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Astros can Purpura and Garner

No shock here, that’s for sure. I might have thought they’d have waited till the end of the season, and doing a twofer is slightly more unexpected than just giving the manager the heave-ho, but surely there’s no one in Houston who’s actually surprised that Astros GM Tim Purpura and manager Phil Garner are now unemployed.

I have no strong feelings about this. Garner is what he’s always been, a retread who had some decent people skills, and didn’t screw up the magic in ’04 and ’05. Purpura was a bit unlucky, but more than a bit unimpressive. It’s a shame for him that he didn’t get more of a chance, but I won’t go so far as to defend him.

I will, however, note that whatever ails the franchise today, it hasn’t been swept away with the two ex-employees. New/interim manager Cecil Cooper shows part of the problem here:

Cooper, 57, is in his third year as bench coach and has experience a minor league manager and major league bench coach following a stellar 17-year playing career with the Boston Red Sox and Milwaukee Brewers.

“We have the talent,” Cooper said. “It’s just a matter of us going out and playing like we’re supposed to, and believe me we will.”

Actually, the Stros don’t have the talent, as anyone who’s been watching the comic stylings of Brad Ausmus and the entity formerly known as Craig Biggio can attest. To be blunt, this team is playing like it’s supposed to. That’s the issue in a nutshell.

Now, I don’t expect Cecil Cooper to step in and slag the roster as part of his first press conference. Never mind his future job prospects, that’s just bad people management. But if he gets a contract to stick around, and he doesn’t have a frank talk with the new GM about what the talent here is really like, then he’ll be where Garner is soon enough.

Then there’s Richard Justice, whiffing on an evaluation of Purpura’s roster construction skills.

Somewhere along the way, the Astros lost sight of the things that made them so successful over the years.

We might not be having this discussion if Woody Williams and [Jason] Jennings had been what they were supposed to be, but the lack of major league prospects at the upper level of the minor leagues was going to take a toll on the big league record at some point.

I’ll stipulate that the Stros got unlucky with Jennings. There was risk in taking him on, but it didn’t have to turn out this badly. Williams, on the other hand…well, read what Baseball Prospectus said before the season began:

Williams is not a good choice for the front half of a rotation–he`s fragile, and he needs a big park and/or a great lineup to succeed. Signed to a two-year, $12.5-million deal by the Astros, he`s a fly ball pitcher going to the Non-Carbonated Fruit Beverage House of Pain for Pitchers, and, outside of PETCO, hitters pasted him at a .295/.341/.476 clip. Still, he wanted to pitch at home, and, let`s face it, the guy`s a former 28th-round pick who didn`t become a rotation regular until he was 30, he`s 40 now, and he has 120 career wins–it isn`t like he just threw away his shot at the Hall of Fame by heading to Texas. What he might cost the Astros is a different story.

Indeed. BP’s complex player projection system, called PECOTA, put Williams’ median forecast at 6-7 in 27 games (18 starts), 113 innings, with a 4.96 ERA. Given that he’s actually at 8-12 with a 4.84 ERA in 165 innings (27 starts), he’s actually done better than that. But please, let’s be clear: Woody Williams was exactly what he was supposed to be. To think otherwise is just crazy.

So I’d say we’ve now officially closed the books on the 2005 pennant winners. Time to hope that the next one comes quicker than that. My best wishes to the new crew in achieving that.

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  1. Phillip Martin says:

    Getting rid of Purpura was a good move, something that could have been done a while ago. I think Garner just didn’t use common sense enough — too many gut instincts. When your gut works, the players love you…but when it flops (like it did this year) it makes players second guess you a lot. I think that Garner’s inability to be consistent finally caught up with him this season.

    It will be a clean slate next season: new manager, new GM, the Biggio/Bagwell shadow finally passed. If Berkman can bounce back and have an All-Star year and if Pence performs at a high level, I think our offense will be close. But we’re dying for pitching. We need to just bite the bullet and buy a big name pitcher (preferably one that isn’t 50 years old) and do it fast.

  2. Kevin Whited says:

    To be blunt, this team is playing like it’s supposed to.

    No, not really.

    The passed balls and fielding errors and not hitting the cutoff man and the baserunning blunders have been below Major League quality this season.

    That’s on the manager.

    The team is short on talent, and some guys haven’t performed as expected, but there is no excuse for some of the sloppy defense and baserunning blunders we have seen this season. Wayne Graham’s teams are better at fundamentals, and he coaches at the college level.

    As far as Woody Williams, he’s only become what he was supposed to be with a late surge. He was far worse than he was supposed to be during the first half of the season, and most teams probably would have cut him. He still is not a #3 pitcher, and the fact that Justice thinks he can be next season is just puzzling.

  3. I’m saying that in terms of run production and run prevention, the Astros are right where they should be based on reasonable expectations. That’s about talent. Being better at hitting cutoff men or running the bases might have picked them up a game or two here or there, but it wouldn’t change that basic fact.

    I agree, Williams has improved considerably in his more recent starts. The point, and I think we both agree on this, is that what he’s done and what he should have been expected to do are not far off.