Saturday, February 24, 2018

Saturday Morning Hot Links

The Astros won their Spring Training opener yesterday against the Nationals 3-2. You've all been told by smarter people than me (but by me, as well) that Spring Training really doesn't matter...until it does. There are a few people for whom Spring Training does matter:

1. Guys trying to be the 25th man on the roster
2. Guys in the high minors looking to impress
3. Guys who struggled last year that are trying to start their season off right.
4. Bloggers.

Hinch:
To the guys that are on my team it's a continual progression to get ready for the season. For the younger guys, you can always make an impression. But you have to fight not to draw too many conclusions early. You don't want these guys to ease into the competition, but you're not going to make or break yourself in the first week. We just want guys to get through their first innings healthy.

That said, Rogelio Armenteros (2IP, 0H/0ER, 3K:1BB) had a strong outing. Max Stassi and J.D. Davis hit home runs. Collin McHugh gets the start today. The starts for the next five days will be as follows:
Saturday: McHugh
Sunday: Cole
Monday: Verlander / Martes (split-squad game)
Tuesday: Peacock
Wednesday: McCullers
Thursday: Morton

So Keuchel isn't expected to get his first game-action until Friday at the earliest. Annnnnd the benefit of sleeping in on a Saturday and doing these is that McTaggart has already given us an update: Keuchel will make his Spring Training debut on Monday, March 5. It's part of his customized Spring Training schedule.

Hinch, on Armenteros:
I thought he did well. I can see how he gets his strikeouts. Obviously, it's his first time out. He came out and set a nice little tone and threw strikes. His changeup is really good. I always joke, 'You can't make the team on the first day,' but he tried to challenge that a little bit by punching everybody out.

On Stassi:
We know two of his strengths are homering and framing pitches, and he did both very well today.

*Alex Bregman is ripped, now.

*The Astros welcomed the Stoneman Douglas baseball team to camp yesterday.

*Jeff Sullivan: The Astros look amazing. This is nipple-hardening fun. Sullivan:
Right now, at this moment, the Astros are not only the league's defending champions. They also appear to be a juggernaut. Relative to these Astros, even the Yankees are an underdog. 

*FanGraphs released their Top 27 Astros prospects. Top 10:
1. Forrest Whitley
2. Kyle Tucker
3. Yordan Alvarez
4. J.B. Bukauskas
5. Hector Perez
6. Cionel Perez
7. Freudis Nova
8. Corbin Martin
9. J.D. Davis
10. Gilberto Celestino

Click the link for write-ups on each of the Top 27.

MLB.com updated their Astros' Top 30 prospects. Top 10:
1. Forrest Whitley
2. Kyle Tucker
3. J.B. Bukauskas
4. Yordan Alvarez
5. Freudis Nova
6. Cionel Perez
7. Jorge Alcala
8. David Paulino
9. J.D. Davis
10. Corbin Martin

In that link, MLB.com shows us the Top 10 Astros prospects since 2011 and it's a fun trip down memory lane.

*Jim Callis says Forrest Whitley's suspension doesn't change his perception.

*Wilson gave out some sweet Championship gloves.

*Friday was the 20th anniversary of tornadoes hitting central Florida and the Astros' Spring Training facility in Kissimmee.

*There's drama with J.D. Martinez's physical with the Red Sox.

*The Rangers are going to a six-man rotation and a bullpen with multi-inning relievers filled in with starters scheduled to throw their side session.

*FanGraphs' Sherry Ring: Did Lenny Dykstra extort umpires?

*Andy McCullough: How Dodgers' GM Farhan Zaidi built a dynasty - in fantasy football.

*Smartphone Detox: How to power down in a wired world.

Friday, February 23, 2018

Friday Morning Hot Links

The Astros play today. This is weird. Personal Favorite Rogelio Armenteros will start and The Law Offices of Bregman, Gattis, and Marisnick will see significant playing time today. Tommy Milone, who definitely does not have a 1920s gangster name, will start for the Nationals. Altuve and Correa will play Saturday, Springer on Sunday, and Reddick on Monday.

*As Hunter Atkins notes, Alex Bregman was in the minors in 2016, the World Baseball Classic in 2017, so this is his first actual full Spring Training. And he's going to start at shortstop today.

*Buster Olney and Keith Law talked about the Forrest Whitley suspension.

In Law's chat transcript we see something...interesting:



*Jake Kaplan says that Derek Fisher's consistency will be the key to him playing a significant role in 2018.

Fisher, 2017: 53G (166 PAs), .212/.307/.356, 54K:17BB
Springer, 2014: 78G (345 PAs), .231/.336/.468, 114K:39BB

Fisher's 32.5% K/PA rate is concering, but it was lower than Springer's 33.0% K/PA rate. Let's just see what happens, but I think Derek Fisher's gonna be alright.

