New Astros manager Brad Mills is a somewhat unknown a quantity. He has more than two decades of coaching experience in pro ball, but this will be his first managerial job in the major leagues.
Houston's lineup, however, is basically as set as any in the National League. Michael Bourn will continue to run at the top of the order, as long as he continues to get on base, even if Mills proves gun-shy about base-running risks. The clubs toils in one of the really good hitting parks in baseball. On both flyballs and line drives, Minute Maid Park has encouraged singles, doubles and home runs.
Groundballs are a different story; Minute Maid has been one of the toughest parks in the league in which to score a groundball hit. Three of Houston's four most prominent hitters are groundball hitters or trending that way, too. It's true both among individuals and as a group: Houston hit groundballs 48 percent of the time last season, far and away the highest rate in the league.
The good news is that Houston's pitchers have been the type to keep the ball on the ground themselves. They also keep the ball in the strike zone. That combination of skills makes their starters potential assets in both fantasy and real life, so long as the infield defense is sound.
New pitching coach Brad Arnsberg, who served in the same capacity for the Toronto Blue Jays for the past five seasons, preaches to work down and then occasionally attack up. Arnsberg oversaw the development of a number of hurlers with varying pedigrees while with the Jays. While the styles should mesh, Arnsberg's staffs have produced flyball-heavy results in recent years.
Pedro Feliz is a very good third baseman, although he's slowly declining, and Jeff Keppinger is an upgrade over the departed Miguel Tejada at shortstop. In the outfield, Carlos Lee is awful, Michael Bourn makes up for some of it, and Hunter Pence is somewhere in between.
The team's exceptional double-play defense may improve this year, making all those groundballs their hurlers typically induce that much more valuable. The uncertainty at catcher may not be a big concern defensively, but a couple of their options have relatively little experience working with the staff.
About Matt Trueblood
Matt is a journalism student at Loyola University Chicago. The guest contributor is a featured Chicago Cubs columnist on the Bleacher Report as well as a contributor to hotstove.com. Matt envisions himself as both a writer and analyst and strives to deliver pieces that are both well-researched and thought-provoking. He work first appeared on KFFL.com in February 2010.
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