Monday, April 22, 2019

Whither the Great White Shark

Opening Day starts with promise.  And that promise surely brought more happiness to Tyler White than any other player on the Astros 25-man roster. After years of working his way up from a 33th round draft pick and three years of going up and down between Fresno and Houston, White had secured a spot in the Opening Day starting lineup as the DH.

White had earned the DH spot with a strong second half of 2018, when he slashed .287/.350/.551 with 10 home runs in 197 PAs. His walk-off homer against the the As on August 29th not only helped the Astros stay ahead of the pesky Athletics, but also led to to the iconic image of the 2018 Astros season.

As the 2019 season began, there was every reason for an Astros fan to be optimistic about White. Various projection systems projected him to have a wRC+ of between 110 and 122. Not an All-Star level, but a contributing level on a team packed with offensive stars. 

The reality of Tyler White's 2019 season, so far, has not met the promise of opening day. White is slashing .212/.333/.242 with a 71 wRC+.  That mean White is batting 71% of league average...and that's not even accounting for the fact that he plays the easiest defensive position--DH.

As White's production has decline, so has his playing time. He has started only 9 of the team's 21 games so far this season, and only 7 at his position on opening day--DH. The other potential DH candidate on the roster has done just as poorly. Tony Kemp has slashed .156/.270/.250.  

As a result, AJ Hinch has tended to rotate the DH spot around the regulars. George Springer has served as DH in 5 (!) games, Michael Brantley for 3, and Jose Altuve once (Kemp has started at DH 4 times). With the team at the beginning of a stretch of 26 games in 27 days, expect Hinch to more liberally use the DH as a way to get his regulars some time off of their feet.

But the big question that White's (and Kemp's) horrid start leaves for the Astros is should they keep these two on the roster, or should they try to find another alternative at DH.  Complicating this question is that both White and Kemp are out of minor league option years. The front office cannot send either one down to the minors without first exposing them to waivers, and both White and Kemp are almost certain to be claimed by at least one of the other 29 MLB teams. And while both White and Kemp are valuable enough to occupy one of the 750 active major league roster spots in MLB, neither is so valuable that they would be likely to bring back anything more than a Grade C prospect in a trade. 

White and Kemp also serve as valuable depth pieces for the Astros. The team has been blessed by good injury luck so far in 2019. Carlos Correa and Alex Bregman have both had to miss a couple of games with minor injuries, but both quickly returned to form. As a result, the Astros have avoided using the disabled list for a position player so far this season. But that will not last. Somebody will get injured, and there will be PAs available. 

I think the best solution to the slow start of Tyler White is to give him time to see if he can turn it around. His track record indicates that he is a much better hitter than he has shown so far, and the season is only about 13% complete.  Players tend to move toward their projections over time. And while that means we are extremely unlikely to get the 144 wRC+ version of White was saw last season, we are likely to get the 112 to 120 wRC+ version that was projected for this year.

It is worth noting that despite the struggles of White (and Kemp) the team is playing and batting well. The team has a .612 winning percentage, which would produce 100 wins over the course of 162 games. The Astros have 10 players with a wRC+ of 100 or greater. The Astros lead the American League in batting average and on base percentage, and are third in slugging and OPS. In short, there is no reason to panic right now (we're not the Red Sox). 

Obviously, patience does not have to last all season. The Astros have two excellent hitting prospects at Round Rock in the persons of Kyle Tucker and Yordan Alvarez. The promotion of either could lead to an improvement at DH--Alvarez would probably step directly into the DH role while Tucker would push Michael Brantley to DH. The Astros also have the prospect capital to acquire a power hitter to replace White.  There are potential solutions if White (or Kemp) continue to struggle.

But for now, the best course is to see if Tyler White can get back the power stroke he used so effectively in 2018. White has maintained his eye at the plate, and has a walk rate of 15.4%. If he can cut down on the strikeouts (a 33.0% rate this year compared to 20.7% last year, he can hopefully get back to form. That is the best hope for Astros fans...for now.  

