Friday, July 29, 2016

Friday Morning Hot Links

*The Rangers beat the Royals, the Angels beat the Red Sox.

*Houston is 3.0 GB of East Fort Worth and 0.5 GB of WC2.

*With Doug Fister on the paternity list, Tyler White is set to rejoin Houston in Detroit. In 34 games for Fresno, Tyler White is hitting .288/.352/.583.

*Jon Heyman says the Rangers "are determined" to get Chris Sale. He also says that the Astros called the Padres about SP Andrew Cashner, and then called back two days later to say that Cashner wasn't enough of an upgrade over Mike Fiers (/holds sides from laughing).

*Jerry Crasnick says the Astros are not in on Jonathan Lucroy.

*McTaggart says to keep an eye on the Astros' interest in Brewers' LHP Will Smith.

*I'm telling you to keep an eye on the possibility of Boone Logan.

*Read this SI For Kids profile on 2016 1st Round pick Forrest Whitley. In two appearances in the GCL this season, Whitley has thrown 3IP, 1H/1ER, 4K:1BB.

*David Paulino threw a rehab start for the GCL Astros yesterday, his first outing since June 18 when he got (a) suspended for violating team rules and (b) sidelined due to arm soreness.

*Fresno's James Hoyt's last ten games: 10.2IP, 8H/1ER, 15K:2BB, 9 saves. Hoyt has 83 strikeouts in 49IP (1.65 ERA/0.88 WHIP) this season and should at least be a September addition to the active roster.

*2010 9th Round pick Tommy Shirley was released this week, and has signed with the Tigers. In 319.2 career IP, Shirley had a 2.70 ERA/1.15 WHIP with 319 strikeouts.

*Do you want Wade Davis? Well, you have to take Ian Kennedy, too.

*Jose Bautista's epic bat flip from the 2015 playoffs against the Ramgers will be a goal celebration in NHL 17.

*Bryce Harper's slump might not have an easy fix.

*Before you go, Giants Nuts

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Thursday Morning Hot Links

The Astros beat the Yankees last night behind yet another strong Lance McCullers outing.

*McCullers' 11.79 K/9 is #onpaceto set the franchise record by Nolan Ryan, who had an 11.48 K/9 in 1987.

*Rasmus came alive last night, snapping an 0x29 slump and a career-high seven-game hitless streak. Rasmus:
Any time you get a hit or a home run or whatever, just to help the boys is great. Especially as much as I've been letting us down, to be able to do that against the Yankees in a game we needed to win, since they beat us the first two, I'm thankful and happy to do it.

*Rasmus has a cyst on his inner ear that will require surgery.

*Carlos Gomez joins Luis Valbuena with a strained hamstring. Now with the possibility of just one healthy player on the bench, Hinch says a move will likely be made, but it's an easy move:
...We're expecting to put Fister on paternity leave soon. His wife is going to deliver his first child in the next couple of days, so we might have a transaction in Detroit that will probably be a position player. 

*AL West: the A's beat the Rangers, the Pirates beat the Mariners, the Royals beat the Angels.

-Red Oak: -
-Houston: -2.5
-Seattle: -6
-Golden State: -11
-Anaheim: -12.5

*Wild Card Watch: the Padres beat the Blue Jays, the Tigers beat the Red Sox.

-Toronto: +0.5
-Boston: -0
-Houston: -1

*FanGraphs has the Astros at 45.7% to win the division (Ramgers at 45.6%) and 62.9% to make the playoffs.
*BP has the Astros at 36.5% to win the division (Ramgers at 50.6%) and 58.2% to make the playoffs.
*FiveThirtyEight has the Astros at 39% to win the division (Ramgers at 52%) and 58% to make the playoffs.

*The County Mountie wrote up Round 3 of potential Astros trade targets.

*I wrote about the life and times of Rangers great Lucas Harrell.

*Trade talks are picking up on Brewers' catcher Jonathan Lucroy, and the Astros are apparently in the mix.

