Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Tuesday Morning Hot Links

*The Astros enjoyed the first of two off-days this week. And still, here are the number of games played by AL Teams:

49: Arlington
48: Houston
47: Boston, Toronto, Baltimore, Detroit, Kansas City, Anaheim, Oakland
46: Seattle
45: Tampa, Cleveland,
44: New York, Chicago
43: Minnesota

Did you check the Cleveland series recap from Jexas?

*So the big news that I missed because I overslept yesterday is Derek Fisher's transition to the DL with "GI discomfort." GI stands for "Gastrointestinal." It may be the first time the Astros put a player on the DL for crapping the bed. J.D. Davis was brought up from Fresno.

*Mike Petriello spends a decent amount of time making a case for the Astros' rotation being in the conversation as one of the best ever. Through 48 starts, the rotation has allowed just 83 runs. Note that the rotation's ERA of 2.25 is almost a quarter of a run lower than the 1968 Cardinals' modern-day best of 2.49. Also note that it is May 22. That said, no team this century has a lower ERA through 48 games than the Astros' rotation.

Dayn Perry at CBS Sports has a similar piece.

Here's Jake Kaplan with a deep dive into the numbers of the Astros' rotation. And here's another one wondering where J.D. Davis will actually play.

*Ken Giles is 8x8 in save situations in 2018, allowing a .167/.167/.167 line through 7IP with 4H/0ER, 8K:0BB. Also, Ken Giles: 36 batters faced, zero walks.

*Tonight Gerrit Cole will pitch to his wife's brother, Brandon Crawford. Crawford:
It's more fun for family, I think, than it is for us. It doesn't help that he's a really good pitcher - probably one of the best in baseball this year. That doesn't add to the fun of it for me.

*And so the Jon Singleton Era in Houston ends not with a bang, but with a whimper. Singleton - who had been outrighted off the 40-Man roster earlier this year, was summarily released by Houston today. The press release, in full:
The Astros have released minor league first baseman Jon Singleton, effective today. The club has no further comment on this. 

Singleton, of course, is serving a 100-game suspension for a third positive test for a drug of abuse (tweeds), of which there are still 54-ish games remaining. And it's the last year of his 5yr/$10m deal he signed back in 2014. (Side note: it does not feel like it's been five years since that deal).

Speaking of suspensions, Forrest Whitley's 50-game suspension ends at the beginning of next week.

*In McTaggart's Notebook, he actually dignified the "Shood We traid Kykull" question with a response. There is an interesting note about the Astros' future at catcher, and whether that involves Stassi in a full-time role. If you want to look to free agency to sign a catcher (because McCann likely isn't coming back for $15m), here's who is scheduled to be a free agent after this season:

Drew Butera, Robinson Chirinos, A.J. Ellis, Tyler Flowers, Yasmani Grandal, Nick Hundley, Jonathan Lucroy, Martin Maldonado, Jeff Mathis, Devin Mesoraco, Miguel Montero, Wilson Ramos, Rene Rivera, Kurt Suzuki, Matt Wieters.

At 30, Yasmani Grandal is the youngest player on this list. So this list gets a big ol' Ew.

*San Francisco hitting coach Alonzo Powell will get his World Series ring tonight.

*Fresno's Trent Thornton, who was hit on the elbow by a line drive, was moved to the 7-Day DL.

*Corpus' Randy Cesar and Cionel Perez were both named Texas League Players of the Week.

*There was a plane crash in Cuba over the weekend that has now killed 111. One family was from Houston. Yuli Gurriel is paying for the travel for their relatives.

*An Astros-oriented fundraiser at Tootsies raised over $360,000 for the Sunshine Kids and the LMJ Foundation.

*The Rangers are officially open for business. Come and get their finest old players for prospects. It's rebuilding, not tanking, right?

*Meet Cy-Creek's Jordan Hicks, baseball's most confounding pitcher.

*PFT Commenter has managed to skyrocket to fame while somehow maintaining his anonymity.

*I'm on a big JFK kick, so I recommend reading this July 2014 piece in The Baffler: Dallas Killers Club.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Series Recap: Astros vs Indians 05/18-05/20

This was a series I think most Astros fans were looking forward to. Last season the Astros were 1-5 against the Indians and with all the junk that fan base talked about handling the World Champs, it was time for another round.

Game 1- Morton vs Clevinger

Charlie Morton was dealing per usual. 1 run scored off of 4 hits through 7 innings. It was the 4th time this season Morton has lasted 7 or more innings. That happened 5 times last season. Devo & Giles allowed 2 hits each in the 8th & 9th innings but no runs scored making the final score of the game Astros 4, Indians 1. The offense had a pretty good night including George Springer who slammed his 9th home run of the season into the Crawford Boxes. Derek Fisher continues to struggle offensively but check out this defensive catch in CF.

Game 2- Keuchel vs Kluber

Keuchel started his outing with 3 pitch first out to Francisco Lindor but the next batter, Michael Brantley launched a home run into the Crawford Boxes and Keuchel struggled for the rest of the 1st inning giving up 3 runs and got out with a pitch count of 27. He settled down through the remainder of his outing but was out by the 6th and replaced by Joe Smith who gave up a home run to Yan Gomes. Tony Sipp, Collin McHugh and Hector Rondon took on the 7th, 8th & 9th, allowing no hits or runs, giving the Astros a chance to comeback and they put in a solid effort to make that happen. Correa hit a 2 run homer in the 6th, Bregman a solo in the 8th and what was initially ruled a home run by Altuve in the 8th was rightly overturned and ruled a double after a chief crew review of the ball that hit the bullpen fence and ricocheted into the crowd. A solo homer in the 9th from Marwin Gonzalez made the score 4-5 but that was all the runs that would score and the Astros would lose yet another 1 run game.

