added 8/24/2009 by Bob Hulsey
With just a month left in the 2009 season, it's time for a quick look-back at the decade that was. It was one that saw the Astros win a postseason series for the first time (2004) and win their first National League pennant (2005).
There are frequent promotions surrounding the 10th Anniversary of Minute Maid Park but there's one left I think will spark some debate. Who were their top performers throughout the "oughts"?
Not surprisingly, with the move to Minute Maid Park, the lineup is dominated by free-swinging righthanded hitters who took thousands of shots at the Crawford Boxes. That decision affected both the team's overall defense and the success of their pitching staffs. Most of the hitters show a dramatic upsurge from the previous decade while the pitching has taken a beating.
My only real ground rule for this list is that players had to be with the Astros for at least one full season, which leaves out Carlos Beltran, Vinny Castilla, Randy Wolf and Ivan Rodriguez, among others. And, of course, they actually had to play the position they were assigned to on the team.
(all stats courtesy Baseball-Reference.com, current through Saturday)
Here are the position players:
Catcher: Brad Ausmus (2001-2008). This must be a joke. The All-Decade catcher has a .240 average, a .631 OPS, an OPS+ of 64? You couldn't find anyone better? Well, Ausmus almost wins this position by default, having been the starter for eight of the ten years. Besides, his defense was great and pitchers swore by him.
Catcher: Tony Eusebio (2000-2001). "Tough Tony" was near the end of his career but he put up some good numbers - a .269 average, a .788 OPS and an OPS+ of 94, which makes him a useful pinch-hitter. He also owned the club record for the longest hitting streak with 24 games, set in 2000, before Jeff Kent broke it in 2004.
First Base: Jeff Bagwell (2000-2005). As his shoulder problems grew worse, Bagwell's production declined. Still, his numbers weren't bad. He hit .285 with 186 homers, 568 RBIs, a .927 OPS and an OPS+ of 133. He also managed to add 44 steals to his career total of 202.
Second Base: Craig Biggio (2000-2007). He overcame a major knee injury in 2000 and gutted through those final years to post a .266 average for the decade, with 139 homers, a .766 OPS and an OPS+ of 95. Like Bagwell, he was better in the 1990s but his production in the 2000s was still quality.
Shortstop: Miguel Tejada (2008-2009). No doubt Adam Everett spent more time at shortstop in Houston but his offense (.248 average, .656 OPS) just doesn't compare to Tejada's. Miggy's numbers so far with the Astros are a .294 average, .750 OPS, and an OPS+ of 98. Not as good as his AL numbers, but still quite good.
Third Base: Morgan Ensberg (2000-2007). This position saw a lot of turnover during the decade, from Chris Truby and Vinny Castilla to Ty Wigginton and Geoff Blum. Ensberg's peak was brief but his overall numbers (.266 average, 110 homers, .843 OPS and 113 OPS+) show that while he was good, he was very good.
Utility 1: Jeff Kent (2003-2004). A key player during his short stay with the Astros, he hit .293 with 49 homers and 200 RBIs, carrying an OPS of .870 and an OPS+ of 120. You can see why Biggio was willing to move to the outfield while Kent was here.
Utility 2: Mike Lamb (2004-2007). Heck, somebody needs to hit lefty on this roster. Lamb was a .281 hitter in Houston with an .806 OPS and an OPS+ of 106. Toss in five postseason homers and a playoff OPS of 1.001 and you'll see why Lamb became the sort of guy you liked to have coming off the bench.
Utility 3: Jose Vizcaino (2001-2005). Every team needs one true jack-of-all-trades and Vizcaino was a key part of three playoff runs. He hit .276 as an Astro with a .685 OPS and a 76 OPS+. Strong consideration was given here to Everett and Eric Bruntlett but Jose provides both offensive and defensive versatility.
Left Field: Carlos Lee (2007-2009). It's something of a toss-up here between Lee and Moises Alou but Lee wins with an extra season in Houston during the decade. He has a .309 average, 81 homers, 298 RBIs, an .896 OPS and an OPS+ of 132 while an Astro.
Center Field: Lance Berkman (2000-2009). Seems like I'm dissing the only player to stay around for the entire decade but CF was a position that stayed unsettled most of the decade and Berkman, himself, played there in 166 games, mostly in 2002. His numbers top many categories for the decade. He has hit .301 with 302 homers, 1004 RBIs, an OPS of .975 and an OPS+ of 149. He could join Biggio and Bagwell in Cooperstown some day.
