Thursday, July 19, 2018

Thursday Morning Hot Links

Flick's Hot Links. Day 2.

I understand why our fearless leader decided to take these few days off. There were very very very very VERY little sports that happened yesterday, thus potentially making new Hot Links hard on the poor intern. I have no idea how this is going to go but nevertheless, it is 1:22 a.m, I have my bottled water and a bag of freshly popped microwave popcorn in hand. Let's see what we can conjure up.

Well, the ESPYs were last night. I didn't watch..or vote..or know what I should be upset about. Sure it was our "sports fix", but I think I made the right decision in unwinding with some video games instead. I do know we won Best Team. That's cool. Dallas Keuchel delivered our speech. Altuve and Bregman were being the goofballs we know them to be. You can watch the 73 second speech here.

I heard that the U.S. Women's National Hockey Team took home Best Game over Game 5 of the World Series. Remember, you don't need ESPN to tell you Game 5 was the best game of the year. We know the truth. (In case you forgot everything that happened, I happen to have a 15 minute Youtube video to jog your memory...or if you have some time on your hands, the full four and a half hour broadcast). I know there were other Astros nominees but honestly I have no idea who they were and I have talked way more about the ESPYs than what I wanted to so lets move on.  

Somebody spend a lot of money to make this jersey. I checked around and the cheapest place to make a custom jersey from a site that doesn't sound like they are trying to steal your credit card info is Fanatics and it cost $105. Somebody likely spent AT LEAST $105 to make this jersey. Mad respect. 

Kyle Tucker is up. Could Forest Whitley be next

CBSSports gave us a roundup on the trade rumors, which includes the Brewers targeting Dozier, the Dodgers not being done yet, and the official shooting down the Ramos-to-Houston thought that crossed all of our minds.

Greg Rajan gave us some things to watch for the second half of the season here.

Fox Sports is just as excited as we are to get this 2nd half rolling, so our weekend preview can be found here.

I have one of those popcorn kernels stuck in my throat now. This was a bad idea. 

Here are some Hot Links of some Hot Lynx. Wow, you just don't see kind of humor anymore! Please don't stop reading yet.

FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb finally answers the age old question of if almonds lactate. “An almond doesn’t lactate.”

Some of your earliest memories aren't real, but your later memories are are, but some other ones may also not be real, and it is your job to figure out which are real and which are not real. Confused? Don't play Kingdom Hearts.

Well, this is all I could muster up for this edition of Hot Links. I hope you enjoyed this read and if I don't post Hot Links for Friday, I hope to think of something creative that I can share of this website sometime in the near future. Thanks for reading!

The popcorn kernel is still there. ugh

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Wednesday Morning Hot Links

Hey guys. Flick Nickem speaking. You may remember me from my last post on this website 2018 Astros as Birds (LOOK MY FIRST EVER HOT LINK IS A SHAMELESS PLUG) or if you follow my antics on my Twitter @FlickNickem (OOPS I DID IT AGAIN).

Your normal provider for Hot Links, Mr. Astros County, is taking a few days off to rest and recharge so instead of going without Hot Links completely, I decided to throw some together myself so we don't have to suffer without them. I am going to try and make them pretty similar to the format that we all know and love, but this is also a completely new author and I am known to be quite the little goofball so expect a little bit of a different personality in the next couple of daily posts. 

Lets start with the All-Star Game. How'd our Astros do?
-Altuve 1-3 with a strikeout, but that one hit was his first hit in the All-Star game in his sixth showing.
-Bregman also went 1-3 with a strikeout, difference being he hit the go-ahead HR to win the whole dang thing and then later was named the Ted Williams All-Star Game Most Valuable Player Award and given a car for doing so, giving it to his mom. You can peep his postgame interview here.
-Springer batted 1.000, going 2-2 and also hit a HR a couple minutes after Bregman did. So that was fun.
-Morton did not have a great showing, giving up 2 earned runs on 2 hits in 2 innings (HRs by Trevor Story and Christian Yelich). He also struck out 2 and walked 1.
-Verlander and Cole did not pitch, but they made the team and thats all that matters! *happy emoji*

Other notable All-Star game-y things:
-The AL won again, because duh.
-It did not rain, but every team still needs a retractable roof.
-Rich Dauer got to participate in his first All-Star Game, months after recovering from an emergency brain surgery following a collapse at the championship parade last November
-There were a combined 10 home runs hit last night, and the pitching staffs combined to strike out 25 batters.
-We found out about the lifestyle of 17 year old Josh Hader in between innings. It's..uh...not that awesome. But hey good news! Turns out the Astros won the trade!