Game 3- McCullers vs Carrasco

Lance McCullers Jr. had himself a night, throwing 96 pitches through 7 innings, one hit, no runs, 8 strikeouts, 2 walks. LMJ was in the middle of a bid for a no-hitter in the bottom of the 6th when a routine pop up dropped between Jose Altuve and Marwin Gonzalez followed by me screaming in my living room. Thankfully, the offense got going in bottom the 7th with a 2 run homer from Brian McCann, to secure the W for LMJ and the Astros. Josh Reddick got an extra insurance run in the bottom of the 8th. Will Harris and Chris Devenski took care of the 8th and after Devo allowed a double from Michael Brantley in the 9th, and a got a groundout moving Brantley to 3rd base, Giles came in. Brantley scored from 3rd on a groundout but Giles got the save on the next batter. Final score: Astros 3, Indians 1.

 Also, I am so here for this Tony Kemp catch.

Up next is a quick 2 game series with the San Fransisco Giants at home before 4 games in Cleveland and 3 in the Bronx.

Series W-L: 10-5

Sunday Morning Hot Links

Keuchel struggled early and the Astros proved once again this season that there are, in fact, deficits that are too large to overcome. The Astros have not yet won a game in which they trailed by more than two runs. Though they gave it a decent run yesterday, scoring the final four runs of the game and coming about 10-15 feet away from a game-tying Josh Reddick pinch-hit home run in the bottom of the 9th. Houston is 4-9 in 1-run games, losing their last five 1-run games.

*The Astros are now 24-5 when scoring 4+ runs.

*Keuchel needed 98 pitches to make it through 5IP, 6H/4ER, 3K:2BB. His ERA is 3.43. It's his 6th loss of the season (again, not all on him), and he took the L five times in 2017.

His 1st Inning, though: 10IP, 15H/8ER, 5K:3BB. 7.20 ERA. Keuchel's ERA, by inning, 2018:

1st: 7.20
2nd: 1.80
3rd: 0.00
4th: 3.60
5th: 3.00
6th: 5.14
7th: 5.40
8th: 0.00

*It's his 3rd start (out of 10) with three or fewer strikeouts. Keuchel:
I felt good from the get-go. That's why it's so frustrating when I come out of the game with 90-something pitches in five innings with four runs on the board.

*Joe Smith: 1IP, 1H/1ER, 0K:1BB. Today's home run allowed broke a four-game scoreless streak. On the season, Smith: 13.1IP, 14H/11ER, 13K:5BB. Smith's last eight outings (cherry-picked, for sure):
6.2IP, 9H/8ER, 7K:2BB.

*Never trust a guy named Todd:

*Meanwhile, Collin McHugh is wonderful. 1IP, 0H/0ER, 2K:1BB. He has now made 12 appearances without allowing the one run he's given up. In the last 12 games: 15IP, 9H/0ER, 19K:4BB. His 0.51 ERA leads all AL relievers.

*Tony Sipp needed nine pitches to retire the side in the 6th. His last seven appearances: 5.1IP, 3H/1ER, 3K:0BB. All three hits and one run came in the same May 7 appearance.

*Houston was 0x6 w/RISP, 1x16 w/RISP in these two games against Cleveland. One. For. Sixteen.

They didn't have a runner on 2nd until the 5th inning. Opportunities:

-7th Inning: Gurriel on 2nd, nobody out - Marwin grounded out, Gattis popped out, Kemp grounded out. The ball never left the infield.
-8th Inning: Altuve on 2nd (ruled a ground-rule double that should have been a home run), one out - Correa flied out (barely), McCann flied out.

*5-9 in the lineup: 3x19.

*Houston hit three home runs in a single game for the 5th time this season. They're 4-1. The Astros were 24-3 in games in which they hit 3+ HR in 2017.

*George Springer was 2x4. He's 5x12 in his last three games, and is hitting .361/.400/.541 in May.

*Alex Bregman was 1x4 with a solo home run. He now has 44 hits on the season, 26 of them are singles. It was his first RBI since May 8 - the last time he hit a home run.

*After Marwin went on a 6-game hitless streak that included an 0x21, he has three hits in his last seven ABs, including a 9th-inning home run that brought the Astros to within one run. Marwin:
You always feel good whenever you battle until the end. That's what we do all the time. That's what makes this team special. We never quit.

*Because Tyler Bauer is a piece of crap, Terry Francona texted A.J. Hinch to clean up Tyler's mess. Francona:
I don't think that's fair to (Hinch). I just told him that I appreciated the way he handled it, and we'll try to move on.

Oh, and Tyler made a charitable donation to the Lance McCullers, Jr. Foundation:

"Sticky situations." Tyler thinks he's cute. He ain't cute. Bauer is on track to pitch the Wednesday, May 23 game against the Cubs and then the Monday, May 28 game against the White Sox. In between those two starts is a four-game series with the Astros. Please, dear sweet Jesus, let the Astros face Bauer in Game 3 of the ALCS and absolutely rip him to shreds.

Bauer, on taping "Tyler" to the top of his jersey:
Everybody who thought they were going to wear me out for being Tyler, then they saw it on my back, and they didn't have anything to say after that. They just kept yelling the same joke over and over, which was kind of frustrating for them because I was one step ahead of them - again...

