Thursday, October 30, 2014

Keuchel Named Best Defensive Pitcher By Fielding Bible

The Fielding Bible Awards are the less known, but more legitimate, awards for defensive excellence in baseball, voted on by a panel consisting of Bill James, BIS Video Scouts, Brian Kenny, Dave Cameron, Doug Glanville, Hal Richman, Joe Posnanski, John Dewan, Mark Simon, Peter Gammons, Rob Neyer and a Tom Tango fan poll. Unlike the Gold Glove, this is an MLB wide award, and is not divided between NL and AL.

Danny Knobler has reported than Keuchel won the Pitching Fielding Bible Award for 2014.


Among pitchers, Keuchel led the majors by a wide margin with 10 Defensive Runs Saved, a stat calculated by the Fielding Bible, so this was expected. Keuchel is the Astros first winner since Bourn took the Center Field Award in 2010, and the second since the award originated in 2006.

UPDATE: The Fielding Bible has made it official. Keuchel earned 109 out of 120 possible votes, beating runner up Clayton Kershaw. Full voting can be found here

Congratulations Giants: Hello Offseason

Any reasonable baseball fan would know that the World Series concluded in spectacular fashion last night, on a popup with the tying run standing 90 feet away.  The Giants again do what the Giants do - play solid baseball as a team, minimise the effect of their roster weaknesses, and get some otherworldly performances from individuals.  Obviously, series-MVP Madison Bumgarner was spectacular, but ex-Stro Hunter Pence and future-Stro (ha!) Pablo Sandoval consistently came up big on the offensive side of the ball.  So, congratulations San Francisco, and for the fans of all other 29 teams, it is time to start thinking about the post-season.

For the Astros, this represents their most interesting offseason in recent times.  After scaling the dizzy heights of 70 wins in 2014, and having some kind of core in place, the Astros now need to take the next step toward contention by cutting inadequate talent, and promoting or acquiring impact players to fill the voids.

What will make this interesting is the juggling of the roster.  In the early phases of the Luhnow rebuild, the Astros clearly cashed in their pieces for flawed prospects with an area of strength from other systems.  Matt Dominguez - considered a glove-first third baseman - and Robbie Grossman - an OBP LF with limited speed but solid defensive value - were the most obvious acquisitions that fill that description.  The Astros didn't manage to acquire any Addison Russell's, but they also didn't have any Hunter Pence-sized pieces to let go.  It will be interesting, in the inevitable, upcoming cull, whether the Astros make any J.D. Martinez-sized misjudgments.

Brian McTaggert has published a relatively generic primer on MLB.com, which contains all the standard quotes - yes, we are adding payroll; yes, we are going to look at the free agent market; yes, we are interested in trades; and yes, we want to add talent in the bullpen/starting rotation/everyday position player/on the bench areas.

But with a 40-man crunch happening, I can't see many upper tier free agents being pursued.  If there are trades, I am thinking they will be of the 1-for-2-at-the-40-man-level variety (├íla Dexter Fowler last year), or the trading away of an extra piece for a lottery ticket.  I can see them looking for reasonably priced upgrades at 1B, 3B and LF, but these are also positions where prospects are likely to be opening the season at the MLB level, in AAA or in AA.  The starting rotation was an area of relative strength last year, and there aren't many gaps available at the moment given that Scott Feldman is signed for 2 more years, and Keuchel and McHugh are going to be given the opportunity to further establish themselves.

And as for the 'pen, a quick reminder that (i) the two top free-agent acquisitions from last year pitched a total of 10 innings and (ii) the two team leaders in FIP either started the year with the team, or joined the team early on.  Free agent acquisitions for the 'pen are a risky proposition, and at the moment, there is simply no need to take those kinds of risks with the Astros.

Most likely, the guys that are here will get the chance to make it happen in the first two months of 2015.  But who knows.

My conclusion: I have no idea what the FO is thinking.  However, I will be watching the offseason with interest.  If I were forced, however, to make a call, I would be surprised whether arguably the 4-best fielding CF on the 40-man starts the year with the club.  Dexter Fowler - in a weak free agent CF year - to a team that needs a CF, which at this stage (in the AL) seems to be the Blue Jays (who aren't trading at the moment) and the Tigers (who don't have the type of prospects that the Astros will want back).