In Other News:
-The Astros are doing a 4th World Series giveaway. I don't have one yet and I live in the Midwest, so if you want to get another one to send one my way, you'd be my favorite! <3
-Charlie Morton does not want to use injuries as an excuse for not being an all-star until age 34, because he is a sweetheart who is impossible to hate I love him I have his jersey okay next
-Here is our hitting coach talking about being a hitting coach, why AJ Hinch is one of the smartest people he's ever met, and talking about how to assess Kyle Tucker and George Springer's first halves.
-A New Astros Prospect Stock Report is up on the Crawford Boxes, for your viewing pleasure.
-Brent Strom thinks Keuchel might be back and here to stay.
-Buy Astroball.
-The Astros are not happy with Papa John, but they are still subjecting the fans to Papa Johns. I'm sorry.
-But Venus owned the moon the other day and folks let me tell you, THIS is the Moon news I am here for!

Well, I hope you enjoyed Hot Links Flick Edition Vol. 1. I'll be back tomorrow (I think) with more piping hot hot links! (I get paid every time I say hot links) ((This is not true but it is probably the best excuse I can use that you guys would actually wait.......shoot.....))

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Astroball Review: Book Cuts Against Conventional Wisdom About Astros Rise

The 2014 season was the low point of the Astros rebuild. While the on-field play of the team improved--the Astros won 70 games for the first time since 2010, and Jose Altuve won the franchise's first batting title. But a series of off-the-field stories raised real doubts about whether or not the team would ever get back to the playoffs. The Astros internal database Ground Control was leaked, and with it, a year's worth of internal trade notes. Bo Porter was fired with a month left of the season. And a bad MRI result for Brady Aiken meant that the Astros did not sign the top pick in the draft. 

But possibly the worst off-the-field story that season was a May 23 article in the Houston Chronicle by Even Drellich that described and derided the "Jeff Luhnow's radical...dehumanizing, analytics-based approach."  

This article is most well known for its quote from former Astro Bud Norris describing the Astros as "the outcast of major league baseball." That quote is featured in the third paragraph of the article and is included as part of the headline chosen by Chronicle editors ("Radical methods pain Astros as 'outcast')  

But the quotes inside the article are more pointed in their criticism of the Astros analytical approach. Jed Lowrie, then of the Oakland As describe the Astros approach as "purely statistical analysis. I think you can't that have approach and expect to have good personal relations." An anonymous player agent said "the Astros view them purely as property that can be evaluated through a computer program or a rigid set of criteria...They plug players into it to see what makes sense."

Drellich also asked the rhetorical question "If a young Astros player or his agent feels mistreated today or is just turned off by the organization's actions, why would he stick around...if comparable opportunities exist elsewhere?"

The thesis of Ben Reiter's new book Astroball: The New Way to Win It All argues that the conventional wisdom described in the article was not all it was cracked up to be. The key to the Astros victory in the 2017 World Series--and to building a team that leads the league in run differential in 2018 and is on its way to another post-season appearance--is the ability of Astros management to understand the psychology of players. In short, Jeff Luhnow and his management team understand the human side of their players, and that gives them an advantage over their rivals.

Of course, the Astros do not lack for analytical firepower, devotion to sabremetric principles, or the ability to run complicated predictive algorithms. Reiter's book highlights each of these elements of the Astros front office and their decision making. The book spends a great deal of time focusing on Sig Mejdal, who worked with Luhnow with the Cardinals and them came to the Astros as the Director of Decision Sciences. Mejdal, who has been promoted to Special Assistant to the GM, Process Improvement, has developed a large set of models and algorithms that the Astros can use to not only predict the future baseball performance of each player, but also to understand his value relative to the rest of baseball.

Yet, Reiter argues, the Astros algorithms, with all of its complicated math calculations and formulae, take into account factors well beyond just "numbers."  These models take into account a wide variety of "soft" factors that focus on the psychological makeup of players and their ability to put aside personal needs for the betterment of the team.