Right Field: Richard Hidalgo (2000-2004). It was another tough call between Hidalgo and Hunter Pence but Hidalgo wins out with slightly better numbers and longevity. Hidalgo hit .285 with 110 homers, 368 RBIs, an OPS of .893 and an OPS+ of 121 during an up-and-down decade in Houston.
Outfield 1: Moises Alou (2000-2001). Alou posted great numbers in Houston (.342 average, 57 homers, 222 RBIs, an OPS of .992 and an OPS+ of 143) during the decade. Makes you wonder what might have been if the Astros could have paid him to stay around a few more years.
Outfield 2: Hunter Pence (2007-2009). Since coming to the bigs, Pence has hit .289 with 61 homers, 209 RBIs, an OPS of .828 and an OPS+ of 115. It would be nice to see him improve on his first years in the majors.
And now the pitching staff:
Starter 1: Roy Oswalt (2001-2009). Without question, Houston’s best pitcher of the decade. He has a 136-68 career win-loss record, a 3.19 ERA, and ERA+ of 136. Toss in a 4-0 record in the postseason and you have the consummate ace for any pitching staff.
Starter 2: Roger Clemens (2004-2006). He had three quality seasons as an Astro before all the controversy kicked in. He posted a 38-18 record, a 2.40 ERA, an ERA+ of 180 in Houston (all while in his 40s), as well as winning the last of his seven Cy Young Awards.
Starter 3: Andy Pettitte (2004-2006). I really tried not to tether Pettitte to Clemens for the billionth time but the numbers just wouldn’t let me do it any other way. The lefthander was 37-26 with a 3.38 ERA and an ERA+ of 129 while back home in Houston, plus a 1-1 record in the postseason.
Starter 4: Wade Miller (2000-2004). A shoulder injury killed his career prematurely but Houston got the best he had to offer. Over the decade, he was 58-38 with a 3.79 ERA and an ERA+ of 119. If these four pitchers had all been healthy in 2004, the Astros might have won it all.
Starter 5: Wandy Rodriguez (2005-2009). Go ahead, I'll wait while you try to think of anyone else that should have this spot. The best is yet to come from the lefty who is 49-47 with a 4.39 ERA and an ERA+ of 98. Clearly mediocre numbers but the best of what’s left.
Swingman: Brandon Backe (2004-2009). Every team needs a reliever who can step into the rotation should injuries occur. Backe qualifies but his regular season numbers (30-28 record, 5.16 ERA and an 83 ERA+) aren't all that good. However, he had three of the best postseason starts in franchise history and that's why he's here. In seven playoff games, he had a 2.95 ERA, an 0.98 WHIP, and allowed just 24 hits in 36 innings.
Closer: Billy Wagner (2000-2003). There could be disagreements but, to me, Wagner is the ultimate closer. The franchise's save leader fashioned a 9-15 record with a 2.72 ERA, 124 saves, 10.7 K/9 and an ERA+ of 165. With a fastball that hit 100 mph, "The Kid" was sometimes unhittable.
Setup: Brad Lidge (2002-2007). His numbers don't really tell the story of how hot and cold he blew. He was 23-20 with a 3.30 ERA, 123 saves, 12.6 K/9 and an ERA+ of 132 but those totals merge flashes of brilliance with some painful stretches.
Reliever 1: Jose Valverde (2008-2009). The current closer, Valverde is 7-5 with a 3.00 ERA, 63 saves, 10.3 K/9 with an ERA+ of 141. He also leads the club in post-game celebrations.
Reliever 2: Octavio Dotel (2000-2004). The main bait that brought Carlos Beltran to Houston, Dotel filled every role a pitcher can do while an Astro. His record was 22-24 with a 3.25 ERA, 42 saves, 11.1 K/9 with an ERA+ of 141. Like Miller, Houston got him at his peak.
Reliever 3: Dan Wheeler (2004-2007). Another Gerry Hunsicker steal, Wheeler's numbers (6-12, 3.02 ERA, 23 saves, 8.7 K/9 with an ERA+ of 144) while an Astro were worth far more than the minor leaguer we gave up to get him.
There's obviously room to quibble but this is a very representative roster. Too bad, in a way, that the Astros can't bring them all together in their prime.