Stros 2005 Review: Checking in on the Stros

Bruntlett.jpgWhen journeyman Eric Bruntlett (-5 RCAA/.262 OBP/.333 SLG./.595 OPS) jacks a three run yak in the 14th inning to pull out a Sunday afternoon win and finish off a 7-4 roadie, you know it’s time to check in on the Stros (51-47).
Somehow, the Stros find themselves only three and a half games behind the Nationals (55-44) for the lead for the NL Wild Card Playoff spot, but my sense is that the Nationals are sinking and will not be in contention any longer by Labor Day. Accordingly, it’s looking as if the Stros’ competition for the Wild Card spot is going to be the NL East teams other than the Nationals — the Braves (55-44), Phillies (52-47), Mets (51-47) and Marlins (49-47) — and the Cubs (49-48) in the NL Central.

Inasmuch as combining each club’s runs created against average (“RCAA”, explained here) and its runs saved against average (“RSAA”, explained here) is a good measure of each club’s strength relative to the rest of the league, here is how the above-named clubs involved in the Wild Card race stacks up:
Braves -29 RCAA/85 RSAA = 56
Marlins 72/-16 = 56
Cubs 51/-1 = 50
Stros -26/54 = 26
Mets 4/17 = 21
Phillies -40/63 = 13
Nationals -3/13 = 10
Consequently, given that the Braves will probably win the NL East, the Marlins and the Cubs are the Stros main competition at this point for the Wild Card, although the Mets are showing signs of life recently. The Marlins and Cubs are both considerably stronger hitting clubs than the Stros overall, but the Stros pitching is much better than either of those clubs and the Stros hitting is trending upward with Berkman (19/.422/.508/.930) continuing to regain form, Ensberg (29/.388/.595/.983) making a strong case for Comeback Player of the Year, and Jason Lane showing signs of life (-4/.294/.472/764). If the Stros hitters can climb back to at least an average National League club (i.e., an RCAA of zero), then the Stros pitchers are strong enough to carry the club to an RCAA/RSAA in the 75-85 range, barring injury to any of the key pitchers. The Stros won the Wild Card last season with a 96 RCAA/RSAA and attaining even a 75-85 season total may be a tall order for this club absent acquisition of another strong hitter, but the Stros at least appear to have a chance (barring injury to any key players) to remain in contention for the Wild Card spot with the current lineup. For at least the time being, my pre-season prediction for this Stros club is looking fairly accurate:

Thus, even with the loss of Beltran and Kent, the Stros still appear to me to be an above .500 team. The offense is probably going to slide a bit with Berkman out for the first month of the season. But the starting pitching looks very good, Lidge is currently the best closer in the National League, and the middle relievers look improved over last season’s dubious group. If Lane hits as expected, Ensberg rebounds, Bags (+17 RCAA) and Bidg (+8 RCAA) maintain as well as they performed last season, and the young players develop well, then my sense is that the Stros are an 85 to 88 win team with an outside chance to take it over 90 wins if the injury bug does not bite.

Here are the Stros hitters’ individual RCAA through Saturday’s games, courtesy of Lee Sinins:
Morgan Ensberg 29
Lance Berkman 19
Craig Biggio 9
Orlando Palmeiro 7
Jeff Bagwell 1
Jason Lane -4
Humberto Quintero -4
Luke Scott -4
Todd Self -4
Eric Bruntlett -5
Willy Taveras -6
Jose Vizcaino -6
Raul Chavez -10
Chris Burke -11
Mike Lamb -11
Adam Everett -12
Brad Ausmus -14
The Stros team RCAA of -26 is 11th among the 16 National League clubs. Add Adam Dunn (26/.394/.581/.975) to that group, and things could get very interesting for the Stros.
Here are the Stros pitchers’ individual RCAA through Saturday’s games
Roger Clemens 43
Roy Oswalt 31
Andy Pettitte 20
Dan Wheeler 12
Brad Lidge 7
Chad Qualls 3
Mike Burns 1
Mike Gallo 1
Russ Springer -4
John Franco -5
Chad Harville -5
Brandon Backe -9
Brandon Duckworth -12
Ezequiel Astacio -14
Wandy Rodriguez -15
The Stros team RSAA of 54 is 4th among the 16 National League teams. Clemens, Oswalt, and Pettitte currently are the strongest three starting pitchers on one team in MLB.
The Stros begin a seven game game homestand against Wild Card playoff competitors the Phillies and the Mets this week before making a West Coast swing next week against the Diamondbacks (48-52) and the Giants (42-55).

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