Monday, March 19, 2018

Monday Morning Hot Links

The Astros lost to the Braves 6-3 yesterday. Tony Sipp allowed 1H/1ER, 0K:1BB in 1IP. Collin McHugh gave up 2H/2ER, 3K:1BB in 1IP. Carlos Correa was 2x3.

Opening Day is 10 days away.

*A.J. Hinch set the starting rotation to open the season yesterday. It'll go like this:
SP1: Justin Verlander
SP2: Dallas Keuchel
SP3: Lance McCullers, Jr.
SP4: Gerrit Cole
SP5: Charlie Morton

The guy who won two Game 7s last postseason is this year's fifth starter. Deep. Hinch:
I think we could go any order and have an argument. Really from the beginning of the rotation, that's a tribute to the pitching staff that (Luhnow) built to give us a deep rotation. 

This is the order, in part, because Hinch is giving the home opener start to Charlie Morton. Hinch:
I think that's something special that he's earned. 

*The Astros sent five players to minor-league camp yesterday: Kyle Tucker, Garrett Stubbs, Jack Mayfield, Jon Kemmer, and Francis Martes. Hinch, on Martes:
We want him to start, which is the main reason we wanted to send him out. His development has come fast, he got up to the big leagues very quickly and got pushed to the bullpen very quickly because of need. We want to make sure that he's continuing to develop as a starter. 

*Jake Kaplan has a good piece in The Athletic about Tucker, and how we'll see him again soon.

*Jose Altuve is getting a signing bonus: $1m on approval, $10m in 2018, $10m in 2019.

*Cody Bellinger, famous for prematurely shushing the Minute Maid Park crowd in Game 5 and also for hitting .143 with 17K in 28ABs in the World Series, hasn't watched the World Series replays:
I already knew. I knew what was coming and I still didn't...hit.

*The new federal spending bill could include an exemption of minor-leaguers from federal labor laws...which would result in continuing to play baseball for billionaires for less than a living wage.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Sunday Morning Hot Links

*The Astros tied the Marlins 6-6, with all six Astros runs coming in the 9th, helped along by a grand slam from Anibal Sierra and 2RBI from Kyle Tucker. 

-Charlie Morton threw 4.2IP, 3H/4R (1ER), 4K:3BB, 2HBP.

*Charlie Morton is working on a changeup. Hinch:
He doesn't like using it because his other pitches are so dominant. It's a force feed for him, it'll be effective and it'll get on some scouting reports. He'll get more comfortable as he uses it more. It's an extra pitch for him, it's something we're trying to develop. Game on the line, he's not going to get beat by it.

*A week after optioning lefties Reymin Guduan and Buddy Boshers, Hinch said it's possible Tony Sipp won't make the Opening Day squad. Hinch:
If the situation comes up to where we feel like it's a better option for us to have other guys, right now out current internal options are all right-handed. It's not ideal and it would be somewhat unusual just given how teams like to put their teams together. I guess that's an option. 

*FanGraphs' Craig Edwards writes that Altuve's extension isn't a gift from the front office - it's a fair deal.

*The New York Times' Billy Witz wrote about the relationship between Morton and McCann.

*The Yankees and Manny Machado? The New York Daily News' John Harper would rather the Yankees come get Dallas Keuchel.

*The Athletic's Pedro Moura wonders if Shohei Ohtani could start the season in Triple-A. Jeff Fletcher says nah.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Saturday Morning Hot Links

RIP, your bracket, about which no one cares. Opening Day is in 12 days.

*Lance McCullers was the only starter to play the Yankees in Tampa last night. It was his first time to pitch at his hometown Steinbrenner Field, as the Astros won 2-0.

-McCullers allowed 1H/0ER, 5K:1BB in 4.1IP
-Brendan McCurry threw 1.2 hitless IP
-Rogelio Armenteros threw 3IP, 1H/0ER, 5K:1BB.
-Tony Kemp was 2x4.
-J.D. Davis and Tyler White were each 1x4 with an RBI.

Brett Gardner, Giancarlo Stanton, Gary Sanchez, Didi Gregorius, and Aaron Hicks went a combined 0x13 with 5K. But 27 RANGZ.

*The Masked Marvel wrote up details of the Jose Altuve extension.

*So Altuve's extension will kick in beginning with the 2020 season. The Astros haven't confirmed it yet, so we don't know the details of how the $151m is spread out, but it will keep him in Houston through his Age 34 season. Let's take a moment to look back at how the economics work on a year-by-year basis:

(Note: This doesn't include possible extensions, etc. All numbers courtesy of Roster Resource)

Off the books after 2018

Dallas Keuchel: $13.2m
Brian McCann: $11.5m (The Yankees will give the Astros $5.5m in 2018)
Charlie Morton: $7m
Evan Gattis: $6.7m
Tony Sipp: $6m
Marwin Gonzalez: $5.125m
Jon Singleton: $765,432 (suspension included)

Total: $49.525m

Carlos Correa and Chris Devenski are eligible for their first year of arbitration.

Off the books after 2019

Justin Verlander: $20m ($8m coming from the Tigers)
Joe Smith: $8m
Hector Rondon: $4.5m

Gerrit Cole, Collin McHugh, and Brad Peacock will go into their first year of free agency.

Total: $32.5m

Alex Bregman is eligible for his first year of arbitration.

Baseball-Reference tells us the Astros have $21.4m already committed to 2020 with an estimated payroll (factoring in options, arbitration, etc) of $78.5m. They can afford Jose Altuve, who will be the 4th player in MLB history to earn $30m/year (Kershaw, Greinke, David Price).

Something to consider: the Altuve extension shows Correa, Bregman, Springer, McCullers, etc. that the Astros are willing to open the checkbook.

*Richard Justice:
Hats off to Astros owner Jim Crane for doing this deal. Hats off as well to agent Scott Boras for hammering out this contract with Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow. Maybe in the end, they all came to the same place: Money aside, which Altuve might have gotten plenty of in a lot of places, he will never be as beloved as he is in this city. 

*Jake Kaplan writes that the extension is yet another sign that this is a new Astros era.

*Get in the Wayback Machine to April 2013 when I wrote about Jose Altuve and the Astros' decision to move Delino DeShields to the outfield.

*Here's a post in Yardbarker about the value Jose Altuve has provided the Astros.

*Five things to know about the World Series ring.

*Check out Our Boy Daren Willman's new Top 100 Prospects at And check out his new feature on each year's draft classes.

*Reporter Allie LaForce and Joe Smith are trying to balance their respective careers.

*A couple of sportswriters are putting together a list of the best places to eat on the road.

*It's the biggest upset in college basketball history. The Athletic's Brian Hamilton has a great story about the game.

*Poor UVA alum Derek Fisher, who will get the day off:

A.J. Hinch:
It's probably a good day for Derek Fisher to not be in camp.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Astros extend Altuve with largest contract in franchise history

Yay!!  Carlos Lee is no longer the answer to the Astros' most embarrassing trivia question!!!

In news that is likely to spark World Series-type celebrations in Houston, the Astros have apparently extended José Altuve until the conclusion of the 2024 season with a massive $151MM contract extension.  This extension covers the seasons between 2020 and 2024, and will finish when Altuve has reached the ripe old age of 34.  I am assuming that the Astros will pick up (or already have picked up) Altuve's $6MM and $6.5MM salaries for the 2018 and 2019 seasons.

Altuve gets to enter the halls of the absolute elite - the $30MM per annum players.  This is a pretty short list, as the list of baseballers who have performed at an elite level over an extended period of time is not long.  Only starting pitchers Clayton Kershaw, Zack Grienke and David Price made more than $30MM per year in 2017.  In 2018, Mike Trout will make more than $30MM.  Miguel Cabrera and Max Scherzer are also in the middle of contracts that average more than $30MM per year, so if they aren't earning that now, they soon will.

Altuve also becomes the highest paid second baseman of all time on a per annum basis.  Currently, that record is held by Robinson Canó, who will play 2018 in year five of a 10-year, $240MM contract.  While Altuve's contract is not larger in terms of the overall amount paid, it is considerably larger in terms of annual value, and only pays him to the age Canó was when he played the 2017 season.  This is also the largest extension ever for a second baseman, beating Rougned Odor's 6-year $49MM extension by just over $100MM.*

* Sorry, I got this stat from MLBTR's transaction tracker.  Then MLBTR wrote today that Dustin Pedroia signed a $110MM extension a few years ago.  Apologies...

What is also notable here is that José Altuve has only recently switched agencies, and only recently hired Scott Boras as his representative.  Boras is known for his... uh... 'tenacious' advocacy on behalf of his clients, and normally likes to steer them away from extensions.  Boras has a reputation of effectively playing teams off against one another in order to secure the greatest possible payday for his athletes.  He tends to do well in the open market... until the 2017-18 offseason, that is.

So Astros fans are likely to be celebrating because we will see the loveable José Altuve in blue and orange for at least the next seven years.  But there is also a pretty decent argument that this extension is also a very sensible one from a baseball perspective.  Firstly, the Astros have considerable strength up the middle, and this keeps one of the middle infield duo in town for an extended period.  Secondly, the Astros won't have to bid against other teams after grossly underpaying Altuve over the last six or so seasons in the 2019-20 offseason.  Scott Boras may have been spooked by the slow offseason this year, where it seems clear that the middle tier of free agents are struggling to gain lucrative employment.  Fourthly, Altuve plays an up-the-middle position, and does everything well, so he does not rely on one skill to provide value to his team.  He has an incredible ability to hit for contact, he now hits for power as well, and will take a walk.  He runs the bases well (which includes stealing bases), and defends reasonably well.*  He has avoided major injury, and the Astros would have a good feel for how he projects from a health perspective.

* DRS and UZR don't like Altuve that much, but they struggle to manage measurements in shifted players.  That said, I also don't think that a realistic argument can be put forward that Altuve is the best defensive second baseman in the league, or in the game.  He is a solid but unspectacular defensive player.

I imagine FanGraphs or BPro or someone will have a pretty complete article up shortly, looking at how this contract will be valued as Altuve ages and inevitably declines.  There is, of course, considerable risk in signing a single player to such a large amount per year.  But what the Astros have avoided is a long contract, such as Canó's, Albert Pujols' and Miguel Cabrera's contracts, all of which will pay those gentlemen considerable amounts of money to play into their fifth decade, to the likely end of their careers.  Altuve is arguably a more complete baseballer than Canó, and certainly is a more complete player than Cabrera.  This makes he think that he is a better bet to provide value as he ages.  His complete, all-round game puts him alongside Mike Trout in terms of elite players across a wide skillset in the AL.

So congratulations, Mr Altuve.  This is the culmination of years of hard work, and is well deserved.  This is acknowledgement that you do everything on the baseball diamond well.  From a fan's perspective, it will be a delight watching you in Houston for at least another seven seasons.

Now stay healthy, and don't do anything dumb.

Friday Morning Hot Links

Things about which no one cares:
1. Your fantasy team
2. Your bracket

*The Astros beat Washington 12-3 on the strength of Dallas Keuchel's 5IP 4H/0ER, 2K:1BB. Keuchel:
I thought the fastball command was really good and that's what I was hoping to see. I'm still working on the offspeed. I haven't really introduced it a lot during the five-day process. So before the next two starts I'll probably be throwing some more offspeed to try and get a feel for that.

-Bregman, Marwin, Reddick, and Kyle Tucker had two hits each.
-Hector Rondon struck out the side in the 6th, Joe Smith threw a perfect 7th, and Collin McHugh struck out the side in the 8th. Buddy Boshers allowed a hit and three walks to account for all of Washington's runs.

*The Astros open the season at Arlington, home vs Baltimore and San Diego, at Minnesota, and home against Arlington. That could play a role in who gets to be Gurriel's early substitute.

*A scout told Jon Heyman:
They should be great for two or three more years.

*Jeff Sullivan: Baseball is in an era of experimentation.

*Fabiana Perez talked about her relationship with ex-fiancee Danry Vasquez. Vasquez's attorney Les Cassidy:
It's very embarrassing for him. Yes, he is remorseful. He feels ashamed. At some point, a human being has to be able to restart his life and get on. If he's been rehabilitated and this never occurs again then he should be able to work in society. 

McCullers and Verlander, to name a couple, disagree.

*Wright Thompson wrote about the funeral of Fiorentina's Davide Astori. I need my phone to give me an Amber Alert sound every time Wright Thompson publishes something.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Thursday Morning Hot Links

*The Cardinals beat the Astros 3-1 yesterday. It took around 20 games but an Astros starting pitcher finally kind of laid an egg. The Astros' offense got seven hits, only one an extra-base hit - a double from Max Stassi.

Verlander threw 5IP, 8H/3ER, 4K:1BB.
A bullpen of Hoyt, Sipp, Harris, Nick Hernandez, and Chris Nunn (and I don't know from where he came) allowed 1H/0ER, 3K:2BB in 4IP

Jackass Adam Wainwright hit Jose Altuve.

Verlander ain't worried:
In these situations I'm thinking a little differently because I'm trying to work on some stuff so (I) threw some different pitches up there. But overall, it's another step in the right direction.

Hernandez, from Missouri City, was removed after three batters in the 9th because Hinch said "he looked a little uncomfortable."

*Brian Arbor explains why Kyle Tucker needs more time in the minors.

*Jerome Solomon says the Astros' smart decisions, not tanking, helped them win the World Series.

