Thursday, November 23, 2017

Thanksgiving Morning Hot Links

Happy Thanksgiving! The Houston Food Bank is in its World Series today, operating at triple its normal function. To date, the Houston Food Bank has delivered 28 million pounds of supplies to the people of Houston.

Of course it's a day to be thankful, a chance to come together with friends and family just hours before you try to rip their heads off for a new flat-screen. I'm thankful for the Astros, for Jose Altuve, for pre-arbitration years, for George Springer, for Brady Aiken's tiny UCL, for Yuli's hair, for Mr. Kate Upton, McCullers' curveball, and for all of you. The Astros are World Series champions. If you talk politics with your family, please remember to film it and send it to astroscounty at gmail dot com.

*2017 Random Astros fact:
When Max Stassi threw out A.J. Pollock on August 17, it broke a streak of 29 straight successful stolen bases by Astros opponents, dating back to June 18.

*The out-of-options catcher Juan Centeno was placed on waivers by the Astros yesterday, clearing a spot on the 40-Man roster. The Astros would like for him to clear waivers so he can return to Triple-A and be next man up in the event of an injury to McCann or Max Stassi, whose backup job it is to lose.   The 40-Man Roster now stands at 39.

Centeno played in 22 games for the Astros in 2017, hitting .231/.286/.346. In his first two games as an Astro, both against Detroit at home (May 23 and May 25) Centeno went 3x7 with two home runs, including a go-ahead solo home run off Justin Verlander. When he came back in August, he went 4x9 with another RBI. He hit .311/.354/.383 for Fresno this season and threw out 14 of 38 base runners.

*Today through Monday, BreakingT is offering a Black Friday sale in which you get 25% off the entire store and free shipping at $50. So click this link and check out the Houston collection. Get your friends and family some *actually affordable* shirts you can't get at Academy.

*Alex Bregman returned home to Albuquerque for the first time since winning the World Series, threw out the first pitch at a brand new sports complex, and signed a bunch of autographs. Bregman's dad, Sam:
I know how hard Alex worked to get to this level, and of course I'm proud of what he's done. But he's still the same kid who has to take the trash out after Thanksgiving dinner. He takes time for everyone, and he's a great person off the field. That's what really makes me proud.

*The Los Angeles Fire Department made good on a bet with HFD Station 60.

*Lance McCullers loves dogs more than he loves you.

*Richard Justice: A reason for each team to be thankful. 

*Carlos Correa is in Puerto Rico throwing a party for everyone.

*Jonathan Mayo has your FAQ on Shohei Ohtani and the new posting system. Note that Ohtani is subject to international spending limits. The Rangers have the most money available to spend on him, while the Astros cannot sign anyone for more than $300,000 thanks to the international free agent spending spree they went on in 2016 that included shortstop Freudis Nova. So the only hope the Astros have in signing Ohtani is if he just wants to play in Houston. By jumping to MLB now instead of in two years, when he would be a free agent a la Yuli Gurriel, he's already shown he's willing to give up literal boatloads of money. Maybe there's some hope? An international scouting director told Mayo:
Him coming out proves it's not about money. He could wait and get a lot - way more than $10 million. It sounds like he wants to win, and will want to be in a good situation for his culture. He makes a lot of money off the field already, and he'll make more off the field here.

The New York Daily News is obviously predicting the Yankees will sign him.

*The Astros and Nationals have been sending their own workers to the Ballpark of the Seven Isles, or whatever the Spring Training facility is called, to get the stadium finished, almost a year after it "opened." Issues between the main contractor - Hunt Construction Group - and the subcontractors have led to a wide array of legal problems.

*The second part of my job ramps into high gear on Monday, so I'm reading as much as I can this weekend. As a purveyor of bizarre non-fiction, I'm currently reading (and enjoying) Marie Antoinette's Watch: Adultery, Larceny, and Perpetual Mostion by John Biggs. It's free if you have Kindle Unlimited.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Should the Astros sign Shohei Ohtani?

Yes.

Wednesday Morning Hot Links

*I drove for 10 hours yesterday and hit 75 South in McKinney at 5:05pm. 0/10 would not advise.

*Random Astros fact:

AL West guaranteed contracts for 2019, not including arbitration or options (all numbers via Baseball-Reference):
Angels: 5 ($104.1m)
Mariners: 4 ($69.3m)
Rangers: 3 ($68.7m)
Astros: 3 ($43.9m)
Oakland: 0 ($0)

*The Astros will each receive about $438,000 for winning the World Series - an MLB record.

*SportsTalk 790 will re-broadcast Games 5 and 7 starting at 6am tomorrow.

*Just catching up, because this actually happened on Monday afternoon (and I forgot to take my computer on our quick trip): the Astros traded outfielder Ramon Laureano to the A's for RHP Brandon Bailey. Laureano put up impressive numbers between Lancaster and Corpus in 2016:
-Lancaster (357 PAs): .317/.426/.519
-Corpus (148 PAs): .323/.432/.538

But in his 2017 follow-up in Corpus, Laureano struggled, hitting .227/.298/.369 in his Age-22 season. The Astros had to either trade him, put him on the 40-Man roster, or expose him to the Rule 5 draft, so the Astros went with the option that guaranteed a return.

