MLB 9s: Houston Astros—Jeff Bagwell, Jimmy Wynn, Alan Ashby In Top Team

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MLB 9s: Houston Astros—Jeff Bagwell, Jimmy Wynn, Alan Ashby In Top Team
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One question, hundreds of answers: Which Astro had the greatest offensive season at his position?

Major League baseball has been asking fans this same question in an effort to choose each team's best-ever collection of stars.

They are calling it MLB 9s.

Scroll down to find out why Lance Berkman doesn't make the cut, why Dickie Thon should be remembered as a Hall-of-Famer whose career got cut short, and why Craig Biggio was so much more than just "Mr. Hit By Pitch".

Here I have separated the contenders from the pretenders in an effort to pick my dream Astros lineup, based on their one career year. Have your say by commenting below or by voting on the MLB site here .

My other MLB 9s you might want to check out are:

Diamondbacks , Braves , Orioles , Red Sox , Cubs , White Sox , Reds , Indians , Rockies , Tigers , and Marlins.

 

Catcher: Alan Ashby (1987)

Ashby may seem a strange choice considering he never had a single season where he got 400 at-bats, but his contributions were solid regardless of the fact that he gave up almost a third of his playing time to backups Ronn Reynolds and Mark Bailey.

Ashby hit 14 home runs in the 1987 season, batting .288 with 63 runs batted in, and 53 walks.

Only two other Houston catchers have hit more home runs in one season (John Bateman, 17; Joe Ferguson, 16), while Ashby’s 63 RBI rank third all-time.

Highlight Game: June 10, 1987 vs. San Diego. Ashby snapped a scoreless tie in the fourth inning with a grand slam off Padres starter Storm Davis.

Ashby finished 2-for-3 with a pair of runs and five RBI, and the Astros won 10-1. It was Ashby’s third and final grand slam of his career.

Competition: There’s not really a right or wrong answer here, because of the apparent parity between Astros’ backstops through the decades.

Sure, there are better or worse catchers in terms of their contributions to the team over their career, but in terms of single-season efforts, there is really little to separate them.

Bateman’s 1966 season was comparable—17 home runs, 70 RBI, 39 runs—and more recently Mitch Meluskey was serviceable with 14 bombs, 69 batted in, and a .300 average.

 

First Base: Jeff Bagwell (1994)

Bagwell stormed to the 1994 National League MVP, leading all batters in runs (104), runs batted in (116), total bases (300), and slugging percentage (.750).

His .368 batting average was second only to Tony Gwynn and his 39 home runs was bettered only by Matt Williams of the Giants.

Just three years after winning the Rookie-of-the-Year award, Bagwell won his first Silver Slugger award and was also selected for the All-Star team.

His .368 batting average and .750 slugging percentage is the most by any Houston first baseman.

Highlight Game: June 24, 1994 vs. Los Angeles Dodgers. Bagwell hit three home runs in an impressive 4-for-5 showing which saw him drive in six runs.

In the sixth inning, Bagwell pulled Ramon Martinez deep for a solo shot to deep left field. Later in the inning after the Astros had batted around, Bagwell tagged Rudy Seanez for a three-run blast the opposite way, lining a ball to right field.

Competition: Bagwell had a number of fine seasons, so this is more about him than anyone else. He hit 47 home runs in 2000, walked 149 times in 1999, and stole 31 bases in 1997.

Even in the six years between 1994 and 2000 though, the game had changed, as shown in his OPS+ statistics (a measure of on-base and slugging percentages which take into account league averages). The 213 OPS+ he recorded in 1994 is the best of his career and comfortably the most by any Houston first baseman ever.

Lance Berkman hit 45 home runs and batted .315 in 2006, but other than him, there is very little real competition. Glenn Davis? Bob Watson? Not likely.

 

Second Base: Craig Biggio (1998)

A life-long Astro, Biggio had a number of stellar seasons in Texas. None were better than his 1998 campaign when he batted .325, hit 20 home runs and stole 50 bases.

Biggio led the NL with 51 doubles and he was selected to his fifth consecutive All-Star Game.

He ranked fourth in the National League for runs scored (123), second in hits (210) and stolen bases, and fourth in runs created (142).

Highlight Game: May 22, 1998 vs. San Diego. In one of just two multi-home run games of his ’98 season, Biggio went deep twice against the Padres.

He hit a lead-off home run against Pete Smith to tie the game at 1, and he snapped a 4-4 tie in the bottom of the sixth inning with a two-run shot down the left-field line off Donne Wall.

Biggio finished the game 3-for-5 with four RBI.

Competition: Both Joe Morgan and Bill Doran were mere batting average points away from seriously challenging Biggio.

Morgan’s .256 average destroys the fact that he swiped 40 bags or scored 87 runs, while Doran’s 1987 season just fell short with a .283 average, 16 homers, 31 steals, and 79 batted in.

Jeff Kent’s power season of 2004 was right in the mix too, but I decided to go with Biggio’s more rounded production.

 

Third Base: Morgan Ensberg (2005)

Remember when Morgan Ensberg was good? Yeah, I know, it’s hard for me too.

2005 was the best season of Ensberg’s relatively short career which saw him play four full seasons for the Astros.

He shone in ’05 though, hitting 36 home runs, recording 101 runs batted in, and a .557 slugging percentage.

He finished fourth in the NL MVP race, won his one and only Silver Slugger award, and was named an All Star.

He ranked in the top 10 in several offensive categories, including home runs, slugging percentage, walks, and total bases.

Highlight Game: May 15, 2005 vs. San Francisco. Proof that Ensberg was a dangerous hitter, the third baseman took the Giants yard three times.

Jeff Fassero, Jeremy Accardo, and Jason Christiansen all saw pitches to Ensberg leave Minute Maid, as the slugger finished 4-for-4 with five RBI. The Astros won the game 9-0.

Competition: Enos Cabell’s 1977 season stands out to me because of the threat he represented on the base paths. Sure, guys like Ken Caminiti and Sean Berry batted in the .280s with 16 or 17 home runs, but none of them could match the speed Cabell had.

His 42 steals is the most by any Astros third baseman ever.

 

Shortstop: Dickie Thon (1983)

1983 was Thon’s real breakout year. Having hit just three home runs in his previous 300 at bats over the course of his first four seasons, Thon exploded with 20 long balls and 79 RBI.

His 20 home runs are still a franchise record for a shortstop.

He batted a respectable .286 and stole 34 bases, ranked inside the National League top 10 in hits (177, seventh), total bases (283, fourth), triples (nine, fifth), and extra-base hits (57, eighth).

He was selected to the All-Star Game as Ozzie Smith’s backup, won his first Silver Slugger award, and finished seventh in the MVP voting.

Seen by some as a future Hall-of-Famer, Thon’s career was cruelly blindsided just five games into the ’84 season when he was hit in the face by a Mike Torrez fastball.

Highlight Game: Aug. 10, 1983 vs. San Diego. Dickie Thon sent the 12,605 fans in the Astrodome home happy, snapping a 3-3 deadlock with a walk-off home run in the bottom of the 14th inning.

The home run off Luis DeLeon was the first walk-off of his career, giving the Astros a 4-3 victory.

Competition: Denis Menke supplies the competition to Thon with his 1970 season.

All Star Menke drove in 92 runs and batted .304, hitting 13 home runs and scoring 82 times. His RBI tally is the most by any Astros shortstop ever.

 

Outfield: Jimmy Wynn (1969)

Wynn was never a megastar by today’s standards, or even by 1960s standards, but his 1969 season is the best ever by any Astros’ outfielder in my opinion.

Wynn was a fierce hitter with a great eye and above-average speed, making him a threat both at the plate and on the base paths.

He hit 33 home runs, scored 113 times, and swiped 23 bases, all while leading the National League with 148 walks.

Wynn was one of what is known today as a “three true outcomes” hitter—he would hit a home run, walk, or strikeout, as can be seen by his 33-148-142 line.

Not a gap hitter—he recorded just 17 doubles—his .436 on-base percentage and .943 OPS more than made up for a rather pedestrian .269 batting average.

Highlight Game: July 8, 1969 @ San Francisco. Wynn had his third multi-home run game of the ’69 season, going 2-for-3 with two home runs, two walks, an intentional walk, and three runs scored.

 

Richard Hidalgo (2000)

Hidalgo had a career year at the turn of the millennium, setting career highs in home runs (44), RBI (122), and stolen bases (13).

He ranked second in the National League with 89 extra-base hits and fifth in the NL with 355 total bases.

His 44 home runs and .636 slugging percentage are highs by any Astros’ outfielder, while his 122 runs batted in rank fourth behind Lance Berkman and Moises Alou.

Highlight Game: April 4, 2000 @ Pittsburgh. On Opening Day at Three Rivers Stadium, Hidalgo hit a grand slam off Jason Schmidt in the sixth inning to give the Astros a commanding 5-0 lead.

Schmidt walked the bases loaded, offering free passes to Craig Biggio, Jeff Bagwell and Moises Alou. Hidalgo—sitting dead red on a 3-1 count— took his fastball yard.

 

Carl Everett (1999)

Everett may lose some votes based entirely on his short tenure in Houston, but his final year playing in the NL is worthy of mention.

He hit 25 home runs, stole 27 bases, and batted .325. His .587 slugging percentage was eighth best in the National league, and his 14.6 at bats per home run was good enough for a spot inside the top 10.

His 108 RBI was also a career high. Not bad considering he only played 123 games.

Highlight Game: June 20, 1999 vs. Montreal. Everett went 2-for-4 with six RBI and two home runs, including a grand slam off Ugueth Urbina.

The Astros won 11-3. extending their lead in the NL Central to 6.5 games ahead of the Reds.

Competition: The two ‘big’ outfield names that I chose to leave off this list were Lance Berkman and Moises Alou.

Both had fantastic seasons in their own right, but the depth of talent within the Houston outfield was just too great.

Take Alou’s 2000 season as an example. He had five more runs and six more RBI than Everett. He batted 30 points higher, but had 24 fewer steals and four fewer runs.

They are obviously just different batters. The 30-point average difference is not as great as it sounds though. If Everett had recorded just one more hit—one infield hit or bloop single—each week, he would have batted .357—two points more than Alou.

As for Berkman, as important as he has been to the Astros during his 11 years at the club, I honestly don’t think you can argue that he has had a substantially better year than any of the three guys I chose.

 

Pitcher: Tom Griffin (1974)

Griffin was about as good as they get for Houston pitchers swinging the bat. He leads all Astros’ pitchers with more than 30 at-bats in a season for slugging percentage (.456)

In 1974 he hit two home runs and five doubles, going 20-for-68 on the year, with eight RBI and 11 runs. He only grounded into one double play.

Highlight Game: July 14, 1974 vs. Chicago Cubs. Very minor but I’ll mention it anyway, because Griffin went 2-for-2 with a home run and a double, helping Houston beat the Cubbies 7-6.

Competition: Astros’ pitchers can’t hit. It’s simple. Very few pitchers can post solid numbers against even the lower tier of Major League hurlers, even if they were a position player in college.

Dave Giusti is the only pitcher with three home runs in a season, while Mike Scott is the only one to record double-digit runs batted in more than once.

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