*Tony Kemp, a self-described "Alfred," is looking for a place to play in Houston. I don't know if you know this but Kemp, a 5th Round pick from Vandy in 2013, is a career .310/.388/.419 hitter in Triple-A, with 256K:238BB and 131 stolen bases. Dude's good.

*Brian McTaggart has your dark-horse candidates to make the Opening Day roster.

*Our Boy Jeff Blogwell makes his debut for The Athletic, looking at Jose Altuve's home/road splits.

*Check out my favorite Mariners blog Lookout Landing with their 2018 Astros preview.

*Josh Reddick might coulda been on The Bachelor.

*Kate Upton threw Justin Verlander a nice little birthday party.

*Grant Brisbee has the best over/under bet of the 2018 season.

*Mike Fiers is reunited with old pitching coach Chris Bosio, and he's here for it. Fiers:
It sucks when you know you are a lot better than [2017]. That's pretty much what I pride myself on - making these [hitters] earn their way on base and throwing a lot of strikes and not giving all those free passes.

*Jon Heyman rides the Jonathan Lucroy-to-the-Astros bit so hard that he's gonna need to elevate his entire body tomorrow.

*

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Thursday Morning Hot Links

The Astros play tomorrow.

*Top pitching prospect Forrest Whitley was suspended 50 games for "violating Major League Baseball's drug prevention and treatment program." Whitley apologized, the Astros are "still hopeful and optimistic" that Whitley will dominate in the Majors at some point.

The language of the statement is interesting. First of all, it wasn't a "drug of abuse," which is usually in the press release. To get suspended for 50 games means it wasn't a performance-enhancing drug - the first offense for that is 80 games, and MLB will name the PED in those instances, as well. Back in 2012 Marcus Stroman was suspended 50 games for using a banned stimulant, which seems to be the substance for which Whitley was suspended. KABB's Chuck Miketinac reported this:
Source tells me Whitley was at an out of state college baseball game as a fan after his season was over and was given an unknown stimulant by a friend in order to help keep him awake on his long drive home.

I mean, setting aside how silly it seems that a dude who recently got a $3m+ signing bonus didn't stop at a Motel 6, this doesn't really set off any alarms. Should the KABB report be accurate, his buddy needs to apologize and Whitley likely now knows to be more careful.

I'm not going to jump on the "Luhnow is playing 3-D Wizard Chess because this limits his innings!" train, though. Any suspension is a black eye to an organization and the player itself (though I don't think Stroman's 2012 suspension caused any lasting repercussions). Luhnow:
On the pitching side I don't have any concerns, he's going to continue to develop and this is part of maturity. When you're a high school player and you get drafted and you're a top prospect there's a lot of pressure that goes along with that role. And I don't know if that had anything to do with this, but there's a maturation process going from high school and the big leagues and this is one step along the way for him. 

Pretty dumb to miss 35% of your season because you took some of your buddy's spiked No-Doze.

*Hinch said he plans to play Yuli Gurriel at 1B, 3B, 2B, and SS this season. Hinch:
When I get greedy, I want to have every option available. If we want to make a decision, I want to feel prepared they're to be fine. Anybody I put at second base, I don't intend to play at second base [full-time] other than Altuve, but you have to be ready for everything if you want to be able to react to any situation.

Training versatility is going to be key for Hinch this season as he manages injuries, gives guys days off, etc. Marwin can play left field and be an usher in the Crawford Boxes at the same time. Bregman can play 3B or SS. J.D. Davis is going to get some outfield reps, and so on.

*Correa is working on ironing out the weaknesses in his game, and says of his teammates:
When you have such a good chemistry with these guys, you want to be around [this] group of guys. We love every single one of these guys in this clubhouse. 

*Brian T. Smith: McCann and Gattis are a perfect combo.

*Having watched the World Series run with a fractured thumb, Jake Marisnick is ready to go.

*Hitting coach Dave Hudgens still thanks Negro League star Joe Black for his career.

*Rogelio Armenteros will start tomorrow's Grapefruit League opener.

*Oh cool, it's now called the FITTEAM Ballpark of the Palm Beaches.

*Former Astros Great Carlos Gomez signed a 1-year deal with the Rays.

*Rich Eisen said on his radio show that MLB is "kicking around an idea" to let the losing team send their best hitters to the plate in the 9th inning.

*The Ringer: Baseball's economics aren't as skewed as you think.

*Ben Lindbergh has an interesting piece on Sherri Nichols: The Sabermetric Movement's Forgotten Foremother.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Tuesday Morning Hot Links

*Rob Manfred announced some pace of play changes for the 2018 season. Those changes:
-Six mound visits during the nine-inning portion of the game.
-One mound visit per extra inning, if necessary.
-Enforcement of rule introduced last year of batters stepping out of the box.
-No pitch clock...yet.

And Ol' Boy Justin Verlander isn't real thrilled about it. Verlander:
It's frustrating. This is a band-aid. When guys are on base, the game comes to a screeching halt. I don't think the adjustments they're going to make are going to change anything. Maybe you save a few minutes.

Charlie Morton envisions these changes as the first steps to a dystopian hellscape:
Before you know it, we're going to be shooting the ball out of the sky with lasers like Cyclops from X-Men. 

I don't know. I don't care if a baseball game lasts 2:57 or 3:10. Those 13 minutes aren't terribly important to me. I'd rather a game last 20 minutes longer and my favorite team wins that game than be done by 9:35pm and the Astros have lost 4-1 because they were out of mound visits and Hector Rondon served up a 91mph meatball down the middle of the plate because he and McCann couldn't talk about pitch sequencing for 15 seconds.

*Jose Altuve is currently leading the league in humility:
Being the MVP last year, it's something I'm never going to forget. For that, I've got to thank my teammates. They are the ones that play hard every day. I think they do all the heavy jobs and I just support them, and I'm one more players here in this clubhouse that wants to go out and win.

And Altuve is happy with his current contract while also looking forward to the next one. Altuve:
If I wouldn't have signed that deal, I don't know if I would have played as good as I have played. So I wouldn't change anything, because obviously it worked out good for me. 

*Alex Bregman totally revamped his diet for the 2018 season. Bregman:
Dad bods are in, but I don't know how many homers they've got.

More Bregman:
Before I'd eat like cheeseburgers and pizza for every meal and drink about eight Dr. Peppers a day. Since the World Series ended I've had zero Dr. Peppers and hired a chef.

*Marwin Gonzalez would like to stay in Houston long-term, but doesn't want to be thinking about it throughout the last season before he hits free agency. Marwin:
I'm going to try to forget about that during the season and try to have a good year, try to help the team to win again. That's the goal. I feel Houston is my home. I love the city, I love the fans and I love this team, and in a perfect scenario, I'd like to play here for my whole career. 

*Surprise! The Astros probably aren't making a play for Jake Arrieta. But Luhnow acknowledges that you never know what can happen - injury-wise - during Spring Training.

*This Friday's Spring Training opener will be on AT&T SportsNet SW, coverage beginning at 11:30am.

*Dan Szymborski, in an Insider-only piece, looks at the six teams who have the best shot at preventing a Houston repeat.

*Brian Arbour wrote about the importance of Francis Martes' 2018 on 2019 and beyond.

*Down at the end of Tags' notebook, we find an interesting note: had Lance McCullers not bounced back in September, the Astros strongly considered bringing up Forrest Whitley.

*The Red Sox gave J.D. Martinez $110m, just like we all predicted in 2013. He signed for $100m less than he initially wanted.

Francis Martes is in the best shape of his life...and that's a good thing

Here's Brian Arbor back with another good read - this time on Frankie Tuesday. Brian recently wrote a piece on Springer's arbitration settlement

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The first week of Spring Training involves a number of important rituals, especially among the reporters covering our fair team. There’s roll call (hey look, Collin McHugh is here); pictures and videos of pitchers “throwing a bullpen” (don’t worry, they actually throw a baseball in the bullpen), and reports on what the players did in their off-season (Josh Reddick went to Hawaii).

On Saturday, we were treated to two of the classics of the early in Spring Training genre, in the same article. We got a “best shape of his life” and “change in his mechanics/swing” double about one of the most important players in Astros camp this season--Francis Martes.

Saturday’s articles first discussed how Martes worked to improve his body over the off-season. Brian McTaggart noted that “[t]he right-hander shed a few pounds in the offseason.” Jake Kaplan, now of The Athletic (subscription required), reported that Martes “ checked into camp weighing 243 pounds, five pounds less than last year, and has added muscle.” Hunter Atkins at the Chronicle was more poetic, saying Martes “arrived with his husky build trimmed” thanks to “the agony of more core exercises.”

Then the reporters discussed how Martes had worked over the off season to improve his pitching mechanics.  Martes is apparently “slowing down his delivery” (McTaggart), and working to “maintain a rhythm that has been inconsistent” (Kaplan), resulting in “his fastball making the alarming sound of a shotgun blast” and “better drop on his changeup” (Atkins).

A.J Hinch said positive things--”"He's throwing as hard as anybody in camp right now, which is mostly a good sign. It's still really early. He came very prepared, he came slimmed down a little bit, his delivery is a little bit better. All things we expected, but it's nice to see in person.”

The early reports on Martes sound like cliche.But even if we take these early reports with a grain of salt--or even a whole shaker’s worth--all Astro fans should regard these reports as encouraging.

