Thursday, October 27, 2016

Thursday Morning Hot Links

*Back in September it was reported that the Astros had come to a $5.15m agreement with Cuban LHP Cionel Perez - the largest contract awarded to an amateur international free agent in franchise history. Perez,'s 4th-ranked international prospect, was set to be introduced to the media last week after passing his physical. But there was an issue with the physical that led to the Astros voiding that deal. They could still work out another contract with him.

*Jake Marisnick will be a Super Two player, eligible for an extra year of arbitration.

*There will still be baseball in Kissimmee after the Astros leave, as the Atlanta affiliate Brevard County Manatees move to Osceola County Stadium and rebrand as the Kissimmee Fire Frogs.


*For those of you looking for the Astros to improve at a corner outfield spot, Yoenis Cespedes is expected to opt out of the remaining 2yrs/$47.5m of his Mets contract and explore free agency. Jon Heyman says he could very well return to the Mets, but with a possible nine-figure deal on the table, who knows?

*Joe Maddon says that Jason Heyward and his $184m contract are a big part of the Cubs' plans going forward.

*Former Astros great Lucas Harrell has been outrighted by the East Abilene Rangers.

*Cleveland beat writer Paul Hoynes wrote off the Indians in September after losing Carrasco and Salazar. Yesterday he jumped in Lake Erie.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Wednesday Morning Hot Links

*I wrote about how everyone needs to just shut up about the Astros not drafting Kris Bryant.

*Corpus Christi Hooks president Ken Schrom was teammates with both Tito Francona and Joe Maddon.

*Rangers Assistant GM Thad Levine has been tapped as the next GM of the Minnesota Twins. Levine would be the 2nd assistant GM under Jon Daniels to go on to a GM job of another team. With A.J. Preller getting suspended for 30 days for tampering with medical records, let's see if there is a dastardly culture of corruption sullying the game fermenting with the Ramgers.

*The Astrodome is now a stop on the Red Line of the Metro Light Rail.

*Thankfully no one remembers that the White Sox won the World Series in 2005.

*The Klubot set up the rest of the series with his dominant performance last night.

*Larry Doby's legacy is alive and well in Cleveland.

*FanGraphs: The payroll disparity between the Cubs and Indians.

*Vice Sports: Who would win a series between the 1908 Cubs and the 1948 Indians?

*The Indians' star-studded dynasty that never was.

*The Blue Jays will likely extend Qualifying Offers to the Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Everyone shut up about Kris Bryant

Note: I borrowed heavily from this piece I wrote back in April 2015 about Appel, Bryant and the 2013 draft. Also, please do note that I got an awful lot of help with some quotes and screencaps from Caleb Traylor.

Well Jon Heyman, you've done it again:
Kris Bryant's continuing deeds keep raising the question why the Astros didn't grab him with the No. 1 pick. "Kris Bryant and Buster Posey were probably two of the easiest picks for No. 1 of anyone in the last (decade)..." one rival exec notes. 

This is a remarkable piece of amnesia and revisionist history. Some background, if you will:

Thanks to their 55-107 record in 2012 - the 2nd of three straight 100-loss seasons, each of them more loss-y than the last - the Astros had the #1 overall pick in the draft. In retrospect the 2012 draft stands out as the best of the Luhnow era, with the Astros getting Carlos Correa, Lance McCullers and future trade pieces Rio Ruiz, Brett Phillips in the first ten rounds, though that perspective can change based on what shakes out in later drafts whose players haven't significantly impacted the team.

2013 was the Astros' 2nd shot at the 1-1 pick. The Pirates had selected Appel with their 8th overall pick in the 2012 draft, but he had elected to go back to Stanford for his senior season, and another chance at that $5m+ signing bonus.

It was pretty clear before the draft that the Astros had "narrowed" their 2013 1-1 pick to Stanford's Mark Appel, University of San Diego's Kris Bryant, Oklahoma's Jonathan Gray, North Carolina's Colin Moran, and high schoolers Austin Meadows and Clint Frazier.

Keith Law said in April 2013 that the 1-2 would be Appel and Gray. Appel was still at the top of his board in June. Baseball America didn't have Bryant at the top of their board, either.