*Ken Rosenthal wrote that the Astros might be okay with letting Gattis be the catcher next year and to find a backup elsewhere, searching instead for pitching.

*Today's Knuckleball writes that Castro is the best catcher in the AL.

* updated their prospect rankings for the midseason, and here's where we are:
Bregman (#1, yes, the #1 prospect in baseball), A.J. Reed (#38), Francis Martes (#41), Forrest Whitley (#85), David Paulino (#86), Joe Musgrove (#87), Kyle Tucker (#93).

Houston also is ranked as the 5th-best system in baseball by

*Francis Martes' line last night: 7IP, 1H/0ER, 9K:1BB.

*Sean Pendergast has the 10 Most Important Trades in Astros history.

*Eno Sarris has what it's like to get traded, from a player's perspective.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

The Life and Times of Former SP2 Lucas Harrell

Ahhh Lucas Harrell. One of those "chicken s**t into Egyptian cotton" waiver claims by Easy Eddie Wade, on to whom he held too long. Let's go back and reminisce.

The Astros claimed Harrell off of waivers on July 8, 2011 from the White Sox, with whom he had been a 2004 4th Round draft pick. Why? Well, the White Sox weren't 100% sure what to do with him. In 2010 Harrell made his major-league debut and pitched in eight games for Chicago. He started three games, he finished three games, and appeared in relief in the other two without finishing the games, even though every single appearance to that point in his career in the minors had been as a starter. In 2009 he posted a 12-4 record between Double-A and Triple-A with a 3.27 ERA/1.40 WHIP.

Harrell made a spot start for Chicago on July 30, 2010 for his major-league debut. In 6IP, he allowed 4H/1ER, 1K:5BB, throwing 50 of his 98 pitches for strikes in a 6-1 win over Oakland. Sent back down following the game, he came back up on August 28 and got both batters he faced in a 12-9 loss to the Yankees.

He allowed four unearned runs in relief at Detroit on September 7, sporting a healthy 0.84 ERA after 10.2IP career MLB innings. He started the next two games and in 8.1IP allowed 17H/9ER, 6K:5BB.

He allowed one earned run in the remaining three relief appearances in 2010 as the White Sox finished 88-74, six games behind the Twins for 2nd in the AL Central, and seven behind the Yankees for the Wild Card.

In three relief appearances for the White Sox in 2011 (5IP), he allowed 11H/4ER, 5K:1BB, and the White Sox placed him on waivers. Enter the Houston Astros, who claimed him on July 8, 2011. That night the Astros lost 6-3 at Florida (now Miami) to fall to 30-60, 18 games back, with a lineup of Bourn, Angel Sanchez, Hunter Pence, Carlos Lee, Jeff Keppinger, Brett Wallace, Clint Barmes, Carlos Corporan, and Jordan Lyles.

The Lucas Harrell era had begun and things, fam, were truly lit. We wondered which OKC starter's job Harrell was going to take.

Harrell made his Astros debut as a September call-up on September 2. In 5.1IP, he allowed 3H/0ER, 4K:2BB against the Brewers, a game that Milwaukee would of course win 8-2 because Goatpen. He appeared in relief for the next three appearances, allowing 2H/2ER, 3K:4BB in 3.2IP. Whatever, they were about to lose 106 games, so who cared? On September 25, Harrell allowed 7H/5R (3ER), 1K:1BB in what would be a 19-3 Colorado win in which Harrell was yanked after 3+IP. In nine major league appearances between Chicago and Houston in 2011, his teams went 0-9 when he pitched.

Harrell impressed the club in Spring Training 2012 and beat out Jordan Lyles for a spot in the rotation. He was SP2 when the 2012 season opened, and he actually pitched pretty well. The high-water mark of his season was that opening start when he allowed 3H/0ER, 4K:0BB in 7IP in a 7-3 Astros win. But he still had 14 quality starts, and the Astros went 14-18 in games he started, and considering the Astros only won 55 games in 2012, that was pretty impressive.

