Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Annyong, Lucas Harrell

Fans of Arrested Development (1:51 in this video) may randomly happen to know that "annyong" is Korean for "hello".  Lucas Harrell may need to know this, because he has recently signed with a Korean team, the LG Twins.  I wonder whether Harrell knew that he would eventually become a baseballing Twin, but he probably didn't predict that it would be in Korea.  Jim Adduci, formerly of the Texas Rangers, is also going to Korea, but playing for a different team (Lotte Giants).

When we last checked in with Lucas Harrell, he was doing OK in Reno, having thrown 44 frames with an ERA of 3.89 in an offence-friendly environment.  Things went a little south from there, because he finished his season - and possibly his baseball career in North America - at 106 innings at an ERA of 5.15.  His WHIP was a hefty 1.800, by virtue of him giving up more than a hit an inning (115) and walking more than he struck out (77 walks versus 66 strikeouts).  He was released by the Diamondbacks prior to the end of the season.

Astros fans may think that his career cratered after 2012, but really, it was 2012 that was the outlier.  It was the only year where he had a reasonable FIP (3.75) in which he pitched more than 18 innings.  The FIP's in the other years where he threw greater than 18 innings were 5.04 (2010, in 24IP) and 5.42 (2013, in 153IP).  In smaller samples, he had a great 2011 (2.86 FIP in 18IP) and a disastrous 2014 (5.97 FIP in 12IP).  Astros fans remember 2014 altogether too well.

As 2013 slid into 2014, and Harrell's struggles worsened, he developed a less-than-stellar reputation.  I don't put too much emphasis on clubhouse stories like those linked, because repeatedly throwing meatballs and getting continuously lit-up in the biggest possible baseball stage would be a severe test of anyone's character.  Just ask Mark Appel.  However, there was a time when pundits thought that the Astros were going to turn a waiver-wire acquisition into some pretty good players.  (As an aside, check out the first comment of the second link.)  However, Harrell was never going to be parlayed into Lucas Giolito, no matter what Jeff Luhnow hoped or thought, especially by mid-2013.

In Luhnow's defence, he was probably right to ask the world for him, as trading Harrell would have been difficult decision for the Astros prior to - or even during - his 2013 cratering.  At the time, they had no real rotation, and desperately needed innings eaters with upside.  In Harrell, they had a cheap and durable groundballer who pumped gas in the low- to mid-90's with pretty decent movement on his pitches, and at that stage, the Astros had few other rotation options.  Thanks to Scott Feldman, Dallas Keuchel and Collin McHugh, things look a little different a year-or-so down the road.

Those who are cynical with regards to the Astros' rebuild will probably see the Harrell non-trade and subsequent value-less exit as a sign of how much of a joke the Front Office is.  Astros supporters may see Harrell as a lottery ticket that had most of the winning numbers, but fell just short of a jackpot.  But really, this is elite sport, and in all elite sport, the margin between success and failure is razor thin.  Harrell just happened to straddle that thin line, existing on both sides at various times of his career.

And in the thin line between success and failure in sports, all sorts of awful things can happen.  At least Harrell gets to continue his career - albeit not with the Twins team that he may have thought - and he will continue to be handsomely remunerated for it.

My Ridiculous Trade Proposal, About Which I Am Totally Serious

The Astros biggest need, in my estimation, is a third baseman. Matt Dominguez now has 1300+ major league plate appearances with a .275 on base percentage, and is trending down. There are several prospects in the system that could take that spot, including Colin Moran and Rio Ruiz, but they are not ready yet, and are not sure things. The free agent market is one option, but could require a 5 or 6 year commitment to a declining asset.

Meanwhile, in New York, there is a team with a 3rd Baseman, who, by all accounts, they are done with. That's right, I'm talking about Alex Rodriguez. I know what you are thinking. He's overpaid, he's declining, he's a cheater, he once posed for a picture kissing himself in the mirror. All those things are true, and are the reason why he might be obtainable for very little. He is also, almost certainly, a legitimate upgrade at third. A-Rod has never posted a wRC+ under 113, and his full season low on base percentage is .348. Even in 2013, he put up .5 WAR in just 44 games. There is no guarantee he could produce those numbers after a year off at 39, but the bar to upgrade 3rd base is very low. I think its safe to assume he could be a legitimate 2 win upgrade over what the Astros had at 3rd last year.