Martes is a very important player on this roster. His importance is clearly not reflected by the fact that he did not make the roster for any of the three playoffs last season. Or that he is currently penciled in to start the season in Fresno and will have to wait for an injury (or possibly multiple injuries) before we see him in MInute Maid Park this season.

But Martes’s importance is not to the 2018 Astros. That is not to say that he cannot play an important role in 2018, either as a starter when injuries creep up and/or management uses the 10-day DL to rest starting pitchers, or out of the Astros bullpen. But it is likely that Martes’s contributions to the 2018 team will not meaningfully affect the team’s 2018 place in the standings.


Martes’s importance has more to do with the 2019 season, and beyond. With free agency looming after this season for Keuchel and Morton, and after next season for Verlander and Cole, the Astros rotation is about to get very expensive or very different. Recent evidence indicates that there is a limit on future payrolls. So while the Astros could re-sign their current pitchers are find other ones on the free agent market, management’s preferred method is for their young (read: cost-controlled) pitchers to develop.

Astros fans can currently project Forrest Whitley to take one of those open spots, but additional young rotation members are wanted. Martes represents the best bet to take a spot after Whitley.

Martes proved to be a frustrating player at the big league level in 2017. His command was frustrating, leading to Martes walking 5.1 batters per 9 innings pitched, a walk ratio of 12.5). Those walks led to a 5.80 ERA. But there was still promise in Martes’s line. He struck out 69 batters in 54 ⅓ IP, demonstrating the velocity and movement that had made Martes a top-20 prospect for both Baseball America and MLB.com.

Fangraphs analyzed recently prospects such as Martes who have graduated (i.e. are no longer rookie eligible). Their prospect team ranked his Present Value at a below average 40, but future value at an above average 55, which projects to a 3rd or 4th starter. This is the largest spread among the prospects they listed (tied with Amed Rosario of the Mets). This ranking demonstrates both the disappointment and the promise displayed by the flame-throwing 22 year-old.

The positive early reviews on Martes are a good sign for multiple reasons. That Martes took better care of his body and implemented a throwing program this winter in the Dominican Republic demonstrates greater maturity and commitment to his career. It provides reason to think that Martes has not yet reached his potential. The move to a slower delivery is designed to cut down on the walks that plagued him in 2017. And reports of his improved performance signal hope to Astros fans trying to figure out what the team will look like 3 or 4 years from now. And they signal that the window that the Astros opened in 2017 may continue to stay open for years to come.

Monday, February 19, 2018

Monday Morning Hot Links

Position players officially report today.

*A.J. Hinch gave the Astros pitchers and catchers a short workout day, and they pretty much took him up on it. Except for Ken Giles, who has apparently added muscle mass in an effort to build stamina for what is hopefully a long season:
I don't take light days. That's the thing with me. I don't like taking short break days. I always go out there with a mindset of getting something done. I set a goal for myself and I'm going to do it. 

*Lance McCullers' most recent bullpen featured some tutorials with Justin Verlander. Verlander:
Spring training time, it's a time to have new ideas, tweak things. I'm trying to see some opportunities that I can help or impart some wisdom of a guy that's been around for a little while. Trying new things, hearing different opinions, that's how you get better. 

*Verlander is relishing his role as mentor before he goes out and throws 31 Quality Starts in 2018.

*Brad Peacock is pretty pumped about his "unlimited" role in 2018. Peacock reflected on his personal World Series run (four appearances, 7.1IP, 4H/2ER, 8K:3BB) and how he was able to keep his emotions in check:
I felt fine. It's what you've been working for your entire life. It's what you dream about since you were a little kid. You've got to be ready for it. I just felt ready, I felt calm. 

*You won't be able to get this Jose Altuve Funko Pop! figurine in stores until May.

*The Astros' Spring Training site buddy Washington Nationals, who have posted four 95+ win seasons in their last six and have not yet won a playoff series (they've lost in G5 of the NLDS in three of those four seasons), are a little salty about seeing the World Series Champion Houston Astros sign on the entrance to Spring Training. One Nationals player:
We should've been the team playing the Astros in that Series. 

*Something weird happened at FanGraphs as they're now projecting the Astros to go 89-73, ten games behind the Yankees for the best record in baseball.

*The Angels signed Chris Young to come off the bench and probably hit 100 home runs off of the Astros. The dude has a career .746 OPS but has hit .318/.378/.577 against Houston, .380/.417/.727 at Minute Maid Park. This is not a joke. They also signed Chris Carter to a minor-league deal.

*FanRag's Jon Bernhardt talks about the various Spring Training tropes.

*Congratulations to the New York Yankees, 2018 Pre-Season BP Champions.

*Teams are beginning to use sleep study data to push back workout times to later in the day.