Sunday, February 26, 2017

Sunday Morning Hot Links

*Jexas took a quick trip to Spring Training and wrote about it.

*Edison Frias got himself thrown out of the first Spring Training game (an 11-4 loss to the Tigers) thanks to hitting Miguel Cabrera after giving up back to back to back home runs in the 3rd. Frias was surprised he got ejected because he hit Cabrera with a breaking ball:
I couldn't command any of my pitches. I was all over the place. 

Still, Cabrera diffused a situation that could have ended with a fight.

*Brad Peacock, who threw two scoreless innings yesterday, is fighting for a job with the Astros. He'll have to pass through waivers if he doesn't earn an Opening Day roster spot. Peacock:
I know I'm out of options. I really hope I can stay here because I love it here.

*Colin Moran spent the offseason working with hitting coach Jeff Albert. Hinch:
He understands the sequencing of his swing a little bit more and getting in the right slot and being able to maintain his swing through the entire swing.

*RIP Jamie Hildreth. Check out Alyson Footer's tribute.

*Alex Bregman isn't going to the WBC to sit.

*Michael Bourn, who signed a minor-league deal with Baltimore on Monday, broke his finger catching a football on Friday.

*Jon Bernhardt: Who is the worst team in baseball right now?

*The Astros play the Braves today at 12:05pm Central.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

A quick visit to Spring Training

I randomly found myself with a day off, 60 miles south of West Palm Beach (in Miami for work), which could mean only one thing: I was going to Spring Training.

It was my first time attending & I felt a bit like a kid at Disneyland unable to decide which ride to enjoy first. There's so much going on all at one time & I only had about three hours to take it all in.

A few thoughts about my time at The Ballpark of the Palm Beaches:

*Morning stretches started as soon as we got there & seeing everyone out on the field got me pretty hype for the 2017 season.

*Being able to see Lance McCullers throw live BP was exciting and possibly the only thing I stayed still for longer than ten minutes (like I said, there's so much going on). He looked comfortable, focused & in great spirits during & after the session.

*Tyler White & Yulieski Gurriel took time during fielding practice rotating out at 1B. I personally am a fan of Marwin Gonzales at first but since he can be utilized in a few positions, a solid first baseman is necessary & long overdue.

*Seeing Adam Everett & Roy Oswalt at camp brought back the warm fuzzies of 2005. Seeing them dispense their wisdom & advice to these young players made me hopeful that not only did they have a hand in getting the 2005 team to the World Series but that the same could be said of them for the 2017 team.

*I need the giant Astros logo outside of the main stadium in my front yard.

*I can't wait for April 3rd.

I took a few pics & posted them on my Twitter feed (@jexas). Enjoy.

Saturday Morning Hot Links

*Check out MLB.com's Top 30 Astros Prospects list. No real surprises at the top, but some interesting names towards the bottom, such as Colin Moran slipping to #25.

*#1 prospect Francis Martes threw live BP yesterday, and people were impressed. Martes is Roy Oswalt's "pet project," helping him develop his changeup. Josh Reddick:
Electric. He's got a lot of movement, gets on you pretty quick...He seemed to hit most of his spots pretty good today. He's got a lot of life on his pitches.

Were I a cynical man, I'd panic about Josh Reddick struggling against a Double-A pitcher...

*Lance McCullers' first live BP session went fine.

*ESPN wrote about the options Chris Devenski brings to the Astros.

*Buster Olney has a little anecdote about Alex Bregman.

*Baseball America ranked Houston #3 in their Organization Prospect Rankings. (Oakland is #17, Ramgers are #22, Mariners #23, and Angels #29)

*Brian T. Smith wrote that playing better would fix baseball.

*The influence of Ring Lardner on journalism.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Friday Morning Hot Links

*With team payroll as high as ever, will Jim Crane allow Luhnow to add pieces at the deadline if needed?
I don't think there's a ton (of money) there, but if we need to add one or two more key guys and it's the right trade, I leave that up to (Luhnow). We have to create value for the team and he's very good about that. We're not saying that's it. If we get in the strike zone, we'll open up the checkbook.

*Beyond the Box Score: How the Astros can blow up traditional pitching roles (with lots of praise for Chris Devenski and Joe Musgrove).