This might not be a safe assumption, but assume the Astros would be able to absorb a large chunk of A-rod's contract. Right now, he's due to be paid 20 million a year for the next three years. Lets say the Astros take on 15 million of that. In that event, the Yankees might practically give him away. The Astros' surplus of catchers matches up with the Yankees' need. They have Brian McCann, but just lost their backup to Pittsburgh. Meanwhile, Carlos Corporan put up another fine season, and has proven himself to be a worthy backup. Would Carlos Corporan for Alex Rodriguez be something the Yankees would consider? I'm not sure, but it actually makes a lot of sense for both sides.

The Astros would have an immediate upgrade at 3rd, and the Yankees would be freed of a player they no longer desire, plus getting a nice backup catcher. The three year commitment is probably better than the Astros could do in the free agent market, and in the event one of the Ruiz or Moran is ready earlier, Rodriguez could easily move to a 1st/3rd/DH rotation.

Monday, November 24, 2014

It's HOF Voting Time Again

The BBWAA announced the release of the 2015 HOF Ballot today. Of course, it still features two too many prominent Astros (three if you count Roger Clemens). I cannot actually believe I am writing another Hall of Fame preview with Craig Biggio on the ballot. But there he is, tantalizingly close to induction.

You might recall him fall two measly votes short of induction last year. Only two players in history have fallen short by that little, Nellie Fox (1985) and Pie Traynor (1947). Fox was in his 15th year on the ballot and Traynor made it the following year. Dating back to 1966, when they started having BBWAA elections every year, only one player has ever received 70% of the vote with years remaining on the ballot, and not been elected the following year. Jim Bunning actually did it twice, getting 70% in 87 and then 74.2% in 88, before dropping all the way back to 63.3% the following year. That was weird, and best I can tell it was due to Ferguson Jenkins and Gaylord Perry joining the ballot for the first time. The comparison did him no favors. I see no such problems in this election, and Biggio should sail in. I wouldn't be surprised if he got 80% of the vote.

The more interesting thing to watch will be Bagwell. The crowded ballot dropped him down to 54.3%, from 59.6% the year before, with his doppelganger sailing in in his first year on the ballot. Was that just a one year anomaly, or was that an example of negative momentum that will have him ultimately stall out? The new 10 year on the ballot rule makes his situation more dire. I am hopeful he can jump back up to 60%, which will make his ultimate election much more promising. If he stays around the same, or regressing further, it will make it tough going forward.

In the meantime, http://www.bags4hof.com/ is picking up the Bagwell campaign and running with it, and doing a fine job. And there is still time for the BBWAA to adopt my perfectly reasonable proposal, which would solve so many problems.

Do Jeff Bagwell and Craig Biggio belong in the Hall of Fame?


Saturday, November 22, 2014

Tales from the GOATpen Update

It's been another two weeks in our alternate universe; let's see what happened.

The standings are still relatively tight, which isn't surprising given the structure of the league. Nacogdoches continues to have the best record overall, but is only 4 games better than the worst team.

Here are the highlights from the last two weeks. Shutouts seem to be very common so far:

4/14 - Delayed Honorees starter Mike Hampton threw a 4 hit shutout against Little Rock, striking out 10 and walking 3. He's currently 3-2 with a 3.55 ERA.

4/16 - Nacogdoches pitcher Larry Dierker shutout Huffman on 5 hits with 10 strikeouts and no walks. He's 4-2 with a 2.70 ERA.

4/19 - Shane Reynolds joined in the fun as Greenville shutout Albuquerque on 6 hits. Reynolds is 2-3 with a 2.95 ERA so far.

4/21 - Our two Players of the Week for week 3 were Mark Bailey and Ken Caminiti. Bailey hit .500 with 1 HR and 6 RBI for the week, while Caminiti hit .433 with a homer and 4 RBI.

4/21 - Getting back to shutout news, Philadelphia's Brett Myers shut out Huffman on 4 hits. Myers is 3-1 with a 3.00 ERA.

4/23 - Shane Reynolds pitched his 2nd straight shut out, this time against Houston. He struck out 8 and walked 1.

