Saturday, July 23, 2016

Saturday Morning Hot Links

*The Masked Marvel has the recap of last night's 2-1 win over the Angels. The Astros' nine-game winning streak over Anaheim is a franchise record against an AL team, and the longest winning streak over a single team since the 2004-2005 seasons.


*The Royals beat the Rangers, The Mariners beat the Blue Jays. The A's beat the Rays.

*So the Astros are 2.5 back of Southeast Denton, three up on the Grand Marniers. The Red Sox and Blue Jays both lost, so the Astros are 3.0 GB of Boston for WC1 and 1.5 GB of Toronto for WC2.

*The County Mountie has your potential Astros trade targets.

*FanGraphs gives the Astros a 51.2% chance of winning the AL West, with West Terrell at 38.0%.

*FiveThirtyEight throws the thing down, flips it and reverses it with the Rangers at 52% and the Astros at 38%.

*Baseball Prospectus has it 51.4% for West Terrell and 32.1%

*Lance McCullers apparently became the first right-handed pitcher to strike out Mike Trout in three straight plate appearances. Trout:
He threw me curveballs all night, and I just wasn't picking them up.

*Defense was the key to the Astros win, writes Jordan Ray.

*Alden Gonzalez writes about Angels pitcher Matt Shoemaker's unlucky 12 game stretch...

*Preston Tucker tripled and scored in his first game back in the Majors. Tucker:
Once I got in a rhythm and started getting consistent at-bats down there, kind of getting in a groove, things took off. It took about a month for it to click, but the last month felt pretty good.

*Evan Grant writes about the Rangers' trade plans.

*Quad Cities pitcher Elieser Hernandez struck out 14 batters in 6.1IP last night.

*The Astros are about to finalize a $1.5m deal with 22-year old Cuban infielder Anibal Sierra.

*A judge ruled that minor-leaguers who want to sue for better pay have to do it individually, not as a class-action lawsuit. Finally baseball owners catch a break...

From the Office of the County Clerk - G96: Astros v. Angels

Matt Shoemaker (5-9, 4.08) versus Lance McCullers (4-4, 3.61)

The Astros started a six-game homestand including visits from the Angels and the Yankees, before heading on the road to Detroit to finish the month of July.  The post-All Star Break games have been reasonably kind to them thus far, after they split a six-game road trip to Seattle and Oakland, as all committed Astros fans will already know.  Apologies about the lack of game-recap-ery recently, but things have been crazy busy and sleep has been the main asset that I need to trade for prior to the August 1 deadline.  For those who are interested, I remain hopeful that I can recap this homestand in it's entirety.

While talking about my lack of writing, I had planned to pen an article titled "the Collapse Potential of the Ramgers" prior to the All Star Break.  This was around the time the Ramgers held a 10-game lead, and possessed the best record in the AL.  The areas of collapse were obvious - they weren't outhitting their opponents by all that much (leaving them prone to simple regression on that front), they lost 60% of their starting rotation to the DL inside of one week (approximately) and their good bullpen arms were clearly ahead of schedule in terms of appearances and innings pitched for the year.  What has happened since then is the Ramgers have plummeted, which included a sweep at the hands of the Angels at the same time the Astros were losing two of three in Oakland.  As you could imagine, they were slightly out-hit, and struggled with pitching in both the rotation and the bullpen.  I wish I had gotten that article posted - I would have looked like a genius!

So tonight, the Astros faced a tough assignment against the best of the Angels' starters, Matt Shoemaker.  They countered with the mercurial (but still tough to hit) Lance McCullers, in what would prove to be an interesting matchup.  The Astros scored in the fifth and seventh inning, which proved eventually to be enough for a 2-1 victory.  Meanwhile, the Ramgers sent Yu Darvish to the bump, who allowed a single run in each of the first three innings, laying the foundation for an eventual 3-1 Ramgers loss.  That drops the division lead to 2.5 games, and it looks like a couple of strong series is all that sits between the Astros and the division lead.  This could all happen quite quickly.

