Hey, I can spell the name Dan Szymborksi correctly without having to look it up, boy am I good. It is that time of the year again when Mr. S, releases his predictions for the coming year, and there really is no way to sugarcoat the mediocrity of the current crop of players. Not only have the Astros lost Hunter Pence and Michael Bourn, but Wandy Rodriguez, Brett Myers and Carlos Lee could be gone too.
But the entire reems of statistics are so uninspiring. I have a hard time believing that Bud Norris' ERA will be as high as 3.96, when he put up a 3.77 ERA and should put up stronger numbers. Brett Wallace and Chris Johnson are penned to have middling campaigns, and the only real bright spots are Jose Altuve and J.D. Martinez.
Martinez's overall line, .281/.335/.414 is easy enough to accept. Altuve provides more of an enigma. On the one hand he had a terrific minor league season in 2011, putting up numbers Bryce Harper would not mind. But his BB% of 2.1 in the majors was worrying, and until he can show pitchers he can crush a mistake pitch, they will stay in and around the strikezone. In minor league footage it seemed clear that Altuve has alley power. Whether he can showcase it in Houston is another thing.
Some things to consider however: Brett Wallace turns 25 in 2012, and one of the things he did half-well in 2011 was draw walks. He may be given the lion's share of playing time at 1B if Lee is moved by Jeff Luhnow. God knows which J.A. Happ will show up in 2012. With little deviation in his FIP numbers over his career, Happ has seen wild swings in his ERA. Improvement after demotion may carry over to this season, as he spots his fastball in the outside portion of the plate more often. I have no idea what Jimmy Paredes will do next season and would be foolish to guess, all I know is Martinez has surprised us all several times before. He may do so again before his Astros days are done.
The bullpen may be lousy without Mark Melancon, or it may pull together and be somewhat competent. Maybe Brandon Lyon will astound us all, David Carpenter and Fernando Rodriguez will excel in the 7th inning, while Wilton Lopez reprives his 2010 role as sometime setup man. Finally our young pitchers make huge strides. Lucas Harrell and Henry Sosa may not have much projecability in them, but we can hope Jordan Lyles, Brett Oberholtzer and Paul Clemens have some. True, they are more likely to be pitchers with a gentle upward progression in the majors, but one of them might take a huge step forward over the next year or two.
Most likely the 2012 season will be an ugly one, and we can probably pencil in another 100 losses. But along the way there will be a few surprises. Jason Castro's injury is frustrating, but there should be some glimmer of hope, some future solace in the players the Astros field over the next season. Or so we pray.