added 4/29/2009 by Scott Barzilla
Great American Ballpark is always good for what ails you. The Astros have won eleven consecutive games in the ballpark coming into Wednesday's finale. If Felipe Paulino closes the deal, the club will be 10-12 following their woeful start. Naturally, they aren't out of the woods yet. The Astros are poised to get Brian Moehler and Brandon Backe back within the next week or so. Who they replace will go a long way in determining the identity of this 2009 team. Naturally, given their relative performance early this season and last season (for Backe), it makes you wonder if their coming back is really a good thing.
This is the curse of building your roster around mediocre veterans. When you begin to get better than mediocre performance from some unexpected players, those mediocre veterans look more like an anvil than an anchor. So, will the Astros send down promising kids like Paulino and Wesley Wright or will they sacrifice some other mediocre veterans? Then again, maybe they can give Backe and Moehler a case of "lower back strain" or "turf toe."
While this might seem like a return to the same old argument for going with a youth movement, it isn't that exactly. If you look at conventional wisdom in baseball, you'll see a lot of falsehoods. One thing that rings true is the fact that championship teams always have players that turn in surprise campaigns. Sure, sometimes veterans can turn in a better than expected campaign. However, we cannot deny that youngsters are usually the ones that end up surprising.
Last year's Phillies saw Jayson Werth step up and become a regular player. Brad Lidge went the whole season without blowing a save. The Tampa Bay Rays were a study of young players coming up big. The Astros are the oldest team in the league. The great thing about veterans is that you can predict their performance. The bad thing about veterans is that you can predict their performance. Brian Moehler, Russ Ortiz, and Mike Hampton will produce at expected levels once everything shakes out. They have an accepted range. Obviously if all three are healthy, that will be good for the Astros. What will be better is if someone shows up out of nowhere and does a Roy Oswalt imitation.
This is where Paulino comes in. Coming into Wednesday's start, he is 0-1 with a 3.00 ERA. Can you imagine what would happen if he produced like that over a full season? Roy Oswalt surprised everyone in 2001 when he produced a 14-3 record in a partial season of work. Naturally, no one is surprised when he does that now. This is what the Astros must have to compete for a playoff berth. This is what few prognosticators saw at the beginning of the season. I am one of them. Suffice it to say, I didn't expect them to use young guys this year and I still have a sinking suspicion that Paulino will be demoted no matter what happens.
Will Paulino finish the season with a 3.00 ERA? It's doubtful, but the Astros aren't going anywhere unless someone like him does. If you look at talent, history, and common sense, you will agree that he is the most likely candidate (besides Oswalt and Rodriguez) to step up and produce at that level. Ortiz is 2-0 and Hampton has gotten off to a good start, but that kind of season just doesn't seem to be in the cards for them. Quite frankly, they weren't brought in to do that. They were brought in with the hopes that they would make 30 starts and finish with an ERA between 4.00 and 4.50.
On the offensive side of the equation, the Astros need Michael Bourn to continue to produce. Bourn is second on the team in walks (ten) and is sporting a .350ish OBP. Again, he is the most likely candidate to produce at levels we don't expect. This is one of the reasons why the decision to demote Edwin Maysonet in favor of Jason Smith was so disappointing. Yes, Smith had a good spring, but his performance has been well established in his career. Maysonet also had a good camp and has the potential to do more. Somewhere, the immortal words of former Houston Oilers coach Bum Phillips are ringing in someone's ears. He said, "potential means you ain't done nothin' yet." Truer words have never been spoken.
Others may know this phrase as "the devil you know is better than the devil you don't know." This philosophy can go a long way, but ceases to make sense when the devil you know is a career .214 hitter with a robust .250 OBP. Suddenly, the devil you don't know doesn't look that bad. When Kaz Matsui and Jeff Keppinger go down with an injury, it becomes incumbent that their replacement be capable of something. In point of fact, Maysonet may have been capable of out-producing Matsui. You never know until you try.
This story has been told and retold so many times that everyone has it memorized by heart. Maybe the Astros need to hear it again. The New York Yankees had a talented first baseman named Wally Pipp. He led the league in dingers twice and was coming off of two consecutive 100 RBI seasons. Early in the 1925 season, he was replaced by a young player that would go on to play in 2130 consecutive games. His name? Lou Gehrig. Is Edwin Maysonet the next Lou Gehrig? I am certain the answer is no. He may be a serviceable player someday. If the Yankees had signed a washed up 30 year old utility infielder then Wally Pipp would have served out a pretty good career, but the best first baseman in history would have never been found. Similarly, if the Astros keep throwing Jason Smith out there they will continue to get an offensive player on the level of Rafael Belliard. Maysonet may not be any better, but I'm fairly certain he's not any worse.