StrategyFebruary 13, 2010

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30 Teams in 30 Days: Houston Astros

By chadam189

We continue our “30 Teams in 30 Days” series by finishing up the NL Central with the Houston Astros. The Astros, who finished 74-88 and fifth in their division, are finding themselves farther and farther away from the “glory days” of 2005, marked by their first World Series berth and last postseason appearance. Trades of prospects for veterans combined with poor drafting have left the farm system barren, and although scouting director Bobby Heck has done a great job in the past two drafts, there are no high-level impact prospects ready to come up and contribute in 2010. The trades and signings under General Manager Ed Wade have been widely panned since he took over in 2007, and this off-season has been no different. Most of the budget was used to woo Pedro Feliz (1 year / $4.5 M) to upgrade the Geoff Blum/Jeff Keppinger hot-corner platoon, and to grossly overpay Brandon Lyon (3 years / $15 M) in a down market where better relievers got contracts that were worth half the money and were a third as long. It will be another long year for Astros fans as their team will keep the Pirates company at the bottom of the NL Central.

Offensive Starters

C J.R. Towles.276.386.455234223145AAA
1B Lance Berkman.274.399.5097325807460 
2B Kazuo Matsui.256.302.3575694619476 
SS Tommy Manzella.289.339.4176895612530AAA
3B Pedro Feliz.266.308.3866212820580w/ PHI
LF Carlos Lee.300.343.48965261025610 
CF Michael Bourn.285.354.3849733561606 
RF Hunter Pence.282.346.47276257214585 

Unsettled: Shortstop and Catcher. These positions aren’t truly unsettled; rather, they are being tentatively filled with prospects who may or may not perform well enough to keep their jobs. Tommy Manzella had a vintage Orlando Cabrera line in Triple-A last year, but if he struggles out of the gate, Jeff Keppinger is waiting on the bench to take over. At catcher, former top prospect J.R. Towles will be the starting signal caller. If he can stay healthy, find some more holes (.218 BABIP), and show some of his minor league promise (.299/.370/.493), he could have a chance at a post-hype breakout. Veteran Humberto Quintero will serve as a backup to the youngster. For fantasy purposes, stay away from these options unless in the very deepest of leagues.

Target: Carlos Lee and Lance Berkman. While the three outfielders and Berkman should be owned in every 12-team league, Berkman and Lee in particular seem to be falling a little too far in drafts this year – to the fifth or sixth round according to early 12-team ADP reports. Last year Berkman was being taken in the second round and Lee in the early part of the third, and while they aren’t getting any younger, neither had poor enough years to warrant slipping much farther than the fourth round in 2010. Feliz and Matsui aren’t really viable unless you’re in an NL-only or very deep league, although when Matsui stays on the field, he can give you some speed, at the expense of almost every other category.

The Rotation

Wandy Rodriguez (L)14-123.021.2419363205.2 
Roy Oswalt (R)8-64.121.2413842181.1 
Brett Myers (R)4-34.841.37502370.2w/ PHI
Bud Norris (R)10-64.531.51542555.2 
Felipe Paulino (R)3-116.271.67933797.2 

Unsettled: Back of the Rotation. Brett Myers (1 year / $5 M) was a good low-risk signing for the Astros. If he’s healthy he’ll slot behind Rodriguez and Oswalt as the third starter. The problem is that Houston might feel that Brian Moehler also deserves a spot in the rotation which would come at the expense of the one of the two young deserving starters, Norris and Paulino, most likely the latter. Listen to the news coming out of spring training regarding those final two rotation spots. If by some act of God Moehler is named a starter, you want no part of him unless you’re trying to accumulate the worst stats possible.

Target: Wandy Rodriguez and Roy Oswalt. Both are top-40 pitchers who are going in the 9th and 12th rounds respectively, and are slight values at those draft spots. Brett Myers is an interesting high-risk late-round flier. His declining strikeout rate could be related to his lack of health, hopfully both can return for him this year. Paulino and Norris are nice deep-league sleepers as they pair nice strikeout rates with below-average walk rates and slight fly-ball tendencies. If they get the innings, they will return value on late-round picks.

The 8th and 9th Innings

Matt Lindstrom (R)155.891.65392447.1w/ FLA
Brandon Lyon (R)32.861.11573178.2w/ DET

Chasing Saves: While Lyon’s ratios look really shiny compared to Lindstrom’s, don’t let that fool you, both these pitchers are very mediocre. Lyon’s 2009 ratios are largely a product of a .229 BABIP and an 81% strand rate, two totally unsustainable peripheral numbers that will certainly regress to the norm in 2010. Lindstrom has had some problems staying healthy in years past, while Lyon recently underwent surgery to have a cyst in his shoulder drained and will be behind to start spring training. As of now, the official word is that the closer job is up for grabs. My personal opinion is that the awful contract given to Lyon this offseason (seriously Ed, $15 million over 3 years?) points to him being named the opening-day closer, provided he is healthy. Nothing has been announced though, so once again listen to the news coming out of spring training. Even if one of these guys manages to keep the closing duties to himself all year, they won’t end up a top-20 closer without that player having a string of luck comparable to what Lyon had in 2009.

Final Thoughts

There are a lot of slight value picks on the Astros. Berkman and Lee are both slipping in drafts due to age and their 2009 counting stats being suppressed because of some missed time. While any 34-year-old carries risk, both of these guys should give you a good return on their fifth or sixth round draft pick. The same can be said about Oswalt, as he is an older player that had a slight down year in 2009 and is falling a round or so too far in drafts. While he is no longer the top-10 or even top-20 pitcher he was in years past, Oswalt is still a very good pitcher who I fully expect to rebound in 2010 and outperform his current ADP. Wandy will once again be a borderline top-20 SP, and the young guys could be decent contributors to the back of your fantasy rotation. Hunter Pence is an above average outfielder with a decent combo of power and speed who won’t hurt you in batting average. If you’re looking for speed in your outfield but don’t want to pay the hefty third-round sticker price of a Carl Crawford or Jacoby Ellsbury, just draft Michael Bourn six rounds later.

Adam Miller is a born-and-raised Astros fan, and yes, he thinks he could do a better job running the team than Ed Wade. Adam is one of a growing number of fantasy experts who write for the Cafe. You can catch up with Adam in the Cafe's forums where he posts under the name of chadam189.
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