What the Hell are the Astros Thinking?


I really, really don't get it. The Houston Astros just keep making these bizarre decisions, and I've finally given up trying to figure it all out. 
The Lance Berkman Fan Club isn't happy about this post, but they feel it needs to be said.
  • The Lance Berkman Fan Club isn't happy about this post, but they feel it needs to be said.
The most recent onslaught of craziness came just last week, when the Astros handed a three year deal - three years! - to Brandon Lyon worth a whopping $15 million, then turned around and brought in Pedro Feliz on a one-year deal for $4.5 million. 

Neither of those moves makes even the slightest bit of sense. 

See, the thing about the Astros is this: they're not a very good ballclub. They weren't a very good ballclub last year, and they aren't going to be much better this coming season. They still have Lance Berkman and Roy Oswalt, which is certainly something, but beyond that, they just don't have the look of a competitive club. In spite of that, though, the 'Stros just keep making the same sorts of moves every offseason, moves you would expect to see from a team set up to win right now. 

But even if you look at it from the perspective of a win now club, these moves don't make much sense. Brandon Lyon is not a good reliever. I'm sorry, but he's just not. I'm sure he's a lovely person and probably one hell of a dancer, but as for the pitching? Not so much. Sure, he put up a sweet looking ERA of 2.86 in 2009, but it was as illusory as sub-3.00 ERAs get. He was aided by an unsustainably low BABIP of .229 and an unsustainably high strand rate of 80.1%. Normalize those, and the picture gets a whole lot thornier, closer to the 4.06 FIP Lyon posted. Add in the fact he'll be moving from one of the most pitcher-friendly parks in all of baseball in Detroit to the Minute Maid Bandbox of Doom, and things could get mighty ugly for Houston's new reliever. 

The weird thing is that the Lyon acquisition comes on the heels of a pretty good idea, that of letting Jose Valverde walk. When I saw the Astros pretty much gave Valverde his walking papers, I was actually glad. Finally, I thought, the 'Stros are figuring out they need to start over and not keep spending year after year trying to keep something going. They followed that up by acquiring Matt Lindstrom who is young and cheap and somewhat decent (not great, but young and cheap at least), and I felt like it was clear they were heading in the right direction. Then, of course, they go hand Brandon F. Lyon three years and fifteen mil, and I start to feel like the world is going all topsy-turvy again. 

And as for Feliz, oy. Now, don't think I'm going to tell you Feliz has no value, because that just isn't true. He absolutely does have value. He was worth exactly 1.3 wins above replacement level last year. Now, let me tell you why that makes him such a bad idea. 

All of Feliz' value last year came from his glove. He was worth 4.9 runs above the average third baseman, while being 15.5 runs worse than average. Add in the replacement value for his position of 20.8 runs, and voila! You have a player worth 12.7 runs above replacement, or 1.3 wins. Unfortunately, Feliz will also turn 35 at the end of April next season, and rare indeed is the player who manages not to lose a step or two in his mid-thirties. Now, maybe moving to Houston will give him a bump offensively, as he is a dead-pull hitter who will be playing with the Crawford boxes barely a football field away, but it isn't as if he was playing in Petco Park last season. The Phillies' stadium is one of the most hitter friendly in all of baseball. Somehow I doubt he's going to get a huge bump offensively. 

So what we have is a player who will likely be worth, at the most, a win and a half of value. Last season, the Astros got approximately one win out of their third-base combo of Jeff Keppinger and Geoff Blum. That's a net gain of one-half of a win. 

What's even worse is that the Astros still probably overachieved last season. Their overall record was 74-88; they finished 17 games behind the Cardinals. Their pythagorean record, though, which is a much better indicator of future success, was an abysmal 68-94. 

I'm perfectly willing to at least consider the idea the Cardinals may fall back a bit in 2010. After all, they're probably going to lose Matt Holliday, Joel Pineiro won't be doing his Christy Mathewson impression, it's a little unlikely they'll have not one but two Cy Young contenders, etc. Still, Houston probably needs to improve by something like twelve to fifteen games to be a legitimate contender in the division. And they just went out and improved by half a win at third base. 

I'll be honest with you; it actually bothers me to see how far the Astros have fallen. I despise the 'Stros, but not the same way I do the Cubs. I would be perfectly fine if a comet hit Wrigley Field one of these days while the Cubs were playing there, but not so with the Astros. I like it when Houston is good. I like rooting against them as they and the Cardinals duke it out down the stretch and into October. I honestly kind of want the Astros to be competitive, just because I think the St. Louis/ Houston rivalry is a truly great one. Unfortunately, when I see moves like this, I just don't see how the 'Stros are going to make it back to relevance anytime soon. 

I know Drayton McLane and the rest of the Houston organisation are loathe to admit it, but it's time to start over. They were a bad team last year, and replacing Valverde with Brandon Lyon just made them quite a bit worse, and they paid a premium price for the pleasure. They then went out and paid market price for a half-win improvement over a team that finished fourteen games below .500 last season. 

I'll say it again. I just don't understand what the Astros are thinking. 

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