Since I've taken over as managing editor, I thought I'd move in and settle a bit. With that, I thought I'd move this piece over from The Crawfish Boxes. Each week, I'll look at different players' stock, who's going up and who's coming down. Since Wednesday marks the Astros' 81st game, let's look how each hitter has done through half the schedule:
Hunter Pence, rising: Pence is having his best season since his rookie year, hitting .315/.358/.489 this season in 305 plate appearances. He leads the National League with 22 doubles and is one of the RBI leaders with 53. Putting that in a slightly different way, Pence has driven in 16 percent of Houston's total runs. He's clearly the best hitter in this lineup and should finish with 20 home runs and 100 RBIs this season.
Michael Bourn, rising slightly: If Pence is the best hitter, Bourn may be the best all-around player on the team. He doesn't have the gaudy offensive numbers and probably never will. However, Bourn makes up for it by being one of the best baserunners in the league and playing a high, high quality center field. He's still hitting .285/.353/.397 and has a higher walk rate than Pence at this point. Bourn's also on pace to lead the team in bbWAR for a second straight season. Oh, he's also on pace to steal 68 bases this season, which would break the franchise record of 65 steals currently held by Gerald Young.
Carlos Lee, higher than last season: I guess everything is relative. Lee is hitting .266/.313/.404, which is higher than he was hitting last season, but still no where close to what the Astros thought they were getting when he signed that huge contract before the 2007 season. Even though his power has dropped significantly, Lee is still fourth on the team in home runs. Of course, he's also behind one Matt Downs, who hasn't even played regularly this season.
Brett Wallace, rising: If you look at where Wallace was at the end of April, his stock would be falling. But, if you look at where he was heading into this season and what the questions were about him, he's passed this first big test with flying colors. Wallace is hitting .296/.382/.421 in 285 plate appearances and has missed just two games this season. He hasn't shown as much power as you'd like to see from a first baseman, but he's hitting and getting on base at one of the best clips on the team. That's exactly what the Astros thought they were getting when they picked him up as part of the Roy Oswalt trade.
Jeff Keppinger, remains solid: Well, if there's one thing Jeff Keppinger can do, it's play a decent second base and hit. Since recovering from his foot problems, Kepp has hit .325/.345/.430 in 25 games over 119 plate appearances. He's a solid hitter who does his job but isn't ever spectacular. He's got a little pop and will be a pretty valuable trade commodity come July.
Clint Barmes, volatile: Well, he's not hitting at all and the power he was supposed to show off isn't there either. But, Barmes is one of the best defenders on the team. In fact, the only player who is rated higher in the defensive metrics is...Carlos Lee, which doesn't speak highly for those metrics. I still think Barmes has value for what he's done defensively at short. He just needs to hit a little bit more to justify his place in the lineup.
Chris Johnson, falling sharply: Talk about a steep decline from last season. CJ was the most promising Astros player in years when he burst upon the scene last June. He was hitting for average, for power and everything in between. He gave fans hope that he could be an impact player...but just hasn't lived up to that hype this season. His batting average is heavily weighted on his BABiP, which is very, very low this season. His power is there, but not game-changing for this lineup. Oh, and he may be losing time to Matt Downs in the future. Not a good season for CJ.
Matt Downs, rising slightly: Who will give Matt Downs a chance? Is there anyone in our worthy kingdom that will challenge his talents? Give him a full-time job! See what he can do! Downs has shown as much power potential in the minors as Chris Johnson and couldn't be much worse defensively at third base. Why not give him a chance to prove himself there. At the very least, Downs could get a shot at second base once Jeff Keppinger is traded away.
Humberto Quintero, bottoming out: Injuries and a cold bat have always been Q's biggest problems. He's really good defensively behind the plate when he's healthy, but seems to get banged up an awful lot. He's not a viable starter, because he can't hit enough even for a defensive catcher. He's better suited as a No. 2 on the roster, but...
J.R. Towles, stay away: There is no No. 1 catcher on this current Astros team. That's what happens when Jason Castro falls to an injury and Ed Wade didn't want to plug anyone else in to replace him. We get a season of J.R. Towles doing his inconsistent and downright unlucky thing with Quintero, Carlos Corporan, Brian Esposito and Crash Davis behind the plate. Towles can't catch a break with anything...injuires, playing time, his bat all betray him in the end.
Angel Sanchez, middling: It's not that Angel Sanchez has been bad. He just doesn't need to be a regular player. As a bench infielder, he's great. He can play decently in the field, spell your starting shortstop on occasion and has a pretty good batting average usually that's empty (meaning no power, no walks), but which works off the bench. We'll just forget that period where he started every day when Barmes recovered from the broken hand.
Jason Bourgeois, good but not great: If you look at his numbers in a small sample size this season, Jason Bourgeois should be playing more. Astros fans positively salivate at the possibility that Bourg and Bourn are playing the outfield next to each other and hitting 1-2 in the lineup. Carlos Lee's contract certainly stands in the way of that, but Bourg's injuries also play a role. This is his second trip to the DL this season, so he'll need to prove he can stay healthy to lock down any more playing time.
Jason Michaels, penny stock territory: If Collin DeLome or J.B. Shuck or Brian Bogusevic or even T.J. Steele had proven they could be a bat off the bench and play in the outfield last season, we wouldn't have Jason Michaels on the team. Michaels is a luxury that a playoff team needs and that is wasted on the Astros. Except, he's not realy the kind of player any more than can help a contender, since he can't hit any more.