Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Breakfast Links

Palm Beach County commissioners meet this morning to discuss a request for $108M to help fund a new Spring Training complex to be share by the Astros and Nationals.

Mark Appel continued his strong AFL showing with 5 scoreless innings. He's now thrown 12 scoreless innings with 12 strikeouts, 3 walks, and 4 hits.

Baseball fans in San Antonio have a tough time being fans due to a variety of TV and radio roadblocks.

Astros players are scattered around the world this fall and winter.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

A Look at the Astros in the Arizona Fall League

The Astros sent 8 players to Arizona this fall to play for the Salt River Rafters, including big names like Mark Appel, Rio Ruiz and Vincent Velasquez. The Salt River team also contains other big name prospects, including Byron Buxton and Archie Bradley. They have now played 7 games and are playing like the star studded team they are, going 6-1. And the Astros prospects have had a lot to do with that.

Mark Appel

Mark Appel's fall appearance is helping to erase the memory of the disastrous 2014 season. He pitched well in AA after his promotion, and so far in Arizona has been close to dominant. In two starts, he has pitched 7 innings, allowing only 2 hits and three walks compared to 8 strikeouts. He has yet to allow a run. Keith Law (insider) wrote up his first outing, and noted his velocity and slider were good, but he was lacking fastball command.

Andrew Aplin

Aplin has been pretty clearly the MVP of the Rafters so far, batting .500/.500/.857 in 14 at bats. His biggest game came on October 10, in a 12-2 walloping of Peoria. The Rafters scored 11 runs in the 5th inning in that game, and Aplin was 2-2 with a grand slam in that inning alone. He that day 4-5. He also drove in the only run of the night last night, with a triple in the 8th. 

Rio Ruiz

Ruiz has struggled a bit in the early going, batting only .217/.308/.268 in in 23 ABs, although he went 2-2 with a walk last night. Law (insider) commented on some extra weight and a resulting slower bat speed.  

The remainder of the Astros have received minimal playing time. Velasquez has only pitched in 1 inning, and gave up two hits and a walk, but avoided any runs by striking out 2. Mitch Lambson and Tyson Perez have both pitched 4 innings, with a Lambson home run the only run allowed between them. Perez earned the save last night. Tyler Heineman has gone 2-5 with two walks and Joe Sclafani is 0-3 so far. 

For more on the Astros in the Arizona Fall League, go read these first hand account of a very Astros-Centric game last night over at What the Heck, Bobby?

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Historical Scouting Reports - Bobby Abreu

The National Baseball Hall of Fame did something really cool last year when they made thousands of historical scouting reports available to the public. This post is part of a series in which we'll look at the reports of players that have passed through Houston during their career. A lot of these are, understandably, difficult to read, so I'll do my best to transcribe them as-is while including pictures of a few of them.

Today we'll look at Bobby Abreu. While Abreu is best known for having a long career as a power/speed/patience guy for the Phillies, among other teams, he actually started his career with the Astros. Originally signed as an international free agent out of Venezuela, Abreu was left unprotected in the 1997 expansion draft and was taken by Tampa Bay and immediately traded to Philadelphia, where he averaged about 6 WAR over the next 7 seasons. Hard to imagine two franchises not realizing the talent he possessed. He did get to play 74 games for Houston before 1997, where he hit .248/.325/.362 with 3 HR and 7 SB. For his career, he hit .291/.395/.475 with 288 HR and 400 SB before retiring following this season.

We have three scouting reports for Abreu, two from 1995 (from his time in Tucson) and one from 1997.

The first from 1995 was from Yankees scout John Cox.

Arm 55/60 Run 55/60 Baserunning 60 Hit 50/60 Power 40/55 Field 50 Hustle 60.
Prospect type: Outstanding
Average size, strong athletic body, has body strength. Will be solid player. Fair contact. Can drive ball. Solid avg arm. Good speed when underway. Still young.
Other comments: Average size, long arms and legs, well proportioned, appears heavier than 160. Good body strength. Hustles, plays hard, aggressive. "Grows" on you! Makes fair contact. Still trying to figure out breaking ball, can drive fastball. Tries to pull too much now. Needs to use the whole field. Should have average power in future. Solid avg speed. Better when underway, fun to watch go 1st to 3rd! Good arm - inconsistent - but when everything works is impressive. Still young. Learning to play. Has tools. Needs time.

The next from 1995 is from White Sox scout John Kazanas.

