added 6/2/2013 by Scott Barzilla
Every baseball season begins with a number of questions. When your club isn't even playing .333 baseball, it can seem like most of those questions went unanswered. In effect, the Houston Astros are much like the traditional science experiments we used to do in school. Even when the experiment failed, we learned something and that is what all Astros fans have to take out of this season.
When the season opened, the Astros and their fans openly wondered if Matt Dominguez would hit enough to justify playing every day at third base. Sometimes the answers come in the form of another question. In this case, the question is how much offense are you expecting out of your third baseman? If you compare him to the rest of the American League we don't get the clear answer we got with Jason Castro, but the answer isn't all together negative either.
Team Runs Created Runs Saved Base Running Manny Machado Orioles 40 11 1 Miguel Cabrera Tigers 53 -6 2 Josh Donaldson Athletics 40 -1 0 Evan Longoria Rays 38 1 -1 Adrian Beltre Rangers 32 -1 0 Kyle Seager Mariners 29 -2 1 Matt DominguezAstros 17 7 0 Mark Reynolds Indians 31 -7 0 Brett Lawrie Blue Jays 13 5 1 Trevor Plouffe Twins 20 -3 0 Jayson Nix Yankees 15 -1 0 Alberto Callaspo Angels 15 -3 0 Will Middlebrooks Red Sox 15 -6 1 Mike Moustakas Royals 11 -4 0 Jeff Keppinger White Sox 7 -3 -1
This table contains a wealth of information. Last summer, there was a huge debate about value and how it pertains to the MVP discussion. Miguel Cabrera and traditionalists ended up winning that battle, but this table indicates that battle will continue. Miguel Cabrera leads the industrialized world in runs created and most offensive categories. Yet, he is not the most valuable player in terms of overall production. Manny Machado's defense makes him the best overall third baseman in the American League and all of baseball.
Naturally, the season is not over and Cabrera's awesome bat may be enough to overtake Machado, but Machado's stat line is a lesson to teams looking for the best bang for their buck. Machado also serves as a symbol of hope for those teams that want to develop their way out of the cellar. The Orioles have not enjoyed the luck they enjoyed last season, but his star performance (along with Nate McLouth) have kept them in the race.
Granted, you aren't interested in Machado. Matt Dominguez has a similar effect in that the offense is not overwhelming (9th among AL 3B in runs created), but when you combine his fielding (2nd in the AL in runs saved) you find that he is among the top half third baseman in the American League and all of baseball. From here, you can determine for yourselves as to how much value he has moving forward.
The most important thing any front office must do is evaluate its own talent. Teams like the Royals and Pirates prolonged their agony because they spent on the wrong players. The Pirates got a reputation for being cheap and they were cheap in some respects, but the Cam Bonifay era became the poster child for stupid contracts. Similarly, the Royals made some key blunders along the way as well.
Often times, the more difficult decisions come on players that answered a pre-season question positively, then negatively. It's easy to cut ties with a player that hits below the Mendoza line and/or can't field their position capably. It's harder when you have a player that is doing okay at the plate and spectacularly in the field.
How much value does Dominguez have for the Astros moving forward? Fortunately for them, they have a couple of years to make this call. Even if the Astros selected Kris Bryant or Colin Moran in the draft this coming Thursday, you would still have to play for at least two years of development for those players. Meanwhile, Dominguez won't even be arbitration eligible by that time. So, you can wait awhile and see if he develops as a hitter. After all, he will still only be 24 when the season comes to a close. Add a couple of years to that and he still will not have reached his prime.
You use a table like above to demonstrate where your players stack up in the grand scheme of things. It is easy to get caught up in the fact that a player has exceeded expectations. Bad contracts have been awarded based on less. The Royals would love to get out from under the Jeff Francouer contract and the Pirates probably wish they had the Jose Tabata contract back as well. Cooler heads should have prevailed back then and the Astros can learn from those mistakes as it pertains to Jose Altuve and Dominguez.
The beauty of the Astros situation is that they don't have to make any decisions right now. Whether you want to call it statistical analysis or decision science, anyone will tell you that the more information you have to go on the better your decisions will be. No one inside the Astros organization seems to be panicking about what to do about their young players, so no one else should either.