Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Tuesday Morning Link Dump

And here's your watercooler* cheat sheet**

*Nobody still gathers around a watercooler
**Or uses an actual cheat sheet

*The Astros weren't about to blow their entire international budget on Yoan Moncada. Luhnow:
We're going to spend $17m in the draft this year. We're going to spend $4m internationally, that's a big chunk of money. We spent $20m this year in free agency. We've made a decision that $40-plus million that we're going to invest this year is better spent in the amateur draft and in free agency for where the Astros are today, rather than doing some big splash in the Cuban market.

*Mark Appel is making people happy.

*A.J. Hinch is transitioning to full workouts today, and everyone is in camp except for Fausto Carmona Roberto Hernandez, who is sorting out a visa issue.

*The Astros placed second overall in ESPN's analytics usage survey. Of course, the key term is "usage" and not "success."

*Rule-5 Catcher Luis Flores is excited about his opportunity with the Astros

*Josh Fields has a slight hamstring injury

Monday, February 23, 2015

Monday Morning Spring Training Update

Here's what you'll need to know as you start your first full week with actual baseball activities in 52 years*

(* - approximately)

*Interesting story out of Chicago, as apparently-former-Astro Jesse Crain made it to White Sox camp and had some things to say about his upcoming season:
(The previous relationship) was a huge part of why I came back here. I'm going to come in here and go at the pace we need to go at, whatever that might be...They are going to take care of me and make sure I'm right. They aren't going to rush me to get out there. In that sense, it was a perfect fit.

Now whether he's just highlighting how sweet the White Sox are or making a comparison between the White Sox and Astros, we of course do not know. But given that the Astros gave Crain over $3m to not throw a single pitch, I can see how they'd be a little anxious about Crain's distinct lack of, you know, pitching.

*Evan Drellich has a big ol' notebook for everyone. Of particular import: Chris Carter will see more time at 1B and Evan Gattis will start the spring in LF, while Jonathan Villar is going to focus on playing 2B/3B to be more of a utility player.

*Jason Castro is working on putting all aspects of his game together.

*And Castro talked about catching Pat Neshek.

*A.J. Hinch is big on having an open door, as well as communicating - a groundbreaking strategy in any business. No one has ever in the history of baseball considered these ideas in regards to management.

*Roger Clemens stopped by camp and talked to the, and also said that there's "just as much talent here as there is in" Kansas City. So...

*Mike Foltynewicz talked about 2015 with the Braves.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

2015 Astros - Projected

This is the third time I've tried this. 2012 was horribly wrong, as my projection of 74 wins was just a little above the actual record of 55-107. After taking a year off, I tried again last season and did a little better. I said the team would go 72-90, just two games away from their eventual 70-92 finish. So maybe I'm getting better. Or maybe I just got lucky. Either way, let's try again for 2015.

The same general disclaimer from last year applies: "Now, anytime you put together projections the goal isn't necessarily to be perfect. You're looking for a likely outcome for each player, yes, but my goal isn't so much each player but the team as a whole. Some guys are going to have unexpected breakouts and some are going to deposit feces on their mattress, but the idea is that you can project a reasonable baseline of expectations for the team as a whole."

Last year I was over on both the runs scored and runs allowed. I think what happened was that the overall league offensive environment has been slipping the last few years, from an average of 701 runs scored per team in 2012 to just 659 last season. I was about 60 runs too high for both offense and defense, so that's the story I'm going to stick with.

Here's how I think things could shake out for 2015. Again, my goal is more to get an idea of the team as a whole, not necessarily get the individual players perfect.

So there you have it. Looks like the numbers are predicting an even 81-81 record. What do you think?

Tales from the GOATpen Update

Even though it's been a month for us, it's only been two weeks for our players. That said, the next update, probably coming in a few weeks, will run through the end of the season and introduce our County Series, the best of seven culmination of this sim. I guess time runs a little more sporadically in this alternate universe.