Monday Morning Hot Links

So the thing is - Yesterday's game was - Okay, the thing about yesterday's game is that. Houston lost 11-10 yesterday after being down 10-1. Collin McHugh was terrible. The Astros were terrible in that they made Shelby Miller look like a serviceable pitcher, who got his first win since April 2017. Houston is 13-8, 7-8 on the road. After 21 games they've played as many games in Arlington as they have in Houston. A seven-game homestand starts tonight. Fourteen of their next 20 games are at home.

It was the 40th time the Astros have hit five home runs in a game. They're now 35-5 in those games. The last time they hit 5HR and lost was September 16, 2009 in a 6-5 loss to Cincinnati. It was the first time since August 6, 2013 that the Astros scored 10+ runs in a game and lost.

Houston was 1-2 in 1-run games on the last road trip. For the 2nd straight series at Arlington, the Astros won the first game and then dropped the next two. Houston went 1-3 against Arlington in Verlander/Cole starts. That's dumb.

*For the second consecutive game an Astros starting pitcher had the worst start of their career. Saturday it was Gerrit Cole, then yesterday it was Collin McHugh's turn. McHugh: 3.1IP, 8H/10R (9ER), 1K:1BB, 2HR, 1HBP. McHugh:
It's really frustrating. Our team, we've got a lot of guys who can do a lot of damage, especially in hitting conditions like today. As a starting pitcher, your job has to be to keep it close and keep them in the game, and it got out of hand really early. I wasn't able to stop the bleeding in a couple of innings. 

At the end of the day you either win or you lose, but I think it's come to be expected that we're going to keep fighting, so I'm proud of our guys for that.

*There were a lot of ways the Astros could have won yesterday, but Joey Gallo's sky-high bloop was particularly stupid.

*Framber Valdez rejoined Houston yesterday and threw 2.1IP, 1H/1ER, 3K:3BB.

*Josh Reddick was 3x4 with a walk and an RBI. He has eight hits in his last four games, and has four multi-hit games since April 9.

*Houston went 1x5 w/RISP, Arlington went 4x9.

*If this kind of thing matters to you, Josh Reddick and his wife are expecting twins in October.

*Yordan Alvarez hit his 9th home run yesterday, and is hitting .315/.439/.870 in his first 16 games. The rest of the Round Rock Express have 23 home runs combined.

*Houston opens a series with the Minnesota Marwins tonight. Minnesota is 12-7, leading the AL Central by one game over Cleveland. They're coming off a sweep of the Orioles. Former Astros Great Marin Gonzalez is hitting .204/.271/.315, Jason Castro is hitting .200/.360/.300.

*How to survive solitary confinement.

*A Musical Selection:

Sunday, April 21, 2019

Sunday Morning Hot Links

Well I guess a disaster is fine every now and then. Makes life seem real. Been kicked in the balls plenty over the years, what's one more shot to the nuts. Gerrit Cole was freaking terrible and the VapeShops won. The Astros are 13-7. They have won 11 of their last 13 games.

*The Astros, after 20 games, 2019-2010:
2019: 13-7
2018: 13-7
2017: 14-6
2016: 6-14
2015: 13-7
2014: 6-14
2013: 6-14
2012: 8-12
2011: 7-13
2010: 8-12

Every year in which the Astros have been over .500 in the first 20 games in the last decade, they have made the playoffs.

*Yeah but they're 2-4 against Arlington. This is completely unacceptable. The Rangers' 5-run 1st inning was the most runs the Astros have allowed in a single inning, much less the 1st.

*Arlington is 3-1 in four starts vs. Verlander and Cole thus far in 2019.

*Gerrit Cole got blooped and bombed to death, there's no way around it. Cole's line: 4.1IP, 9H/8ER, 8K:3BB. He had allowed 9ER in four starts coming into last night's game. The last time he allowed 8ER in a start was...never in the Majors. If you care, he allowed 8ER on May 19, 2013 when he allowed 8ER against Pawtucket while at Triple-A. His 13 outs were the fewest he recorded in a start with Houston.

It just looked like he was trying to grunt his way through his outing and get to the next pitch, and he was jumping off the rubber a little bit. He was going to out-stuff them. He reached deep into his tank of 98, 99 early, and when he's doing that, he's trying to get out of that big inning. All in all, just a bad night. 