4/27 - J.R. Richard had a monster game in Huffman's 1-0 win over Little Rock. Richard went 10 innings and allowed just 2 hits and 2 walks while striking out an amazing 19 batters. So far on the season, Richard is 2-4 with a 2.98 ERA and 77 strikeouts in 48.1 innings.

4/28 - Biggio and Berkman picked up Player of the Week honors this week. Biggio hit .409 with 2 HR while Berkman hit an even .500 with a home run and 6 RBI.

In addition to the traditional standings, we also get a set of power rankings. Here's how those shape up so far.

And the individual stat leaderboards.

Mark Bailey's hot streak has put him near the top of many categories so far. While it's still very early in the season, this is a bit surprising.

The pitching leaderboard is a bit more diverse, though JR Richard seems to be a bit ahead of most everyone else so far. Oswalt is also quietly putting together a good season so far.

This is shaping up to be a competitive season. Who do you think comes out on top?

Also, OOTP has much, much more detail than the basic summaries I'm showing you. Is there anything else you'd like to see? Keep your comments and suggestions coming!

Friday, November 21, 2014

So Let's Recap the 40-man News

As expected, a flurry of moves - from all teams, not just the Astros - occurred just prior to the Thursday 20 roster deadline at midnight ET.  A large number of players were DFA'd, waived, claimed, and added to various rosters all around baseball.  Lets look at what the Astros did.

But firstly, a large nod - well, a bow, really - in Batguy's direction for looking at the habits of the Astros in the Rule V Drafts since the late 1990's.  Really worth a read if you haven't already.  And secondly, thanks to Framin' Mike Fast - or at least someone who knows about the November 20 deadline with a google account called "Mike Fast" - for stopping by and answering a question.  ZOMG!!!  Someone who actually knows about baseball (other than the other 17 learned readers that frequent these web-pages) actually reads this blog.  And is good enough to comment after stopping laughing at my crappy, uninformed analysis.  Excellent!!

Lets look at what actually happened.

Added to the 40-man were Vincent Velasquez, Ronald Torreyes and - at the 11th hour, according to the previously linked MLBTR page - Michael Feliz.

Subtracted from the 40-man roster were Anthony Bass (I guess we have to disconnect the 534-8455 bullpen phone number now - not that it was either funny, clever or used much) and Josh Zeid.  Zeid was subsequently claimed by the Tigers, who, like, really need bullpen help.  Given that his sesamoid bones in his foot were playing up all year (ie. he was pitching with an injury) and he has decent velocity, that is probably a great grab for them.

By my count, the 40-man sits at 39 now.  Feliz isn't listed on the publicly-listed roster at the time of writing this, which sits at 38.  I am guessing that the webpage-update-programmer is asleep in bed, as they should be.

I whiffed on DDS, thinking that he would be added, but as Evan Drellich/Jeff Luhnow elegantly pointed out, it is waaaaay easier to stash a pitcher in the back of the 'pen than short-hand your bench with a guy whose hitting may be questionable.  The counter argument would be something along the lines of "gosh, it is a weak FA market at CF this year, lets take a flyer on this guy", whereas the counter-counter argument would be "the Astros already have 5 guys (including Aplin) above DDS on the depth chart who can man an at-least-passable CF".  I won't even bother with the counter-counter-counter argument, which would be something about the additional possibility of an infield-gig.

I find this process so interesting - which probably says more about me than the actual process.  MLBTR has been frenetic all day.  There must be tactics employed by teams - like shoving everyone through on waivers when there are a lot of other transactions in the hope that the teams that are looking to acquire talent may either not realise a valued player is trying to slip through, or that teams have already gorged themselves on talent from other clubs already.  There must be counter-intelligence - like "Team A will grab Player B if he is available, so lets add him to the roster, or wait until Team A's 40-man is full".  Those subtleties will be lost on the casual observer, but it must be pretty intense for those participating.  All because young talent is important, cheap, and hard to get.

I also find it interesting that the Astros have left one spot on the 40-man free - perhaps with a specific target in mind for the Rule V draft, or perhaps looking to get a good waiver-claim in.  Or to add Mike Trout in a trade.  Time will tell.