Excuse me while I rush off and find something wooden to touch.

On the Mound:
I dunno about most Astros fans, but I find Lance McCullers somewhat frustrating and, at times, difficult to watch.  He is kind of like owning a serious supercar - like an Audi R8 or some kind of McLaren - while living in a street with a bunch of speed bumps.  Whilst being fully aware that the car can crack 200-mph, it is hopeless because every time you leave home, the chassis keeps getting dealt to by the speed bumps, which would frustrate the heck out of me.  But get it on the open road, and the car would be a wonderful drive.

That said, McCullers recorded arguably the best outing of his career (and definitely the best outing of the season) tonight.  He has only pitched later into the game on only one occasion in his career.  The only run that was credited to him scored after he departed the game.  He generally kept runners off base, despite having recorded a WHIP of 1.6 so far this season.  He mowed ten Angels down via the strikeout (including 3 strikeouts of Mike Trout) and kept the ball on the ground (12 groundouts versus 2 fly-ball outs).  No extra-base hits were logged against him, as all hits were on seeing-eye grounders.  He struck out the side in the eighth, including a gem of a swinging strike against a changeup down-and-in to retire Yunel Escobar.  He touched 97 on a handful of occasions, which is fabulous.

The funky stuff mentioned in the above paragraph occurred despite a handful of negatives.  McCullers still struggled with fastball command, almost entirely unable to command that pitch to the glove-side of the plate.  He threw over 50% breaking balls again - which is extremely unusual for a starter, and more like something Luke Gregerson would do (actually, Gregerson would be well north of 50% in terms of percentages of breaking pitches).  Perhaps the scary thing is that McCullers has considerable room for improvement, and that improvement could occur quickly, meaning the Astros could do the equivalent of adding an ace at the trade deadline without having to make a trade.

The key innings for McCullers were his first and last innings.  He found himself in trouble early - Yunel Escobar and Kole Calhoun both managed seeing-eye singles through the right side of the infield, putting runners on first and third with no outs.  Calhoun also took second on a breaking ball in the dirt with no outs.  But McCullers bounced back to strike out Mike Trout on a 2-2 breaking ball before enticing Albert Pujols into a grounder to third base for the second out.  That was the Turning Point of the game, as Valbuena aggressively attacked the grounder while Escobar broke for home.  Valbuena was in a great position to fire home, and he did so, navigating a narrow corridor to Castro's glove, who applied the tag, erasing the runner.  McCullers completed the scoreless frame by getting Daniel Nava to pop out to deep shortstop for the final out.

From there, McCullers was nasty.  Andrelton Simmons led off with a single in the second, but was later victimised in a 6-4-3 double play.  Kole Calhoun walked with two outs in the third.  Jett Bandy singled with one out in the fifth, then advanced on a passed ball, but was stranded on a 3-6-1 double-play.  The next nine Angels went down in order, including McCullers striking out the side on 13 pitches in the eighth.

Sitting at 105 pitches and nursing a two-run lead, A.J. Hinch allowed McCullers to trot out and take the mound to start the ninth.  It didn't go well - he managed only four strikes in the inning, walking Calhoun and Trout to put the game-tying run on first, and place the 'stros in a bit of a jam.  Will Harris came on to relieve, and it is not like he has been Mr Shut Down recently, either.  But Harris did ok, getting Pujols to pop out to right for the first out, and enticing Daniel Nava into a ground ball up the middle for the second out (Correa may a great diving play and shovel to second for the force). Andrelton Simmons attacked the first pitch he saw (a high fastball) and singled through the 5.5 hole, scoring the only run of the game for the Angels.  Harris then knuckled down to strike out Ji-Man Choi for the last out, preserving the one-run win for McCullers and the Astros.

At the Plate:
Not a massive amount to write here, as the Astros offence was restricted to seven hits and two walks. I was watching the game, and I thought Shoemaker was vulnerable early because he was struggling to locate his splitter with any conviction.  Shoemaker, like McCullers threw his best pitch around 50% of the time, while mixing in a couple of different fastballs and the occasional slider.

A MarGo (1-4) single was the only action of the first, although the Correa at-bat later that inning was quite enthralling, with Correa striking out looking on a full count.  Carlos Gómez was hit by a 3-0 pitch in the second, but he was the only baserunner of that frame.  The Astros went in order in the third, with the most remarkable out of that inning recorded when MarGo was called out on batter's inference when he ran into his own drag bunt down the first base line.  In the fourth, José Altuve led off with a single, but didn't advance as the next three were retired on balls hit in the air.

The bottom of the fifth marked the first scoring play of the inning.  Carlos Gómez led off with a swinging strikeout, which brought up DH Preston Tucker.  On a 1-1 count, Tucker (1-3, 3B) drove a perfectly located fastball down and away, hitting a hard line drive that landed just short of the RF side of Tal's Hill.  Mike Trout was shaded the other way against Tucker, and therefore had to run back to Tucker's pull-side.  He was unable to make the over-head grab, the ball took a huge bounce, hitting just below the yellow line above Tal's Hill (and narrowly eluding the hands of a fan who was leaning over the fence).  It took Trout a while to corral the ball, and by the time the infielders were involved in the play, Tucker was standing on third base.  Jason Castro was the next hitter, and he did what quality hitters do, hitting a line drive into RF that narrowly beat the glove of Gregorio Petit at second base, who had been playing in.  That scored Tucker, and gave the Astros a narrow lead.

After an uneventful sixth, the Astros added a vital insurance run in the seventh.  Carlos Gómez (1-2, HBP) reached on a 1-out bunt that was hard enough to beat the pitcher, and soft enough to mean that the infielders on the right side had no play.  He stole second and advanced to third on a groundout.   Gómez was initially awarded home on a balk, when Shoemaker threw to third base out of the windup.  The umps got together, and decided that Shoemaker made the throw after stepping off, which killed the play because third base was not attended by Escobar.  Alan Ashby thought that Shoemaker had moved to start his delivery before stepping off, but it was all moot when Jason Castro (1-2, BB) worked a tough walk, and George Springer (1-4) took the first pitch he saw off reliever Joe Smith, hammering a hard line drive through the 5.5 hole and into LF to score Gómez.  A solid two-out bit of hitting for the Astros.

In the bottom of the eighth, José Altuve (2-4) led off with a grounder up the middle that Gregorio Petit made a stunning grab and throw on, but Altuve hustled up the first-base line and beat it out.  Next pitch, Altuve was caught stealing second on a wonderfully placed throw by Jett Bandy.  Luis Valbuena (0-3, BB) followed with a walk, but Rasmus struck out to end the eighth.

Turning Point:  Not often that a Turning Point occurs with one out in the game, but in this one it did.  Read above for an account of how Valbuena threaded a throw past the advancing Yunel Escobar into the mitt of Jason Castro to nab the runner at home plate.

Man of the Match:  Clearly, Lance McCullers gets the nod here for his fabulous outing in which he recorded strikeouts, limited baserunners and kept the ball on the ground - all without much in the way of fastball command.  Jason Castro also gets some credit here - aside from the abovementioned tag in the first, he singled in Preston Tucker in the fifth, and worked a vital walk to chase Matt Shoemaker and give George Springer the chance to drive in Carlos Gómez in the seventh.  Springer's RBI ended up being the winning run of the game.

Goat of the Game:  Carlos Correa and Colby Rasmus both went 0-4 with 2 strikeouts.  Truthfully, Correa's at-bats early in the game were riveting viewing, but he was unable to come through.  Not sure if it is goat-worthy, but hey, we need to appoint someone.

Up Next:
Angels.  Again.

Jered Weaver (8-7, 5.02) versus Collin McHugh (6-6, 4.25)

7 Eastern, 6 Central.

Friday, July 22, 2016

2016 Astros Trade Deadline: Targets - Round 2

Targets - Round 1


Chris Sale

I will be using ERA+ throughout this article.

With the Chicago White Sox in fourth place in the AL central, hovering around .500, and seven games out of a wild card spot, it would appear that the team is on the selling side of the trade market. Astros' fans have been wanting Sale since he was drafted by the White Sox five spots after the Astros took Delino DeShields. And for good reason.

Sale has a career 138 ERA+. He has struck out 10 batters per nine innings for his career and he's been perennial Cy Young candidate since 2012. This season his ERA+ is 129. He leads the league in wins and innings pitched. This is the type of pitcher a team likes to add for a playoff run. Oh, and he's signed through next season plus two team options worth $12.5M and $13.5M. Yes, please!

Price: This is gonna hurt for prospect hoarders. The scenario above is three of the Astros top five prospects in the system. I've already been called insane on Twitter, but I'll say it again. I'll do that deal. I'd prefer to replace Bregman with two other names, but I wouldn't push it too much. Sale is controllable through 2019. Which is perfect if the Astros expect to make the playoffs for the next several years.

I thought he was kidding considering the Astros just knocked Matt Shoemaker out of the Friday night game vs. the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. Then I got the name again.

Fine! Lets look at Shoemaker

Matt Shoemaker

 On first glance he looks average. Literally. His ERA+ (prior to Friday's game) was a cool 100. Which is the definition of average. Something is a bit off here though. His peripherals look good. He's striking out over nine batters per nine innings and he's walking just under two batters per nine innings. The BABIP .329 is likely the reason for the average results so far this season. As that starts to trend downwards his results should improve. Which makes him an appealing option for the Astros down the stretch.

Price: Shoemaker is 29 and won't hit free agency until 2021. He doesn't have much of a track record. He'll be cheaper than Sale, but the price will be driven up by the team control he has left. Then again the age is a little bit of an issue. We're talking one maybe two top 30 prospects plus some other pieces.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Thursday Morning Hot Links

*The Astros beat the mess out of the A's - finally - yesterday. The Angels swept the Ramgers. The Mariners walked it off in the 11th against the White Sox. Here's your division:

*North Cedar Hill: -
*Houston: -3.5
*Seattle: -6.5
*Anaheim: -11.5
*Oakland: -12.5

*For the first time since April 30, FanGraphs gives the Astros a better chance at winning the division (46.3%) than the Rangers (44.4%). FanGraphs also gives the Astros a 16.2% chance of winning a Wild Card spot (those spots are favored towards the other two AL East teams.)

*BP isn't buying it. They have the Astros at 28.4% to win the division and 49.8% to make the playoffs.

*Neither is FiveThirtyEight, who gives the Astros a 32% chance of winning the division and a 51% chance of making the postseason.

*Carlos Correa has a league-leading 29 RBI since June 20.

*Evan Gattis was hit on the back of the hand yesterday, but X-rays showed no fracture.

*The County Mountie wrote up potential Astros trade targets.

*Doug Fister's hometown paper wrote up how he's been a steal for the Astros. Foster:
I want my team to know it can go out and lean on me every fifth day. My consistency is my biggest goal throughout the year, and I feel like I've done a pretty good job with that so far.

Read more here: http://www.mercedsunstar.com/sports/article90927717.html#storylink=cpy

*Alex Bregman made his first start in LF for Fresno last night...and went 3x5 - his 9th multi-hit game in his last 16. Teoscar Hernandez has hits in 14 of his 17 Triple-A games.

*Jake Kaplan said Bregman could get called up tomorrow. The Grizzlies wrap up a series in Round Rock (I didn't get to attend any of those games) and the Astros are off today before starting a series at home tomorrow night against Anaheim.

*Nolan Ryan was in Round Rock last night, so maybe there's something to it.

*Peter Gammons outchea blowing minds:


*ESPN: The Rangers are hurting in a few different ways. Prince Fielder's season could be over, and Shin-Soo Choo is back on the DL.

*The Indians are interested (as are a bunch of teams, likely) in Brewers catcher Jonathan Lucroy.

*South Korea is reeling from a game-fixing scandal.

*The Hardball Times: The Big Red Machine turns 40

*Also from THT: The physics of catchers' knees.

*The Texas connection to the failed coup in Turkey.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

2016 Astros Trade Deadline: Targets - Round 1

I recently wrote about the Astros team needs for this upcoming trade deadline. The conclusion is that the Astros need to improve the offense and could use another starter to slot into game one or two of a playoff series. The offense could improve with a call up of Yulieski Gurriel and Alex Bregman. The pitching could also improve with a call up of Joe Musgrove or a move to the rotation for Feliz. The concern with these moves is a lack of experience. These moves could be made with little return.

With that in mind lets explore the players with a more solid track record that the team could target in a trade. Lets start by looking at players on the wish list of Astros fans.

Andrew Miller and Aroldis Chapman

I will be using ERA+ throughout this article.

What Dustin is referring to is the Astros going after Andrew Miller hard in the free agent market prior to the 2015 season. They offered him four years and $40 million. He decided to sign with the New York Yankees for four years and $36 million, cause Yankees. It appears the tables have turned and it's the Astros looking to improve their ballclub for a playoff run. While the Yankees are looking to sell.

This season Andrew Miller has 329 ERA+. For reference, Will Harris has a 261 ERA+. Miller has been really good for the Yankees this year. The reason why he only has seven saves is because the Yankees also have Aroldis Chapman saving games. He and his 194 ERA+ may also be available. Both guys are lefties. Which makes them an even better fit for the bullpen. Miller is a free agent after the 2018 season. Chapman is a free agent after the 2016 season.

Price: I would expect something similar to the Ken Giles trade. The Astros traded Mark Appel, Harold Arauz, Thomas Eshelman, Brett Oberholtzer, and Vincent Velasquez to the Philadelphia Phillies for Giles.

Chris Archer

I've had a man crush on Chris Archer since the playoffs last year. He was an absolute joy to listen to while contribution to a playoff game broadcast last year.

On the field he hasn't been as good this year. He has an 88 ERA+ this year. Which is well below his career 108 ERA+. He's still striking out 10+ batters per nine innings. As some of his numbers normalize that ERA+ should rise. Archer is under contract for about $20 million through 2019. He has two team options for 2020 and 2021 at $9 million and $11 million respectively.

Price: He'll be expensive. Probably more so than a Miller or Chapman. Still I would happily give up Alex Bregman to add Archer to the rotation. And I love me some Alex Bregman. 


Trevor Bauer

This is an interesting one. I'm not sure Bauer is available with the Indians leading their division. I love a good out of left field trade idea. Lets dive in.

Bauer, if he is available, has a 140 ERA+ and doesn't become a free agent until 2021. He's been in and out of the rotation and there are some character issue rumors surrounding him. If he has finally figured it out, Bauer could be the type of guy that fits into the Astros top of the rotation now and in the future.

Price: The lack of a strong track record means the cost will be lower than the other pitchers mentioned above. He will still require a strong offer for the Indians to even think about trading him. Maybe the Astros can offer some of the big league ready talent waiting for an opportunity in AAA.

Carlos Beltran

Pass.



Leave your player suggestions in the comment section.

Wednesday Morning Hot Links

Okay so somehow the Astros managed to lose last night/early this morning to the A's. They had a 3-0 lead heading into the bottom of the 7th, a 3-2 lead heading into the bottom of the 9th, and lost when Marcus Semien scored from second on an infield single after Carlos Correa threw the ball away going to home. You read that right. And so the Astros are now 45-2 when taking a lead into the 9th inning.

The bullpen last night: 3.1IP, 6H/2ER, 4K:3BB.

*Will Harris has thrown 40IP this season and has allowed a total of eight runs...five of them to the A's.

*Since June 1, Tony Sipp: 7IP, 16H/7ER, 5K:5BB. 9.00 ERA/3.00 WHIP.

Elsewhere, Albert Pujols hit two 3-run homers (and took a fastball to the face) and the Angels beat the Rangers,  and the White Sox beat the Mariners. The Rangers lead stands at 4.5. Though - and I know what I'm about to do here and even I find it suspect - if the Astros had found a way to beat the A's the last two nights, it would be 2.5. The Red Sox and Blue Jays both won, so the Astros are 3.5 behind Boston for WC1 and 2.5 behind Toronto for WC2.

No updated playoff odds because I'm doing this before FanGraphs has updated for the day.

*Hinch:
Definitely a winnable game. We had a rough game out of the 'pen. Not too many of our guys came in and had clean innings. It wasn't their night. When that happens, especially in this ballpark, bad things happen. 

*Jose Altuve had another 4-hit game and is now 49x98 (.500) in his last 23 road games.

*Colby Rasmus, since May 1: .226/.278/.317. Carlos Gomez is hitting .231/.299/.392 since returning from the DL and .143/.186/.304 in July. Both of Gomez's extra-base hits this month came in the same July 6 game against Seattle.

*A day after Mike Fiers got salty about being pulled when he allowed five straight batters to reach base and wasn't able to get out of the 4th - again - Hinch says they have moved on.  Hinch:
We love competing. We have a lot of opinions. We love being ourselves. And what comes with that is some emotion. I welcome it in the sense that if it's channeled in the right direction. We want our guys to care. We want our guys to have passion. We want our guys to be competitive, but we're also on the same team.

Fiers, who got into it with Hinch in the dugout, and then with Gomez in the dugout an inning later:
My emotions just got the best of me and I need to be more professional about what I'm doing out on the field and when I'm coming out of the game.

*Sean Pendergast has a good write-up comparing these Astros to the late 1990s Astros.

*Jeff Luhnow plans to be in on the trade market, but there's not a sense of urgency.

*Did Bregman indicate he was getting called up this weekend against Anaheim? Listen to his interview on SportsRadio 610 and decide. If he did, A.J. Grinch put the kibosh on it. The Grinch:
There's been no discussion, no target date or no idea. We're trying to win tonight's game. He's going to help us eventually, but I'm not sure what that's all about.

*Hinch said that the youth of the position players on the team will make it easier to bring in Gurriel and Bregman.

*Bregman, meanwhile, went 2x4 with a double last night at Round Rock, while Joe Musgrove threw 7IP, 6H/0ER, 9K:0BB. James Hoyt got his 24th save of the season and has struck out 79 batters in 45.1IP.

*Ken Rosenthal writes that Colin Moran is not expendable, because he's the only LHB option besides A.J. Reed.

*The Indians are reportedly "worried" about Brady Aiken's recovery from Tommy John surgery.

*Roger Clemens, Kody Clemens, and Roy Oswalt will play in an amateur baseball world series.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Former Cardinals Scouting Director Gets 46 Months

Former Cardinals Scouting Director Chris Correa was ordered to pay almost $280,000 in restitution and was sentenced to 46 months in prison today.

Astros legal counsel Giles Kibbe said that Correa accessed Ground Control - the Astros internal database - at least 60 times between March 13-June 28, 2014. This is a far higher number of breaches than was previously indicated by prosecutors.

The County Mountie, our InfoSec specialist, wrote up a little something back in January:
Correa is the criminal here. He accessed the Astros database unauthorized. Whether or not he was looking for proprietary data is irrelevant. His timing coincided with both the trade deadline and the draft. This wasn't about what the Astros took, it's what the Cardinals took and gained an advantage from. Whether or not Correa shared the information with GM is irrelevant. He was in a position to gain from the position he accessed.

Not Hank Aaron, our Legal specialist, wrote last July, of Correa's defense that he broke into Ground Control to see if the Astros stole any of the Cardinals' proprietary data:
Now, I don't claim to be an expert in this area of law, but, this is really dumb. Unauthorized access to someone else's computer is a federal crime, under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. That's why the FBI is involved in this investigation. You don't get to commit a federal crime just because you think someone has wronged you. I feel like this is important advice.

It's sort of like going into someone else's house to see if they have the tv you think they stole from you. If you get caught, you're the one breaking & entering. 

It's worth noting in David Barron's write-up in the Chronicle that Judge Lynn Hughes got salty with Correa:
But even as Correa admitted his wrongdoing, Hughes interjected his own descriptions of the defendant's actions - "intentionally, over a long period of time, stupidly."

Motherboard has this take:
It's also debatable whether guessing a password - or even sharing a password - to access a database should lead to almost four years in prison. In this case, the sentence was based on the calculation that Correa's unauthorized access to the data cost the Astros $1.7 million. Correa caused this damage by accessing the Astros' "notes on its trade discussions with other teams," as well as their scouting reports. 

Now the matter is turned over to MLB and Rob Manfred, who may or may not do anything to the Cardinals.

2016 Astros Trade Deadline: Needs

I threw a poll question on Twitter shortly before beginning to write this article:


Here are the early results as I begin writing this article:


I think the early struggles play into these early results. I mean the Astros have a guy snubbed from the All-Star team, an MVP candidate, and a potential future hall of famer. The offense is fine right? Well until you see that Marwin Gonzalez is batting second. Don't get me wrong, I love me some Gonzalez. He's a good utility player with solid defense and a knack for getting clutch hits. The problem is that he owns an 87 wRC+ (100 is average). That's 8th on the team for guys with at least 40 plate appearances (PA).

The Astros biggest needs are in fact the offense. That doesn't preclude them from upgrading the pitching for a playoff run. Lets dive in.

*All stats prior to Sunday's game and from FanGraphs

Offense

 

I will be using wRC+ extensively.

Depending on your stat of choice, the Astros are in the middle of the league offensively. Their wOBA, wRC+, and WAR land between 13th and 16th in the league. Going a little deeper we see four players with wRC+ well above 100. Jose Altuve (151) leads the team. George Springer (123) and Carlos Correa (121) are next. Then Luis Valbuena (118). Yes, Valbuena. He's been hot lately.

Jason Castro and Colby Rasmus are tied at 94. Then Tony Kemp (89), Gonzalez, Tyler White (81), Evan Gattis (80), Carlos Gomez (58), A.J. Reed (50), Preston Tucker (45), and finally Jake Marisnick (42). These are all for hitters with at least 40 PA. That's a lot of bad and under performing on the team.

Taking batting average on balls in play (BABIP) into account, White, Gattis, Reed, Tucker, and Marisnick all are expected to improve given more playing time. We've seen some of that from Gattis recently. White and Tucker aren't on the team and Marisnick is a reserve. Reed it's a question on how quickly he can adjust to major league pitching. Which might not be this year considering his rookie status. Overall the team sits at .296. Which is only slightly below average.

*Danny Worth is at 22 wRC+ for those wondering.

 This is probably why the Astros signed Yulieski Gurriel to a five year $47.5m contract despite having a similar player in Alex Bregman ready for a call up. The Astros can move Valbuena to first where the Astros have had little to no production. Then plug in Gurriel and Bregman at third and left field. Those moves are likely to occur in August and September. Can the Astros wait that long and hope the pitching carries the team until then? The non-waiver deadline is August 1 (two weeks).

Pitching

 

*I will be using WAR extenstively.

The Astros strength to this point is the pitching. They are top 10 in FIP, xFIP, and WAR. Dallas Keuchel (1.9), Collin McHugh (1.9), and Lance McCullers (1.8) lead the pitching staff in WAR. Then we see All-Star Will Harris (1.4) and fellow bullpen members Luke Gregerson (1.3), Christopher Devenski (1.2), Michael Feliz (0.8), and Ken Giles (0.8). Scott Feldman (0.7) is sandwiched in between the rest of the rotation in Doug Fister (0.8) and Mike Fiers (0.6). Then Josh Fields (0.2) and Pat Neshek (0.2). Finally, the only pitcher with  negative WAR, Tony Sipp (-0.2). Sipp is the only left-hander for those wondering why he's still on the team. He's also got a .356 BABIP.

The Astros could use another starter to strengthen the rotation. They have options in the bullpen. Both Chris Devenski and Michael Feliz came up through the minors as starters. Scott Feldman also seems to be pitching much better. The bullpen could us another lefty and I would expect the Astros to try and add one at some point before September.

Fielding

 

I will spare you the individual breakdown of each player on defense. Defense is a tricky thing to measure and the stats available need a large sample size (three years) to truly tell us something about a player. Overall the Astros are again top 10 in the two main advanced defensive metrics DRS (3rd) and UZR (9th).

Moving Valbuena to first base would benefit the Astros defensively. Valbuena's numbers are not glowing at third base. In the sample we have, he appears to be much better at first base. Correa's defense is below average, but so was Altuve's when he broke into the league. Altuve is above average this year. In the outfield Springer and Rasmus are really good. Gomez has been good and bad depending on your metric of choice.

I doubt the Astros improve this team based on defense. It will potentially improve with a Gurriel or Bregman call up and a Valbuena move to first. In the outfield the Astros are probably willing to give up a little of defense to improve the offense.

Conclusion

 

 Checking in on the poll results so far it appears that hitting has gained some ground. Pitching still leads.


It would be beneficial for the Astros to improve the offense. They may have already done that with the Gurriel signing. Bregman is ready for a call up. The only issue is that both players are untested at the major league level.

It would also be beneficial (but less necessary) for the Astros to add another top of the rotation starter to the mix. They have three solid starters at the top and Fister who is a nice story. Someone like the rumored-available Chris Archer would be a nice fit. For the bullpen a lefty.

The pitching and defense has been a strength for this team so far. The offense is not terrible but could use a boost.

Monday Morning Hot Links

*The Astros beat the Mariners 8-1 on the back of Carlos Gomez's grand slam yesterday. The Rangers beat the Cubs.  The Angels beat the White Sox, and the Blue Jays beat the A's. The Ramgers division lead remains at 4.5, while the Astros are back to four up on the Mariners. The Astros are two behind the Red Sox for WC1 and one behind the Blue Jays for WC2.

FanGraphs has the Astros at 40.3% to win the division (Oak Cliff is at 54.6%) and 63.3% to make the playoffs.

*Lima Time Time: Episode 18 with special guest Nick Mundy is up now.

*Collin McHugh Houdini'd his way through six scoreless innings.

*Jose Altuve recorded his 5th 4-hit game of the season, and he got 36 votes from 74 players asked who could break Joe DiMaggio's 56-game hit streak, which ended 75 years ago yesterday.

*Hinch said he never really felt comfortable during yesterday's 8-1 win.

*Jon Heyman hasn't heard a target date for Alex Bregman's call-up, but it isn't going to be this series at Oakland. Austin is gearing up for four games with Fresno starting in Round Rock tonight.

*Yulieski Gurriel will be a free agent at the end of his essentially 4 1/2-year contract.

*2016 2nd Round pick Ronnie Dawson went 2x2 with 2HR/5RBI and two walks yesterday.

*Six hours and 31 minutes after first pitch the Greeneville Astros walked it off against Bluefield in the bottom of the 20th inning.

*The Cardinals' Chris Correa may be looking at three years in prison. Sentencing is today at 1:30pm.

*Barring an "overwhleming" offer, Chris Archer is not available.

*The new CBA negotiations could include a return to the 154-game season.