Friday, February 26, 2021

Astros County: November 2008 - February 2021

Over the past 12.5-ish years I have run this here blog. It initially was a blog for me to react to EVERYTHING that happened to the Astros, as it happened. I had a job that allowed me to do this, mostly unimpeded. Evenings were more difficult, but during the day the flexibility was there for me to keep a pretty close eye on the Astros. When we lived in New York, it was a way for me to keep in touch with something from Home and made me feel like we didn’t live so far away. We moved from New York to Nashville in 2009, had a (long-awaited) kid in 2012, and Astros County kept chugging along. Just part of a daily routine.

In 2014 we moved back to Texas, I switched careers, and that ability wasn’t exactly there anymore. Can’t stop teaching about the French Revolution to weigh in on the Astros trading Mike Foltynewicz and Rio Ruiz for Evan Gattis, and so it became more of a LinkStop in the mornings or evenings (depending on what was going in for me at school or with my wife and daughter). This was fine, no one seemed to mind. I disabled the comments, which made things a whole hell of a lot better on my end.

But putting those links together, in an effort to be thorough, started to take more and more time. It’s not out of the ordinary for a Hot Links post to take up to two hours to put together. That’s too much. I could scale it back, I guess but, again, routine. And I am a creature of my routine.

Except I need to shake up my routine. I have a lot on my plate at the moment between my lovely, understanding, sympathetic wife, our rapidly-growing daughter, and work/students/other duties as assigned. I’m really trying to write a book on Andrew Jackson’s 1833 tour of New England, and I’d much rather do that than worry about how Alex Bregman’s hamstring feels (I didn’t mean that, Bregs, please be okay and win an MVP this year). I’d like to watch an Astros game just to watch it, without feeling compelled to take notice of SOMETHING that I could point out or write about that night/early the next morning.

There’s also the whole social media aspect of it. We all follow the same people. You don’t need me to link to every article on Astros dot com, or everything Chandler Rome or Jake Kaplan or FanGraphs posts related to the Astros because…you can just do that on your own. My voice and opinion isn’t even that important. I’m just a history teacher. I never played baseball beyond backyard stuff, I don’t have any particular insight to impart that you can’t think of on your own. I just have a borrowed Stathead login to Baseball-Reference and something approaching institutional memory. I don’t have any sources. The one source I did have doesn’t work in the front office anymore, and he never told me anything, anyway. So what’s really the point? With a decent enough Twitter list, you can create your own Astros County. Hell, I’ll even unlock my Astros Media list so that you can follow everyone I’ve leaned on heavily for Hot Links.

The polarization of society, the inability to agree on basic rules for humanity, the constant nut-kick of a news cycle, is just too much for me. So I’m going to head out. I’ve spent most of the week off of Twitter and let me tell you, I encourage that. Maybe I’ll find that I really miss the blog and come back a little bit, but I doubt it. I’ll definitely tweet like a maniac should this book ever get finished and encourage you to pre-order it. While I’m obviously not a “material benefit” kind of guy (quit working in museums to go teach public school, for instance), there’s not much juice coming out of a whole lot of squeeze.

I will forever appreciate the real-life friendships that have grown out of keeping the blog up, and I’m not abandoning those. I’m just stepping back from pouring hours of work into a blog that I started when I was 28, and now I’m 41. The Twitter account will stay active, and I’ll keep the AstrosCounty dot com domain active just in case researchers come across it and want to collectively scratch their heads. I’ll still do Lima Time Time and Michael Bourn Identity. But I think this is it. After 12 years, I’m hanging it up. At least I’m eligible for the Hall of Fame, provided I don’t post for five more years.

Do The Astros Have Enough Starting Pitching? Let's Hope So

It's a big question to start any baseball season. how many innings will a team get out of its top five--or six--starting pitchers this year?   

In 2021, the question is even more fraught. The abbreviated 2021 season meant that no starter went for a full season’s worth of innings, and teams were not able to have their young pitchers ramp up their workload from the previous season.