But there were some makeup questions emerging. Harrell struggled in September 2012, and blamed the fact that the Astros were going with a 6-Man Rotation, saying, "It's a little too much time. I'm a touch and feel guy. I need to be out there a lot more."

In 2013 Harrell completely backtracked. After a 6-2 loss to the Tigers on May 14 in which he allowed 7H/5ER, 1K:3BB, Harrell complained about the use of defensive shifts:
We're trying some new things with our defense, and I thought they worked against me tonight. The ball that Dirks hit was up there forever, and I thought someone might have caught that one. He hit it hard, and that's my fault, but I was hoping someone would get there.

Worse, Bo Porter didn't find out about the complaining until the next day. He told Harrell before the game the next day:
Listen, if you have something to say, and you want to voice your opinion, I have a complete open-door policy.

He won six games and lost a league-leading 17 games for the 111-loss Astros and that includes the time he got bumped out of the rotation in July. The Astros looked into trading him prior to the deadline. At the end of the season he had an 89K:88BB line in 153.2IP. His WHIP increased from 1.36 to 1.71. His HR/9 doubled. Walks were up, strikeouts were down. We compared Harrell's 2013 season to Brandon Backe's 2008 season.

When he got bumped from the rotation, he was pissed and told Brian T. Smith that he "didn't want to talk about it." And then he did want to talk about it about getting bumped from the rotation:
I'm tied with Felix Hernandez for 10 starts with one run or less in all of baseball. I think that's kind of touch to move a guy like that down to the bullpen. But they make the decision so it's their call...I feel like I've been pretty durable and I've given a lot. 

Four days after his bullpen shift, Harrell allowed 4H/2ER, 0K:2BB in 3IP in relief of Bud Norris at St. Louis. Harrell and Jordan Lyles got into a "heated clubhouse confrontation." All parties said the right things after the fact - the Chronicle didn't report on it for five days - about moving on and teammates being teammates and whatnot. But still Harrell stayed on the team. He would only start three more games, throwing 10.2IP, 16H/18ER, 7K:10BB.

He was bad in 2013. Real bad. Many players privately noted* that Harrell was their favorite teammate that season because he was the worst player on the team, and took some of the spotlight off of them.

*No link here because it's from a reliable SOURCE

There was the time he asked a media outlet not to use a picture of him because he had a hickey on his neck. That's not so much a black eye as it is an eye roll.

He was designated for assignment after his April 15, 2014 start in which he allowed 5H/4ER, 4K:3BB to the Royals (Robbie Grossman was optioned to OKC the same night) to make room for George Springer. Harrell finished his season with a 9.49 ERA/2.27 WHIP. Two weeks later he was traded for cash considerations to Arizona. He didn't appear for the major-league club and signed with a Korean team for the 2015 season.

Harrell signed with the Tigers as a free agent in March 2016, was released on May 16, and signed with the rebuilding Braves four days later. In five starts with the Braves recaptured some of his devil magic. On July 2 he threw 6IP, 3H/1ER, 5K:1BB. On July 7 he held the Cubs to 4H/1ER, 5K:2BB in 7.2IP. His next two starts were a little rockier as he allowed 7H/7R (5ER), 4K:3BB to Colorado (get it?) and 7H/4ER, 3K:3BB at Cincinnati. However, last night (July 26) he started at Minnesota and allowed 4H/0ER, 4K:3BB.

Naturally today the Rangers traded their 20th-best prospect, Travis Demeritte, to Atlanta for Harrell and reliever Dario Alvarez. Harrell would be scheduled to pitch on Sunday. If that schedule holds, Harrell would be in line to make a start at Houston in the August 5-7 series. Hoo boy.

2016 Astros Trade Deadline: Targets - Round 3

Round 1

Round 2

Alright fine! I'll do Carlos Beltran

Carlos Beltran

I am using wRC+ throughout this article.

