Pre-Hot Stove League Part Two

added 9/30/2007 by Scott Barzilla

Last time we looked at second baseman. Second base will figure prominently in determining whether the 2008 version of the Astros will be better than the 2007 version. However, shortstop probably had a lot more to do with the precipitious fall of the pitching staff than most would care to admit.

Adam Everett's defense is so important to the club. When the Astros signed Carlos Lee and traded for Ty Wigginton they tied themselves into a potentially dreadful left side of the diamond. Everett's defensive prowess was supposed to be the buffer that kept that from falling apart. When he broke his leg in June, it doomed the groundball pitchers on that staff to a summer of misery. Chris Sampson in particular saw his ERA go from the low threes to nearly five before all was said and done.

Yet, the winning percentage of the club never changed. This why shortstop is such a difficult dilemma for the new management team. Defensively, Everett has no peers. Offensively, there might not be a regular shortstop that is more ineffective with the bat. First, let's look at the defensive side with the three guys who primarily played short in 2007 (stats projected to 150 games each).

                    E    RZR   OOZ
Adam Everett       18   .870    77
Eric Bruntlett     27   .847    58
Mark Loretta       17   .772    58

Most baseball fans still focus on the errors. Adam Everett was having a bad season in that category for him, but the plays you don't make because of lack of range are far more important than the plays you boot. We see this come in loud and clear when comparing Bruntlett and Loretta. Sure, Loretta made fewer mistakes, but that was largely because he just didn't get to that much. Put that next to Wigginton and in front of Lee and you give up a bunch of extra hits. RZR (or readjusted zone rating) accounts for the percentage of balls hit into someone's fielding zone that get converted into outs. As you can see, Everett and Bruntlett were much more proficient despite Lorett'a fewer errors.

However, we cannot deny the negative impact that Everett's offense has on the club. After a half season of Loretta and Bruntlett at short, the club can't either. Yet, these raw numbers are not even the most disconcerting thing when looking at Everett's offense.

                  AVG    OBP    SLG     SO    BB    RC/G
Adam Everett     .232   .281   .318     31    14     3.6
Eric Bruntlett   .248   .348   .285     27    20     5.4
Mark Loretta     .286   .352   .371     41    44     5.2

        AVG    OBP    SLG    SO    BB    RC/G
2004   .273   .317   .385    56    17     4.8
2005   .248   .290   .364   103    26     4.1
2006   .239   .290   .352    71    34     3.6
2007   .232   .281   .318    31    14     3.6

Things wouldn't seem so dire if Everett was improving with the bat. In point of fact, he is spinning backwards at a rapid rate. He hasn't seen a .300 OBP since 2004 and it actually went down this year. More importantly, his slugging percentage seems to be falling with it. Everett's .599 OPS would fall on the infamous NincampoOPS list near the top (or is it bottom) if he played a full season.

The fact that the club's winning percentage didn't soar after his injury is a testimony of many things, but one of them is the fact that his fielding is very valuable. The question is whether they can find someone that produces close enough to his defensive levels to justify putting in. Here is a quick look at who might be available via free agency or trade.

                    E    RZR   OOZ
Edgar Renteria     11   .815    49
David Eckstein     20   .781    45
Jack Wilson        11   .823    74
Miguel Tejada      15   .834    47

For those wondering, OOZ stands for outs made outside of zone. In this case, Jack Wilson's total is very encouraging. It means he should be able to make plays that should be made by the left fielder, third baseman, second baseman, and maybe centerfielder. Of course, we're interested in the shortstop covering for third base and left field.

Eckstein and Renteria are good with the stick in their hands, but their defense is as bad or worse than anything we have at shortstop right now. Eckstein's fielding numbers really jumped out to me. In 2005 and 2006 he would have ranked above everyone on that list in terms of RZR. 2007 could have been a reflection of injuries or the beginning of the end. At this point it's hard to say. Considering the amount it would require in a trade, the Astros should probably say no to Renteria, and Eckstein's age (33 in 2008) should scare away Wade and company.

Tejada and Jack Wilson might be different stories. If their offense is significantly better than what is currently here then it might make sense to pay the extra amount to get them. Tejada came within an eyeflash of getting here earlier and you'd have to think they would consider trading him again. The Bucs traded for a replacement shortstop before the deadline. This shows you their committment to Wilson in the long-term.

                 AVG    OBP    SLG    SO    BB    RC/G
Jack Wilson     .296   .350   .440    46    38     5.7
Miguel Tejada   .295   .356   .441    55    41     5.9

These are two careers going in different directions. Tejada missed five weeks because of a broken bone, but his numbers are still down from normal. His OPS is the worst he's had in years and his power numbers have dropped every season in particular. One cannot wonder if the rumors about HGH have anything to do with the decline. Wilson on the other hand has had fewer strikeouts and more walks than ever before. In fact, that exact trend has continued for four seasons. Ed Wade said he wanted to build around speed and defense. Wilson may not have a lot of speed, but he makes contact and plays solid defense.

Who knows how much Wilson will go for on the open market, but his fielding might be good enough and his hitting is defintely an improvement over everyone that played the position. If the Astros can afford it, he might be the best investment out there.