...I'd love to face the Astros. I'm never one to back down from a challenge or elevated stakes. I like it. I like the added adrenaline, the added importance and focus and things like that. It's what baseball should be. They should want to kick my butt and I should want to kick their butt. We'll see who's better. I'm not giving up.

*Josh Reddick pinch-hit yesterday but is expected to be in the lineup tonight after dealing with a "leg infection," which might have been the result of a spider bite. Reddick is truly Possum King II.

*Preston Wilson apologized for saying that hitting a slider was "harder" than slavery on the broadcast yesterday. I retweeted a couple of videos of his remarks. Of course I don't think that Preston Wilson meant that literally. I think it was a joke. And probably, in some context, a funny one. Most of the comments were mostly white people telling me - also a white guy - what to think and not to think, which I don't very much appreciate. I guess that's Twitter, though. And this is why I'll be staying off Twitter for a while. Between Santa Fe and this, I need a break from freaking morons who think that, simply because they have an account, then they can tell me how to react to situations. Screw that.

*Jake Marisnick was 2x5 and homered for the second straight game in a 4-0 Fresno win. A.J. Reed was 1x1 with 3BB and his 7th home run of the year. Tyler White has a 40-game on-base streak. Starting pitcher was removed after 3.2IP due to getting hit by a comebacker in the elbow.

*Minor League Ball wrote up a trade check-in on the Gomez/Fiers trade with Milwaukee.

*Sam Khan, Jr. has a touching piece in ESPN about the Santa Fe High School baseball team.

*Jenny Cavnar became the first female to take play-by-play duties since 1993. She good.

*Potential 2018 1-1 pick Casey Mize didn't want his mom to buy him a gaming system, so he could focus on baseball.

*Andy Slater went to the British Virgin Islands to investigate the Marlins' business practices. He embarrassed them. The Marlins pulled his press credentials.

*Staten Island guy finds a safe with cash and jewels in it and then the Ninja Burglar happens.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Saturday Morning Hot Links

Doing any of this feels pretty freaking stupid, given what happened in Santa Fe yesterday morning. A.J. Hinch spent two minutes going off about trying to find answers instead of offering condolences. School shootings in America should not be treated like typhoons in Southeast Asia, Nor'Easters in New England, or earthquakes in California - things that are geographic anomalies.

Whatever. Here's some baseball stuff.

Surprisingly, the Astros have won eight of their last ten games, 19 of their last 30. They're three games up on Seattle. Houston's Pythagorean Record is 35-11.

*Charlie Morton: 7IP, 4H/1ER, 8K:1BB. The one run came on an Edwin Encarnacion home run - it was Cleveland's only extra-base hit of the night. Devenski and Giles allowed as many hits in their two combined innings. Morton:
I thought it was OK. I thought I made some really good pitches and I thought I got away with some really bad pitches. I think I'm surprised at how effective my four-seamer is and it's made my job easier. I don't feel like I'm really pitching that well. I'm not really executing a ton of pitches. My stuff is playing in the zone pretty well.

*The Masked Marvel takes a break from binge-watching Royal Wedding stuff to tell you how great the rotation has been.

Opportunities to score:
1st inning: Bases loaded, one out - Gurriel GIDPs.
4th inning: Two on, one out - Fisher and Stassi strike out swinging
5th inning: Two on, nobody out - Bregman GIDPs, reaches first, gets picked off.
8th inning: Two on, nobody out - Marwin flies out, Gattis sac flies, McCann grounds out.

We had a lot of runners on base because we had really good at-bats, especially from the top half of the order and Tony at the back end. I always say if we keep giving ourselves a chance, we'll eventually come up with the big hit, and we did.

*The Astros were 1x10 w/RISP last night. The Astros are hitting .255/.334/.424 with runners in scoring position. With two outs and runners in scoring position, the Astros are hitting .195/.282/.328 with 53 strikeouts in 195 PAs. So, for perspective:

Astros w/RISP: .255/.334/.424
MLB w/RISP: .247/.332/.401

2017 Astros w/RISP: .294/.360/.481

Astros w/RISP, 2 out: .195/.282/.328
MLB w/RISP, 2 out: .227/.331/..382

2017 Astros w/RISP, 2 out: .282/.380/.492.

Yeah, the 2018 Astros OPS w/RISP, 2 outs is 261 points lower than 2017's split.

*Derek Fisher is now 1x20 with 15 strikeouts with runners in scoring position. Tony Kemp is 1x1 with no strikeouts with runners in scoring position.

*George Springer was 2x3 with a home run and 2RBI. Gurriel was 2x3. Tony Kemp was 2x3.

*Indians starter Mike Clevinger, after the game:
There's not much room for error. They are pretty loaded top to bottom. We are right there from top to bottom. We are right there with them. There's not anything they have that we don't have. They aren't that special.

No, see, idiot, this is a family situation: we are allowed bust on the Astros, but you do it and I will absolutely hit you with a pipe.

*We are all this guy's significant other.

*See, this cat thinks he cute:

*Josh Reddick was a late scratch last night with a "left leg irritation." I doubt he cut himself shaving. If this is Peak Astros, then next Saturday we'll wonder why Reddick hasn't played all week, and then at the All-Star Break they'll announce he had to have it amputated.

*Maybe you noticed (I didn't): Will Harris is back to pitching from the 3B side of the heheh rubber after spending the Spring and early part of the season more towards the middle.

*Jake Kaplan: What Tony Kemp's promotion means for Derek Fisher. Stay for notes on Verlander, McHugh, and Yordan Alvarez.

*A.J. Hinch says he's open to splitting up Verlander and Cole.

*Jayson Stark notes that Justin Verlander's batting average against is 19 points lower than the season-best .167, set by Pedro Martinez in 1999.

*Nick Tanielu (14th Round, 2014) made his Triple-A debut last night and went 2x4 with a double and an RBI

*Here's a great piece from Jayne at WTHB (which, if you don't follow her or read her site on a daily basis then what in the actual hell are you doing with your fandom?) on Buies Creek's Brett Adcock.

Pine tar or not: the Astros rotation has been frikking awesome

For the Astros, the season is (at the time of writing) 45 games old - just more than quarter of the season.  They have stuck rigorously to a five-man rotation - part of an incredible run of stability that has only seen three roster moves in seven weeks, none of which involved starting pitching - so the Astros starters have rotated nine times through the order.  Pretty much all of the starters have nine starts under their belt, except for that Verlander guy, who brutally stole a start from Charlie F. Morton possibly via some kind of mugging or armed holdup.

So this seems like a good time to review the season, with emphasis on the starting rotation...

A Quick Word on Stats and Imbalanced Schedules:
I am going to throw some stats around for y'all.  Some will be rate stats (stats on a per-game or per-inning basis) such as strikeouts per nine (K/9), which most of you will be familiar with.  Others will be counting stats, such as innings pitched, WAR and others - these stats tend to increase on a per game basis, so the more games, the higher the stat.  With this in mind, it is important to know that the Astros are pretty far-advanced in their seasons compared to some of their contemporaries.  At the time of writing the Astros (and a handful of other teams) have played 45 games, the most in baseball.  This is much more than another group of teams, including the Yankees, who have managed only 40 games.  This is partly due to the inevitable quirks in the schedule, and partly due to cancellations from a cold spring on the Eastern Seaboard and in the central US.  The Yankees sit on 40 games, as noted earlier, and are comparable to the Twins (39), the White Sox (40), the Mets (39), the Cardinals (41) and the Cubs (40).  So some of the counting stats may be a little misleading, especially when comparing the Astros to the Yankees, which many pundits have been doing a lot of this season already.

The Null Hypothesis:
The Astros rotation has been awesome.  Let's build the case...

The Basics:
Firstly, they have been incredibly healthy and durable, as mentioned before.  They have only used five starters.  Direct comparisons with other teams are prone to some bias of course.  For example, the Rays have been experimenting with a 4-man rotation and fifth bullpen day, so it really looks like they have used 8 starters but only four of them have started more than 5 games.  Other (more traditional) teams with vaunted starting rotations have used more pitchers: the Indians (7), Nationals (6), Dodgers (7), Red Sox (7), Yankees (6) and Cubs (6), all because of injuries or ineffectiveness.  I believe that the Astros are the only team to have only used five starters to this point of the season.  So the Astros have been both healthy, and metronomically consistent when allocating starts - something I thought was highly unlikely pre-season.

Secondly, the Astros starters have gone deep into games.  They lead the Major Leagues with 289 innings pitched, with the Indians second with 274 innings pitched.  The bottom of the table has the Mets at only 203.2 IP, but remember that IP is a counting stat, so the Mets have been disadvantaged to the tune of 6 games when compared to the Astros.  If you convert IP to a rate-stat (by dividing IP by the number of games played), the Astros actually get pipped by the Indians (6.4 versus 6.5 IP per game).  Also remember that the Indians bullpen has been famously horrible this season (5.68 ERA, worst in the Major Leagues), so the Indians may be a little more reluctant to pull their starters than other teams.

Comparing the Astros' 6.4 IP per start to other strong rotations: the Yankees manage 5.6 IP / start, the Red Sox check in at 5.8 IP / start and the Dodgers at 5.4 IP per start.  The Nationals, Cubs and Mets sit at 6.2, 5.3 and 5.2 IP/start respectively.  So only the Indians can match the Astros in this area.

Here is another shock - the Astros starters lead the Major Leagues in ERA in 2018.  By how much, you ask??  Have a guess.....  the answer is by over two-thirds of a run!!  The Astros check in at a 2.24 ERA, with the Nationals the next closest team (2.92).  Those are the only teams with a starting ERA under 3.  The Dodgers and Red Sox have far more expensive rotations*, and they check in at 3.48 and 3.63 respectively, while the Yankees have three starters earning minimum or close to it, and manage a very respectable 3.79 ERA.

* - How expensive, you ask???  Pro-rated, (i.e. the number of dollars divided by the number of contract years for the five main starters, added up) the Dodger's top 5 starting pitchers will cost just under 62MM while the Red Sox's will cost just north of 70MM.  In comparison, the Astros will spend 51.5MM on starters this year - which is a lot for them - but two of them will be off contract at the end of this year, and another two will be off contract at the end of 2019.  The Yankees rotation will cost just south of 40MM, which is a sign of just how good their front office has been at rebuilding on the fly.  Other rotations of interest: Cubs - 69MM, Nationals - 72.5MM.

Three True Outcomes:
Let's stick the the rate stats for now, and have a look at the strikeouts and walks.  The Astros lead baseball with a starting pitching strikeout rate of 10.7/9, a half K/9 higher than the Nationals (10.1/9).  The Dodgers are next (with a very symmetrical 9.9/9) followed by the Red Sox (9.8/9).  The Yankees (8.5/9) and Indians (8.4/9) both sit middle-of-the-pack (12th and 16th respectively).  The Astros' rate is within shouting distance of double that of the worst team in baseball (White Sox - 5.5/9)

The Astros sit third in starting pitching walk rate: 2.4 per 9.  They are bested by Cleveland (2.1/9) and Oakland (2.3/9), and are only marginally clear of the Dodgers and Nationals (both 2.6/9).  That could change with a bad Charlie Morton start, which is due to start shortly as I write this*.  Morton had a shocker in terms of walks in Arizona earlier in the year, so it isn't impossible.  But hey, being in a team ranked first in strikeouts and third in walks is going to result in a pretty solid K/BB ratio, which I will discuss next...

* - Update: Morton was awesome!! 1 walk versus 8 strikeouts over seven frames...

The Astros starters are unsurprising the best team in the baseball in K/BB ratio (4.22) over Cleveland (4.02) and Washington (3.92).  The Dodgers (3.88) and Red Sox (3.72) follow, with the Yankees (3.00) in eleventh.  I just want to mention the White Sox (aka the 2011-13 Astros), pointing out their K/BB rate of 1.16 is the worst in baseball.  By quite a margin.

Any readers getting this far down in the article are probably getting a little sick of being pummelled with stats at this time, so perhaps I will zip through the next few.  The Astros starters sit first in K-BB% (23.2), second in HR/9 (0.81), first in Batting Average Against (.186) and first in WHIP (0.94).  The Astros are first in ERA- (54, first by a massive 20 points) and FIP (2.30, leading by 0.3 of a run).  This is unsurprising, given FIP is calculated by the three true outcome stats, in which the Astros rank first, first and third (K/9, HR/9 and BB/9, respectively).  SIERA also ranks the Astros as the best rotation in baseball (3.10, over the Nationals, by 0.27 of a run).

Batted Ball Data:
Some of this could be attributed to luck, however, as the Astros starter also rank first / lowest in BABIP (0.250).  Some of that low-ness may be the result of shifting and the improvements in the Astros' overall defence this year, but that is probably optimistic outlook, in my opinion.  The BABIP seems destined to regress.  In addition to that, the Astros are second in baseball in ERA-FIP differential (-0.66), perhaps indicating that the rotation has not been as good as the three true outcome stats have predicted.

But perhaps much of this is sustainable, because the Astros also rank first in soft contact percentage (22.5%, besting the Red Sox by 0.5%), eighth in moderate contact percentage, and 29th in hard contact percentage.  Therefore, exit velocity data seem to support the idea that the Astros could continue to outperform their peripherals.  The line drive percentage allowed by Astros' starters is also the second-lowest in baseball (17.3%), while the Astros rank third in ground-ball percentage (46.8%).  So all of the basic batted ball data seem to indicate that the Astros' rotation outperforming its strong peripheral stats may not have been as much of a fluke as what could be thought at first glance.

The absolute dominance of the Astros starting rotation is really demonstrated by looking at Wins Above Replacement.  The caveat needs to be made that WAR is a counting stat and therefore disadvantages some teams (such as the Yankees, who don't really feature here).

In this category and according to Fangraphs*, the Astros possess a huge lead.  They sit on 8.4 fWAR, 1.4 times greater than the second-place Nationals (6.0).  Extrapolating the 2.4 fWAR difference between them over a full season (which is admittedly a very crude way calculating this projected difference), the Astros rotation is worth approximately 8.6 wins above the second place rotation in baseball - or nearly 1.75 wins per starter.  Scroll further down the list, and the interested reader will note that the Astros and Nationals are the only two teams with a starting pitcher WAR over 5.  The gap between first and third is huge - 3.5 wins above replacement.

* - Fangraphs calculates pitcher WAR by using FIP, so this result should not be surprising at all.

This WAR result is not just restricted to the fWAR, either.  bWAR* has the Astros as the first-ranked team of starters (5.5 bWAR), leading by 1.1 over the Red Sox (alternatively, 20% better than the Red Sox) and 1.6 over the surprisingly strong Phillies and unsurprising excellent Nationals rotations.  Combine this with the Astros' 8th ranked bullpen by bWAR and third-ranked position player bWAR, and you can see how the Astros have managed to be competitive this year, despite prolonged periods of offensive funkitude.

* - bWAR calculates pitcher WAR differently, combining pitchers runs allowed and defensive ratings to produce an ERA estimate, hence the difference in values.

A Quick Comparison to the 2005 Astros Rotation:
Remember that we are looking at the first 45 games of the 2018 season.  Probably the greatest Astros rotation this millennium was the 2005 team, who diehard fans will remember were 15-30 after 45 games.  But the 2005 team had a pretty good rotation (pitching was definitely the strength of that club!) - Roy O, Andy Pettitte and that Roger Clemens guy combined to form an very solid top three, with the last two spots being filled out by some combination of Brandon Backe, early career Wandy Rodriguez and the rookie Ezequiel Astacio.

That 2005 crew managed an overall ERA of 3.81 and accounted for 19.3 fWAR and 19.1bWAR over the course of the 2005 season.  The 2018 rotation looks like it would blow past those fWAR values, and exceed, to a much lesser extent, the 2005 bWAR value.  If one was to crudely multiply by 3.6 (100 divided by 27.8, the percentage of the season that has expired), then the 2018 Astros would be on course for a 30.2 fWAR and a 19.8 bWAR, which seems pretty excellent*.

* - more historical comparisons below...

Could it be the ball?
In summary, I think that there are two interesting features of the season to date, and they could well be interlinked.  The first (obvious) feature is the total dominance of the Astros starters, as outlined above.  Verlander is having the best season of his storied career, while Gerrit Cole is being compared to the Astros' part of Nolan Ryan's career.  Charlie F Morton has really earned that middle initial, which may stand for "filthy".  Dallas Keuchel has shown signs of putting it together lately after a rough start to the season.  Lance McCullers has managed a pretty strong season despite his filthy curveball not really consistently being there for him to this point.

I haven't mentioned the Astros offence at all since the start of this article.  The offensive woes are probably the reason the Astros aren't 34-11* at this point in the season.  In 2017, the Astros appeared to have a much more balanced offence - as a group of fans, we were left with the impression that they were solid from 1 to 9 in the order, and on any night, any part of the order could score enough runs to win the game by themselves.  This year, they have had a much more bimodal offence - there has been the solid top 4 (OPS's 0.770 or above include Springer, Altuve, Correa and Bregman) then an awful lower part of the order (OPS's below 0.650: Derek Fisher, Evan Gattis, Marwin Gonzalez and, of course, Jake Marisnick, all of whom have struggled for extended periods of time this year, despite playing fairly often).

* - In only 11 of 45 starts this year, Astros starters have allowed 3ER or more.  The breakdown: Verlander - 1; Cole, Morton and McCullers -  2 each; Keuchel - 4.

This makes me wonder about the ball.  While there are some reasons that Cole and Verlander may be better than they have ever been (health, data, pitching coaches to name a few), there was a lot of talk about the balls used during the World Series, and how their seams appeared less raised and therefore harder to grip.  This year, offence across baseball has dropped considerably compared to last year*.  The Astros team appears to exemplify this in and of themselves - their really good hitters with a decent track record are still really good, but the lesser offensive performers in the group just behind them (some of whom had career years in 2017) appeared to have regressed more toward their career rates.

* - 2018 Major League batting: .246/.318/.406; .160 isolated slugging; 1460 HR in 49281 PA's, or 1 HR every 33.8 PA's.  
2017 Major League batting: .255/.324/.426; .171 isolated slugging; 6105 HR in 185295 PA's, or 1 HR every 30.3 PA's

So is it possible that the two things are linked??  Could the same thing that has made the Astros rotation a juggernaut also be neutering some of the less able hitters in the Astros lineup??  The Astros are still really good, but it seems that this year, the Astros are really good in a much different way that they were last year.  This year, it is possible that speed, baserunning and small-ball will start to replace power as the Astros' main offensive determinant on things continue how they have currently been going.

Last Point:
The top single starting pitching season since 1962 - the first season of what has become the Astros franchise - as measured by fWAR was recorded equally by the 1970 Cubs and the 2011 Phillies.  Those teams were both ranked as having 26.0 WAR attributed to their starting pitchers.  Just within the Astros franchise, the top Astros rotation  was on the 1999 team, who managed a 21.7 fWAR.  This rotation was followed by the 1971 Astros starters, who recorded 19.6 fWAR.

So this Astros starting five could well be set to make history - both Astros history and Baseball history - if things continue the way they are currently going.  Logical reasoning says things won't go this well for the rest of the season, but there are some indications (such as the basic batted ball data) that the Astros' 2018 rotation could still be historic.  Taking their current fWAR of 8.4 and extrapolating that over a whole season would lead to an overall projection of 30.2 fWAR.  This would better the best rotation in recent baseball history by around 0.85 fWAR per starter, which is a massive difference.

For this reason, it is going to be interesting how the rest of the season pans out.  And if everyone stays healthy, it will also be fun to watch...

I hope this has been fun and informative.  Thanks, as always, for reading Astros County dot com.

Friday, May 18, 2018

Replay Ball! - Spot the Differences Game and Answers

HAPPY FRIDAY!! You know what it means.

This week's game is a repeat from last fall.

Anyway! Slow down, relax, forget about your real world responsibilities for a minute or two and enjoy a round of "Spot the Differences"! 

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 elleeeeemm@yahoo.com 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

Astros' off-day reading last night: Four Days in November by Vincent Bugliosi. I'm about 40% of the way through this 700-page minute-by-minute retelling of the JFK assassination which, as a reminder, did not take place in Houston. Bugliosi is best-remembered as Charles Manson's prosecuting attorney and this is basically how a prosecutor would pin JFK's assassination on Lee Harvey Oswald. So far it's convincing, though I still believe Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr. had a lot to do with it. Four Days in November is riveting. I wanted to watch Back to the Future again last night, but couldn't put this book down. Looka what I'm doing: I'm entertaining a theory that does not align with my own theory, and I'M GOING TO LET THE GUY FINISH HIS POINT. What a concept. Also, Jack Ruby was the weirdest of cats.

*Deadspin: The Astros can pitch now, and look invincible. Shawn Cooke:
Peak Verlander is Peak Verlander, but the Astros' rotation also does this sort of thing on a weekly basis by now. There's something greedy about a great team improving upon its only shortcomings immediately after winning a championship, especially given that they might well have entered the season as the default favorite to win it all over again even without going to all that trouble.

*SI's Jon Tayler: The Reinvigorated and Brilliant Justin Verlander

*Verlander's trophy case is filling up so much he might get himself a calligrapher.

*From the legendary Paul Hoynes, where do the Indians stand as they come to Houston? It depends on what you're looking at. Hoynes:
Just how one views the Indians depends on their line of sight. From outside the walls that every team builds around itself when things aren't going well this is an under-performing team playing in a weak division with one of the worst bullpens in the big leagues.

Yeah, I cherry-picked that. Click the link for the other side of that opinion.

Cleveland is 21-21 and leading the AL Central, a division in which there's not a team above .500. They're 5-10 in 1-run games. They're 0-4 in extra innings. They're 5-8 against the AL West.

*Check Lance McCullers' appearance on SportsRadio 610 yesterday. McCullers:
The game is not as clean as people think.

*MLB.com's Jane Lee: Analyzing the AL West, 1/4 of the way through the season.

*Here's an interesting piece from Joe Lemire about the modern baseball coach's job description: Knowing SQL.

*God. Jon Heyman's Inside Baseball column is absolutely useless for Astros fans. To recap, in layman's terms:
a) Wow Charlie Morton is good! Here's something we wrote a few weeks ago about free agency!
b) A scout, the group to whom Heyman exclusively speaks, has a fun nickname for the rotation
c) Verlander is a Hall of Famer
d) Wow haha Derek Fisher is struggling
e) Houston hopes Marisnick figures something out

Good column, bro.

*Scott Miller: Baseball headliners debate pine-tar.

*Around the AL West: Angels lost, Mariners lost, A's won, Rangers lost.

Off-Day Playoff Odds Check:
FanGraphs (101-61): 94.9% to win AL West, 35.5% to win AL Pennant, 26.1% to win the World Series
FiveThirtyEight (100-62): 77% to win AL West, 18% to win the World Series
Baseball Prospectus (96-66): 89.7% to win AL West, 17.3% to win the World Series (updated Thursday morning)

*The plan to make J.D. Davis feel so slighted that, when he eventually gets called up, he literally destroys a baseball seems to be working. On the night after Tony Kemp got his first MLB hit of 2018, J.D. Davis (wink) hit for the cycle in a 9-7 at El Paso, going 4x4 with 5RBI and a walk. Jake Marisnick made his Triple-A debut and went 0x4 with 2Ks. But he did draw a walk!

*Corpus Christi Caller-Times: Myles Straw is just showing off at this point. Hinch apparently told Straw in Spring Training that they almost called him up for the playoffs to run the bases. I love Myles Straw, and A.J. Hinch. 30 more steals and Straw breaks Arlington's Delino DeShields' Corpus record.  Straw, the Astros' 2015 12th Round pick, wants to steal 100 bases this season. Go get it, kid.

Straw went 2x4 with two more stolen bases last night in a 4-0 Corpus win, giving him 25 on the season through 40 games. Josh Rojas was 3x4 with 2SB. Ryan Hartman (9th Round, 2016) threw 6.1IP, 4H/0ER, 11K:1BB. In 35.1IP this season, Hartman has allowed 31H/6ER, 42K:6BB.

Yordan Alvarez (hand) hasn't played since May 6.

*ESPN: Mike Trout is on pace for the best season in MLB history.

*Angels closer Keynan Middleton will have Tommy John surgery.

*FanGraphs' Rian Watt has a very fun read on the rarest sight in baseball: a pitcher swinging on a 3-0 count.

*This is bullcrap, and I hate college baseball:

*Yeah alright:

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Thursday Morning Hot Links

Kate Upton > Justin Upton. Justin Verlander dealt, the Astros offense didn't do much - so it was a pretty typical night for the Astros. Houston is 28-17, 16-7 away from Minute Maid Park. Check the Angels series recap from Jexas.

*Verlander threw his 8th career complete game shutout, and his first since August 26, 2015...against the Angels. Verlander: 9IP, 5H/0ER, 7K:1BB. The five hits he allowed are the 2nd-most he's allowed this season, and the highest since he gave up six hits against Baltimore on April 3. Last night was the 5th start out of ten in which Verlander didn't give up an earned run.

*He wriggled out of trouble in the 8th after Ian Kinsler broke a string of eleven straight Angels retired with a single and got dang Kole Calhoun hit a ground-rule double to put runners on 2nd and 3rd with one out. Luis Valbuena struck out looking and Mike Trout grounded out to Verlander to escape. Verlander, on the Trout AB:
Here's the game right here. Can you get out the best player in the world? Yeah, I was pretty excited about it.

Trout vs. Verlander, career: 2x27, 7K:4BB (.074/.242/.296).

Pretty much a clinic on how to pitch. I mean, it's just an epic performance by a really good pitcher. It's fun to win a series, especially against a team like this. Even more sweet when one of your best carries you on his back.

*Verlander's last four starts: 29IP, 14H/2ER, 36K:6BB. The Astros scored a total of three runs in those four starts, and are 6-4 when Verlander - now with a 1.05 ERA - starts the game. The offense has scored two runs total in those four losses.

*Shohei Ohtani: 0x4, 3K. It was his second career MLB 0x4, 3K night and first since Boston did it to him on April 19. Ohtani's 3rd and final strikeout in the 9th gave Verlander 2,500 for his career. Verlander is the 33rd pitcher in MLB history to record 2,500 strikeouts. Only CC Sabathia (2,874) has more for active pitchers.

Up next on the all-time strikeout leaderboard (names in bold = Hall of Famers):

32. Christy Mathewson (2507)
31. A.J. Burnett (2513)
30. Javier Vasquez (2536)
29. Jerry Koosman (2556)
28. Tim Keefe (2564)
27. Bob Feller (2581)
26. Warren Spahn (2583)
25. Tom Glavine (2607)
24. Chuck Finley (2610)

21 of the 31 inactive pitchers with 2500+ Ks are in the Hall of Fame. Those not in the HOF:
Roger Clemens, Curt Schilling, Mickey Lolich, Mike Mussina, Frank Tanana, David Cone, Chuck Finley, Jerry Koosman, Javier Vasquez, and A.J. Burnett.

Jake Kaplan notes that Verlander joins a list of Tom Seaver, Nolan Ryan, Roger Clemens, Randy Johnson, and Pedro Martinez as the only pitchers to strike out 2500 batters within their first 400 starts.

*Evan Gattis provided all the offense after Josh Reddick reached on a Zack Cozart error and Evan Gattis knocked a pitch 389 feet to left field. In the last week Evan Gattis is 6x19 with 3HR, hitting .316/.350/.842.

*The Astros only managed five hits, had three PAs with runners in scoring position, and went 0x3. It's the 10th time the Astros have been held to five or fewer hits, in 45 games. The 2017 Astros which, again, IS BASICALLY THE SAME TEAM, were held to five or fewer hits 16 times over the course of the whole season.

It's the 16th time they've scored two or fewer runs, also in 45 games. That said:

*Runs, through 45 games, 2018: 210 (4.67)
Runs, through, 45 games, 2017: 221 (4.91)

*Tony Kemp went from Fresno to Phoenix to El Paso on Tuesday, only to find out that he got called up, so he made the Wednesday 6:15am flight from El Paso to Anaheim, and immediately got the LF start. Believe it or not, Marisnick still has two options remaining. He reached on an infield single in his 2nd PA of the night but was stranded after Alex Bregman grounded into a double play.

*A.J. Hinch is not going to let the word "Hangover" into his dictionary (unless it's Reddick, of course, then it's used literally). Hinch:
One thing I wasn't going to allow was us to limp into the season, and I mean that mentally and physically. I certainly didn't abuse them (code for: "I abused them") and I didn't play them an extended amount of times early in the spring. But any sort of hangover question or debate on what last season brings into this season we jut dealt with directly and shrugged out shoulders about it and play our whole schedule like we're told to.

*Tyler Bauer pitched for Cleveland yesterday, ensuring that he will not pitch in Houston this weekend. Probably a smart move by Francona. The Astros have today off and then face the AL Central-leading Indians who, at 21-21, are the only AL Central team at .500.

*The Yankees (+525) have overtaken the Astros (+550) as the favorites to win the 2018 World Series.

*In Game 1 of a double-header against Cedar Rapids, Quad Cities pitcher Cristian Javier threw 5IP, 3H/2ER, 10K:2BB. In seven appearances this season, Javier has thrown 29IP, 20H/8ER, 47K:18BB.

*Buies Creek has moved their remaining home game start times up an hour.

*LA Times' Dylan Hernandez: The Dodgers don't have the same blueprint as the Astros.

*Former Astros Great Jason Castro tore his meniscus and is now out for the season. He was hitting .143/.257/.238 and is in the 2nd year of a 3yr/$24.5m deal.

*Gerald Green is a damn national treasure. Or at least a Houston Treasure.

*FanGraphs: Jordan Lyles found something he never had.

*Man. Good for Chad Bettis.

*The World Cup guide given to Argentina's players, coaches, and journalists has a section on how to bang Russian women.

Series Recap: Astros @ Angels 05/14-16

The Astros entered this series one game up on The Angels and leave it two games up.

Game 1- McCullers vs Heaney

Lance McCullers continues to have a hard time finding the curve but despite taking the L for this game, McCullers actually pitched rather well allowing only 2 runs on 4 hits. Somehow Andrew Heaney managed to get 10k's from the Astros keeping them at ONE RUN off of 6 hits. That's right. Another one run game. I was watching the Rockets lose majority of this game, so flipping over to the Astros game and watching them lose by ONE RUN caused me to fall asleep with a scowl on my face.

Game 2- Cole vs Barria

The Astros delivered a win to A.J. Hinch for his birthday. Gerrit Cole had his roughest start of the season lasting only 5 innings. Cole gave up two home runs, scoring 3 runs off of 5 hits. McHugh came in and pitched the 6th & 7th, Will Harris in the 8th and Ken Giles got the save after shutting it down in the 9th. Jose Altuve broke a 0 for 16 drought in game 1 and it must have triggered the floodgates. In the top of the 8th Altuve hit a bases clearing double (they were loaded) scoring Josh Reddick, Yuli Gurriel and Alex Bregman to put the Astros ahead 4-3. The final score was 5-3. Reddick had two amazing outfield assists, throwing out Mike Trout at 3rd and Ian Kinsler at home plate. Check it:

Game 3- Verlander vs Richards

Was a good night for starting pitcher Justin Verlander. Verlander became the 33rd member of the 2,500 strikeout club, striking out Shohei Ohtani in the bottom of the 9th. First regular season complete game with the Astros. First shutout in 3 years. Highest regular season pitch count (118) since joining the Astros last September. The guy is a beast. The offense didn't have as good of a night as the Astros managed only 5 hits. The 2 runs the Astros scored came on an Evan Gattis 2 run homer after Josh Reddick reached 1st base on an error. Tony Kemp got the call and came up with a single in his 2nd plate appearance which is more than Jake Marisnick has been able to do lately. Marisnick was sent down to AAA Fresno to get in some plate appearances and figure things out. Got my fingers crossed for him.

Thursday is an off day, then Cleveland comes to town. Sadly, Tyler Bauer is not scheduled to pitch.

Series W-L: 9-5