 The Astros could use some help in the outfield. What, with Alex Bregman being a bust (kidding). In all seriousness adding a veteran presence in the outfield (and at DH) would be a good idea for the Astros. Beltran is having a bit of a bounce back year. If you consider bouncing back from a 119 wRC+ in 2015 a down year for Beltran. On gut feel I don't like trading for Beltran. First, he's old. Second, he's not the defensive stud he was back in 2004. Third, he broke my heart after the 2004 season. Did I mention he's old?

This season he has a 137 wRC+, but that comes with a .322 batting average on balls in play (BABIP). For his career Beltran has posted a .301 BABIP. I expect Beltran will regress a bit offensively in the second half of the season. Still he's a no-brainer upgrade over the other options in the outfield. He's an even better addition if he can DH full-time.

Price: He's a free agent after the season. He's old.Those factors will reduce his price, but he'll still require a solid offer from teams. Maybe a two top 30 guys. One possibly being a top 10 type of guy.

Jay Bruce

He's an appealing option to many Astros fans due to his Texas ties. On offense Bruce is having a resurgent season. Last year he had a 91 wRC+. So far this year he has a 129 wRC+ with a .289 BABIP. The BABIP is inline with his .287 career average. Defensively he should play left field for the Astros. Which is perfect! Considering George Springer currently plays right field for the Astros. Bruce is signed through this year plus has a $13M team option for 2017 with a $1M buyout.

Price: Bruce is in his 29 year old season. He's left-handed. Which, I think, helps the argument to make a trade for him. He has some control left and is an offensive upgrade in the outfield. I would expect something similar to Beltran. He may even cost slightly more. His ties to Houston would garner some excitement from the Astros fan base.

Matt Moore

I will be using ERA+.

Now this is an interesting suggestion. Moore has fallen on hard times the last two years after excellent results in his first four seasons. Last year he posted a 72 ERA+. This year he's improved to a 95 ERA+. For his career he has a 99 ERA+. He is left-handed so maybe you put him in the bullpen on a playoff roster if he continues to struggle. At 27 he still has time to figure out his issues from the past two season. Injury may play a role here as he's reached the 150 innings mark once in his career. He's not exactly a ground ball pitcher, but he's also not the strikeout pitcher he was in the minors. He seems to be what the Astros already have. A back of the rotation starter.

Price: This would be more of a buy low type of move for the Astros. He becomes a free agent after the 2018 season. He won't cost as much as someone like Archer. The Rays will still expect quite a bit in return for Moore. I'd expect at least three prospects in top 30. 

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

In appreciation of: Teoscar Hernandez

This is the second in a series titled In Appreciation Of: (Insert minor-leaguer) in which we highlight a minor-leaguer who is unheralded and straight killing it. Tonight it's Teoscar Hernandez.

Born in October 1992 - 23 years old, if you don't want to do math - Teoscar Hernandez is a 6'2" 180lb outfielder who has been in the system for quite some time. He signed as an amateur free agent prior to the 2011 season, and spent that season in the Dominican Summer League, where he hit .274/.360/.487 with 16 stolen bases (in 20 attempts). Solid. He struck out 42 times to 28 walks. 

So in 2012, his Age 19 season, Hernandez came stateside and played in 51 games with the GCL Astros. He struggled, which is to be expected in a first season in a different country, with a .724 OPS. In 2013, Hernandez played in 123 games for Quad Cities and was impressive: .271/.328/.435 with 24 stolen bases. He hit 13 homers, 25 doubles, nine triples. 

But 2014 is where Hernandez broke out in the friendly hitting confines of Lancaster and the Cal League. In 96 games for the JetHawks, Hernandez hit .294/.376/.550. 58 of his 115 hits went for extra-bases (33 doubles, 8 triples, 17 homers). He was 31-for-37 in stolen base attempts. This earned him a late call-up to Double-A Corpus Christi, where in 23 games Hernandez hit .284/.299/.474. He struck out in 36 of his 98 PAs - only walking twice. But still, he hit four home runs and was set up for a big season at Corpus in 2015.

It didn't happen. Hernandez struggled greatly in 2015, easily the worst season of his young career. In 121 games (514 PAs), Hernandez hit .219/.275/.362, with 126K:33BB. He did hit 17 home runs and stole 33 bases. Hernandez had trouble making contact and, when he did make contact, they didn't often fall in for hits. Winter Ball wasn't much more friendly, with a .670 OPS in 17 games. 

So in his Age 23 season, Hernandez opened 2016 back in Corpus where he recaptured some of his 2014 magic, hitting .305/.384/.437 in a nice 69 games. He had 19 doubles, six homers and stole 29 69 games. He struck out 55 times with 32 walks in 322 PAs. 

Hernandez was called up to Fresno on the same day as Alex Bregman. In 21 games since, Bregman has gone on to Houston but Hernandez has actually improved on his Corpus numbers, hitting .329/.395/.553 for the Grizzlies in the last three weeks. He has ten strikeouts and nine walks in 87 PAs. 

So basically Hernandez had a monster 2014 season, a terrible 2015, and has followed that up with a monster 2016. He has the same issue with lefties as Bregman. Going into the Texas League All-Star Game, Hernandez had hit .205 against lefties and .323 vs righties. Since then however - just in three weeks - Hernandez has raised his average against lefties to .257, making him a much more viable option in the future. 

Baseball Prospectus posted a scouting report of Hernandez back in early 2014, which is definitely worth your time, especially since Joey Gallo just got called up to Texas, and his writeup is right after Hernandez's. The summary, summarized:

...A player who can display all five tools in the same game and have a huge impact...the risk is tied to the hit tool, but I believe he can hit enough to allow his other tools to shine. Second-division starter for me with a chance for more if it all clicks. 

There's a lot of uncertainty at CF in Houston. Mainly that uncertainty is named Carlos Gomez. But we'll know more about Teoscar Hernandez's future in Houston as we get closer to the trade deadline, and the August waivers process. 

But in the spirit of the series, good job, Teoscar Hernandez, nice bounce-back from your 2015. 

The Carlos Gomez decision

The Astros have a very important decision to make over the next few weeks. What to do with Carlos Gomez. The answer seems obvious. Keep him. When you look at his numbers however that might not be the obvious call.

I like Gomez. He's fun to watch. He plays a mean centerfield and he has a proven track record. The problem is that he is having the worst year of his career. His numbers on offense and defense are down this year. He has a 57 wRC+ (100 average) and a fWAR on the negative side of zero. It might seem like he's starting to turn it around. Unfortunately, that hasn't been the case.

In his last 28 days he's hit for a .562 OPS. It only gets worse from there with a .495 and .464 OPS in the last 14 and seven days respectively. He's posted a .625 OPS in 117 games for the Astros the last two years. What's concerning for Gomez is that his .297 batting average on balls in play (BABIP) is only a little below his .314 career average. Gomez should see that regress towards his career average, but it won't help make him league average offensively. The projection systems (ZiPS and Steamer) have him providing the Astros with 88-91 wRC+ the rest of the way.

Gomez seems to be struggling with the strikeout this year more than any other. He has a 30.9% strikeout percentage (K%). That is a career high for him and well above his 23.1% career average. It would seem that Gomez may not be fully healthy. The Mets were the first team to acquire Gomez last year before the trade deadline. Except that they backed out after getting a look at his medicals.

Whatever the reason, Gomez is not producing this season. Which opens the door to him potentially being released by the Astros before the season is out. Again, I like Gomez but he's not helping this team. His offense is down and his defense isn't exactly making up for that lost value. That's not someone I see the Astros adding to the playoff roster.  Not with Yulieski Gurriel on the way.

I don't think a decision on Gomez is imminent. If he continues to play the way he is I can see the Astros releasing Gomez when Gurriel is ready. His contract is up at the end of the year and I don't see the Astros trying to resign him this offseason. Roster wise the Astros need a spot for Gurriel and either he or Bregman will be playing in left field with the other manning the hot corner. If Gomez were to be released, Colby Rasmus can start in center field.