So I am stumped.  But very, very interested.


Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Tales from the Goatpen: Introducing the Katy Kiwis

I thought that I would bang up a quick post on how the Katy Kiwis got into the horrible, horrible player personnel mess that they are in.  And whose fault it is.  Actually, I can answer the fault-question right now... everybody else's.  I mean, who had the temerity to choose Jeff Bagwell 1994 at first base.  If he had been there in the third round, I would have totally drafted him!

I am not sure whether the other "team owners" plan to post articles about their team - I am guessing that you may see an article or two, but I would certainly not expect 8 wordy accounts of "what the heck was I thinking?"

For those who are interested, the original link outlining the concept is here.  The teams are on this google spreadsheet here.  And a hilarious conversation that resulted in the drafting of Brandon Duckworth is here.  But essentially, the plan is to draft any Astros player, choose a year, and sim them all against each other on OOTP 15.

Finally, a quick disclaimer.  I have not participated in a draft of any form, ever.  This was totally a new experience for me, so I had no feel for how to draft, what to look for, and so forth.  My tactic was to look for guys on baseball-reference, and try and predict when the other owners would whisk them off the table.  I missed on a few guys because they were more valuable than I thought they would be, including some starting pitchers, and the odd other player like Luke Scott or Sean Berry.

I was thinking... that I wanted a lineup with few weak spots, and some up-the-middle strength - a least relative to the other options at each position.  My general impression of really good teams is that every spot in the order is a challenge for the opposing pitcher.  I think I mostly got that, but at the expense of a really top starting rotation.  When it was apparent that I was in trouble with my rotation, I tried to create a solid bullpen, which I also think I mostly did.  But sadly, I missed out on Brandon Duckworth.

My first pick was... Lance Berkman, and I was keen to put him in CF for up the middle strength.  If I were managing in real life, Big Puma would spend most of the later innings in LF or RF after starting in CF, and some speedster would come in to man the expansive CF acreage at MMP for defensive reasons.  Hoping he keeps it together in CF - I am not sure how the sim is going to approach that one.

What isn't apparent from looking at my lineup is... the fact that I have platoons at C and 1B.  Geoff Blum, who was pretty darn good against righties in '02, forms the fat part of the 1B platoon (as well as backing up short) and Downs can mash lefties - or could in 2011 - as well as backing up second.  Jason Castro needs to sit on the odd day, and I plan to achieve that by having him sit against lefties.  John Bateman has his only good offensive year in 1966, and this was driven mostly by lefty mashing (although he hit everyone well that year), so I grabbed him to platoon with Castro.

The hardest position to draft... was definitely first base.  I guess I could shove the Puma in there, but not in 2001, which was probably his best year offensively.  But what is interesting is that once Berkman and Bagwell were off the table (i.e. the first two picks) there are not too many other standout seasons - at least from an offensive perspective.  If there were, they were often shared with other positions - guys that played left field as well, for example.  I guess that is what you get when Berkman and Bagwell dominate the position for much of the last 25 years.

The easiest position to draft... was third base.  It felt like there were a bunch of candidates who had the odd good season there.  I didn't choose 3B until after most of the other positions, the 'pen and the starting rotation was mostly set.  In fact, Chris Johnson was among my last five or so choices, and I still had time to draft Chris Donnels after him.  Both of those guys had good years with the Astros, and didn't demonstrate much of a platoon split.  Unlike first base, there seemed to be a few more choices at the hot corner.

I like... my bullpen.  I missed on Billy Wags, but the Constable took him with... like... his third pick of the draft.  I have a confession to make, however.  I was looking for good lefties out of the 'pen, pulled up Xavier Hernandez's b-r page, saw Left at the top, and thought "that's my guy!".  Only the L was for batting.  Sigh.  I remembered him from my very early days of baseball fandom - playing for the Rangers - so I had an inkling that he was a righty, but I didn't check until after he was drafted.  But he was still pretty decent, and I am trying to organise it so that he and Mike Magnante to throw some high-leverage at-bats in the 6th and 7th, as well as do the middle reliever grunt work.

