added 5/1/2011 by Bob Hulsey
It's been awhile since providing a column due to outside duties so, in an attempt to hit on a number of subjects, I'm subjecting you to a column with multiple points:
Houston fans may have been spoiled with the brilliance of Jeff Bagwell and Lance Berkman but there is another first baseman in Houston's past that might closely resemble the sort of player Brett Wallace could develop into.
Rusty Staub was the franchise's first "bonus baby", coming up to the majors at the tender age of 19 in 1963. Great things were expected for the stocky lefthanded hitter. He struggled with big league pitching for a time but hit his stride in 1967 at age 23, leading the National League with 44 doubles while batting .333.
He didn't produce the homers the front office wanted for a first baseman and this, among other reasons, was why he was traded before the 1969 season. Staub probably figured out before management did that the Astrodome was not going to be a park favorable to power hitters and adjusted his game accordingly.
Once traded to cozy Park Jarry in Montreal, the homers came. Staub was an All-Star for five consecutive seasons and probably retired 50 hits shy of making the Hall of Fame (2,951 career hits).
While it is dangerous to compare offensive stats between the 60s and 70s with the ones of today, Wallace may have also realized that Minute Maid Park isn't a power haven for lefthanded pull hitters (unless you are Barry Bonds or Prince Fielder) and is smartly learning to make contact and spray the ball to all fields. We all hoped for improvement from him this year but nobody could have forecasted he would hit .388 for April.
Don't worry about a lack of home runs. That will come later as he matures but he may not dependably hit more than 20 or so bombs a year. That's okay as long as he hits well enough for extra bases and maintains a high OBA. Hopefully, today's management will be more patient with Wallace than Spec Richardson was with Staub.
I don't think so. True, Berkman is playing great for the Cardinals, I don't think he would have felt the need to be in such good shape had he come back to Houston. But he is 35 and the Cards are paying him $8 million. I suspect if he had stayed an Astro, we would have picked up his option at $11 million and received poorer results than what the Cardinals are getting.
Instead, we are watching Wallace develop and he's still a few years away from arbitration and even further away from free agency. In real terms, we are getting far more value-per-salary out of Wallace than the Cardinals are getting out of Berkman. When the Astros are ready to be a playoff team again in a few years, Wallace will be hitting his peak years while Berkman will be well past his.
A combined $7 million was spent to add Clint barmes and Bill Hall to the offense this off-season but early returns indicate we might have been better off developing what we had. Jeff Keppinger has been out with foot surgery but, last April, he and Tommy Manzella combined to bat .233 with a .556 OPS as the regular 2B-SS combo. Hall and Barmes have posted a .214 average and .584 OPS this April.
Meanwhile, Angel Sanchez, who wasn't with the Astros last April, has hit .301 (OPS .718) this spring but we did not need to spend $7 million to add him to the lineup. So far, we could have done just as well to start the year with Manzella at short and Sanchez at second and saved the money.
If the starting pitching is as solid as it has been the past three days, you should see the bullpen perform more like expected. Add in the expected return of set-up pitcher Wilton Lopez and the move of Nelson Figueroa from the rotation to the pen and you might see a big turn around. Brandon Lyon will still need to emerge from his early season funk but there does seem to be some hope on the horizon.
To some extent, yes. If you look at the regular lineup, four batters (Lee, Hall, Barmes and Quintero) are over 30 and five pitchers (Myers, Wandy Rodriguez, Figueroa, Lyon and Fulchino) are also. Yes, the Astros have some young guys in key spots but this isn't the Marlins or the Nationals and we shouldn't be expecting them to struggle like an expansion team. In fact, many of the veterans are part of the problem.
While the 11-17 record still largely reflects a 1-7 start and .500 ball since, at some point the Astros will need to kick it up a notch if they want to climb out of the cellar before the division race gets too far away from them. This weekend shows they have the ability to improve if they can just put it together.
Yes. I'm encouraged by the offensive production and if the pitching rounds into form - which it ought to - 81 wins is still a distinct possibility. One never knows what the future holds but I think 81 wins ought to be one of the team goals and something they should target as long as it seems feasible.