I hope Gomez gets hot and makes the decision a tough one on the Astros. Right now he's just not and the clock is ticking on the Carlos Gomez era in Houston.

Tuesday Morning Hot Links

*Dallas Keuchel was really good. Michael Pineda was better. That's the wrap on a 2-1 Yankees win last night on Bregmas Day.

I felt like today was the first time, even through this whole [winning] stretch that I've really been able to command both sides of the plate - fastball, both sides. The only thing lacking was a few sliders to Romine.

The Astros have scored a total of six runs in Keuchel's last three starts - and only three runs when he has actually been in the game over 21 innings.

*Bregman came about three feet short of knocking a grand slam as his first major league hit. But he strung together three good at-bats (that 2nd AB was meh) and played really good defense at 3B. Bregman, on his debut:
It felt better than I thought it would feel. It felt amazing. It's the most fun I've ever had.

*Brian T. Smith writes about the bright future of the franchise.

*From former LSU baseball reporter Randy Rosetta, it's no surprise Bregman fast-tracked it to the majors.

Here's a Hawt Take from New York Post columnist Kevin Kernan:

*Jeff Luhnow is seemingly okay with acquiring a rental before the August 1 trade deadline, preferably a starting pitcher. Luhnow:
...we have a good team and there's no reason to do anything foolish at this point. We're in constant communication with all the clubs that have made players available or potentially will, and we're going to evaluate each opportunity on a case-by-case basis.

*A.J. Reed was 3x4 with two doubles and a homer. Joe Musgrove threw 7IP, 6H/2ER, 7K:1BB in the Grizzlies' win. In his last four starts, Musgrove has thrown 25IP, 20H/5ER, 29K:2BB.

*Some Astros fans started a GoFundMe to buy out Carlos Gomez's contract. But it's all wrong. The $9m they're seeking to raise is for his entire 2016 salary, not the pro-rated number it is by now - somewhere around $4m. I declare this invalid.

*Minute Maid security wouldn't let a hardcore fan bring his cane into the park, so they gave him free tickets.

*Chris Sale said the White Sox put business ahead of winning, and so he cut up the jerseys.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Monday Morning Hot Links

*Jose Altuve homered twice as the Astros destroyed the Angels for the 11th time in a row. With 64 games left, Altuve's homers each set a new career-high. Springer:
The guy is a joke. He's up there playing Xbox. It's something special to watch.

*The Rangers beat the Royals, the Blue Jays beat the Mariners, the A's beat the Rays.

*On the Wild Card side, the Red Sox beat the Twins.

*This week the Astros play the Yankees, the Rangers play the A's, the Angels go to Kansas City, and the Tigers head to Boston.

*The big news of the day was the Astros calling up Alex Bregman, who will debut against the Yankees tonight. Altuve, on Bregman:
I think he's going to be a superstar. I think everybody thinks the same way. He's a very smart kid. He plays the game the right way. I feel really happy to have him here on our team.

It's a dream come true. And I'm ready to go work, keep my mouth shut and hopefully help contribute.

We've been flirting with the idea. We feel like this is a good time to add him to a good team. We're rolling along pretty well and he doesn't have to come up here and be anything but himself and contribute at a couple of different positions. 

*Bregman is the first position player from the 2015 draft to make his debut.

*Marwin left yesterday's game with a sprained ankle.

*Altuve paid tribute to Griffey with his white shoes.

*Fresno's Brady Rodgers is unbeaten in his last nine starts.

*Corpus and Frisco got into a fight after Danry Vasquez charged the mound upon getting hit in the leg:

*L.J. Hoes had a walk-off steal of home for Triple-A Norfolk.

*Two months ago Ryan Vogelsong was hit in the eye by a 92mph fastball from Jordan Lyles. He's about to make his return, and he's still pissed at Lyles.

*The Rangers are interested in Edinson Volquez.