Finally... Rusty Staub (aka Le Grand Orange) had a nice career.  I didn't know too much about him until I started research for this draft - his career predates the ability to get baseball on TV in this country.  Overall, he hit .279/.362/.431, with 2716 hits, 499 2B, 292 HR, and a career OPS+ of 124, playing until he was 41.  Very decent.

If someone has a story to tell about Rusty being deprived of a double, please share it in the comments below.  One more, and he gets to 500.

Monday, October 27, 2014

RF Jeff Bagwell: The story of the Hall of Famer's one-time stint in the outfield

In honor of the 20th anniversary of Jeff Bagwell's MVP award announcement on October 27, 1994, Friend of Astros County and newest Astros County Deputy Tyler Stafford penned this look at Jeff Bagwell's outfield stint.

I consider myself a bit of a Jeff Bagwell connoisseur. I grew up watching him and Craig Biggio hold down the right side of the Astros infield for my entire childhood, and I distinctly remember him being the first batting stance I ever truly took note of. I even think of him in the shower! (Wait, that came out wrong. What I meant was that I thought of my twitter handle one time in the shower… and the rest is history.)

But for all of the things I thought I knew about Bagwell, one very important fact had somehow escaped my grasp: On July 2, 1994, Jeff Bagwell played right field -- the one and only time in his 2,150 game career that he took the field anywhere other than first base.

1994 was already a fascinating year for Bagwell. Three years removed from his 1991 Rookie of the Year campaign, Bagwell was putting together the best season of his career. A broken hand and labor strike ended his year, but not before he mashed 39 home runs, drove in 116 and put together a slash line of .368/.451/.750. After the season, he was unanimously named the National League’s Most Valuable Player – receiving all 28 first-place votes.

1994 was a fascinating year in general, too. In the middle of Game 3 of the NBA Finals, the Rockets and Knicks were interrupted by a slow-moving white bronco for some reason. Three days later, Lion King was released on June 15, which prompted the Houston Chronicle to print “The Rockets need three more championships to match the record of Walt Disney Pictures’ animators.” Pearl Jam complained that “Ticketmaster ticket agency tacks on unreasonable service fees.” The United States threatened military action on North Korea. So basically nothing has changed.

The 1994 Houston Astros were in for quite a year, as well. They had just uprooted from the N.L. West for the newly christened N.L. Central, where they faced some staunch competition. Despite having the fourth best winning percentage in the National League, their record of 66-49 put them half a game behind the Reds and out of the playoffs when the season abruptly came to a half on August 11.


That’s the overview of what will happen. Now let’s get down to the fun part. On June 24, Bagwell blasted three homers in an Astros 16-4 win over the former division rival Dodgers. The Reds had a two and a half game lead over the Astros for the division crown.

Three days later, Bagwell went 2-for-3 against the Reds, raising his batting average to .357. The Astros won 2-of-3 games over division-leading Cincinnati and at the end of June they were just one and a half games back.

Bagwell was on fire. He hit .394 in the month of June and set a still-club-record 13 home runs.

"I hit 13 homers in a month, and that's pretty unbelievable," Bagwell said. "I remember getting three in one game (June 24 against the Dodgers), but it seemed like I was hitting one every series. I guess that adds up after a while."

For his efforts, Bagwell was named the NL Player of the Month.

Though the Astros were closing in on the division lead, it was not the biggest news story of the day. General Manager Bob Watson was diagnosed with prostate cancer and would need surgery. "It's not all bad news," Watson said. "The condition was detected early enough that the diagnosis is good. The earlier you find it, the better chance you have at a normal life."

The next day, on July 1, the Astros lost to the Cubs 3-2, putting them two and a half games out. Bagwell had a league-leading 1.134 OPS and, up until this point, had played all 538 of his career games at first base. However, head coach Terry Collins shook things up on July 2, 1994 when he put forth a plan he had been mulling over for weeks.

