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August 14, 2006

Missing the point on Preston Wilson

Preston Wilson.jpgThe Stros mercifully waived Preston Wilson over the weekend, who has been one of the worst-producing regularly-playing outfielders in the National League this season (Wilson's .714 OPS was 79th in the National League among regular players). The news would not normally justify even a blog post, except for the fact that Wilson's exit exposed the vacuous nature of the analysis that the Houston Chronicle serves its readers on almost a daily basis from two of its sportswriters, columnist Richard Justice and Stros beat writer Jose de Jesus Ortiz.

As regular readers of this blog know, I sized up the Stros decision to acquire Wilson accurately when the club picked him up as a free agent in January and questioned de Jesus Ortiz's fawning praise of the acquisition at the time. Not that such a prediction was particularly difficult. If one took the time to analyze Wilson's career statistics objectively, then it was easy to conclude that he wasn't a very good player and was a longshot to help the Stros much. Neither de Jesus Ortiz nor Justice bothered to undertake such an analysis of Wilson.

For example, the following is Justice's take on the Stros decision to acquire Wilson at the time the club acquired him in January:

Preston Wilson is a good addition. Period. Don't nitpick it. Don't try to figure out where he's going to play.

He can play any outfield spot, he didn't cost much money and he's a big league hitter.

I have no idea how he'll be used. Phil Garner probably doesn't know either. But he's a player. You can't get too many of them.

But Justice's original support of the Stros' decision to acquire Wilson does not stop Justice in his column today from using the decision to let Wilson go to engage in one of his favorite pastimes -- taking childish potshots at Stros owner Drayton McLane and GM Tim Purpura:

Preston Wilson's departure in the middle of a pennant race came at an odd time. Even odder is why he was signed in the first place. [. . .]

His signing made sense only from the narrow window through which Purpura was viewing his team. He had just seen the Astros hit .203 in the World Series and wanted to add a veteran bat.

So he went for one of the few Uncle Drayton would spring for. He compounded the mistake by guaranteeing Wilson playing time.

Bad idea. The problem with players like Wilson is they're not good enough to carry a team through tough times. And when they're not hitting, they don't do enough other things to merit being on the field. The Astros already had too many high-strikeout players on their roster. They shouldn't have added another.

Unlike Justice, de Jesus Ortiz at least admits in this column that he was wrong in originally supporting the Stros' decision to acquire Wilson. But that candor doesn't lead to any better analysis of the decision to let him go:

"When Astros general manager Tim Purpura gave Wilson a one-year, $4 million deal in January, the contract was praised throughout Houston."

Oh, really?

"[H]e's a far superior player than Jason Lane, but Lane's contract is cheap enough that the Astros would have lost him to another team through waivers. . . . Wilson is far more accomplished [than Lane], so the Astros should be praised for letting him go instead of making him sit on the bench with no chance of starting."

Wilson is far more accomplished than Lane? Wrong.

Covering the local baseball team is not a big deal, so maybe none of this matters. But many casual followers of Major League Baseball read the Chronicle's articles on the Stros, and one would think that the newspaper's editors would want to provide them a better quality of analysis than that provided by Justice and de Jesus Ortiz. It would seem likely that indulgence of such mediocrity could easily drift into more important areas of the newspaper.

Posted by Tom at August 14, 2006 4:37 AM |

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