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Luis Valbuena Is Having A Very Weird Season With The Astros

Discussion in 'Houston Astros' started by CometsWin, Jul 14, 2015.

  1. CometsWin

    CometsWin Breaker Breaker One Nine

    May 15, 2000
    Likes Received:
    Luis Valbuena Is Having A Very Weird Season With The Astros

    At the end of the 2014 season, the Houston Astros had improved from being a floating pile of garbage in the Pacific Ocean to a modest landfill in New Jersey. After losing more than 105 games in 2011, 2012 and 2013, a 70-92 finish in 2014 was both a welcome change for fans and a sign that GM Jeff Luhnow’s scorched-earth plan might actually be working.

    The Astros have taken an aggressive approach to rebuilding since Luhnow took over in 2011. Not interested in the traditional lumbering process of retooling, Luhnow ostensibly sold off any player he could in exchange for even the fringiest of prospects and salary relief. Payroll plummeted from almost $77 million in 2011 to just $26 million in 2013. The most the Astros paid a player in 2013 was $5 million to Wandy Rodriguez. The thing was, Rodriguez was pitching for Pittsburgh at the time (the Astros agreed to cover part of his salary when they traded him for a trio of of middling prospects in 2012.)

    This approach led to some horrendous teams, a small group of promising prospects, and a combination of high draft picks and a good deal of bonus slot money. The Astros told their fans to trust the process, that it had to get worse before it got better. This sounded all well and good on paper, but it was hard to imagine just how bad the Astros would actually get. Still, 2014 saw improvements in the major league club as well as a glimpse into the future as some of their better prospects started making a name for themselves.

    When it was time to prepare a roster for the 2015 season, the Astros made further moves to upgrade. Perhaps this was to appease the remaining fans of a recently disgusting baseball team, or to shut up national columnists who had taken umbrage at Houston’s radical approach. Perhaps it achieved a little of both. Either way, it was a surprise to see a team with a record of trading any player with a modicum of value pivot to signing and trading for actual major league talent. That’s how Houston got into the Luis Valbuena business. The previous tenant of third base, Matt Dominguez, had gone from being a glove-first prospect with some power to being a corner infielder with a 63 wRC+ (that stands for weighted runs created plus, a measure of a player’s total offensive value, with 100 being league average) and a -11.9 UZR/150. (UZR, or ultimate zone rating, is a measure of defensive ability. Anything below a -10 is an embarrassment.) Dominguez’s performance indicated that a change was needed at the hot corner.

    The Astros dipped into their deep pool of toolsy outfielders and sent Dexter Fowler — who had been traded to the Astros just one offseason before — to the Chicago Cubs for pitcher Dan Straily and third baseman Valbuena.

    Valbuena was coming off a serviceable 2014 season, logging a 116 wRC+, and though his defensive numbers weren’t on par with his 2013 season, he came in just a shade below average with the glove. It seemed like a logical move: put a competent player at third and let the young core of players grow around that. And by the numbers, Valbuena has performed more or less competently. He’s just doing so in a very strange way.

    If it seems odd to see a player hitting .2031 described as competent, trust me that it feels just as odd to write. But buried in that .203 average are 19 home runs, the most of any Astros player and tied for seventh-most in the American League. Although Valbuena hasn’t yet crossed into Sylvester Coddmeyer III territory, an unusually large chunk of his hits have left the yard.

    This table gives the 20 highest percentages of home runs per hit, since 1985, for players with at least 19 home runs.

    1 2001 Mark McGwire 29 51.8%
    2 2001 Barry Bonds 73 46.8
    3 1998 Mark McGwire 70 46.1
    4 1995 Mark McGwire 39 44.8
    5 1999 Mark McGwire 65 44.8
    6 2000 Mark McGwire 32 44.4
    7 1996 Mark McGwire 52 39.4
    8 1997 Mark McGwire 58 39.2
    9 2012 Adam Dunn 41 37.3
    10 1999 Barry Bonds 34 36.6
    11 2010 Jose Bautista 54 36.5
    12 2015 Giancarlo Stanton 27 36.5
    13 2009 Carlos Pena 39 36.5
    14 1994 Matt Williams 43 36.1
    15 2002 Jim Thome 52 35.6
    16 1999 Sammy Sosa 63 35.0
    17 2015 Luis Valbuena 19 33.9
    18 2001 Sammy Sosa 64 33.9
    19 2003 Barry Bonds 45 33.8
    20 2006 David Ortiz 54 33.8

    This list consists of big boppers — and Luis Valbuena. You wouldn’t expect to see him on many lists that include Barry Bonds three times and Mark McGwire seven.

    Nineteen home runs is certainly a career high for Valbuena, and his .236 isolated power average (slugging percentage minus batting average — a measure of extra-base hits) beats his 2014 number by 50 points. But in the middle of those impressive power numbers, he appears to be struggling. His on-base percentage is .286. His walk and strikeout rates have gotten worse. Even with his high power numbers, his slugging percentage is only three points better than it was in 2014 thanks to his low average.

    Here is that above chart again, but this time it shows players’ corresponding wRC+.

    1 2001 Barry Bonds 73 46.8% 235
    2 2003 Barry Bonds 45 33.8 212
    3 1998 Mark McGwire 70 46.1 205
    4 2000 Mark McGwire 32 44.4 195
    5 1996 Mark McGwire 52 39.4 190
    6 2002 Jim Thome 52 35.6 189
    7 2001 Sammy Sosa 64 33.9 186
    8 1995 Mark McGwire 39 44.8 183
    9 1999 Mark McGwire 65 44.8 168
    10 2010 Jose Bautista 54 36.5 165
    11 1997 Mark McGwire 58 39.2 161
    12 2006 David Ortiz 54 33.8 157
    13 2015 Giancarlo Stanton 27 36.5 156
    14 1999 Barry Bonds 34 36.6 148
    15 1999 Sammy Sosa 63 35.0 143
    16 1994 Matt Williams 43 36.1 133
    17 2009 Carlos Pena 39 36.5 132
    18 2012 Adam Dunn 41 37.3 115
    19 2001 Mark McGwire 29 51.8 104
    20 2015 Luis Valbuena 19 33.9 101

    With the exception of McGwire’s weird 2001 season, Valbuena is the only hitter flirting with league average. Hitters with a high home run percentage should put up good offensive numbers. Even the Three True Outcome players like McGwire, Dunn, Bonds, Thome and Sammy Sosa (all of whom generated large numbers of walks, strikeouts and home runs) have produced at an above-average level thanks to their abilities to get on base and hit for power. Valbuena has a 9.3 percent walk rate this season. He’s a Two Outcome player right now. Yet he’s keeping his head above the league-average water thanks to his home run total and the relatively weak crop of AL third basemen (one wonders how many points his wRC+ would jump if Josh Donaldson were playing in the NL.)
  2. Mattician

    Mattician Member

    Jan 31, 2013
    Likes Received:
    Interesting. Nice post.
  3. The Beard

    The Beard Contributing Member

    Oct 31, 2012
    Likes Received:
    Seems like once he started sitting some with middling minor health issues he has been really bad

    Hopefully the break does him good and he goes back to at least hitting bombs
  4. The Real Shady

    The Real Shady Contributing Member

    Jun 8, 2000
    Likes Received:
    So he's on steroids?

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