Physical description: Athletic actions, frame has chance to carry more strength.
Scout Judgements: Definite ML Prospect

Strong points: Outstanding approach to hitting, sweet short compact stroke w/outstanding balance, knowledge of K-zone, good 2-strike hitter, spray ball to all fields. Gap to gap guy, run well especially 1st to 3rd, arm avg to above w/ good carry and rot (rotation?), 4.16 speed to 1B, can play LF-RF fairly well occasionally gets good jumps.

Weak points: Not strong yet, pop not there for corner guy, occasionally does not get first step quickness stealing bases, trouble occasionally vs LHP front shoulder goes. Routes in OF still can get better - needs work in CF for experience.

Summation: Young good looking hitter. Mark Grace type and when strength comes he should be able to linedrive some HRs. Defense skills are a little short and experience will help improvement. 3 tool guy now with a high ceiling.

LD hitter. Contact 50. Quality contact 50. Instincts 50. Aggressiveness 55. Arm accuracy 55 strength 50. Base running instincts 50 1st step 45.

Attitude: Competes - knows he is good
Instincts: Still learning feeling out process

The final one is a short one from Cubs scout Hugh Alexander from about a month before Abreu was lost to the expansion draft. As a bonus, it includes looks at Scott Elarton and Richard Hidalgo.

Good looking young hitter. Average power. Good speed.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

John Mallee Leaves for Cubs

John Mallee has accepted a job as the hitting coach for the Chicago Cubs. Mallee is from the Chicago area and his family lives there during the season.

I'm not smart enough to figure out how much of the success of the Astros good hitters to give Mallee credit for and how much of the failures of the bad hitters to give Mallee blame for. I'll just wish him luck in his new endeavor and hope the Astros can find a worthy replacement.

The Culling of the 40 Man Roster Begins

The Astros are facing a pretty significant 40 man roster crunch, as noted in this BA article. To that end, the Astros announced some news
This puts the 40 man roster at 36 for the time being. It's possible more moves will be coming, to accommodate those who need to be added prior to the Rule 5 Draft.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Part I: How good were A.J. Hinch's D-Backs anyhow?

A bit more than a week ago, when A.J. Hinch's hiring was announced, I promised to take a look at the '09-'10 Diamondbacks to see what kind of talent he had.  At the time, I wrote:
"But it's not like A.J. Hinch inherited the '96 Yankees and turned them into the 2014 Red Sox.  The Diamondbacks have been, to understate the case somewhat, volatile in recent years.  It is difficult to determine their true talent level from the 2009 season onwards because of the volatility of their performance in subsequent seasons."
And the last sentence of that paragraph went like this:
"This warrants a post in it's own right, and I plan to investigate further later in the offseason."
And here we are!

Actually, this will be two posts.  This post will concentrate on the team effort only, and the next post will look at the production of the individual players that Hinch managed.

The main concern / criticism / negative comment made when Hinch was hired was that he was a horrible manager with a Diamondbacks team that was expected to contend, and therefore would be a horrible manager with an Astros team hoping to contend.  And yes, superficially, Hinch managed a team for parts of two seasons, and posted a horrible record (89-123), eventually getting fired and departing the organisation for a front-office scouting position in San Diego.

So let's look further into the performance of the Diamondbacks around that time with an eye to assessing their "talent level" (whatever that is!) in those seasons.  I am making the assumption that the assessment of the talent is greatly assisted by the four-plus full-seasons that have elapsed since Hinch's firing.  For example, if Hinch managed a hypothetical starting rotation of David Price, Felix Hernandez, Yu Darvish, Clayton Kershaw and Jon Lester to an ERA+ of 75, with a combined WAR of -0.3, and since then they have all posted an ERA+ of 150 and a combined WAR of 967, then you can be pretty sure that whatever happened on Hinch's watch was not good, and this may speak to his abilities as a manager.

But before looking at individual players, lets look at the collective effort.

And first up, a caveat:  I have no axe to grind in this analysis.  I am literally writing the article as I go.  I have literally no idea what I will find - if anything.  Whatever I find will probably be boring and unremarkable, and will make for a long, boring, offseason post.  But I also want to echo my previous statements in the last article when I identified how he has worked in baseball as a manager, in player development and in scouting, and blending these features seems to be what the Astros find desirable.  Those features, regardless of what I find, make Hinch an excellent managerial candidate, and I am certainly not trying to either sink him, or support him.  The decision has been made, and Hinch's hiring simply makes the 2015 season all the more interesting.

