November 19, 2003
Why the Astros lose

The Astros, for reasons that make sense only to themselves, have resigned 34-year-old Brad Ausmus to two a two-year contract, reported by Giff Nielson (who was so ecstatic I thought he was going to wet himself) as being $2 million per year.

Never mind that he had the worst OPS among National Leaguers who qualified for the batting title, never mind that by my count at least five pitchers hit better than he did (Hampton, Oliver, Suppan, Williams, and Ortiz), never mind that there are at least a dozen catchers in organized baseball who are younger, better hitters, and signable for the minimum salary, never mind that every penny wasted on flotsam like Ausmus is money that can't be thrown at a free agent who could actually help the Astros be a better team. Never mind all that. Ausmus is a "proven veteran" who is well liked in the clubhouse and who is thought to be a boon to the young pitching staff, even though there's never been a scintilla of evidence that a catcher can have a measurable effect on pitching performance.

What a joke. I thought Gerry Hunsicker knew better. I'll bet anyone a dollar that our sheeplike sportswriters will commend him for this, too, and then when Pettite signs with someone else they'll bemoan how a "small market" club like Houston can't compete. Sheesh.

UPDATE: From the full Chron story:

As Astros owner Drayton McLane and general manager Gerry Hunsicker met with Andy Pettitte and his agents on Tuesday, they went over every player in the starting lineup to show the free-agent lefthander the club's commitment to putting a championship team on the field next season.

The Astros tentatively set the lineup Wednesday by re-signing catcher Brad Ausmus to a two-year, $4 million contract ($1 million in 2004, $3 million in 2005). McLane hopes the deal serves as a sign to Pettitte, the fans and the rest of baseball.

I'm reading you loud and clear, fellas, and if Andy Pettite is as well, you'll only be seeing him on TV next year. Way to go.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on November 19, 2003 to Baseball | TrackBack

I finally found something that you and Pat Gray (KPRC morning show) can agree on. ;-)

Posted by: B. K. Oxley (binkley) on November 20, 2003 6:47 AM

Petite is not going anywhere other than where he is currently is (the Yankees). Steinbrenner will sign him at a little higher than expected price now that the Red Sox are involved.

As far as Gerry Hunsicker goes, keep in mind he was the GM of the Mets in the early 90s. This is the genius was the GM of "The Worst Team Money Can Buy".

The Astros might have felt the need to sign Ausmus since they don't have anyone else with more than one season of major league experience in the organization. Since catching is at such a premium right now, having Ausmus on the roster is not the worst thing in the world, although there are better ways to spend $4 million ($3 million in 2005? Are you kidding me?).

Posted by: William Hughes on November 20, 2003 7:36 AM

I guess I'm a contrarian, but I view a defensive catcher like Ausmus as a BARGAIN at 1 mil for next year. There just aren't many defensive catchers comparable to Ausmus in the league, certainly none in the Astros' farm system, and certainly none who know the Astros' pitching staff. It's hard to measure those things by Bill James standards, but it doesn't mean they're irrelevant (or nonexistent).

This contract is backloaded so that the Astros can move him as their needs require for 2005, and I don't think it will make the difference one way or the other with Pettitte. That's up to Drayton and what he's willing to pay (I'm not getting my hopes up). Honestly, I think the Vizcaino is less helpful (in terms of what he brings to the park at his age).

But what do I know? It's college football season, after all. :)

Posted by: kevin whited on November 20, 2003 8:11 AM

The way I look at it, Kevin, is whether or not the runs that Ausmus costs the Astros by being such a zero at the plate outweigh the runs he saves them by being a good glove man. The short answer to that question is Yes, by a lot.

It is certainly the case that the Astros pitchers like Ausmus and believe that he improves their performance. No measurements yet devised have discerned any such effect on pitcher performance, but I do concede that a little helpful psychology never hurt. Again, the question to ask is whether it's worth what they's paying him. Personally, I think the Stros would be better off hiring him as a coach than allowing him to ever take an at-bat. But that's just me. :-)

Posted by: Charles Kuffner on November 20, 2003 8:22 AM

Well, Charles, at least the Astros aren't the Rangers.

They have such trouble recognizing what a pitcher is that I heard that they're interested in signing Jose Conseco to pitch (again).

Posted by: Tx Bubba on November 20, 2003 10:39 AM

I'm glad the Braves didn't bring him in. (Though if you want anemic offense from a catcher, give Henry Blanco a try!) It would have been interesting to see if Cox would hit Hampton and Ortiz eighth, though.

Posted by: Mac Thomason on November 20, 2003 1:41 PM

Ortiz' .703 OPS puts him ahead of several everyday players, including Roger Cedeno (698), Jack Wilson (656), Endy Chavez (648), Jose Hernandez (634), Royce Clayton (634), Alex Cora (625), and Cesar Izturis (597). Yes, Brad Ausmus (594) was a worse hitter than Cesar Izturis. I rest my case.

Posted by: Charles Kuffner on November 20, 2003 1:58 PM

According to Win Shares, Ausmus was the 9th best catcher in the NL last year, most of that value (9.39 of 11.83 WS) came from fielding. He's probably worth $1 million next and probably overrated at $3 million in 2005 unless he pulls a Javy Lopez and returns to 1999 standards, which would still only make him a league average hitter.

Posted by: Josh Heit on November 20, 2003 9:04 PM

Did you have to bring Isturis' name into this discussion? Now my head hurts. ;)

Posted by: Linkmeister on November 21, 2003 12:10 AM

Josh, isn't Win Shares a cumulative stat? If so, Ausmus is getting credit for durability. Playing in a lot of games is only an asset if you're contributing at a league average level. Ausmus isn't even at replacement level - according to Clay Davenport, Ausmus was the worst hitting catcher in baseball at nearly 21 runs beneath average for catchers and almost six runs below replacement level last year. That's what I'm talking about when I say there's plenty of minimum-salary receivers who'd be a better option.

I know I'm ignoring Ausmus' defensive value. I believe Ausmus was so bad offensively that anyone who is close to average with the glove and the stick would be a significant upgrade. I don't believe his glove can make up for the giant sucking void he creates in the batter's box.

Posted by: Charles Kuffner on November 21, 2003 7:31 AM

Kuff, there's also Jose Vizcaino's $1.2 million deal. Not that Viz is a terrible player, but there's any number of players with similar skills sets available for much less money.

Posted by: Scott Lucas on November 21, 2003 8:58 AM

Scott, I've noted that in the past. You're quite right to bring it up.

Posted by: Charles Kuffner on November 21, 2003 9:04 AM