Reiter discusses how the Astros look for a "growth mindset" among their prospects, their willingness to train, eat, make baseball decisions, etc. In short, it's the willingness of a player to improve. The Astros look for this trait in drafting players, and were drawn to Carlos Correa not because he dreamed as a young boy of playing in the majors, but because he put in countless hours of work to become one--rousing his father who had worked two jobs to go out to his local baseball field every night. Reiter identifies Kevin Gausman, Mark Appel, Mike Zunino, and Byron Buxton as the other candidates for the top selection of the 2012 MLB draft. The Astros obviously chose wisely.

Alex Bregman impressed the Astros by being "the right kind of confident; not performatively cocky, a quality that could evaporate during snowballing slumps, but genuinely so, a quality that didn't."  Reiter then concludes this assessment of Bregman by writing something that as an LSU baseball fan, I've known for a long time and as Astros fan, we definitely learned when he threw home in Game 7 of last year's ALCS to retire Greg Bird--"He didn't give a shit about anything but playing."

Reiter devotes a later chapter of the book about the positive influence of Carlos Beltran in the Astros clubhouse in 2017. Using psychological research that examines find that the ability to overcome and transcend clubhouse divides around nationality, language, position, and temperament can add up to six wins of a baseball team, Reiter's reporting highlights the importance of Beltran to creating a focused and together clubhouse in the 2017 season, through a combination of informal friendships and more detailed set-pieces, such as the belts the players handed out to the batter and pitcher of the game.

This book is an update on Moneyball, which of course traced the decision making of the 2002 Oakland As and its General Manager Billy Beane. And while it is unlikely that Astroball will turn into a movie (but hey, if Brad Pitt is willing to trim his hair a little bit, he could make a very good Jeff Luhnow), it does show how baseball management has advanced over the past 16 years. The models and the math are much more complicated, but it is also much more manageable, as teams have beefed up their analytical staffs; the Astros analytics staff works in the "Nerd Cave" in the offices at Minute Maid Park. All 30 teams have amped up their understanding of the numbers part of the game, reducing the advantage that teams like the As through statistical understanding and innovation.

Yet, for the analytical firepower Jeff Luhnow and his band of sabrmetric warriors have brought to the table, Astroball argues that their greatest advantage over other their competitors is their understanding of the human factors that make up the game. In making this argument, Reiter's book provides a valuable contribution. It extends upon the conventional wisdom about the Astros to more successfully describe the methods that allowed the team to put the best team in baseball on the field. In focusing on the so-called "soft factors," Astroball also details where the Astros developed an information advantage over their opponents.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

All-Star Break Reading List

So it's the All-Star Break. I'll be watching the Home Run Derby because I ride or die with Bregs, but I probably won't watch a minute of the All-Star Game. The Astros don't play again until Friday at 9:07pm. Because I have an inflated sense of self-worth, here are my favorite books, baseball and otherwise, for you to fill the time...that is, if you're not just rewatching playoff games. (NOTE: I'll spend the evening watching 2017 Postseason highlights on YouTube. THEN I'll get some reading done.) If you read Astros County regularly, I'm assuming that we have similar tastes - or you at least put up with mine.

Baseball Division

Joshua Prager: The Echoing Green
Chad Harbach: The Art of Fielding
Jonah Keri: The Extra 2%
Ben Lindbergh & Sam Miller: The Only Rule Is It Has To Work
Jeff Passan: The Arm
Jerry Crasnick: License to Deal
Dirk Hayhurst: The Bullpen Gospels
Matt McCarthy: Odd Man Out: A Year on the Mound with a Minor League Misfit
Joe Posnanski: The Soul of Baseball
William Kennedy: Ironweed