Right, lets look at the Diamondbacks' team statistics in terms of raw win-loss records since 2007:

  • 2007: 90-72 (first in NL West)
  • 2008: 82-80 (second)
  • 2009: 70-92 (last)
  • 2010: 65-97 (last)
  • 2011: 94-68 (first)
  • 2012: 81-81 (third)
  • 2013: 81-81 (second)
  • 2014: 64-98 (last)

Doesn't look good for the '09-'10 seasons, does it??  Two last place finishes, bookended by a second and a first. But the 2008 season - where the Diamondbacks finished second with a grand total of 82 wins is clearly an aberrant season.  Lets look deeper, see if we can find anything in the runs for and runs against, and the calculated Pythagorean W-L projected record:

  • 2007: Pythag 79-83; 712 runs for, 732 runs against; win difference +11
  • 2008: Pythag 82-80; 720 runs for, 706 runs against; win difference 0
  • 2009: Pythag 75-87; 720 runs for, 782 runs against; win difference -5
  • 2010: Pythag 69-93; 713 runs for, 836 runs against; win difference -4
  • 2011: Pythag 88-74; 731 runs for, 662 runs against; win difference +6
  • 2012: Pythag 86-76; 734 runs for, 688 runs against; win difference -5
  • 2013: Pythag 80-82; 685 runs for, 695 runs against; win difference -1
  • 2014: Pythag 67-95; 615 runs for, 742 runs against; win difference -3

This re-analysis does seem to shed some more light on the D-backs, and their inter-season volatility.  In both of their first placed seasons on this list, they have handsomely outperformed their Pythagorean win-loss projected record by 11 and 6 games - possibly because they sold their souls to the devil, and have paid in subsequent seasons.  This is probably not an uncommon trait amongst first place teams - if a team outperforms it's pythagorean win-loss projected record, then surely it is more likely to finish in first place, right?  The first place finishes, however, are the only years that the Diamondbacks outperformed their Pythagorean projected record.  Interesting.  Perhaps a manager could be given credit for this, although most statistically aligned baseball writers would normally put it down to plain luck.  The regression in the years around the first place finishes certainly suggests that luck is a major player in the inter-season volatility of win-loss records.

The D-backs were remarkably consistent in terms of runs scored between 2007 and 2012, before suffering large declines in 2013 and 2014.  If one wants to look at this period critically, you might say that there seems to be about 2 wins worth of runs scored between '09-'10, and '11-'12.  But the runs scored were certainly consistent with the two years before Hinch's reign of terror.  So perhaps Hinch played the Diamondbacks out of a few runs here, but I doubt it.

The Diamondbacks were less consistent when considering inter-year variability in runs allowed.  It is evident that the poor records in 2009 and 2010 were all about allowing the other team to score too often.  The 2009 and 2010 runs allowed totals are 40 and 94 runs are respectively more than the third highest year in this sample, which is their most recent last-place year (2014).

So the key to the slump in 2009 and 2010 is almost entirely to do with pitching, combined with whatever you want to believe about what the win difference between the Pythagorean predicted win-loss record, and the actual win-loss record.  It may pay to bear this in mind when looking at how individual players have performed under Hinch's watch.

There is one other way in which the Diamondbacks with and without Hinch at the helm can be compared.  Hinch took over from Bob Melvin on 8 May 2009, and was given his marching orders on 1 July 2010.  Hinch's record as a manager has been well publicised (89-123, 0.420 win percentage).  Bob Melvin managed the Diamondbacks to a 12-17 record as at 7 May 2009; after Kirk Gibson took over in 2010, the D-backs finished the season with a 34-49 record.  So in the '09-'10 seasons, in games not managed by Hinch, the Diamondbacks' other managers combined for a 46-66 record, or an 0.411 record.  No real difference either way there.

So I guess that we can assume from this that A.J. Hinch is not such a grotesquely clueless manager that he was vastly worse than a combination of Bob Melvin and Kirk Gibson.  If the Diamondbacks under performed around the time that Hinch was at the helm, it was most likely due to pitching.  I am certainly not seeing any big patterns here, which probably indicates that the "all I remember was that he was an awful manager" narratives are most likely overblown and/or inaccurate.

Regardless, there is no evidence that A.J. Hinch is entirely clueless, but we already knew that, because he was hired for a second manager gig.  We have to give the Front Office some credit, after all.  The Front Office also isn't entirely clueless, although given the public relations disasters over the last few years, sometimes it seems that they are.  And this article suggests that other Front Offices don't see eye-to-eye with the Astros.

Next up, lets look at how the players in the teams that he managed performed compared to the rest of their careers.