Here are the standings from just past the halfway point of the season.

We're starting to see some separation in the standings, as some of the lesser teams are falling fast. The Andujar Jar Binks and the Master Bateman continue to lead their respective divisions, while Mike Lambchop's Playalong, the Going Going Thon, and the Kiwis have slipped quite a bit. But with half the season remaining, anything can still happen.

Here's what happened over the last couple weeks:

6/28 - Mike Hampton threw a 3-hit shutout against Nacogdoches, walking 2 and striking out 8. According to Hampton, "There are three important elements in pitching success: location, location, location." The Constable echoed his comments, saying, "He hit his spots time and time again."

7/1 - Jeff Bagwell was named Batter of the Month in the Astros Division after hitting 4 homers with 16 RBI and 13 runs while posting a .393 OBP for the month.

7/1 - Bill Doran won the Colt .45s Division Batter of the Month for June. He hit .391 on the month, scoring 17 times while batting in 15.

7/1 - Larry Dierker earned the June Pitcher of the Month for the Astros division. He was 5-1 in six starts with a 2.36 ERA and 45 strikeouts in 49.2 innings.

7/1 - The Colt .45s Division Pitcher of the Month was Wade Blasingame. He went 4-0 with a 1.16 ERA during June.

7/3 - JR Richard continued to dominate opposing hitters with a 16 strikeout game against the Andujar Jar Binks. He now has 216 strikeouts in 142 innings on the year.

7/3 - Mike Hampton threw another shutout, this time against Mike Lambchop's Play-Along. This time he credited his catcher Mark Bailey saying, "Me and him are just locked in out there. He's so great at having a feel for hitters. I couldn't do what I'm doing without him."

Now, here's a look at the stat leaderboards

Jeff Bagwell has taken the batter WAR lead away from Glenn Davis after his strong June. Bagwell is now hitting .326 with 12 HR and 12 SB on the year. Davis is still the more feared slugger, though, as he leads the league in both HR with 19 and RBI with 65 while hitting .290.

As mentioned in the news ticker above, JR Richard is having an amazingly dominant season against the best Astros history has to offer. He's allowing just 5.9 H/9 with striking out 13.7 per nine innings, though Larry Dierker has the WAR lead right now while going 14-5 with a 2.59 ERA.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Astros nab Joe Thatcher

Less than 24 hours after the Hernandez signing, lefty reliever Joe Thatcher signed with the Astros as a non-roster invitee.  The publicised details of his deal make it nearly identical to the recent Roberto Hernandez deal, but for nearly exactly half of the salary.  Thatcher signed a minor-league pact - with a major league salary of 1.0MM should he be promoted with 1.3MM in incentives - and a  player opt-out shortly before the end of Spring Training.  So both the Astros and Thatcher get to reassess their relationship shortly before the season opens, which makes for a low-risk deal for both parties.

Thatcher will play 2015 as a 33 year old.  He is the veteran of an 8 year career, in which he has thrown 238 innings, with a career ERA of 3.40 and a career FIP of 3.21.  He has allowed nearly a hit per inning (8.7/9), has walked a few (3.0/9) but also struck out a few (9.2/9).  His best strikeout seasons are 2009, 2010 and 2012, where he struck out equal to or more than 11 per nine innings.  In the last two seasons, his K/9 rates have been 8.2 and 8.0, so he is still capable of a good number of strikeouts. 

Speaking of the last two seasons, he has been traded twice mid-season and on each occasion, has done worse after the trade.  In 2013, Thatcher went from San Diego to Arizona, and in 2014 he went from Arizona to Anaheim.  He injured himself shortly after the second trade, and struggled plenty, so his most recent performance is potentially of concern, if that is how you want to look at it.  But most sprained ankles recover within an offseason, so chances are that he will hit camp healthy, and be ready to go.

