Astros pin hopes on Bagwell to help struggling offense
GM: Team needs to figure out whether players can improve
Alex Rodriguez, left, and Derek Jeter of the Yankees are sure Hall of Famers, but there weren’t many others in Tuesday’s All-Star game. In 1972, there were 23 future Hall of Famers in the game.
HOUSTON — After a poor first half, the Astros have turned to former star Jeff Bagwell as their new hitting coach in hopes that the top slugger in franchise history can improve one of the worst offenses in baseball.
In his first coaching job, the former first baseman inherits a team whose hitters rank among the bottom of the league in almost every statistical category. Even stars Lance Berkman and Carlos Lee are mired in slumps.
Berkman, a career .297 hitter, and Lee, who’s hit .289 in his career, are averaging .255 and .240 respectively. Lee’s slump has been particularly tough on the team after he hit at least .300 in each of the past three seasons.
The team’s poor hitting has left the Astros dead in the water at 36-53 as they prepare for the second half of the season.
“It’s been disappointing, obviously, extremely disappointing,” general manager Ed Wade said. “We really have never reached the point of consistency that we wanted to achieve.
“Coming out of spring training, we thought we had the elements in place to get off to a good start, and it didn’t happen.”
Although Berkman and Lee, who are both 34, are far from the only Astros with problems on offense, their success in the past has magnified their trouble.
“I don’t think anybody could have predicted we would have struggled offensively as much as we have,” Wade said. “All you have to do is flip the guy’s bubble gum card over and look at the numbers on the back and see what the track record is to recognize why our expectations were higher.”
Houston isn’t expecting miracles from Bagwell, but Wade wants to see if the change can help his players get back on track.
“We need to figure out whether guys actually have the ability to get better or not,” Wade said. “We’ve got players who are underperforming. We know we’re not the ’27 Yankees, but we’re better than this. And if we’re not better than this, we need to use time remaining to assess the talent on the club and act accordingly.”
Bagwell said he doesn’t have any magical formulas.
“We’re going to work on some technical aspects of hitting, but once the game starts, we’re going to compete,” he said. “That’s really all I can ask of the guys.’’
Hunter Pence, hitting just .263, is another who welcomes a respected new voice from Bagwell.
“I think he’s definitely got a great amount of knowledge, obviously with the credentials that he’s got and how well he’s played, and he definitely understands hitting,” he said.
Bagwell might be able to make a bigger impression on a growing collection of Round Rock Express alumni: catcher Jason Castro, third baseman Chris Johnson and outfielder Jason Bourgeois. The Astros want to find out whether they can be counted on as part of the solution for next year and beyond.
Ed Wade says poor hitting has been surprising.