It should be noted that Baseball America's Aaron Fitt said he would take Kris Bryant over both Appel and Gray, simply because of Bryant's "special power bat." So you're the only one who gets to shout at the world about how dumb they are, Aaron Fitt. 

Then-beat writer Bryan Smith tweeted on May 22 that the pick was really between Appel and Gray, but that the Astros wouldn't actually decide on a pick until everybody got together in Houston. 

On May 30,'s Jonathan Mayo wrote in a mock draft that there were "whispers regarding Bryant and Moran, but Gray is still the pick."

The day before the 2013 draft, Mayo wrote that Appel "had a better season as a senior and it seems likely he will hear his name called in one of the first few picks." However, Mayo wrote, "while there has been more buzz about Moran than Bryant in discussions regarding the top picks, in some ways it is Bryant who better fits the profile of a No. 1 overall pick."

Jim Callis' final mock draft the day before the 2013 draft had the Astros taking Jonathan Gray and the Cubs taking Appel.

Jon Heyman - the same one who allowed a rival exec to revise history - put Appel at the top of his very own rankings the day before the 2013 draft. Bryant was 2nd. 

Of course the Astros selected Appel. With the next pick, the Cubs selected Kris Bryant over Jonathan Gray, who went to the Rockies with the next selection. Noting "conventional wisdom,"'s (former Chicago Tribune's) Phil Rogers said that Appel and Gray were expected to go 1-1 and 1-2, with uncertainty if Bryant would be selected ahead of Moran, Meadows, and Frazier.

Want to see Mark Appel's list of school records and achievements at Stanford?
Stanford Record Book - career strikeouts - 372 (1st)
• Stanford Record Book - career innings pitched - 377.2 (4th)
 Stanford Record Book - career wins - 28 (6th)
• Stanford Record Book - single-season strikeouts - 130 - 2013 (t-10th)
• Stanford Record Book - single-season strikeouts - 130 - 2012 (t-10th)
• 2013 First Team All-America (Louisville Slugger)
• 2013 Pac-12 Baseball Scholar-Athlete of the Year
• 2013 Dick Howser Trophy finalist
• 2013 Senior CLASS Award finalist
• 2013 Diamond Sports Pitcher of the Year semifinalist
• 2013 Golden Spikes Award semifinalist
• 2013 First Team All-Pac-12
• 2013 Pac-12 Pitcher of the Week (May 27)
• 2013 Pac-12 Pitcher of the Week (March 5)
• 2013 Louisville Slugger National Player of the Week (March 4)
• 2013 Louisville Slugger National Player of the Week (March 11)
• 2013 NCBWA National Pitcher of the Week (March 5)
• 2013 Baseball America Midseason Top Pitcher (April 4)
• 2013 Top Prospect
• 2013 Preseason First Team All-America (Perfect Game)
• 2013 Preseason First Team All-America (Louisville Slugger)
• 2013 Preseason First Team All-America (NCBWA)
• 2013 Preseason First Team All-America (Baseball America)
• 2012 NCBWA Pitcher of the Year
• 2012 First Team All-America (Collegiate Baseball)
• 2012 First Team All-America (NCBWA)
• 2012 Second Team All-America (Baseball America)
• 2012 First Team All-Pac-12
• 2012 NCAA Stanford Regional Most Outstanding Player
• 2012 Golden Spikes Award finalist
• 2012 Dick Howser Trophy semifinalist

Rogers noted in an article about Bryant that Cubs Senior VP of Player Development Jason McLeod that the Cubs had serious questions about Bryant's ability to hit. But in a one-on-one meeting with Bryant, the Cubs were sold. McLeod:
By that point, we'd already met with Jon Gray and Mark Appel. We felt like Kris, of the three, was just someone who was probably the most equipped to step into this type of market and to handle the expectations of being the No. 2 overall pick.I

Still, Rogers at the time echoed "conventional wisdom:"
By skipping Appel last year, they wind up with Carlos Correa (who is a real stud) and Appel, a year older and more polished. Impressive.

Of course we can go back now and see that picking Bryant would have been more beneficial to the Astros than picking Appel was. But you can hardly call the Astros stupid for taking Appel. We're humans, and humans are dumb. Fans are dumber than regular humans, too. We look back and lament picking Nevin over Jeter. Jio Mier over Mike Trout. You can even lament the decision to pick Appel over Bryant. These things happen. They happen to a lot of teams. There will always be a player the (insert team) should have taken. But to say that that Kris Bryant was the easiest 1-1 pick since Buster Posey is laughable, at best. That "rival exec" is a moron. 

Tuesday Morning Hot Links

*The NY Post's Joel Sherman wonders if the Astros might trade Alex Bregman and other prospects for a front-line starter like Chris Sale or LA's Julio Urias.

*Jon Heyman talked to a "rival" who thinks that the Astros could use Bregman in a package for Sale. Maybe Joel Sherman and Jon Heyman talked to the same guy.

Heyman talked to a (different? same?) "rival exec" with amnesia who says that drafting Kris Bryant was a slam-dunk:
Kris Bryant's continuing deeds keep raising the question why the Astros didn't grab him with the No. 1 pick. "Kris Bryant and Buster Posey were probably two of the easiest picks for No. 1 of anyone in the last (decade), and it didn't work out that way."

Bullcrap. We'll talk about that later.

*Former Astros hitting coach John Mallee's jersey has a remarkable story for the Chicago Cubs.

*The big league prospect who became a hit man for the mob.

Monday, October 24, 2016

The Season That Was, Part 1

I believe you can divide up the 2016 season into four distinct parts. Today we'll look at the first of those eras: Opening Day-May 2.

We should have seen it coming. We were basically given the script for how the season would go on the first day of the season. No, not the first game of the season - a 5-3 win over the Yankees - but the first day. Opening Day should have been Monday, April 4, but because of cold and sleet the opener was delayed until the next day. An off-season full of expectations about how wonderful and magical could be, the (somewhat controversial) acquisition of Ken Giles, a full season out of Carlos Correa, Lance McCullers, the reigning Cy Young champ looking for an encore, the best hitter in the game playing another season. Coming off a post-season run that felt more like a beginning than a missed opportunity, we as fans were ready to go. Five long months of just waiting for Opening Day and then? Gotta wait another 24 hours.

Were there questions? Sure there were. I don't think anyone expected Colby Rasmus to become the first player to accept a qualifying offer. Did that $15.8m limit the Astros in any other way? Who's to say? Could you expect a reasonable follow-up from Collin McHugh? How would Tyler White do at 1B?

That 1-0 record would very quickly turn to 3-7 after the first ten games as the Astros simply could not get their offense going and by the time A.J. Hinch made a significant change (more on that in the next post) the Astros would be 8-18, seven games back after 26 games.

So what happened? After 26 games the Astros were hitting .227/.312/.405 or, roughly, a team with offensive production like Adam Lind. They struck out almost ten times a game - 257 strikeouts to 98 walks. The early 2016 Astros hit 32 home runs in their first 26 games (10 in the first five games of 2016), but 22 of those homers were solo shots highlighting the season-long issue of getting a "clutch" hit or homer. You can live by the homer, but if you live by the solo shot you will find yourself dying very quickly.

With nobody on base Astros batters hit .233/.318/.432, and struck out in 29.6% of ABs. With runners on base they hit .218/.303/.366, and struck out in 31.1% of ABs. With two outs and runners in scoring position (102 plate appearances), they hit .129/.206/.290, striking out to end the inning 36 times. Whichever way you look at it, they struck out a lot but couldn't overcome it with clustered hits and runs.

In this first period of the season the Astros were only scoring 3.6 runs a game. They scored three or fewer runs in 13 of these first 26 games (2-11). The other problem is that, those other 13 games where the Astros scored 4+ runs? They went 6-7. A 16-6 loss to the Yankees in G2, two 7-5 losses. It stacked up. Snowballed.

So who struggled early? Not Altuve, of course, he was hitting .301/.395/.621. This was the era of Good King Rasmus, too - hitting .241/.369/.530 with seven homers, 26K:18BB. Springer was doing fairly well: .269/.333/.471. Correa? .258/.383/.416 - which is fine, but not quite what any of us were expecting, but still...he's 22. Everyone else? Brutal.

Tyler White: .235/.304/.469 (remember his Ruthian first week of the season?)
Evan Gattis: .216/.281/.353
Carlos Gomez: .212/.241/.275
Preston Tucker: .200/.241/.436
Marwin Gonzalez: .196/.241/.333
Luis Valbuena: .180/.296/.246
Jason Castro: .175/.299/.263

Folks let me give you some #hot #analysis: this is bad. The bottom half of the lineup couldn't hit - Valbuena and Castro both had a higher OBP than SLG. The #5 spot (mainly Gomez) and the #8 and #9 spots were hitting under .180. When a third of your lineup has 101 strikeouts in 259 at-bats and OPS's under .550.../throws computer.

Pitching? Yeah, let's talk about that.

In the first 26 games the pitching staff as a whole had a 4.85 ERA/1.44 WHIP. The starting pitcher had a Game Score of 60+ just five times (and still lost one of those games). Conversely, the starter had a Game Score of 30 or lower six times. The Astros allowed 5+ runs in 11 of their first 26 games and didn't win a single one of those.

Overall they allowed a line of .281/.333/ .800 OPS-against. With the bases empty, Astros pitchers allowed a .280/.326/.461 line. With runners on, Astros pitchers allowed a .283/.343/.476 line. Consistently not good.

There were basically three reliable pitchers in the first 26 games, and they were all relievers: Luke Gregerson (10IP, 1.80 ERA/0.70 WHIP), Chris Devenski (18.2IP, 1.45 ERA/1.07 WHIP) and Will Harris (11.2IP, 0.77 ERA/0.77 WHIP). The rotation was brutal, and also inverted. They were getting better results from the bottom of the rotation than the top:

Keuchel: 37IP, 5.11 ERA/1.57 WHIP
McHugh: 21.2IP, 6.65 ERA/1.89 WHIP
Fiers: 29IP, 4.97 ERA/1.28 WHIP
Fister: 29.1IP, 4.60 ERA/1.43 WHIP
Feldman: 22.2IP, 3.97 ERA/1.63 WHIP

Of course McHugh had that 16-6 loss charged to him in G2, skewing his numbers. Two of Keuchel's first three starts were gems: The Opening Day win, and eight scoreless innings at Detroit (which the Astros won, 1-0). Otherwise he was meh.

Eight pitchers - EIGHT - allowed a .500 SLG or higher through those first 26 games: McHugh (.571), Giles (.612), Feliz (.588), Fields (.543), Fiers (.526), Feldman (.500), Sipp (.583), Neshek (.542).

They were 4-11 on the road, and 4-7 at home. Pitching struggled. Hitting struggled. Everything was a struggle, and that struggle was very real.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Saturday Morning Hot Links

Note: Content is incoming, as I'm just now in a mood to try to process the 2016 Astros season. Hope you like content. Content is my brand. 

*Jose Altuve will appear as a cartoon character on Uncle Grandpa. I have a four-year old daughter who loves Uncle Grandpa, the only cartoon whose target demographic is both toddlers and people tripping on LSD. I can't wait. It's on at 11:15am today (Saturday, October 22).

*Astros prospect Ramon Laureano won the Arizona Fall League Player of the Week after hitting .571.

*Astros beat writer Angel Verdejo will no longer cover the Astros as he shifts back over to high school coverage for the Chronicle.

*Check out the incredible video (by the same director who did the fantastic Dock Ellis documentary) about the time the Mets trashed the team plane following their victory over the Astros in the 1986 NLCS.

*The Astros are up to the top half of MLB in ESPN's Ultimate Standings...thing. ESPN, with a dose of reality:
There's nothing about the Astros that screams championship (besides Correa and Altuve), but there isn't anything that makes you wonder what the heck they're doing, either. 

*Brian T. Smith got Twitter to write him a column about the Astros, and Houston in general.

*Forbes: Update on the new CBA, which is expected to be approved before the 2017 season.

*Good news, degenerates! Congress is thinking about re-doing the laws on sports betting.

*Jayson Stark: Why the best teams don't win the World Series.

*NLCS Game 6 comes down to Kershaw vs. Rizzo.

*Jeff Sullivan: Why don't people run all over Jon Lester?

*Jose Fernandez's mother wrote a piece in the Miami Herald.

*Reminder that MLB isn't perfect, but the NFL - as a business - is trash.