This signing adds another legitimate ML player on a low-risk deal which is solid insurance for the Astros.  I would think that two of Thatcher, Tony Sipp and Kevin Chapman will emerge to put the Astros in a good LH relief position for 2015.  Also lurking in the background of the 40-man roster is the undersized lefty starter with a solid strikeout rate, Luis Cruz, who may be in the mix as well.  Despite a recent roster crunch, he has maintained his place on the 40-man, so there is obviously some plan for him going forward.  This may involve the 'pen in 2015 - who knows.  Cruz... ahem, was invited to Spring Training by virtue of his 40-man roster spot - thanks, commentator - so he may be a candidate for a role in the ML club from the start of the season.

The only other interesting aspect of this trade is the ongoing resurrection of the 2011 San Diego 'pen, which also contained Chad Qualls, Luke Gregerson, Sam Deduno and Pat Neshek.  The 2011 Padres 'pen also contained recent ex-Stros Wade LeBlanc and Anthony Bass, and ex-Stro from ages ago, Jeff Fulchino.  Is the NL West the only place the Astros scouted in 2011??

Thatcher and A.J. Hinch know each other from San Deigo, as well.  Fascinating that pretty much every reliever the Astros have added this season has played in either Arizona or San Diego in the last 4 years.  Even if Hinch is fired now - which isn't going to happen short of some grossly inappropriate behaviour or significant criminal court charges - he has left an indelible mark on the 2015 Astros by virtue of his recruiting.  Which is possibly a sign of respect for the man.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

No, Tooth Fairy, you misheard me...

... I distinctly said Brandon Beachy.  Not Roberto Hernandez!

Perhaps this article should have been called something like:

The Astros sign the occasionally useful Roberto Hernandez

but that would have lured fewer of you to click on the article.  It's all about page-views!

The Astros announced the signing of Roberto Hernandez to a minor-league deal with a Spring Training invite.  If he is promoted to the Majors League club, the Astros would pay him 2.65MM for the year.  I assume there is some pro-rating of that salary if he spends the first month or two at Fresno.  There is an opt-out date shortly prior to the end of Spring Training, so if Hernandez doesn't pitch well, or if one of the other Spring Training invites gets the inside running on the last rotation spot(s) then he can opt out, and the Astros are on the hook for practically nothing.  I guess this gives Brent Strom some time to look at him, at least.

Hernandez has nine seasons under his belt, and has been above average (according to ERA+) in exactly two of them.  He has been.... ummm.... slightly below average (ERA+ of 75-100) in a further five seasons (although that is being kind, really, has he has never had an ERA+ in the 90's - all of those are ERA+ ratings between 75 and 89).  He has been pretty horrible (ERA+ between 53 and 74) in two seasons.  So this isn't exactly Cy Young.

ERA estimators don't really like him, either.  By FIP, his best season was waaaaaay back in 2007, when he had an FIP of 3.94.  His next-lowest is 4.11, and the next lowest after that is above 4.50.  The crappy FIP's are unsurprising because Hernandez has a career 5.6 K/9 rate, so an estimator like FIP is never going to rate him highly.  He also walks too many (3.4 K/9), and allows an average 1 HR/9 for his career.

But this is what sinker-ball pitchers look like, I guess.  They rely on infield defence, low BABIP rates, and batters not being able to get the ball in the air.  When they get hit, they often get hit hard.  Which is why it is good that the Astros have very little risk in this transaction - either from the financial or playing-time perspective - but only moderate upside.  This isn't going to make anyone's top 10 season transactions list, but not every transaction can, I guess.  Hernandez won't propel the Astros to the playoffs, but I have been wrong plenty of times before, and would be happy to be wrong again.

I am sure that the Astros Front Office are keeping careful tabs on Brandon Beachy too, but have already stated that they don't plan to add another starter.  All they want - I would think - is a half season of solid work from some random warm-body until Peacock is back and Appel and/or Velasquez is ready for a look.  Hernandez could be that warm-body.

Stay tuned.