We talked about this the other day: The Astros thought losing 105 games was better for the organization than losing 95 games. They made mistakes, releasing J.D. Martinez chief among them. There were smart decisions, there were bad decisions. The smart ones outweighed the bad ones. And isn't that exactly how we'd like to go through life?

*Yuli Gurriel will begin increased activity today.

*Jake Kaplan looks at who will bat 2nd in the Astros' lineup in 2018.

*Buried at the bottom of the notes column that begins with Brady Rodgers and Jandel Gustave's recovery, we find the Astros are open to using a 4-man outfield on occasion.

*I did a deep dive for The Athletic about players' statistical performances upon their return from PED suspensions.

*The Ringer: Welcome to the temporary era of baseball's superteams.

*If you go to a minor-league game and it goes to extra innings, be prepared to see the inning start with a runner on 2nd.

Pace of play changes is to attract new fans, right? So why would you try to attract new fans by changing a fundamental rule of baseball that only takes effect after the game would normally have been over? This is stupid.

Kyle Tucker Needs to Start the Season in the Minors

It’s been easy to identify the star of the Astros Spring Training. He’s starred both off the field
with the “Ted” monicker that has been laid on him by his teammates. And he has starred on the
field, slashing .375/.400/.844 with 4 home runs.

It’s been an impressive performance. And just like everyone else on Astros twitter, I’ve thrilled
watching highlights of Tucker’s homers, both in real time and slowed down.  And like all Astros fans,
I look forward to seeing Tucker starting in the outfield in Minute Maid Park.

The Astros have already said that won’t happen this April. On March 1, AJ Hinch said "[Tucker’s]
contribution at the major league level will come at some point, if he continues to progress, but it's
not going to come at the end of this month. No matter what he does, we don't feel like it's in the best
interest for him."

I agree with this decision. Tucker still has things to learn in the minors, and Astros fan should want
him to start the season in Corpus Christi.

The biggest reason that Tucker should start the season in the minors is his performance in AA in 2017.
Tucker was very good for the Corpus Christi Hooks, but did not dominate that circuit.

Last season, Tucker started the season at Buies Creek, where he was excellent.. In 206 plate
appearances in the Carolina League, Tucker slashed .288/.379/.554 with 25 extra base hits. These
numbers were good for a wOBA of .410 and a wRC+ of 159.   This is domination, and Tucker
deservedly earned a callup to to Corpus Christi.

There, Tucker was very good. He slashed .265/.325/.512, highlighted by 16 home runs. These are
impressive numbers, but not as good as the ones he showed in Buies Creek. His wOBA slipped to
.368 and his wRC+ was 129.  These are outstanding numbers, especially for a 20 year-old who is
4 years younger than the median player in the league.

What does Tucker need to work on?  His control of the strike zone. At Buies Creek Tucker walked
24 times in 206 PAs for a walk rate of 11.7% His walk rate declined at the AA level to 6.7%,
substantially lower. Tucker’s OBP dipped from .379 to .325. Tucker struck out a good bit last season,
whiffing 21.8% of the time in the Carolina League, and 20.1% of the time in the Texas League.
Combined, these data show that Tucker has trouble controlling the plate as a batter, an essential skill
for any hitter.

Fast forward to this spring, The good news is that Tucker is hitting the ball frequently (.375 BA) and
hard (6 of his 12 hits have been for extra bases). The bad news is that he still is not walking. Tucker
has only 2 walks in 35 PAs, for a walk rate of 5.7%. Simple put, Tucker needs to walk more.

Tucker is hitting .375 this Spring, and if he hits .375 in the majors, we don’t have to worry about his
walk rate. But if Tucker hits .375 in the majors, he will eventually break Ty Cobb’s record for the best
batting average in history. I think highly of Tucker, but that’s going a little too far. So if we make the
safe assumption that Tucker’s batting average is going to be lower than .375, he needs to work on his strike
zone judgment.

AJ Hinch also provided more detail about the team’s concerns about Tucker’s command of the strike
zone. He's got a good swing and he does some damage. The next step in development for him is to
make sure that he picks the right pitches to swing at. Some of that is knowing strikes versus balls, but
some of that is knowing what strikes he needs to attack early in counts and how to defend himself
with two strikes."

Tucker is close to being major league ready. He has the power, the speed, and the defensive ability to
be an impact player in the big leagues. But the most important skill for a big league batter is to control
the strike zone.  Tucker needs more time at Corpus Christi or Fresno to develop that skill of his before
he is brought up to play in the Astros outfield.