As I covered earlier this weekend, Houston Astros fans, distraught that George Springer is once again injured, seem upset that minor league phenom Yordan Alvarez was not given the call. Some may have been able to understand if Kyle Tucker had been called up. So the question is:
To answer this, we must understand that the Astros — possibly more than any other franchise in the MLB — greatly value versatility and flexibility.
The loss of Springer to the Injured List is a major blow to the Astros. In the field, Springer had been splitting his time between starting in center field and in right field. It is reasonable to expect, then, that the player the Astros replaced him with would be capable of doing both as well.
For the full context of all the outfielders and the games they have started by position, see the table below. For these numbers, I projected the 2019 season based on the pace players had in the first 52 games of the year. Springer was on pace to start 59 games in CF and 56 games in RF. This is the hole the Astros needed to fill.
One may say that the combination of Reddick, Marisnick, Brantley, and Kemp could cover the CF/RF hole. The issue with that is this: Until Altuve comes back, Kemp is also the primary 2B defensive replacement backing up Diaz. All four of the healthy OF can play LF, but only Reddick and Marisnick can play RF well, and only Marisnick and Kemp can play CF well. It is also debatable how confident the Astros are with Kemp in CF.
What were the Astros’ primary choices? I believe this was ultimately a choice between four players: Alvarez, Tucker, Fisher, and Straw. Straw’s defense is very strong and would put him in the conversation, but his offense is a large step behind the others. Here is a comparison of the offense numbers:
When the Astros were choosing to call up a replacement for Springer, late at night on May 24, you could tell they were very concerned how long Springer would be out. You could see it in their faces as Hinch discussed the injury. My belief is they wanted someone they knew they could count on to split CF time with Jake Marisnick.
Here are the games, started by position, for the three most likely candidates to be called up:
Alvarez is not the choice here for two reasons:
- He does not play CF. He is a marginal LF at best right now, and the Astros are intensely working on his defense.
- I wrote yesterday about how Alvarez’s Super Two status will keep him down.
In his earlier seasons in the minors Kyle Tucker played a lot of CF. In 2018, and so far in 2019, he has played almost none. I believe the Astros do not see Tucker as a viable CF defensively.
Derek Fisher gives the Astros the backup OF they need. Over the past two seasons, Fisher has logged time in all three OF spots and is considered above average as a fielder. He has shown an ability to be a viable offensive player, but his strikeout rate is very high.
I believe there is another dynamic being played out with Fisher for the next 2–4 weeks. The Astros are hoping Fisher can come up to the majors and prove himself to be a viable MLB outfielder. If he does that, I believe he will be paired with one of the young arms in a July trade to Toronto (for Stroman) or San Francisco (for Bumgarner). The Springer injury is a challenge, and I believe the Astros are trying to turn that challenge into an opportunity. When it happens, you can quote this article.