33 year old first baseman Sid Bream, playing in the last season of his career, had been used almost exclusively as a left-handed bat off the bench. In fact, Bream had not started a game for the Astros in almost a month. However, Bream had been hot -- batting .400 on the season, though it was on only 42 at-bats.

Collins had an athletic Gold-Glove winner holding down first base in Bagwell, but Collins wanted to get Bream in the lineup. 

Bagwell was a third baseman in the Red Sox system before coming to the Astros in one of the more lopsided trades in history, but until Thursday, July 2, had never played a single inning in the outfield at any level of baseball.

When he trotted out onto the Astroturf, he got some weird looks.

"I ran out there and it was like people were saying 'What are you doing out here? Did you come out to sign autographs?'" Bagwell said. "I didn't know what I was doing either."

Bagwell played seven innings in right field, the foul pole 325 feet away from home plate. He fielded three ground balls and even caught a fly ball before moving back to first after James Mouton pinch-hit for Bream.

Collins' plan worked. Bagwell had no problems in right field and naturally had no problems at the plate -- drawing a walk and hitting his 26th home run of the year. Bream was 0-for-3, but the Astros won 5-4.

"I'm just glad he didn't kill himself," Collins said. "He did fine. He's a good enough athlete to handle it. I'm not asking him to be the right fielder of the year. I just want him to catch some fly balls that he can get to. He showed he can do it."

So if this plan worked so well, why did it only happen once? Simple. Bagwell caught the flu the next day and was forced to miss three games and by then, the momentum of the idea was gone. Bream filled in for the ailing slugger before Bagwell reclaimed his place at first. Those three starts would be the last of Bream's career.

Somehow, Bagwell had an even better July than June. He hit .409/.509/.875 and launched another 11 homers. He drew 20 walks, while striking out just 14 times. He drove in 29 runs, tying him for the club record with Jimmy Wynn for most in a month.

Bagwell was named an All-Star and continued to dominate as the Astros inched closer to a division title before the 1994 MLB season was cut abruptly short.

He would play 1,612 more games after his short stint in right field, never playing anywhere other than first base or designated hitter. Over the course of 15 season, he played 18,251.1 innings, all but seven of them at first.

In his career, Bagwell made 17,545 put outs. There were incredible digs, over-the-shoulder catches, diving stops and outs made after aggressively charging a bunt. But for my money, the most special putout the future Hall of Famer made was a nonchalant grab of Cubs catcher Rick Wilkins line drive in the top of the 5th with Darryl Kile on the mound. 

He didn't know it, but as Bagwell tossed that ball back into the infield, he was making history.

(You can see the box score of Bagwell's game in right field here. I did all of my research for this article at the Houston Public Library, you can see my scans of the microfilm articles I used from the Houston Chronicle here.)

Tyler Stafford is a senior at Texas A&M University where he is the sports editor of The Battalion, the student newspaper. He is graduating soon so you better make him a job offer quick before you lose out on him. Follow him on twitter @JeffBlogwell where he promises he won't talk about himself in the third person anymore. 

How Did Brandon Duckworth Get Drafted In This League?

That might be a question you find yourself asking, during Tales from the Goatpen. Here is the answer, straight from the often deranged Google chat of Keith, Aaron's weird brother and (Not Hank) Aaron (edited for atrocious typos).

Keith Ashcraft
Hey. I'm busy. Could you look up Brandon Duckworth's best year
Aaron Ashcraft
With the Astros? That's an oxymoron
Keith Ashcraft
Just do it!
Aaron Ashcraft
Okay. His era in 2004 was 6+
In 2005 11+
Keith Ashcraft
What about fip
Aaron Ashcraft
Fip in 04 was 6+
7+ in 05
Keith Ashcraft
Wow . I'm having second thoughts
Aaron Ashcraft
His xfip was better in 05
Hair under 5
Keith Ashcraft
What is k/bb in each
And hr/9
Aaron Ashcraft
5.5/2.9 vs 5.5/3.6
Hr per 9 over two both years
Keith Ashcraft
Wow. Wow
Aaron Ashcraft
I'd go bedard if I was going with a signing we were oddly excited about
Keith Ashcraft
Ok. I'm taking 2004
IP?
Aaron Ashcraft
39 and 19
Keith Ashcraft
Haha

