The Houston Astros are headed for the American League West in 2013 in order to provide balance among divisions, and in the process, apparently raise the ire of the Houston faithful. The move certainly has fantasy implications for the Astros pitchers as most research points to fewer strikeouts and higher ERA’s when players move from the NL to the AL. But one player that could be impacted by the move is Brett Wallace.
First of all, you have to admit that it’s a fitting punctuation to Wallace’s travels that his entire team is moving divisions. After being the first selection in the 2008 draft by the St. Louis Cardinals, Wallace has already had three more employers. He was traded by the Cardinals in July of 2009 in a package for Matt Holliday, traded five months later to the Blue Jays for Michael Taylor, and then dealt six months later to the Astros for Anthony Gose. Perhaps he’s run out of geographical locations as a fit and whatever karma he’s carrying decided that his entire team needed a fresh change as well. But I digress. A lot.
It’s not the statistical effect of moving from the NL to the AL that will impact Wallace necessarily — it’s the availability of the designated hitter. So let’s take a brief look at why.
Wallace came out of the gate in 2011 piping hot with a .384/.454/.523 triple slash in the first month of the season and it started to look like, finally, all of his minor league success would translate to the big stage. From May 1st to the end of the season, Wallace posted a .215/.292/.315 line over 282 plate appearances, low-lighted by an August demotion and hitting just a buck-o-five with a .150 OBP in very limited action after his recall when rosters expanded. Blech.
Heading into 2012, the Astros have a dilemma. Carlos Lee makes more sense as a first baseman if the team cares at all about winning, and certainly makes more sense defensively than having him in the outfield. But there’s caring about trying to win 70 games and then there’s caring about your future – and Carlos Lee isn’t their future. Brett Wallace might be a part of it. If Wallace demonstrates anything in the Spring, the club will almost certainly carry him and there’s not much logic in gauging his future contributions by evaluating his batting practice and pinch hitting prowess.
Should Wallace somehow demonstrate that he’s their first baseman of the future, it also creates a dilemma for the Astros as they have quite a bit of depth at the first base position. Jonathan Singleton, the prize of the Hunter Pence deal, hit .298/.392/.411 with 13 home runs and 63 RBI in 449 at-bats between the Florida State League and California League last season. Singleton is probably a when, not if, proposition. Kody Hinze, who will be 25 headed into 2013, hit .323/.458/.625 with 22 HR’s in just 80 games at Lancaster and went .281/.358/.422 with 7 HR’s in 55 games after his AA promotion. They also have Telvin Nash whom some see as an outfielder, but others see as a first baseman. And although he strikes out like he’s impersonating Mark Reynolds, he has also been hitting home runs like him too.
The move to the American League starts to solve the Brett Wallace conundrum.
If Wallace finds his bat in 2012, and should any of their first base prospects prove ready sometime in 2013, the Astros could very easily slide Wallace into the DH slot which also has the added benefit of getting his less than spectacular glove off the field. But perhaps more importantly, this DH possibility also gives the team some breathing room in 2012. Instead of 2012 being a do-or-die test for Wallace, they have the luxury of being more patient with him, perhaps even have him start the season in the minor leagues as the club begs another team to take Carlos Lee’s off their hands.
While the move isn’t a popular one with the fan base, and it’s unquestionably going to give their pitchers fits, going to the American League is going to give Houston some latitude with Brett Wallace while they wait for some of their other kids to develop as they make a push for some kind of respectability in 2013 and beyond.