6 HOUSTON ASTROS

March 26, 2012

ENEMY LINES

A rival scout sizes up the Astros

The Astros have a bad combination—they won't score much this year, and they'll give up a bunch too.... Bud Norris has a hell of a slider, a big, hard, swing-and-miss pitch. He throws strikes, but he's not a plus command guy.... They're hoping Zach Duke or Livan Hernandez can win spots in the rotation so they can send Jordan Lyles back to Triple A and let him develop properly. Lyles is not a flamethrower, he's around 90 to 92, but he's got a good delivery and a good curve. He's a little like Norris—he throws strikes but hits the middle of the plate too much.... Brett Myers is not a typical blazer for a closer, but he can get swings and misses with the curveball. He's their best option, which is about all you can say.... The rest of their bullpen is very vanilla. I bet they'll go through a bunch of arms this year.... Jason Castro is a good receiver. How much he'll hit, I don't know.... Brett Wallace has a heavy body and not much bat speed. The only pitches I saw him pull this spring were off-speed.... They should platoon at third with Chris Johnson and Jimmy Paredes. Johnson has trouble with righthanders' breaking balls, and Paredes, a switch-hitter, is best from the left side.... They just hope they can keep Jed Lowrie on the field after his injuries the last couple of years. He's pretty good offensively, but balls get by him that major league shortstops should get.... I don't think Carlos Lee will play outfield anymore. He still hits, and he knows the strike zone, but there's not much protection for him in the lineup.

THE LINEUP

With 2011 Statistics

MANAGER BRAD MILLS

3rd season with Astros

[originallink:10882246:1009531]

ROTATION W L ERA WHIP
LH WANDY RODRIGUEZ 11 11 3.49 1.31
RH BUD NORRIS 6 11 3.77 1.33
RH LIVAN HERNANDEZ 8 13 4.47 1.40
LH J.A. HAPP 6 15 5.35 1.54
RH JORDAN LYLES 2 8 5.36 1.41
BULLPEN W SV ERA WHIP
RH BRETT MYERS 7 0 4.46 1.31
RH DAVID CARPENTER 1 1 2.93 1.48

NEW ACQUISITION †2010 STATS

PROJECTED PAYROLL

$59.6 million

THE NUMBER

.123

Negative difference between the Astros' 2011 batting average on the first pitch of a plate appearance and their cumulative results on all other counts, the biggest discrepancy in the majors. Houston's average when they went up hacking was .365, second only to the Tigers' (.375).

MODEST PROPOSAL

The Astros are in full rebuilding mode, and that means maximizing the trade value of their veterans. The decision to make Brett Myers the closer, therefore, has to be reversed. Myers is a durable mid-rotation starter, certainly capable of being a fourth starter, even a three, in a postseason rotation. His ability to take the ball every fifth day and grind out innings is a real asset on the trade market. By making Myers a closer, the Astros—for whom a closer is superfluous for the next three seasons—have turned him into a mediocre commodity: a 70-inning reliever without a fantastic strikeout rate. Like most pitchers, Myers has been more effective as a reliever: a 3.41 ERA in 58 appearances, most of them as the Phillies' closer in 2007, compared with 4.27 in 249 career starts. But a 3.41 relief ERA isn't anything special. Being able to make 32 starts and put up 190 innings is a more valuable skill. The Astros, whose farm system was once among the most fallow in the game but which has begun to sprout prospects, have to get the most they can for their veterans, and by moving Myers to the pen, they have limited the righthander's trade value to no good end.

PHOTOLUIS LEYVA/SOUTHCREEK GLOBAL/ZUMAPRESS.COM (LEE) PHOTOAL TIELEMANS

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)