The Astros have to deal with this general problem. But they also have specific worries about the nature of their roster.  With Justin Verlander out for the season after Tommy John surgery and the front office deciding to direct its off-season spending on re-signing Michael Brnatley and adding veteran arms to the bullpen, the Astros have to rely on a young but capable core of five starting pitchers.  

The good news for Astros fans is that starting five looks plenty capable. It lacks the top-end arm we have gotten used to from Cy Young contenders like Dallas Kuechel, Gerrit Cole, and Justin Verlander.  But it is a deep set of starters with potential upside in the four young pitchers that occupy spots 2-5. Zack Greinke is the likely opening day starter, and he is a steady and dependable veteran arm to anchor the staff. 

But after those top five arms, questions arise quickly. Jake Kaplan of The Athletic identified Luis Garcia, Forrest Whitley, and Brandon Bielak as the next set of rotation candidates, Combined, they have 8 major league starts--6 by Bielak, 2 by Garcia, and none by Whitley.  As Kaplan concluded, “it’s an open question as to whether the Astros have enough rotation depth.” 

With depth at a premium, the question becomes even more important: how many starts and innings can the Astros expect from their top five starting pitchers. To provide an objective and quantifiable answer, I turned to the Depth Charts projections, hosted  by Fangraphs. Here is what they show in chart form. 


Projected GS

Projected IP

Zach Greinke



Lance McCullers



Framber Valdez



Jose Urquidy



Cristian Javier






This paints a happy picture for Astros fans. These projections say that the Astros will be able to run out one of their top five starters in 83% of their games. That still leaves 28 starts for other starters, with Depth Charts projecting 11 for Whitley, 8 for Garcia, and 5 for Bielak.  The Astros will need to use some of their depth to shore up their rotation, but that is to be expected. Dusty Baker is quoted in Kaplan article as saying "You hope to go the whole year with five, which never happens." But this projection says that the depth will be used to cover occasional gaps in the pitching staff.

But my read of these projections is that they paint too happy of a picture.  First of all, pitching contains a ton of injury risk, both of the season-ending surgery and the take two weeks off to get your body back to normal variety. These projections can use past data to project the smaller stuff for pitchers. But it is difficult, if not impossible, to predict major injuries, and these metrics do not do that.  The best we can do is to knock on wood, throw salt over our shoulders, and keep our fingers crossed as we read this paragraph.

The other thing I worry about is that these projections have the four youngest pitchers in the rotation pitching at or near their career highs for innings pitched in a season. Here’s another chart of the career high IP in a season for these guys.  


Career High IP


Lance McCullers

157 ⅔ 


Framber Valdez



Jose Urquidy



Cristian Javier

113 2/3


I should note that these numbers include innings across multiple levels for all four players. Compare the numbers in this chart with the projections in the first chart, and you can see that McCullers, Valdez, and Urquidy are all projected to match their career highs in innings pitched. Javier is projected to exceed his by 15 innings. 

Can they do it?  Yes.  But can they all do it.  I’m skeptical. 

First of all, pitcher is a dangerous business.  Pitchers come down with ailments all the time, which range from "take two weeks to see if the soreness goes away" to "Welp, one pitch and he's out 

The career of Lance McCullers shows the peril of expecting a full season from a pitcher. McCullers was on the disabled list in 2015, 2016, and 2017 with minor ailments, missing short periods of time each season. In 2018, McCullers finally looked healthy as he took his turn every fifth day for 22 starts, before he got a big injury. An elbow injury forced McCullers from the rotation and, after making a few bullpen appearances in September and October, he had Tommy John surgery after the 2019 World Series. McCullers missed the 2019 campaign.   Pitching is a dangerous business.  

Pitching coach Brent Strom strikes a more pessimistic note in Kaplan's article--"It's going to take a village to get through this season." 

So in short, expect to see Luis Garcia making a number of starts in downtown, and not just suburban, Houston this season. Let's all rub our lucky rabbit’s feet and hope that the various physical and mental ailments of Forrest Whitley are healed and that he can be effective as he debuts in the majors.   We should light a candle that the magic that Brent Strom and the Astros player development has worked on Urquidy, Valdez, and Javier will apply to current minor leaguers like Tyler Ivey, Brett Conine, and Shawn Dubin. Heck, we should hope for a deadline trade for another starting pitcher to help them team get through the dog days of summer. 