Aaron Ashcraft
This would be really odd
Keith Ashcraft
Boy oh boy is this worth it
Aaron Ashcraft
You realize he is likely to actually pitch
Duckworth it
That was a missed opportunity, Keith
Keith Ashcraft
Shoot
Aaron Ashcraft
I tried to swype duckworth and it came back Stuff Keith
I think that's a sign
Keith Ashcraft
I'm doing it.
Thank you swype
Aaron Ashcraft
Could be a different sign
Keith Ashcraft
Inconceivable

Aaron Ashcraft
Sentence could end Stuff Keith thinks is funny but will destroy his team
I don't know
I didn't keep swiping
His FIP as a reliever that year was 4.71
so you've got that going for you
Keith Ashcraft
Yes
Aaron Ashcraft
Dennis Safarte is available
you know
fan favorite Dennis Safarte?
Keith Ashcraft
Never heard of him. You know who I have heard of. Brandon duckfoot
Is kirk sarrloos available
Aaron Ashcraft
yes
Keith Ashcraft
Hmm. That might be my saving grace

Aaron Ashcraft
and his 2003 season is actually pretty good
Keith Ashcraft
Yeah.
But I want Brandon duckfoot so bad
Aaron Ashcraft
He would be by far the worst player drafted
but, he would probably wouldn't pitch very much
Keith Ashcraft
No. I think what maybe 30 innings 
Aaron Ashcraft
With these rotations, maybe not even that much
Keith Ashcraft
Yeah. And only in blowouts probably
Oh I just don't know
Aaron Ashcraft
still, he is 2/5 as likely to give up a homerun as strike someone out
Keith Ashcraft
Haha

Aaron Ashcraft
I mean, Bedard, you're salvation, is staring you right in the face
yes, I meant you are salvation
I was talking to Bedard then

Keith Ashcraft
That's very true and very grammatically correct

Aaron Ashcraft
it was among my best ever sentences. Grammatically, contextually and thematically.

Keith Ashcraft
I might draft Kirk sarlacc
Like jokingly draft duckworth then say how ridiculous that would be if I did that then draft sarlacc
Oh no. Yasko drafted. I thought I had like six more hours to make this decision
Tell me it's a terrible idea to draft duckfoot

Aaron Ashcraft
I mean, its a terrible idea
but there is some fun to be had with the last person picked being so terrible
which is why I think you should get 2013 Travis Blackley

Keith Ashcraft
Don't get carried away
Actually. Is blackberry worse than duckfoot. He might not be 

Aaron Ashcraft
Not sure
You're up. I'm excited
Add a fireworks gif
Keith Ashcraft
On my phone
Aaron Ashcraft
Don't make excuses
Keith Ashcraft
Done and done
Aaron Ashcraft
Amazing
Aaron Ashcraft
You have Brandon Duckworth on your team
Keith Ashcraft
And I couldn't be happier


Tales from the Goatpen

For those of you on Twitter, you've seen hints at an offseason project we've been working on. We're now ready to reveal what we hope will be a fun way to spend the next few months waiting for baseball to return. The staff of Astros County, along with three of our readers, will be pitting 8 teams filled with nothing but former Astros players against each other in a simulated 162 game season, to be played out in the Out of the Park Baseball (OOTP) universe. You may remember the review The Constable did of OOTP here at Astros County, or mine that was posted at How Many Altuves. At the end of this simulated season, the two top teams will face off in a best-of-seven playoff to see which team is crowned County Series Champion.

Our teams were selected fantasy-draft style and include a fun mix of all-time greats, fan favorites, and one season wonders spanning the entirety of Houston MLB history, along with a few specialists even I've never heard of. We selected full 25 man rosters consisting of what we thought were the best seasons over the last 52 years, with each player only represented once. For example, if someone picked 1994 Jeff Bagwell, no one else could pick any Bagwell seasons. We had to dig deep for a few positions, as you can imagine. A couple rules we instituted that might explain why some players are missing (e.g. Randy Johnson) were that players must have spent at least half the season with Houston and players had to be used at a position they actually played that season, so no putting Hidalgo at 1B, for instance. I also turned off injuries so we wouldn't have to set up reserve rosters. I'll post updates periodically as I sim through the season so we can all see how everyone's doing.

