The Houston Astros project to have a few black holes in their 2009 lineup. An Aaron Boone/Geoff Blum platoon of doom might make Astros fans long for the days of Ty Wigginton, and center fielder Michael Bourn racked up a mind-bending -21.6 batting runs in 2008. Add in an aging middle-infield combo, and it’s easy to see why PECOTA envisions just 703 runs scored for the ‘Stros, topping only the PETCO-penalized Padres and the offensively puny Giants.
Catcher was another source of angst for the club in 2008, as Houston backstops combined to post a sickly .201/.281/.289 line. Even by the modest standards of the position (the average MLB catcher hit .255/.324/.389), the Astros received precious little from long-time offensive cipher Brad Ausmus, minor league journeyman Humberto Quintero and busted prospect J.R. Towles.
Apparently unwilling to trust Towles with the everyday job following a very sour cup of coffee last season, the Astros have reportedly inked Ivan Rodriguez to a 1-year, $1.5 million deal with an additional $1.5M in possible incentives.
Long noted for an arm capable of launching projectiles into space, “Pudge” has seen his offensive production slide considerably since 2005. After compiling wOBA’s between .361 and .381 between 2002-2004, Rodriguez has followed up with marks of .312, .330, .306 and .317 from ’05 to ’08. The 37 year-old is just about the least patient hitter that you’re going to find (our plate discipline stats dating back to 2005 show Rodriguez swinging at 38.3% of pitches out of the zone), but he made up for it previously with a good deal of extra-base thump. That ability to drive the ball is in question at this point: I-Rod posted his lowest slugging percentage (.394) and Isolated Power (.118) since 1992.
There’s little risk in signing Pudge at such a discount rate- he’d need to produce less than one win above replacement to be worth his salary with the incentives. However, it’s not especially clear that Rodriguez constitutes a clear upgrade over the much-maligned Towles, at least at the plate:
I-Rod: .299 wOBA
Towles: .320 wOBA
Towles was brutal in the majors last season (.235 wOBA in 171 PA), but his BABIP was an impossibly low .157. Short of having magnets placed on the ball and on the gloves of the defense, that’s not bloody likely to happen again. The 25 year-old has little star potential, but he is a career .302/.386/.476 hitter in the minors.
Rodriguez becomes a potential target in deeper leagues based on there just plain being few attractive options behind the dish, but keep Towles in mind in the event that he works his way back into the major league picture. He’s not great, but he’s nowhere near as bad as his ’08 big league train wreck would have you believe.
A recent graduate of Duquesne University, David Golebiewski is a contributing writer for Fangraphs, The Pittsburgh Sports Report and Baseball Analytics. His work for Inside Edge Scouting Services has appeared on ESPN.com and Yahoo.com, and he was a fantasy baseball columnist for Rotoworld from 2009-2010. He recently contributed an article on Mike Stanton's slugging to The Hardball Times Annual 2012. Contact David at email@example.com and check out his work at Journalist For Hire.