My guess is that this process has really tightened up over the last decade - for all teams - because of a huge change in how talent is perceived.  Teams can't afford to whiff on players they like anymore.  Everyone is looking for an edge, and it is a fine line between success and failure.

Anyhow, the gist of all of this is that Delino DeShields Jr, Jandel Gustave, Roberto Pena, Mitch Lambson (who would have been extensively scouted in Arizona recently) and Danry Vasquez (who is apparently having a good winter season) are all available to be nabbed in the December Rule V draft.  All of those guys scream "lottery ticket" to me (perhaps not Lambson, but he is a reliever) and perhaps Johan Santana would have as well.  We will find out what the other teams think.

In terms of those definitely staying, Ronald Torreyes seems to have an interesting mix of skills at a very young age, despite doubtful scouting opinions regarding his build and stature, and how it will impact on his power.  Vincent Velasquez and Michael Feliz are a couple of good, mid-rotation righties with a chance to be better, so the Astros thought it important to protect them.  None of these guys are going anywhere, unless they are outrighted or traded between now and April.

The whole thing is fascinating.  Lets see what happens next.

Update:  Apparently, Feliz may have been initially left off the 40-man because the extra roster flexibility was needed for a trade, but Evan Drellich appears dubious about this explanation, and wonders whether the FO reassessed its position with an hour to go.  Like I said, fascinating!

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Recent Astros Rule 5 history

With all the high anxiety hand wringing going on today about who the Astros will protect from the Rule 5 Draft, I did some looking into their history of this potentially franchise altering but generally "meh" event.

The Rule 5 Draft allows teams to draft other teams prospects if they were 18 or younger on the June 5 preceding their signing and this is the fifth Rule 5 draft upcoming or were 19 or older on the June 5 preceding their signing and this is fourth Rule 5 draft upcoming. If a team does not want their eligible player selected, they must add them to their 40 man roster by the deadline, which this year is by 11pm CT tonight. More info about the draft can be found here.

In the 1st round, the Marlins selected pitcher Alberto Blanco from Houston. Blanco was coming off a year getting shelled at both High-A Kissimmee and AA Jackson. Transaction details elude me, but he pitched for Detroit's AA squad in 1999, was in independent ball in 2000, and then disappeared from professional baseball.

In the 12th round that year, Houston selected Tigers CF Glen Barker. Barker would stick with Houston for 3 years, appearing in 235 games but with only 197 PA, often being used as a pinch runner and defensive replacement. He hit .232/.330/.323 over that span with 30 steals.

In one of the more well known Rule 5 selections, the 2nd round saw Johan Santana stolen from Houston by the Marlins. The Marlins then immediately traded Santana to the Twins for career minor league pitcher Jared Camp, who never even threw a pitch for any Marlins affiliate. In 1999, Santana threw 160.1 innings for Houston's A-ball affiliate Michigan, putting up a 4.66 ERA.

In the 10th round, the Mariners selected Houston OF Chad Alexander. Alexander had just hit .293/.356/.465 with 11 HR between Jackson and AAA New Orleans, though he struggled after his call-up to New Orleans. Seattle apparently reached a deal with Houston, as Alexander never appeared in the Majors, though he did spend two years with the Mariners AAA squad before bouncing between the Cubs and Tigers AAA teams, as well as a few games in independent ball, the next three years.

In the 7th round this year, the Padres selected Houston SS Donaldo Mendez. Mendez had just hit .270/.351/.332 with 39 steals for Michigan. He would appear in 72 games for San Diego between the 2001 and 2003 seasons, hitting just .183/.245/.277 and committing 17 errors.

In the 11th round, the Giants picked Houston infielder Felix Escalona. He had hit .289/.342/.465 with A-ball Lexington in 2001, with 46 steals,  42 doubles, and 16 home runs. San Francisco placed him on waivers at the end of spring training, where he was then picked up by Tampa Bay. In 84 games spread across the 2002-2005 seasons, Escalona hit .209/.261/.282.

In one of the more successful claims by Houston, they selected Indians OF Willy Taveras in the 16th round. Though not quite ready for the majors, the Astros worked out a deal with Cleveland, trading Jeriome Robertson for Luke Scott and the rights to Willy T, that allowed them to keep Taveras in the minors most of the 2004 season. He would play for the Astros through 2006, finishing 2nd in ROY voting in 2005 and hitting .284/.329/.340 with 68 steals before being traded with Taylor Buchholz and Jason Hirsch to Colorado for Miguel Asencio and Jason Jennings.

