Houston Signs a "Professional Baseball Player"
There's a new sheriff in town in Houston and he plans on winning. Now.
Ed Wade has traded for Miguel Tejada, and acquired Kazuo Matsui. He has supplemented his new 32 year-old middle infield with another veteran, 34 year-old center fielder, Darin Erstad. He has made other moves as well, but I want to focus on the Erstad signing. From the Houston Astros press release:
Erstad, 33, hit .248 (77-for-310) with four home runs and 32 RBI in 87 games for the Chicago White Sox in 2007. Including 11 seasons with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim from 1996-2006, he has hit .284 (1582-for-5568) with 118 home runs, 657 runs batted in, and 292 doubles in 1,407 Major League games.
Can you imagine a more insipid, uninspiring way to rally the fans than to reel off meaningless counting stats amassed over the time frame referenced? Let's even forget about Erstad for a moment. Could a passage do a better job of highlighting the insignificance of counting statistics without context? I am not even talking about park effects or replacement level for a given year. How about just some indication of how he stacked up against his competition? Oh, he has hit 118 home runs in 11 seasons? Why didn't you tell me? 657 RBI? .284? Sheesh, sign him up!
Of course a presser put out by the acquiring team wants to paint the signing in the most favorable light. When a transaction lacking justification grounded in any sort of reason whatsoever occurs, you will often read and hear quotes about intangibles and counting stats. You cannot refute either and as such, the very items designed to evidence the rationale for the acquisition in actuality tell you very little about the incoming player. From the same piece:
"Darin is one of the prototypical professional baseball players," said Wade. "He's made a career out of playing the game the right way. Darin is a veteran who brings a lot to our club and will really help us."
In case you did not know by now, Ed Wade and I diverge on how we think of the "prototypical professional baseball players." In my view, a professional baseball prototype should have the ability to play professional baseball. Someone who plays the game the "right way" ought to have some baseline level of competence.
For seven seasons now, we have seen little evidence that Darin Erstad can play Major League Baseball as a regular without severely hampering his teams' ability to win games. His defensive contributions notwithstanding, and they have been significant over the years, Erstad has had no business in a Big League starting lineup since the 2000 campaign. To wit, here are the worst five outfielders in terms of OPS+ since the start of the 2001 season (3,000 minimum plate appearances):
AVG OBP SLG OPS+
D. Erstad .270 .323 .369 83
C. Patterson .260 .299 .415 84
J. Pierre .301 .348 .376 86
J. Payton .279 .324 .430 95
J. Encarnacion .267 .317 .436 97
Over the same period, and with the same minimum amount of appearances applied once again, here are the bottom five run creating outfielders since 2001:
D. Erstad 375 3,314
J. Gibbons 384 3,035
C. Patterson 394 3,289
P. Wilson 409 3,159
J. Guillen 436 3,095
Picking on such low-hanging fruit is not especially gratifying but criminally egregious transactions of this nature that are justified by the team with the nonsense Houston has floated out there deserve to be highlighted. The incentive-filled $1 million guaranteed contract that Houston has furnished Erstad is one of the very worst signings in recent memory. In a desperate, flailing attempt at competing now, Houston continues to dig its own grave.