Astros intervention: an honest conversation about the one luxury Houston can no longer afford

Someone has to say it. Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images.

Astros catcher Martin Maldonado appears to be a really good guy. His teammates cherish him. He’s a clubhouse leader. He may have been the last Astro that Carlos Correa said goodbye to before signing with Minnesota.

Maldonado even has the best nickname on the team: “Machete,” for the way he cuts down would-be base stealers. Or used to, anyway.

But this is now. Maldonado is batting .086, with only three hits in the 12 games he’s started at catcher. That's starting to be a valid sample. With most of the Astros’ 1-8 hitters mired in a collective slump, Maldonado’s almost non-existent offense is a luxury the team can’t afford.

Jose Altuve is on the injured list with a hurting .167 average. Yordan Alvarez is swatting .245, Kyle Tucker is at .179, defending AL batting champ Yuli Gurriel is struggling at .218, and Aledmys Diaz is down to .167.

But we expect those guys to break out and get their batting averages up where they belong, where we expect, where they’ve been before.

Maldonado, not so sure. Last year he hit only .172 for the AL champ Astros. Now the Astros have a starting catcher with a .210 lifetime average, over the age of 35, in obvious decline, who has become, in Little League parlance, practically an automatic out.

Maybe it’s time, huh?

Maldonado has carved a 12-year big league career out of being a light-hitting defensive catcher with a strong accurate arm and command of calling a game. You dare to run on him and there’s a good chance you’ll be heading back to the dugout in shame. Base-stealing just isn’t a part of the game these days. The number of attempted steals per game is at a 50-year low. Maldonado’s greatest strength has been neutered. He can't gun out runners who aren't running.

As Jimmy Buffett alludes in A Pirate Looks at 40, Maldonado’s occupational hazard is his occupation’s just not around anymore.

With Altuve sidelined and most of the lineup hitting around or below their weight, it’s somewhat a miracle that the Astros are keeping their heads above water at 9-9.

Crunching Maldonado’s numbers doesn’t help. He’s played five years with the Astros and his average in Houston is only .188. His career on-base percentage is .289. Slugging is .346. In 12 years he has only 81 homers. Tuesday night, Maldonado went 1-4 and his batting average skyrocketed 21 points to .086. He’s not merely a weak hitter, no, he’s an historically easy out.

At various times in his career the New York Times called him “arguably the worst hitter in baseball,” and Sports Illustrated said, “he quite possibly could be the worst-hitting everyday player in MLB history.”

Maldonado has gotten worse since those criminal complaints were made.

Yeah, but he’s a defensive wizard, nobody’s better behind the plate, right? Twelve years, one Gold Glove.

Maybe it’s because “Maldy,” as announcer Julia Morales affectionately calls him, is a fan favorite, or because he’s been a cog in the Astros’ recent glory, or the pitching staff vouches for him, but there’s been no collective cry from fans to bench him.

Or perhaps this is the reason: as puny and ineffective as Maldonado has been at the plate, Astros second-string catcher Jason Castro, certainly not in Maldonado’s league defensively, amazingly enough has an even lower batting average, .053.

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The Houston Astros haven't counted on their catchers to deliver much offensive production in recent years, with defensive specialist Martin Maldonado being their primary catcher for the last few seasons. But top hitting prospect Yainer Diaz is making a case to get more playing time behind the plate and at first, based on his ability to swing the bat.

Until recently, he hasn't been able to get any meaningful playing time. Even David Hensley, who was optioned to Sugar Land a few weeks ago, has more plate appearances than Diaz this season.

So how does manager Dusty Baker find more opportunities for Diaz? Should he use him more often as a DH, along with getting time at first base and catcher?

And what does that mean for Jose Abreu, Martin Maldonado, and to a lesser extent, former first round pick and Sugar Land Space Cowboy catcher, Korey Lee?

Plus, considering how good the Astros outfielders have been this year, does the team need to grab another bat before the trade deadline?

Don't miss the video above as we break it all down!

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