As best I can tell, this is the last time an Astros player was taken in the major league portion of the Rule 5 draft. In the 10th round, the Dodgers picked Houston pitcher D.J. Houlton. Houlton had just thrown 159 innings for AA Round Rock with a 2.94 ERA and 9.0 K/9. In 157 inning for the Dodgers over 53 games in 2005 and 2007, including 19 starts, he put up a 4.99 ERA, going 6-11.

In the 9th round, Houston picked Cubs pitcher Lincoln Holdzkom. Holdzkom was coming off a year where he pitched to a 1.76 ERA in 46 innings over three levels, mostly for AA West Tennesee. He was returned to the Cubs March 11, 2007.

Houston picked pitcher Wesley Wright from the Dodgers in the 8th round. Wright had thrown 78 innings with a 3.92 ERA between AA and AAA in 2007, though he had struggled to a 9.18 ERA in limited AAA action. After struggling for a few years in Houston, Wright started putting things together in 2011. In all, he spent 6 years with the Astros, throwing 239 innings with a 4.44 ERA (5.33 ERA the first three years, 3.32 the last three), before being sold to Tampa Bay in 2013.

In the 13th round, Houston picked Royals pitcher Gilbert De La Vara. De La Vara had just thrown 77 innings between High-A and AA with a 3.27 ERA and just 0.1 HR/9 and 6.5 H/9. He was returned to Kansas City March 31, 2009 and never appeared in the majors.

In the 8th round, Houston picked Boston 3B/1B Jorge Jimenez and traded him to Florida to complete the deal for Matt Lindstrom. Jimenez had just hit .289 with 13 HR for AA Portland. Florida returned Jimenez to Boston that spring.

With the 8th round pick, Houston took Rays pitcher Aneury Rodriguez. Rodriguez had thrown 123.2 innings, mostly with AAA Durham, with a 3.80 ERA. Though struggling quite a bit in the majors, Rodriguez stuck with Houston and ended up with a 5.12 ERA in 91.1 innings, mostly in relief. He last pitched in Korea in 2013.

The Astros also took Yankees pitcher Lance Pendleton with the 17th pick. Houston returned Pendleton to NY in March, then selected him off waivers in September. He threw 4.2 really bad innings for Houston, putting up a 17.36 ERA. He was released by Houston in March of 2012.

With the 1st pick, Houston took Mets pitcher Rhiner Cruz. In 71.2 innings between the Mets' High-A and AA teams, Cruz had a 3.89 ERA with 8.7 K/9 and 5.7 BB/9 in 2011. In two years in Houston, Cruz had a 5.31 ERA in 72 games. He was released in June of 2014.

Houston also traded AAA phase selection Marco Duarte for Boston's 10th pick, infielder Marwin Gonzalez. Duarte had spent the last 2 seasons in the Mexican League. Gonzalez was coming off a .288/.343/.400 season for the Cubs AA and AAA teams. In 3 seasons and 751 plate appearances, Marwin has hit .248/.291/.354 for Houston.

Again with the 1st pick, Houston picked Red Sox pitcher Josh Fields. Fields threw 58.1 innings in 2012 between AA and AAA, posting a 2.01 ERA and 0.96 WHIP with 12.0 K/9. In 2 seasons with Houston, he has a 4.66 ERA in 95 games with 10.7 K/9.

With the 14th pick, the Astros picked Padres 1B Nate Freiman. Freiman had hit .298/.370/.502 with 24 HR for AA San Antonio that season. The Astros we unable to keep Freiman, who was selected off waivers by Oakland. In 301 plate appearances over the last two years, he's hit .256/.309/.408 with 9 HR.

With the 1st pick, the Astros took Diamondbacks pitcher Patrick Schuster. Schuster had a 1.83 ERA in 44.1 innings for Arizona's High-A club in 2013. The Astros traded Schuster to San Diego for Anthony Bass. San Diego then returned Schuster to Arizona. Bass had a 6.33 ERA in 27 innings for Houston in 2014.