Cole's starts, by ER, MLB career:
8: 1
7: 3
6: N/A
5: 15
4: 13
3: 36
2: 42
1: 34
0: 19

It's not surprising, but the Word is that Cole was tipping his pitches. Cole:
I felt like they were on a lot of stuff in the first inning, especially their takes and some of the pitches that they chose to swing at. I think they were maybe a little bit a step ahead of me in terms of being able to identify what pitch I was throwing. 

*Reymin Guduan had a nice bounceback appearance with 2IP, 0H/0ER, 3K:0BB. He was rewarded with a trip to the Hill Country in favor of Framber Valdez.

*The Astros made Adrian Sampson look like An Actual Decent Pitcher: 4.1IP, 7H/2ER, 3K:1BB. They just couldn't get a big hit. Adrian Sampson, 2019:
vs. Houston: 10.1IP, 11H/3ER, 6K:3BB.
vs. Not-Houston: 7.2IP, 12H/8ER, 6K:4BB.

The Rangers are 6-5 in 2019 when their starting pitcher can't get 15 outs. Yeah that's sustainable over 162 games. Baseball is stupid.

*It didn't help that the Astros were 2x13 w/RISP, with GIDPs from Bregman and Correa.

*George Springer hit a 2-run home run in the 6th. It's his 127th career home run, his 20th home run against Arlington, tied with the Mariners for the most against one opponent.

*Michael Brantley has 2+ hits in eight of his 20 games as an Astro. He has a 12-game on-base streak. He has 2+ hits in six of those games. 

*Jose Altuve was 0x5. It's the 38th 0x5 of his career. He had six 0x5s in 2018. It's his 16th 0x5 with no strikeouts in a game, his first since May 3, 2017.

*Max Stassi finally got his first hit of 2019 with his 1st home run of the season, and threw a batter out. Good job, Max Stassi, I guess. It's the 12th home run of his career, and nine of them have been on the road.

*Chandler Rome on why Yuli Gurriel has suddenly found Patience.

*In the 1st game of a doubleheader, Round Rock beat Memphis 11-6 thanks to back-to-back Homerz from Kyle Tucker and Yordan Alvarez in the 7th, and Taylor Jones and Drew Ferguson in the 5th.

*From David Nuno: How the Hurts family is a Channelview Institution.

*Albert Pujols passed Babe Ruth with 1993 RBIs.

*85,000 Yemeni children have died of starvation. The government has banned all Yemeni travelers from coming to the United States, and have denied Green Cards for Yemini family members of U.S citizens.

*Seattle Times: What an Olympic medalist, homeless in Seattle, wants you to know.

*The Atlantic: How an 18th-century philosopher helped solve my mid-life crisis.

*A Musical Selection:

Saturday, April 20, 2019

Saturday Morning Hot Links

*The Astros took care of the Rangers pretty much by the middle of the 1st inning after back-to-back home runs by Altuve and Bregman - on consecutive pitches - gave the Astros a 3-0 lead before they even recorded an out. Astros won 7-2. They are 11-1 in their last 12 games and 5-1 in their last six road games. They are 13-6 overall, a half-game behind Tampa for the best record in the American League.

*Houston had five doubles and two home runs (which should have been four doubles and five home runs, but Replay happened to rule a Springer home run a double). It's the 4th time this season they've had 6+ XBH and the most since April 12, when they had four doubles and three home runs against the Mariners. The Astros are 23-0 in games with 5+ doubles since the beginning of the 2017 season. The last time they lost a game in which they hit 5+ doubles was April 19, 2016 (check the date) Arlington.

*The Astros set a team record for average exit velocity in a game. Hinch:
We had a pretty good game plan going in and I like it when we execute it as a team. We had a pretty good idea of what Smyly was going to do against us based on how he pitches....When we have a team offense like that, it's contagious and guys get into it.

*Houston scored seven runs for Justin Verlander, a season-high, and matching the total runs scored in his last two starts combined.

*Alex Bregman struck out twice for the 2nd time this season.

*Tyler White continued to struggle with runners in scoring position, going 0x2 with two strikeouts. The strikeout in the top of the 3rd saw White walk back to the dugout after getting ahead in the count 3-0. He's 0x10 with 7K:0BB w/RISP in 2019 so far.

Check this Chandler Rome article on White's struggle with fastballs. Hinch:
He hasn't handled the fastball. He hasn't put fastballs in play like he normally does. He's getting pitched a little bit differently and he's going to have to adjust to that. It is a small sample. It's early in the season.

