Know your Enemy: Houston Astros

Mr. Jed, the talking elephant - USA TODAY Sports

This is the final installment in a series looking at the A’s AL West competition.

In case you have forgotten, let me be the last person to remind you: the Astros are now in the AL West. I know, it seems like a team based in Houston shouldn't be considered western - it's not even in the Mountain Time zone, let alone Pacific for goodness' sakes - but what's done is done. The A's will play them 19 times year, so it's worth it for us to see what they have.

Like most of the last year, or since Jim Crane took over the team and hired Jeff Luhnow to be its General Manager, the Astros have been about shedding long-term commitments and bringing in as much young talent as possible. That continued this off season, and even involved the A's, as the teams completed a swap that brought Jed Lowrie over, and sent Chris Carter, Brad Peacock, Max Stassi to Houston. This is a trade that fit both teams, as the A's received valuable infield depth (where they have the most uncertainty on the roster), and gave the Astros the high-upside talent they were looking for. As far as their other transactions go, please see below for a compilation of them.

Transactions

courtesy of MLB Depth Charts:

Additions:

C Max Stassi

1B/OF Chris Carter - Author's note: :-(

1B Carlos Peña

IF Jake Elmore

OF Che-Hsuan Lin

RHP Sam Demel

RHP John Ely)

RHP Josh Fields

RHP Alex Gillingham

RHP Phil Humber

RHP Brad Peacock

RHP Jose Veras

RHP Alex White

Subtractions:

C Chris Snyder

IF Jed Lowrie

OF Jordan Schafer

RHP Arcenio Leon

RHP Wilton Lopez

RHP Fernando Rodriguez

LHP Rob Rasmussen

Summary and Projections

As usual, I'll be using projections from Dan Szymborski's ZiPS system

Pitching:

Well, Bud Norris is kind of okay. In fact, he K's around 22.5% of the batters he's faced throughout his career. That's really not bad, to go along with a 9% BB rate. That said, he was first-time arbitration-eligible in 2013, and will make only $3M. I imagine he will look very attractive to some teams around midseason, if not before Spring Training begins. After that, who else do they have? Uhhh... there's John Ely, projected for a 126/112 ERA-/FIP-. Lucas Harrell, Jordan Lyles, Alex White, Philip Humber; all of these pitchers have a chance to give up a considerable number of hits and runs for Houston. Don't expect any perfect games or even no-hitters coming out of this staff. Brad Peacock, Jarred Cosart, Erik Bedard, and Edgar Gonzalez all figure to get looks this season, too.

As far as the bullpen is concerned, former A's farmhand Sam Demel will probably be lurking down there. He joins Jose Veras, Wesley Wright, Hector Ambriz, Xavier Cedeno, and Josh Fields as forming a relatively strikeout- and walk-happy crew. In order, here are their projected K%/BB% of the proposed bullpen:

Demel 18.4/9.8

Veras 23.8/12.2

Wright 22.4/9.1

Ambriz 16.4/11.7

Cedeno 20.8/9.8

Fields 20.9/13.6

There are actually some excellent K-rates here, but also some very, very bad walk rates. There could definitely be some surprises here, and it wouldn't shock me if they had a very good (if not overworked) bullpen. Think Royals a few years ago, when they had Soria and several other fireballers down there.

Hitting:

Chris Carter will hit 80 HR. Okay, not really, but for everyone who was clamoring for him to get more PAs when he was with the A's, now is the time to see the results of such an experiment. Here is the Astros projected starting lineup, also from MLBDC:

SS Tyler Greene

2B Jose Altuve

DH Carlos Peña

LF Chris Carter

1B Brett Wallace

CF Justin Maxwell

C Jason Castro

RF Fernando Martinez

3B Matt Dominguez

With a bench of J.D. Martinez, Carlos Corporan, Marwin Gonzalez, and the immortal Rick Ankiel.

Chris Carter may also have a fielding percentage under .900, and an UZR of -20 or worse. So, those 80 HR might not make him that valuable after all. In fact, all things considered, I wonder if they would be better off playing Carter at 1B, which is clearly his better position, and throwing Brett Wallace in LF.

Anyway, there are a lot of K's in that lineup. Pena, Carter, Maxwell, Wallace? Yeesh. That said, this is an A's blog, and it's hard for anyone associated with Oakland to tease another team about their hitters' penchant for strikeouts; the A's set an AL-record with 1387 K's last year, 62 more than their nearest AL competitor, the Rays. What we really care about is wOBA, and it's not all bad. Carlos Pena does indeed lead the team's projections, with a .334 wOBA. After that, Chris Carter and Jose Altuve are projected for .327 and .319, respectively. Unfortunately, everyone else is under .310: Justin Maxwell (.307), Brett Wallace and Fernando Martinez (.303), J.D. Martinez (.301), Tyler Greene (.296), and Jason Castro (.290). Keep in mind that league average wOBA is around .320. Yeah, so, the Astros aren't going to score many runs, either.

Defense:

Chris Carter and Brett Wallace aren't doing this team any favors being in the same defensive alignment. After that, I can't say there are many obvious defensive standouts, nor any obvious weaknesses. Altuve is an interesting study, as last year he rated pretty bad by DRS (-18) and UZR at -15.8. In 2011, though, he was +3 by DRS and -1.1 by UZR (albeit in only 55 games of a sample). What to believe? I tend to think he'll be about average, as his 2011 data indicate; that said, he's at risk for being a defensive liability.

Overall Summary:

This year will be the first time I've ever watched the Astros play a game for all nine innings, probably. I don't know a lot about them, except that they are going to be bad this year. Not historically bad, I don't think (2003 Tigers, you are safe), but bad enough that the A's should expect to win at least 12 of the 19 games played against them. Their pitching is going to be okay, the hitting shoddy, and the defense potentially worse than that. 100 losses seem all but assured.

This concludes the Know Your Enemy series. As they say, "games are played on the field." So, we will see how everyone stacks up starting in April. I can't wait!

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