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Today we will continue our 5 question preview through the NL Central with the Houston Astros.  For the ‘Stros we asked questions of David Coleman from The Crawfish Boxes.  Thanks to David.

1.        What are your feelings on Brett Wallace?  Most Cards fans think that we cut bait at an appropriate time when his value was highest.  How do you see him performing this year?

The consensus on our site is that Wallace has a mechanical problem with his swing that big league pitchers were able to exploit last season, holding down his numbers. Unless he fixes that, he’s not going to be the player the Astros hoped he’d be when they picked him up as part of the Roy Oswalt trade.

The interesting thing is there’s actually a silver lining for fans if Wallace does get sent to Triple-A, because that would move Carlos Lee’s horrible defense out of left field and put him at first base. Of course, the Astros would simply move another aging vet like Jason Michaels into the lineup instead of developing a rookie. But, the defensive upgrade from Lee would make the Astros better instantly.

2.       What is the Astros blogosphere’s thoughts on the Wandy Rodriguez deal?

It’s a pretty fair deal and is in line with the production the Astros have gotten out of him the past few years. One of the things that doesn’t get mentioned enough about Wandy is his fantastic strikeout rate. Even last season, when his curve lost some of its “value,” according to FanGraphs, Rodriguez was still able to strike out hitters at a pretty good clip. Is he an ace of a good pitching staff? Probably not. But, I think the Astros may have increased his trade value a bit with the deal, since the receiving team will now have him under contract for a couple of years instead of him being a half-season rental.

3.       Looking through the Fangraphs WAR numbers it appears that the team’s strength last year was starting pitching.  Does this look to be the case again this year despite the Oswalt deal?

Hmm, strength is such a relative term…The rotation will certainly be stronger than the offense, but this is a rotation built around solid if unspectacular pitchers. J.A. Happ has some promise, but expecting more than 1.5-2 WAR out of him is pushing it. Myers will probably tail off a bit from last season, simply because he’s a “pitch to contact” guy now and can’t sustain a lowered BABiP for two whole seasons. That leaves Norris and whoever wins the fifth starter’s jobs as the only two wild cards. I’d expect the Astros rotation to be in the top half of the NL in terms of quality, but they’re not Top 5 right now.

4.       A semi related question; Bud Norris is a bit of a cult figure (not hero per se clearly) here is St. Louis as he’s had numerous dominate starts against the Cards over recent seasons.  Is he just that good against the Birds or has he shown flashes against other teams too?  What does his outlook look like going forward?

Would that Norris could only pitch against the Cardinals. He might be the staff’s ace if that were the case.

We have a lot of fun with the BudChuck stuff during his starts, but he’s still a bit of an enigma. In the first half of last season (before he went down with an injury), Norris was good in stretches, but couldn’t last past the fifth inning in most starts. He came back from the DL and turned things around in the second half, routinely pitching deeper into games with good strikeout numbers.

His control is never going to be great and he relies mainly on two pitches with a developing changeup. That’s why many national scouts view his future home as the closer. But, if he throws the change more consistently, Norris has a good shot at being an innings-eater who can strike out 150 in a season. That’s not fantastic, but it’s the best the Astros have gotten from their farm system in years.

5.       Any other young guys we should be worried about over the next 3 or so years?

Two guys jump out immediately. 20-year old righthander Jordan Lyles pitched in the Pacific Coast League last season as a teenager. He didn’t have a ton of success, but the promise is there. His strengths right now are impressive control and great offspeed stuff. If he can learn to control his four-seam fastball as well as his two-seam, he’s an ace. If he doesn’t, he’ll be a No. 3 starter for the next ten years.

The hitter that will probably make the quickest impact is outfielder J.D. Martinez. Once Carlos Lee’s contract is up at the end of next season, I imagine left field will be Martinez’ to lose. In two seasons in the minor leagues, the 20th-round pick out of Nova Southeastern University in Florida has won two batting titles. He projects to hit about 20-25 home runs at his peak and hit over .300 if given an every day job. As a left fielder, those numbers aren’t mind-blowing, but they’d make him as good or better a hitter than Hunter Pence.

 

Steve Sommer

Simulation analyst by day, father and baseball nerd by night

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