Our team managers are myself, The Constable, Cockroach, Masked Marvel, (Not Hank) Aaron, and our three guest managers are Drew Shirley, KHOU sports producer, Ernie Breakfast, contributor at The Crawfish Boxes, and Keith, Aaron's weird brother.

Here's a link to the rosters. We're really excited about this, and hope you enjoy following along. We should get started shortly after the World Series.


Friday, October 24, 2014

A Look at the Astros in Arizona - Part II

The Salt River Rafters continue to dominate the Arizona Fall League, sitting with a leagues best 11-3 record and a 3 game lead in the East Division. And Astros prospects continue to be in the middle of it.

Mark Appel 

Appel continues to impress, as he now has 12 innings with 0 runs, 4 hits, 3 walks and 12 strikeouts, in 3 starts. His last start was his best, going 5 innings, with only two hits and zero walks allowed. Scouts have liked what they've seen with his stuff, for the most part, and he seems to be regaining some of that top prospect sheen. Really, best case scenario for Appel in the desert.

Vincent Velasquez

Velasquez has had two starts, and they could not have been any more different. He was shelled his first go round, going three innings and giving up 5 runs on 6 hits and two home runs. He struck out two, against zero walks, which as the only positive to be gleaned from that outing. His second start was a different story. Against a tough Peoria lineup, he went 4 scoreless innings, allowing only 1 hit, again striking out two. His AFL season numbers are still ugly, but they are trending in the right direction.

Andrew Aplin

Aplin has cooled off considerably, going hitless in his last 4 games. He is still hitting .300/.344/.500, which only looks good if you forget he was hitting .500 just over a week ago.

Rio Ruiz

As Aplin has cooled, Ruiz has taken off, as he is hitting .294 with a .415 OBP in his last 10 games. The power is still not showing up, as he has only two doubles and no other extra base hits. He is showing a good eye, and I'm sure the power is right around the corner.

Tyler Heineman,  Tyson Perez,  Mitch Lambson and Joe Sclafani continue to perform well in limited roles. Perez, in particular, has pitched 7 innings, allowing zero runs on 5 hits with 7 strikeouts, against only 1 walk. Lambson hasn't been quite as good in his 6 innings. He's matched Tyson with 7 strikeouts and allowed two fewer hits, but has been plagued by 5 walks. He's got a 3.00 ERA on the season. Heineman has only appeared in three games, going 2-5 with 2 walks. Sclafani has seen action in 4 games, and has gone 4-14 with two walks and a homer un.

Obviously, these are incredibly small samples, and nothing meaningful can be gleaned from these numbers. But it's still fun to see the Astros prospects perform well. The AFL All Star Game is set for November 4, and I think you can expect to see some Astros prospects take part in that.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Dallas Keuchel Is a Gold Glove Finalist

Now, ordinarily, I have great disdain for the Rawling Gold Gloves. This is the organization that has given Derek Jeter FIVE awards for fielding excellence, and once gave Rafael Palmeiro the award at 1st Base in a season in which he started only 28 games at the position. But...this year I care deeply.

Because Dallas Keuchel has been named a finalist for AL pitcher, along with Mark Buehrle and Felix Hernandez. And Keuchel really should win, based on advanced stats. This year, Keuchel ranked first in the MLB in Defensive Runs Saved with 10. Buehrle has the reputation, and has already won 4 Gold Gloves, but the advanced numbers don't like him as much this year. I'm not sure why Felix is there.

So....Go Keuchel! I'm kind of desperate for a win at this point. If he loses, just remember, this is the organization that gave Derek Jeter FIVE awards for fielding excellence, and once gave Rafael Palmeiro the award at 1st Base in a season in which he started only 28 games there. The Fielding Bible Awards are much better. I'm sure he'll win that.