If he continues to hit as he has, his average could go up .270 as well. As you all know, my opinion of batting average is dubious at best. His OBP is approaching .400 again where it has resided for most of his career. That might be good enough if there are injuries.

Miguel Tejada likely will be the Astros' representative and this year he actually deserves it. He is still hitting around .330 with some decent power numbers to show for it. Hanley Ramirez is the class of the league, but Tejada should be the number two guy at the position. Don't look now, but the trade with Baltimore actually looks pretty good at the moment.

I suppose Carlos Lee should come up as well, but his numbers aren't as good as they were a year ago. He is still hitting .300 and driving in runs, but he hasn't hit a stretch like he did last year. Before his injury, he was on pace to be a possible MVP candidate. Now, he looks good enough to extend his streak of 100 RBI seasons, but otherwise has been nothing special.

This brings us to Hunter Pence. Out of all of the players on the club I am most impressed with his progress this season. Bourn has been very good, but Pence has managed to hit for a high average and draw a lot more free passes then before. Plus, he continues to improve as a right fielder. The last step in his development will be improving on the basepaths. If he can be more successful stealing bases (not in number, but proficiency) then he will be a complete player.

I know you thought you would make it through another column without numbers, but I had to just throw in some more. How is it that this team can have four all-star candidates and yet be near the bottom in runs scored? The key is what is happening at other positions. Following is a look at what the Astros are doing at catcher, second base, and third base.

                  AVG     OBP     SLG      OPS
Catcher          .261    .289    .396     .686
Second Base      .250    .303    .349     .652
Third Base       .259    .333    .339     .673

Believe it or not, the catching numbers are better than any season other than 2000 (in recent memory). This is all due to Pudge's increased slugging (over past characters). He still isn't getting on base. Second base is worse only because those guys don't have the power. Third base is decent for on base production, but all of the players have been glorified singles hitters. I've said this before, and it sounds like a broken record, but this club cannot afford to have three holes in the batting lineup.

The catching spot can't really be improved at this point. The Astros are seventh in the NL in catcher OPS. Unfortunately, this will get worse before it gets better. Pudge is likely to see his numbers decline as the season continues and Quintero got off to an abnormally hot start. This will put the position in the same boat as third base and second base. Make no mistake, given the rhetoric from the club, we would probably expect a veteran starter before even a decent third baseman. Given the club's current production and set up, that is the best place to improve the club.