*Yuli Gurriel drew two walks, the 6th 2+ BB game of his career and the first since August 29, 2018. He had drawn two walks in his previous 45 PAs combined. So Gurriel is at 8K:7BB for the season. He drew his 7th walk on June 1, 2018 in his 185th PA of 2018. His 7th walk of 2019 came on his 73rd PA.

*Justin Verlander threw his best start of the season: 7IP, 3H/1ER, 8K:3BB over 101 pitches, 71 for strikes. 23 of those strikes were looking, a season-high. Verlander also only got one groundball out, something that has only happened two other times while he's been an Astro: a September 22, 2018 against Anaheim, and September 27, 2017 against Arlington. All three instances have resulted in wins. Verlander:
Boys did a great job tonight. Putting up runs early and often is a great recipe for success. Once we got a big lead, I just kind of pulled back a little bit trying to go in energy (conservation) mode, just hit some spots and try to get deep in the game.

Verlander's Pitch Count, by inning, last night:
1st: 21
2nd: 12
3rd: 17
4th: 13
5th: 11
6th: 16
7th: 17

Verlander's last two starts: 13IP, 5H/2ER, 19K:3BB. Verlander has thrown 7+ IP in 16 of his 44 starts as an Astro.

*Michael Brantley went 1x4 with a walk and some very hard-hit balls. Check this Jake Kaplan article on what "Uncle Mike" has meant to the Astros.

*Ken Rosenthal wonders if the Astros need another starter, if they intend to be the last team standing in October.

*Brian McTaggart says that Brad Peacock is the Astros' secret weapon.

*Shoutout to Lima Time Time sponsor Bravado Spice, who signed a deal to get into every World Market in America.

*The New York Daily News' Bradford William Davis brought the noise: MLB honors Tim Anderson the way it honored Jackie Robinson: By telling him to shut up.

*Oakland's Khris Davis went 0x4 last night in a 5-1 Oakland loss to Toronto. But the most beautiful thing about it is that it lowered his average to .247.

*Mariners pitcher Rob Whalen recently retired from baseball due to anxiety, and he's not happy with how the Mariners handled it.

*Leeds United did the Leedsiest Thing they ever could have done. They Leeds'd so hard. After Sheffield United won 2-0 against 10-men Nottingham Forest to draw even in the table, Leeds United lost 2-1 against 10-men 20th-place Wigan Athletic, and are now 3rd in the Championship with two games to play. Manager Marcelo Bielsa:
I am sad at this defeat, but I am very motivated. We have had a good season, but it will mean nothing if we do not get promoted.

Leeds are currently six goals back in the Goal Differential tie-breaker, so they need a Sheffield Slip-Up in order to avoid the playoff. I am heartbroken.

*It didn't get any better when Elsik lost to Flower Mound, 3-2, in the 6A Boys Soccer State Semifinal. Flower Mound scored all three goals in four minutes.

*A Musical Selection:

The Hot Links Music Playlist on Spotify is now up to 92 songs and almost six hours of listening pleasure...provided you like the same kind of music I like.

Friday, April 19, 2019

Friday Morning Hot Links

I'm giving Flick a break this long weekend, so he can actually rest before he has to go through Finals.

*The Astros were off last night. If you count Opening Day, the Astros are 4-0 following an off-day in 2019.

*The Astros were off April 11, 15, and 18. Then they play 26 games in 27 days. A.J. Hinch talks about carrying an extra position player during this random stretch of off-days.

*Jake Kaplan says McHugh/Miley/Peacock are the steadiness the rotation needs after an off-season of turnover.

*The Astros will have the 3rd-lowest draft pool in the 2019 Amateur Draft, at $5,355,100.

*After 14 road games to start 2019, it was finally the home opener in Fayetteville at Segra Stadium. They lost, 7-5. Seth Beer hit his 2nd home run of the season, as did 2017 39th Round pick Colton Shaver.

*Before you go judging pitching performances at Round Rock, note that all of Triple-A is experimenting with a new baseball in which early returns are projecting a 1,200 Home Run increase from 2018 to 2019. Jake Kaplan looks at how the Astros are planning to manage Forrest Whitley's workload.