*Jon Heyman gives the Astros' offseason a C, because they "overpaid drastically" for Reddick and McCann and didn't add a starter. Later in his column, Heyman says that the Astros made the most prominent play for Miguel Cabrera, but wanted the Tigers to take on over half of the $150m he had left on his deal.

*Tony Sipp explained what happened in 2016: arm slotting. Pitching coach Brent Strom, on Sipp:
He's going to have a bounce-back year for us. Big time.

*With eight players leaving for the WBC soon, Hinch will be forced to juggle his lineup and defense.

*Tony Kemp will get most of his Spring Training reps at 2B instead of in the outfield.

*With Grapefruit League play opening tomorrow, most of the regulars won't play until next week. Nori Aoki will play both Saturday and Sunday as he prepares for the WBC.

*Brad Peacock - Saturday's starter - enjoys being close to home in Spring Training.

*Peacock, Brady Rodgers, Joe Musgrove, Mike Fiers, and Chris Devenski are the first five starters of the Spring.

*Check out SABR's new e-book "Dome Sweet Dome."

*Jake Peavy has been through some crap, man.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

How much of an upgrade at Catcher did the Astros make?

So I'm late on this. Here's to a lot of time passing before having a decent reflection. It's the hottest cold take. Whatever.

I was perusing FanGraphs' Depth Charts at lunch today, alone at my desk, because from 4:45am-6:15am and 12:10pm-12:40pm are my times to just sit and be quiet, like a serial killer, when something struck me. As much as the Rangers are heralded for the Jonathan Lucroy trade and upgrading at catcher, what do the projections say regarding the Astros swapping out Castro for McCann/Gattis?

First, let's look at the Ramgers. Lucroy is projected for a 3.4 WAR season, with a .277/.345/.439 slash line. His primary backups are slated - again, by FanGraphs - to get 120-130 Plate Appearances at a combined 0.4 WAR. This amounts to a 3.8 WAR for the Ramgers behind the plate.

Second, Jason Castro is projected to enjoy a 1.4 WAR season, hitting .222/.301/.374 for the Twins. Meanwhile, Brian McCann - whom FanGraphs says will get about 60% of the catching duties for the 2017 Astros - is projected to hit .235/.315/.412. While that's better than Jason Castro, that's not as good as Jonathan Lucroy. But does that really sound like Brian McCann?

Well let's see. For his career McCann is a .266/.340/.459 hitter. But that's a little misleading because in the six seasons from 2006-2011 McCann hit .287/.359/.491. Over that span only Joe Mauer was a more valuable player who happened to catch than McCann. Cool, right? In the five seasons since, McCann hit .238/.314/.421 - an OPS drop of 115 points. But that's...okay? Because the 11.0 fWAR he posted over that span ranks 7th among catchers, so McCann went from Phenomenal to Pretty Okay/Moderately Good. But as much of a drop as that is, if we compare a declining McCann to Jason Castro's full-time experience in the Majors (2013-2016), it looks like this:

Brian McCann: .240/.318/.427, 9.5 fWAR.
Jason Castro: .232/.308/.401, .8.5 fWAR.

And that *includes* Castro's career 2013 season, in which he hit .276/.350/.485, earning an All-Star nod and his first - and only - OPS+ season over 100 (it was a 130 OPS+).

So if we isolate the last three seasons, both catchers in the AL, from 2014-2016, it looks like this:

Brian McCann: .235/.313/.418, 6.7 fWAR.
Jason Castro: .215/.291/.369, 4.2 fWAR.

But here's the rub: Over that same span, you have Evan Gattis hitting .252/.305/.486. And Gattis is the key to why the Rangers are projected to have the 2nd-best Catcher Depth for 2017 at 3.8 fWAR and the Astros have the 5th-best Catcher Depth for 2017 at 3.1 fWAR.

McCann is declining, that's just a fact. His OPS from 2008-2016 looks as such: .896, .834, .828, .817, .698, .796, .692, .756, .748. What happened in 2012 and 2014 is another topic for another time. After four straight seasons of an OPS+ over 119, he's had just two seasons with more than a 105 OPS+ in his last five.

That's okay. Part of McCann's value lies in his (hushed whisper) Veteran Presence. Neither McCann nor Gattis are very good full-time catchers. But together they're very good part-time catchers. And that makes a big difference, as far as the projections are concerned. Because together they are projected for a 3.0 fWAR - just a touch behind the Rangers' 3.8 fWAR.

If you want to put Castro + Gattis together (again, relying - for better or worse - on FanGraphs' projections) you get a 2.6 fWAR. Is the 0.5 fWAR difference between McCann/Gattis and Castro/Gattis significant? We'll see. Is that satisfactory? Maybe not. But the Astros have put themselves in a better position with the addition of McCann, with seven All-Star selections (with all the caveats that come with it), six Silver Sluggers - his last in 2015 when he hit .232, for real - and all his *lights candle* Veteran Presence.

Are two part-time Pretty Good Catchers better than a Very Good Catcher and nothing behind him? McCann just turned 33. Gattis is two months younger than Lucroy. Can both of them eclipse Lucroy? Is that too narrow of a question? I don't think so, because in order to make the path to the Pennant easier, you have to beat the Rangers. The Astros at least closed the gap at that position.

Wednesday Morning Hot Links

*Roy Oswalt was in camp yesterday, preaching durability and the need to throw 200IP.
When I was in Spring Training, I told the guys all the time, 'I prepare myself to throw 300 innings and then when you only throw 230, 240, it's like a day off.' You train your body and arm to do more than you're supposed to do. 

*Luke Gregerson is working on a third pitch: the circle change. Gregerson:
I would love to have an extra pitch for guys to think about up there while they're sitting sinker or slider all the time. 

*Keuchel is planning on getting five Grapefruit League starts.

*From John Perrotto: Carlos Beltran is back, and hungry for a ring.

*Preston Tucker is close to 100%, five months after shoulder surgery. Click the link to see one of the all-time great pictures of Tucker.

*Carlos Correa is close to 100% after getting all four wisdom teeth removed last week.

*Among the minor-leaguers participating in a mini-camp beginning on Saturday: new Cuban pitcher Cionel Perez, catcher Jake Rogers, shortstop Anibal Sierra.

*Rumor: a signal from the dugout will be all it takes to get an intentional walk. Considering that the Astros were intentionally walked 31 times in all of 2016 (Altuve led the way with 11), and Astros pitchers intentionally walked 19 batters in all of 2016...this won't affect a whole lot.

*Rob Manfred is straight up pissed at Tony Clark and the MLBPA over the lack of rule changes, and may move on without them in 2018.

*PRAISE BE: umpires Bob Davidson and Jim Joyce have retired.

*Number one on Sammy Sosa's similarity score, according to Sammy Sosa, is Jesus Christ.

*After 27 reviews, Jordan Peele's "Get Out" has a 100% on Rotten Tomatoes.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Tuesday Morning Hot Links

*Is this the year an AL West front-runner wins the World Series?

*Pitchers threw live BP for the first time yesterday.

*Collin McHugh is looking to start the season stronger than he did in 2016:
My goal is never to leave anything on the table when the season ends, and it felt a little bit last year like I kind of shortchanged myself that first half of the year. 

*Lance McCullers will use Jose Fernandez's glove this season as a tribute to his late friend.

*Alex Bregman is happy he struggled to start his major-league career.

*The Astros are really hoping that Yulieski Gurriel can bring stability to 1B.

*A.J. Hinch talked about what A.J. Reed has to do in order to get back to Houston.
I do believe he's much too young and rosters are built with so much versatility nowadays that you have to be able to do something else [than just hit]. His mobility at first base is going to be important...He's got to keep that as a priority, because it's very, very difficult to be one-dimensional unless you are David Ortiz.

Hinch plans on giving Reed a lot of playing time this Spring, noting that Reed has to "hit his way to being relevant on our team."

*Michael Feliz is a front-runner for one of the final bullpen spots in 2017.

*Jake Marisnick worked on his swing this offseason.
It's probably the most I worked on my swing and hitting and studying hitting and doing all that. There's plenty to improve on, so I spent a good majority of my offseason doing it.

Eloquent.

*Jim Crane is hosting a dinner for 80 at his Floridian Golf Club, near the new Spring Training facility.

*Who is the best player in a world without stats?