So while we can’t know how many innings and starts the Astros will need from pitchers beyond the starting five, we know that they will need them.  And that their depth will be tested this season. 

Thursday, February 25, 2021

Thursday Morning Hot Links

I took a day off - not from work, but from this and from Social Media and hooboy was that fun! Couldn't figure out why I was in such a good mood. We should all try it sometime! So, let's catch up a little bit...

Without giving any specifics, the 30-year old Altuve said he put in a lot of work in the offseason to better himself both physically and mentally. Brantley picked up on it right away during a long talk with Altuve on the first day of camp.

Altuve, 1243 games (5,458 PAs) from 2010-2019: .315/.364/.463, 8.76 PAs/K.
Altuve, 48 games (210 PAs) in 2020: .219/.286/.344, 5.38 PAs/K. 

Yeah, I'm not putting much stock in Altuve's 2020 after the 2019 offseason, starting Spring Training, stopping Spring Training, and the season beginning in late July.

Chandler Rome: Altuve is pursuing a season of redemption. Gurriel:
Usually the first couple days are a little more relaxed, but right from the first time I saw (Altuve), he's looked super, super focused. There's a different look about him.

*Alex Bregman hasn't been working out with all The Dudes because he has a tweaked hamstring. Dusty:
It's something that was here last year, and then he tweaked it while he was working out this winter. You know how hard the guy works. We may have to monitor his work for his own sake, because this guy works. His hamstring is sore. Again. We've just got to take care of him.

Bregman tweeted at McTaggart that, if the season started today he'd be "good to go."

-James Click said the plan all along was to wait until Correa came to Spring Training before opening dialogue (oh, I'm an "opening dialogue" guy now. I'm also a "circle-back" guy, occasionally. From time to time I "reach out.") on a possible contract extension. Click:
It's a high priority. We're going to get to it. But we want to make sure that we put in the work before we really dig in, but we have talked about what is most important to him and that will give us some direction on how we can try to line this up.

My concern is that Click is going to try to Tampa this thing right up:
With a guy as talented as he is, it would be prudent for us to try to line that up, but it takes both sides.

-Stephen Souza has a real chance to make the Astros' Opening Day Roster.

*Yuli Gurriel attributed his sluggish "2nd-half" and postseason to the mental strain of free agency, and his weight (even though he signed his extension in early September). But he's in better shape now!

*Forrest Whitley and Korey Lee are actually in camp after clearing COVID protocols.

*Yordan Alvarez landed at #14 on's 25 Best Players under 25, which is about 13 spots too low, in my opinion.

*Is Framber Valdez the Astros' next ace? Thomas Harrigan notes that his curveball, groundball rate, and improved control point to yes.

*Brian T. Smith: Giving Correa (or anyone) a Tatis-esque contract doesn't guarantee anything.

*Dusty Baker has 1892 career managerial wins. Five more wins puts him in sole possession of 14th place all-time, eight more wins makes him the 14th manager to reach 1900 wins.

*Former Astros Great Marwin Gonzalez's deal with Former Astros Great Alex Cora's Red Sox is official.

*SI's Tom Verducci: Should the MLB Postseason feature a Selection Show?

*Wired: Hackers tied to Russia's GRU targeted the US electrical grid for years.

*Rolling Stone: How to help music industry workers.

*Prosecutors dropped the DUI charges against Bruce Springsteen, as he was just drinkin' in the park (I immediately am given a BBWAA card).

*The South Dakota Attorney General is, uh, well, he's in some trouble.

*A Musical Selection:

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Tuesday Morning Hot Links

Yesterday was the first full-squad workout day and everyone's so happy. 

*Alex Bregman says there's a "good energy" in Astros camp.

In that link we also find that Garrett Stubbs is going to play a little OF and 2B in order to be versatile enough to make the Opening Day roster.

*Chandler Rome: Carlos Correa is expecting a big season out of himself (and also indicated that he's open to moving to 3B, a first in the time Correa's been with the Astros that he's said that). Correa:

I've never been more excited to show up to Spring Training in my career than this year. I'm super excited to be here. I'm happy that baseball is back. I feel something special in this clubhouse. The way everybody showed up today really told me a lot of how everybody put in the work to make sure they're ready - ready to compete and ready to win another championship.

Jake Kaplan says that the fact that the Astros and Carlos Correa haven't opened negotiations on an extension isn't that big of a deal, and lays out what's really important for both sides. Correa:

I know what I'm worth. If the season happens, I'm expecting to have a great, healthy season, which will help my case for free agency, being the youngest shortstop out there.

Here's a Brian McTaggart piece on Correa that's not paywalled.

Let's not forget that the Astros have $65.17m coming off the books at the end of the season with the impending free agency of Justin Verlander, Zack Greinke, Joe Smith, and Martin Maldonado. That's plenty of money for Correa and McCullers to re-sign. 

*Alex Bregman says he feels like himself again.

*Correa said Yordan Alvarez looks "really sexy."

*Myles Straw knows that he needs to keep things simple this Spring Training: Get on base. Straw:

Just being ready to hit and staying aggressive and coming back to it and just getting on base for those guys is going to be the key thing for me this year.

*Ken Rosenthal wrote about, among other things, why the Astros won't sign Jackie Bradley, Jr. and it has to do with the draft picks that come with staying under the salary cap luxury tax threshold.

*Brian McTaggart ranked the five best team seasons in Astros history, and I would flip a couple of the choices, but can't disagree with #1.

*Jim Crane and the Astros Foundation donated 42,000 pounds of water to three locations at Texas Children's Hospitals.

*Mariners CEO Kevin Mather has resigned after getting blowed tf up over his comments to the [shuffles papers] Rotary Club went nationwide, which included openly discussing delaying prospects' service time and denigrating the English of Hisashi Iwakuma and Julio Rodriguez. Imagine losing your role as an MLB CEO because you overshared with the Rotary Club. Jeff Passan on the 45 minutes that sunk Kevin Mather.

*There are reasons for Leeds United fans to be excited about the possibility of extending Marcelo Bielsa. Leeds play Southampton at 12pm Central today on NBCSN. [Shouts in American] The Premier League should really take its Central Time Zone supporters into account more.

*Vox: What you're feeling is grief.

*The Atlantic: The most likely timeline for life to return to normal.

*An audience with the robots: An NME writer's encounter with Daft Punk.

*A Musical Selection:

Sunday, February 21, 2021

Sunday Evening Hot Links

Ah Sunday! The evening the existential dread sets in. 

*Brian McTaggart took a pass at predicting the Opening Day Roster.

*Martin Maldonado and Jason Castro are battery-mates with the 3rd-most games caught in the Majors (2nd, but for a technicality).

*Jake Kaplan: Luis Garcia, Forrest Whitley and the depth the Astros will need to get through the season. Brent Strom:
It's going to take a village to get through this season.

*David Nuno: Carlos Correa wants to hammer out an extension before the season starts. Correa:
It would be great, but it has to be on their side also. If we can reach an agreement at some point it needs to be [before] the season starts because once the season starts, I don't want to be involved with any negotiations.

*Dusty Baker, on Yordan Alvarez:
He had a cool stroll coming down the hallway. So I was like, well it's hard to have a cool stroll if something's wrong with you.

*Even after both doses of the COVID vaccine, Dusty Baker is still being cautious. Makes sense, 2-0 is the most dangerous lead in sports. 

*Garrett Stubbs is a good boy and is dairy-free and gluten-free. I am neither. 

*Click here to see George Springer in a Blue Jays shirt, if that's something you're in to.

*Former Astros Great Aaron Sanchez signed a deal with the Giants.

*Texas Monthly: The Day Everything Went Wrong.

*Esquire: The best documentaries on Netflix will change how you see the world.

*A Musical Selection:

Saturday, February 20, 2021

Saturday Evening Hot Links

The sweetest sound in the world is ice melting off your roof.

*Ryan Pressly is presumably the closer for 2021. Brent Strom:
My guess right now is Ryan Pressly, who did a great job last year, save for two games. He only had like two bad outings last game in Arizona that kind of blew him up a little bit, and then again in Texas, where his velocity was way below and a guy hit a home run to tie it up. Right now, I would say he is probably the leaders, having been with us.

Pressly allowed 5H/3ER, 1K:2BB in his first two appearances (0.2IP, nine batters faced), settling at a 40.50 ERA by the time both Verlander and Osuna were done for the year. Over his next 21 appearances, Pressly allowed 16H/5ER, 28K:5BB, 2.21 ERA / 1.03 WHIP, including that Texas game Strom mentioned. Dusty Baker just wants him healthy.

Strom also noted that Steve Cishek (which seems like a promising report on the chances of Cishek making the Opening Day roster), Joe Smith, and Pedro Baez could factor into the closer role, and that it's up to Dusty Baker. 

In that link we also find that Andre Scrubb and Bryan Abreu are drawing early praise, there's an awful lot of pitchers in camp, and Dusty Baker had very nice things to say about Pedro Gomez (who seemed like a very good person). 

*And here we find a very good article from Chandler Rome on the importance of Brent Strom. Strom:
There's this feeling out there that we do something super special as an organization. I think we just do our due diligence and we turn every rock over to try to find how we can help whatever pitchers we acquire. 

I truly hope there's a Brent Strom understudy.

*Joe Smith is very happy to be back with the Astros. Dusty, on Smith:
Joe is one of the leaders on this team. Guys listen to him, they gravitate toward him, they follow him. Not only is it great to have Joe in the bullpen, but he's a quality guy that we all trust. 

*Framber Valdez: "I want to have some nasty pitches this year." I, too, would like Framber to have some nasty pitches this year. 

*Jerome Solomon: Dusty isn't the retiring type.

*SI's first Power Rankings of 2021 have the Astros at #8. 

*Forrest Whitley, who may or may not exist, is in West Palm Beach but not working out at the team complex, for some reason. James Click:
Occasionally, out of an abundance of caution, there are protocol steps that have to be taken players and personnel are cleared to report. We expect those steps to be completed soon, which will still give everyone enough time to prepare for the season.

Related: Here is a really good interview from FanGraphs with the aforementioned possibly-alive Forrest Whitley, who is a Trevor Bauer fanboy. It's in there, I swear. Also, there's this quote:
Everything I've done since I've been with the Astros has...pretty much been self-driven. I haven't had much outside influence. I'm pretty stubborn. I don't always like to listen to people.

If there's anything that the Astros have been about since 2012, it's definitely without a doubt just sort of letting players do whatever they want. (But also keep in mind the above-linked interview with Brent Strom). 

But there's also this one: "It goes without saying that this season is super, super important for me."

It's a really, really insightful read, lots of mechanics/grip analysis. Good interview, and it's not pay-walled, so have at it. I'm actually really excited to see what Forrest Whitley does this year. But also I hope he stops listening to Tyler Bauer. 

*Missed this, from earlier in the week when the state was freezing over, but Keith Law released his Astros' farm system report. Law:
The Astros are still finding hidden value through R&D and some great work on the player development side, and have a number of guys who look like breakout candidates for 2021, if we get a minor-league season.

The Top 20 - click the link to read the write-ups:
1. Forrest Whitley
2. Luis Garcia
3. Pedro Leon
4. Hunter Brown
5. Jeremy Pena
6. Jairo Solis
7. Korey Lee
8. Shawn Dubin
9. Colin Barber
10. Jordan Brewer
11. Tyler Ivey
12. Alex Santos
13. Brett Conine
14. Luis Santana
15. Freudis Nova
16. Alex McKenna
17. Joe Perez
18. Nathan Perry
19. Zach Daniels
20. Austin Hansen

Jeremy Pena is #66 on FanGraphs' Top 100 prospects list. Brett Conine is #70 and Forrest Whitley is #100 on Dan Szymborski's Top 100 ZiPS prospect list for 2021. 

*Carlos Correa and Jose Altuve teamed up to provide 25,000 meals to children affected by the storm this week.

*Outside: Lessons from the 100 most influential studies in sports medicine.

*A Musical Selection: