So yesterday, in an attempt give the Astros a second-half lift, Houston GM Tom Purpura fired hitting coach Gary Gaetti and acquired Aubrey Huff. Gaetti may be a terrible coach and Huff isn’t a horrible pick-up. What was horrible is Purpura’s public explanation. In particular, he called out Morgan Ensberg and Jason Lane for their “poor” hitting. As consequence Lane was sent to Triple-A and Ensberg will share some playing time with Huff.
Lane’s demotion was not a surprise. The 29-year-old outfielder was hitting .205 (46-for-224) with 11 home runs, 30 RBIs and 40 walks. When reached Wednesday, Lane declined to comment on his demotion.
Lane’s job wasn’t the only one threatened by Huff’s acquisition.
“Obviously, it’s going to cut into (Ensberg’s) playing time,” Purpura said of the trade. “And the thing with Morgan is, I know he hasn’t admitted to having (right) shoulder problems, but he did hurt his shoulder. I don’t know if that’s still affecting him, but I think we’ll have a good, frank conversation tomorrow. Unfortunately, we’re in a position where we have to start moving forward.
“We can’t give at-bats to players because they’ve been in that spot before. We’re at a point that the potential that players have has to now translate into production and performance. We have to get production and performance out of our hitters.”
Well, while Lane and Ensberg are putting up paltry batting averages of .205 and .236, and you would expect them to do better, neither has played that badly. First, both are getting on base in other ways. Lane has an OBP of .330 and Ensberg has an OBP of .390 to go along with a SLG of .500. Lane could still do better in the power department, and Ensberg had a horrible June, but there’s another reason Lane and Ensberg shouldn’t be the scape goats. Both have been unlucky. Here are their PrOPS lines.
Ensberg: .283/.427 /.560/.987
If Purpura doesn’t like the way the team is hitting, why doesn’t he bench the Willy Taveras out-machine extravaganza and his .615 OPS (.636 PrOPS). No one forced him to build a lineup with Brad Ausmus, Preston Wilson, and Adam Everett.
So, here’s what’s going to happen. Ensberg’s average will rise in the second half, Lane will tear up Triple-A for a month then return to the big leagues hitting much better (see the 2005 Austin Kearns), and Purpura will be praised for his bold moves. What we won’t see are two players losing at-bats that the Astros need for the second-half run.