*Yordan Alvarez is hitting .318/.455/.841. Kyle Tucker is hitting .109/.180/.217. Jonathan Mayo answers a question about Alvarez replacing Tucker on the prospect list. Alvarez is 21, Tucker is 22. We're lucky to have them both.

*Mike Rosenbaum and Jim Callis mention the possibility that J.B. Bukauskas is the Astros' closer of the future. Coincidentally, last night Bukauskas started for Corpus, throwing 2.1IP, 3H/6ER, 1K:5BB.

Bukauskas, 2019: Three starts, 8IP, 16H/17ER, 7K:12BB. 19.13 ERA / 3.50 WHIP. He has thrown 211 pitches, 113 for strikes (53.6%).

*Noted Boras Shill Jon Heyman reports that Dallas Keuchel would be interested in a 1-year deal to reset his value, and mentions the Brewers, Phillies, Padres, and Astros as a potential destination.

*SI: The 6-13 Red Sox, currently behind the Orioles, are desperate for answers.

*One more link to The Athletic: David Aldridge talked to Michael Jordan about watching Tiger.

*ESPN: The fake jobs MLB players reference in order to not tell Randos they're MLB players.

*WSJ: The All-Star pitcher who bought a food truck and plans on using recipes from his favorite hometown restaurant.

*FanGraphs' Rachael McDaniel: The 17-Year Old Boy in the 16-Foot Boat.

*The Ringer's Claire McNeal: Big Bets and Fast Buzzers: The Secret of James Holzauer's "Jeopardy" Success.

*Hashtag United - a team created by a YouTuber - just won their league and are eight short leagues away from the Premier League.

*A Musical Selection:

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Thursday Morning Hot Links

The Winning Streak has come to an end. Long live the Winning Streak. Houston could only muster four hits though, to be fair, that's the same number as the A's. The difference was a Matt Chapman 6th inning home run. Houston is 12-6. 11.1% of the regular season is complete.

*Oakland manager Bob Melvin:
They've beaten us four times in a row and we have to have somebody go out there and put up some zeroes. That's exactly what [Frankie Montas] did. In a game like that you have to count on your starter to lead the way and he definitely did that.

*Josh Reddick:
Any time you win 10 in a row, it's something special. It's a lot of fun, because you come in here every day and you know you're going to win. You just have all the confidence in the world. We knew it was going to end at some point. 

*For the first time this season, Houston did not record an extra-base hit. It happened 14 times in 2018.

*Chirinos/Kemp: 0x7, 5K:0BB.

*Houston went 1x7 w/RISP. They're hitting .209 as a team with runners in scoring position (31x148).

Altuve: .333 (3x9)
Brantley: .316 (6x19)
Correa: .267 (4x15)
Springer: .278 (5x18)
Reddick: .250 (3x12)
Bregman: .250 (3x12)
Marisnick: .200 (2x10)
Chirinos: .154 (2x13)
Diaz: .143 (1x7)
Gurriel: .077 (1x13)
White: .000 (0x8)

*Wade Miley: 6IP, 4H/2ER, 1K:1BB. He threw a first-pitch strike to 17 of the 23 batters he faced. He lamented a "lazy cutter" to Chapman that decided the game.

Miley's first two starts: 11.2IP, 12H/3ER, 8K:2BB
Miley's second 2 starts: 10IP, 10H/5ER, 3K:2BB

*A.J. Reed was placed on the IL with an oblique strain.

*Been a while since we've done this, let's check in with the projection sites after 18 games:

FanGraphs (100-62): 95.9% to win the division, 98.5% to make the playoffs, 21.9% to win the World Series.

FiveThirtyEight (101-61): 82% to win the division, 93% to make the playoffs, 20% to win the World Series.

Baseball Prospectus (97-65): 92.4% to win the division, 97.7% to make the playoffs, 17.6% to win the World Series.

*Levi Weaver has a great piece in The Athletic about batting around and striking out the side.

*FanGraphs' Jay Jaffe on the more extreme hitting stats of 2019 so far...

*Joe West ejected Tim Anderson after Anderson got hit by a pitch.

*You hate to see it:

*Outside Magazine: Selfie Deaths are an Epidemic.

*A Musical Selection: