I am not a negative person. I dearly wish to write something positive about the Astros. But not today.
In 2010, the Astros were an historically bad offensive team, specifically in On-Base-Percentage (OBP). OBP is a stat that measures the number of times a player or team reaches base per plate appearance. It includes Hits, Walks, and Hit-By-Pitch. An excellent OBP for an individual player is around .400. For an entire team, it is around .350. Players with OBPs under .300 are generall fringe players who have some other skill that keeps them around or they do not last very long.
Statisticians, sabermetricians, and knowledgeable fans know that a high OBP directly leads to more runs scored. Almost everybody agrees that scoring runs is a good thing if you are trying to win.
A lot of writers throw around the term ‘historically’ as a means to convey a sense of melodrama, and are often exaggerating. In this case, the Astros really were historically bad at OBP in 2010.
Since 1962, the beginning of expansion-era baseball and the year a Houston team was added to the major leagues, there have been about 1,400 team seasons played in 49 years, give or take a few dozen for strike-shortened years.
The 2010 Houston Astros finished with a team OBP of .303. This places them as the 78th-worst team OBP since 1962.
Now, 78th-worst doesn’t sound that bad, and it’s not even the worst in 2010 (thanks, Seattle!). But 78th-worst puts them in the lower 5th percentile, meaning that 95% of all teams since 1962 posted a higher OBP than the Astros. That really is historically bad.
I’m driving to a point.
From the info above, I am convinced that OBP is the Astros’ biggest problem going into 2011. Let’s take a look at the moves that have been made since the trading deadline in 2010:
1) Astros trade away Lance Berkman, who holds a career OBP close to .400, one of the highest in all of baseball.
2) Astros sign Clint Barmes to play everyday shortstop in 2011.
3) Astros sign Bill Hall to play everyday second base in 2011.
I have no beef with the Berkman trade, as it achieved the purpose of helping restock the farm and move a large contract off the books. But it definitely hurts team OBP going into 2011.
Bill Hall has a career OBP of .310 over nine major league seasons. There is a reason he has been a utility player his whole career, and that is it. His versatility and power is why he is still in baseball.
Clint Barmes is channeling his inner Spartan, as he holds a career OBP of .300 over seven seasons. There is a reason HE has been a utility player most of his career, and that is it. His excellent infield defense and above-average power is why HE is still in baseball.
So there is the Astros’ solution to their offense problem: two guys who may knock about 40 home runs between them, but who get on base at a worse rate than the entire 2010 squad, excluding pitchers.
Without improvement from Lee, Wallace, Castro, and Bourn, the Astros could very easily score less runs in 2011 than in 2010, which would place them in an even worse historical context, close to the Tigers of the early ‘aughts.
There is only one scenario for which I would be okay with these additions, and that’s if both Hall and Barmes (or at least Hall) is traded away at the deadline to continue rebuilding the farm system.
Either way, it’s clear the Astros are not serious about fielding a competitive offensive team in 2011 as they try to sell the franchise.