Non-Baseball Division

Justin Cronin: The Passage
Stephen King: 11/22/63
Joe Pernice: It Feels So Good When I Stop
Nick Hornby: High Fidelity
Neil Gaiman: American Gods
Jon Krakauer: Into Thin Air
Amy Stewart: Wicked Plants
Drew Magary: The Postmortal
Norman Ohler: Blitzed: Drugs in the Third Reich
Steven Martin: Opium Fiend: A 21st Century Slave to a 19th Century Addiction
Jeffrey Toobin: Too Close to Call
Jill Lepore: The Secret History of Wonder Woman
Sam Kean: The Disappearing Spoon
Anthony Bourdain: Kitchen Confidential
James Swanson: Manhunt: The 12-Day Chase for Lincoln's Killer
James Swanson: Bloody Crimes: The Funeral of Abraham Lincoln and the Chase for Jefferson Davis
Vincent Bugliosi: Four Days in November
Don Winslow: The Force
Benjamin Wallace: The Billionaire's Vinegar

Sunday Morning Hot Links

Note: If you're reading this, I'm already dead. Yesterday morning was my daughter's birthday party. It was a Rainbow Unicorn party and I wore an Astros shirt, Astros flip-flops, and spray-painted my hair orange. She turned six earlier in the week, but I thought I might be able to sneak it in before having to run an insane amount of errands. No go. I'm going to leave what I had, as Astros County is the paper of record for the Houston Astros.

*The Astros whooped the Tigers for the second straight game with a 9-1 win yesterday afternoon. They are 64-34. Houston's 8-run margin is the largest margin of victory since the 11-3 win over Kansas City on June 24. The Astros have held the Tigers to one run over 18 innings. AL Central teams have scored 75 runs in 25 games against the Astros. Eighteen of those runs were scored by Cleveland  on May 26-27.

*Tigers starting pitcher Michael Fulmer said the strike zone yesterday was "god awful."

*Gerrit Cole needed 107 pitches to get 17 outs, allowing 3H/1ER, 8K:4BB. Cole has allowed 3+ BB in six of his last eight starts. Yeah but he has 8+ strikeouts in 14 of his 20 starts this season. Cole has 45 swinging strikes - 77 non-contact strikes - in his last two starts. That's insane.

*Chris Devenski threw 2IP, 0H/0ER, 2K:0BB. It's his 2nd six-out 0H/0ER/0BB outing of the year.

*Cionel Perez got the 9th and needed 10 pitches to get three groundball outs in a perfect outing. I have a Very Good Feeling about Cionel Perez, which makes me a scout now. He has Plus Facial Hair - seriously, the willingness to trot out in front of 35,000 people with that facial hair shows he has huevos.

*The Astros held Detroit to three hits. It's the 7th time this season Houston pitchers have held their opponent to three or fewer hits. Houston is 26-7 when holding their opponent to five or fewer hits.

*George Springer was 2x4 with an RBI double. He back. Springer has been on base twice in a game in four of his last six games (7x24, 1K:2BB). The double was his first extra-base hit since June 26. Springer hasn't hit a home run since June 20. It's 20 starts and counting since his last home run - a new career-high.

*Josh Reddick was 2x4 with a double and a home run. It's his 4th multi-XBH game of the season, and his 2nd in July.

*Evan Gattis broke an 0x20 slump with his 19th home run of the year. He's one away from his fifth 20HR season of his six-year career. I'll never understand how he got eleven triples in 2015.

*The Astros hit three home runs, including their 5th back-to-back set of the season. It's the 11th 3+ HR game of the year. They're 9-2 in those games.

*Alex Bregman was 1x2 with 2BB. He has nine 2BB games on the year.
Alex Bregman games with at least one walk: 46
Alex Bregman games with zero walks: 49

*Tim Federowicz went 1x4. True story: The Astros are 5-0 when Tim Roger Federerowicz gets a hit.

*Mike F. Fiers and Francisco Liriano got their World Series rings prior to the game.

*Chalk this up in the "I Wish I Wrote This" section: Jay Jaffe on How Ken Giles Became a Minor-Leaguer.

*Charlie F. Morton: All-Star pitcher, All-Star human. Hinch, via Jake Kaplan:
[Morton] genuinely was concerned about who the other snubs were. 'Who didn't get in? What was happening with Collin McHugh?' The mechanics of how he became an All-Star and if that cost somebody a spot. The guy is tremendous at pitching, but he's a tremendous human.

CFM better never have to buy a drink in Houston and the surrounding areas for the rest of his life.

Three-fifths of the starting rotation is in the All-Star Game. The six All-Stars tie a franchise record, set last year. So, 12 All-Stars in two years. Houston had 13 All-Stars from 2008-2016.

2008: 2 - Lance Berkman, Miguel Tejada
2009: 2 - Tejada, Hunter Pence
2010: 1 - Michael Bourn
2011: 1 - Pence
2012: 1 - Altuve
2013: 1 - Jason Castro
2014: 1 - Altuve
2015: 2 - Altuve, Keuchel
2016: 2 - Altuve, Will Harris

*Jose Altuve will bat 2nd in the All-Star Game on Tuesday, and Hinch is doing his due diligence on which of his guys should play and when, though he did say that all first-time All-Stars (Bregman, CFM included) will absolutely play. In there we also find that there's no real timetable for Correa to go on a rehab assignment.

*Billy Beane told Tim Kawakami that Oakland is preparing to be buyers at the deadline.

*Go visit Terry Puhl Drive in Melville, Saskatchewan. It's about 60 degrees cooler there than it is here.

*Congratulations to Justin Verlander, who successfully knocked up Kate Upton.

*Abraham Toro made FanGraphs' Fringe Five.

*The Rockies beat the Mariners, so the Astros' lead is at a season-high five games. The Mariners are 58-38 with a -1 run differential.

*For the 12th time this season, official attendance at Minute Maid was 40,000+.

*The Futures Game is today, featuring Yordan Alvarez. The Athletic's Cliff Corcoran looks back at 20 years of Futures Game data to try to predict what it tells us.

*SI's Jon Tayler: Has Chase Utley done enough to warrant a plaque in Cooperstown? Then read Jay Jaffe's piece. I say yes.

From 2005-2014 - a ten-year peak - Chase Utley put up 57.8 fWAR, just 0.2 fWAR behind Albert Pujols for the best of any position player in baseball. It's 16.7 fWAR better than the 2nd-best 2B over that span, Robinson Cano. Even accounting for the last two and a half seasons, Utley is 6.8 fWAR better than Cano. There's a point at which you have to recognize the best of a generation of baseball, and Chase Utley is among the best Second Basemen to play the game in the last 15 years.

*1954's West Germany v. Hungary: The most important soccer game ever played.

Friday, July 13, 2018

Kyle Tucker's First Hit - Spot the Differences Game and Answers

HAPPY FRIDAY!! You know what it means.

Slow down, relax, forget about your real world responsibilities for a minute or two and enjoy a round of "Spot the Differences"!  This week's photo credit goes to phenomenal twitter follow, the lovely Miss @SherriBarras!

I usually will post these on Fridays, so come back again next week!

PHOTO REQUEST: If you attend an Astros game or event and take a cool photo, send it to me at to be considered for a future differences game. Please keep in mind that, to me, all Astros photos are great, but in order for one to be selected for a game, it must be clear, have detail enough for me to alter ten things and please, no personal photos. Credit will of course be given to the photographer. Thanks!

Lastly, I have included more differences for your finding pleasure. Can you find all 10? - Leigh







Friday Morning Hot Links

So the Astros came within one of the dumbest walk-offs in MLB history of getting swept at home in a four-game series to Oakland. That's cool. Not irritating at all. Everything is fine. The Astros blew a four-run lead, their 15th loss of the season in which they had a lead. The Astros are 62-34.

*Oakland scored six unanswered runs. Houston was outscored 21-13 in the four-game series. Let's get something out of the way: Oakland is a pretty good team - a team that, outside of the three games they played in March, has a winning record in every calendar month of 2018. They're 31-19 in their last 50 games. I'm bad at math but that's a .620 winning percentage - oh wait that extrapolates to a 100-win season for almost a third of the year. Streaks happen, but don't sleep on Oakland.

We knew coming in they were playing well and we see why. They did a lot more right than we did during the series. They completed games, made us work and kind of wore us out and came up with big at-bats when they needed to. We got outplayed this series. 

Pretty terrible. They're a good team. They battled. There's no easy outs in that lineup, and they threw the ball extremely well.

The last four games stunk. I'll tell you that straight up. They're playing really good baseball. They've got a good, young core over there that can play really well and they can put some at-bats together, and we saw that this series.

Oakland is more of a long-term threat than Seattle. Mark it down.

*Charlie Morton: 4.1IP, 6H/3ER, 5K:2BB. 104 pitches to get 13 outs. It's his 2nd straight start throwing fewer than 6IP for the first time this season.

*Chris Devenski: 0.1IP, 4H/3ER. He has allowed at least one earned run in three of his last four outings.

*Every A's hitter got at least one hit except Jonathan Lucroy. JONATHAN LUCROY. He is definitely cursed for rejecting a trade to Cleveland to go to East Fort Worth.

*Alex Bregman and Tony Kemp had two RsBI each. Bregman was 1x4, Kemp was 1x2 with a stolen base and a two-run shot - his 3rd of the season. McTaggart notes that Bregman is the fourth player in Astros history to have 30 doubles before the All-Star break, and the 3rd player in club history with 50 extra-base hits before the Break.

*Evan Gattis went hitless for the series, going 0x16 with 5K:1BB. His OPS dropped from .832 to .789 in the series.

*George Springer was 0x2 with 2BB. He's hitting .248/.333/.417. That's a .750 OPS. Here are the OPSs of yesterday's lineup, following yesterday's "game."

Springer: .750
Bregman: .934
Altuve: .874
Gurriel: .770
Reddick: .738
Gattis: .789
Marwin: .652
Stassi: .804
Kemp: .824

So, a team that's 28 games over .500 has five of nine hitters with an OPS under .800. Also, Bregman is a BAWSE.

*Two good Jake Kaplan stories in The Athletic yesterday:
- Kyle Tucker's old-school approach
- Q&A with Alex Bregman on the Home Run Derby messing up his swing, where he has made improvements, and Powerade.

*Jon Heyman writes that the Astros make the most sense in a trade for Marlins catcher J.T. Realmuto, while Jon Morosi says that the Astros have been in contact with the Rays about catcher Wilson Ramos.

*Over at FanGraphs, Marc Hulet posted an updated Top 10 Astros Prospects list.

*Yordan Alvarez and Jamie Ritchie hit their first Triple-A home runs in a 4-3 loss to Tacoma. Myles Straw was 4x5 with 2 SBs, his 49th and 50th stolen bases of the season.

*Midland scored four runs in the bottom of the 9th for a 6-5 walk-off win over Corpus. Hector Perez made his Corpus debut, and he threw 2IP, 3H/1ER, 2K:0BB.

*There were more errors (9) than runs (7) in Quad Cities' 4-3 win over Dayton, who committed six of the errors. Peter Solomon (4th Round - 2017) threw 5IP, 1H/1R (0ER), 5K:2BB.

*'s Jonathan Mayo took a question from @StrosBros1 and discussed Seth Beer and the quality of ACC baseball compared to the lower-levels of the minor leagues. Mayo:
As an advanced college hitter with good plate discipline, this is what he should do during his pro debut. Most pitchers in the lower Minors don't have outstanding command and don't yet know how to set up hitters with approaches as good as Beer's. 

*Drunk-ass bitch Papa John lamented not being able to say the N-word in a conference call and had to resign from the board of Papa John's and just watch his billion shares of his company depreciate. Minute Maid Park has a Papa John's. The Marlins and Rays ended their relationship with the trash pizza chain. Apparently the Papa John's at Minute Maid Park is actually owned by a third-party group  and since they're not the ones who dropped the N-Bomb, the Astros will just remain disappointed, like there's not twenty better local pizza joints in Houston that could step in and raise the quality of the offerings at Minute Maid Park. The Astros:
The Astros are incredibly disappointed with the statements made by Papa John's founder John Schnatter. We do not condone discrimination in any context and his comments do not reflect the mission, vision and values of our organization. The Astros are proud of our 10-year partnership with Houston Pizza Venture, a local Houston business and owner of the local franchises. We feel confident that the local franchisees and their employees share the Astros commitment to diversity and inclusiveness.

Cool. /eyes roll out of head

*ESPN: Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School tries to figure out, "What now?"

*India's plan to build the world's tallest statue has divided Mumbai.

*Tonight Mike Fiers goes against Dallas Keuchel and I swear if any of you slanders Mike Fiers, then you will taste my pain. From May 30-July 26, 2017 Fiers made 11 starts when pretty much everyone in the rotation was on the DL and threw 65IP, 48H/19ER, 76K:24BB for a 2.63 ERA. That man will get a ring on Saturday and everybody in attendance should cheer.