Brandon Bailey, a 5'10" 175lb RHP, was the A's 6th Round pick in the 2016 draft out of Gonzaga. Between the Midwest League (57IP) and the hitter-friendly California League (34IP) Bailey threw 91IP, 68H/33ER, 120K:31BB.

OaklandClubhouse says of Bailey:
Bailey has swing-and-miss stuff dating back to college and he has a starter's repertoire. He has a four-seam fastball, a four-seam changeup, a spike curveball and a slider. Bailey was also working on a cut-fastball late last season.

The Astros added Cionel Perez and Dean Deetz to the 40-Man roster, which is now full.

*Late last night I wrote up some thoughts on Joe Morgan and the Baseball Hall of Fame

*Y'all know I pimped the mess out of some t-shirts that I had a hand in helping design. Starting tomorrow (Thursday) through Monday, BreakingT is offering a Black Friday sale in which you get:
-25% off the entire store
-Free shipping at $50

So click this link and check out the Houston collection. Get your friends and family some *actually affordable* shirts you can't get at Academy.



*MLB debuted the 2017 Astros documentary last night to a packed house that included Jeff Luhnow and A.J. Hinch.

*ESPN will show the Astros' season opener at Arlington at 2:30pm on Thursday, March 29 as well as the Astros' home opener against Baltimore on Monday, April 2.

*Mark Appel was designated for assignment by the Phillies.

*Jonah Keri wrote up the 2017 Offseason Power Rankings, and here's how it shakes out for the AL West:
Houston: 1
Anaheim: 13
Seattle: 16
Arlington: 17
Oakland: 22

*You can watch the 5-minute SportsCenter piece on George Springer overcoming his stutter. And you can watch the 45-minute Jose Altuve documentary "Big Dreams."

*Rosenthal: Prominent Asian-Americans are troubled by Gurriel's delayed suspension.

*So I guess Kevin Comer was signed by the Tigers.

*The Braves got absolutely hammered.

*SportsNet's Jeff Blair might *only* vote for Bonds and Clemens this year.

*Meet the guy who built a homemade rocket. To launch himself into space. To prove that Earth is flat. The big yellow "RESEARCH" tag below the cockpit lets you know he's for real.

Some thoughts on the Hall of Fame

The Baseball Hall of Fame sent out their ballots this week for the election by the BBWAA. It's a bittersweet time for me, as I was the Manager of Visitor Education at the National Baseball Hall of Fame & Museum from May 2006-February 2009. The pay was terrible, rent was expensive, heating oil was ridiculous. We had to keep our thermostat set at 57 to make the oil last as long as possible.  The first winter my wife (who is from Baytown) and I spent in Cooperstown was cute. The second winter was terrible, and by October 2008 we looked at each other and thought, "We gotta get the hell out of here." Wilco's "Hate it Here" was a household anthem in those final months. We made friends that are like family - still are - but I know what it's like to have your windows open when the wind chill is -35 because your furnace blew up. But I loved every minute that I spent at work. The current president of the Hall of Fame - who is a legitimately Good Dude - was my boss('s boss) before he became President. We texted each other after the Astros won the World Series (Name-Drop Alert). So I have some thoughts about the Baseball Hall of Fame. They are, in no related order of importance, as follows:

*The Steroid Era should 100% be acknowledged, simply by inclusion, and absolutely does not need an asterisk. Why? The five highest single-season batting averages in baseball history are as follows:

1. Hugh Duffy - .440 (1894)
2. Tip O'Neill - .435 (1887)
3. Ross Barnes - .429 (1876)
4. Nap Lajoie - .428 (1901)
5. Willie Keeler - .424 (1897)

Twenty-five of the first 26-highest batting averages in a single-season occurred prior to 1920. Those 26 instances were compiled by 20 different players. Fifteen of them are in the Hall of Fame. The highest single-season batting average in baseball history post-Integration is George Brett's 1980 season, when he hit .390. It ranks 48th.

Now, the five highest single-season slugging percentages in baseball history are as follows:

1. Barry Bonds - .836 (2001)
2. Babe Ruth - .847 (1920)
3. Babe Ruth - .846 (1921)
4. Barry Bonds - .812 (2004)
5. Barry Bonds - .799 (2002)

That said, using the George Brett Comparison (which is problematic, admittedly), only 18 of the first 48 highest single-season SLGs came after 1990. There have been 45 separate 50+ home run seasons. Twenty-eight of them were in 1990 or after. Sixteen of the 26 highest single-season home run totals have come since 1990, a ratio that is underwhelming compared to the batting average gambit.

Nine players who have hit 50+ home runs in a season, out of 29, are in the Hall of Fame: Babe Ruth, Jimmie Foxx, Hank Greenberg, Hack Wilson, Ralph Kiner, Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays, Johnny Mize, and Ken Griffey, Jr.

Maybe it's worth mentioning that Barry Bonds only hit 50+ home runs in a season once: his 2001 season with 73. Of course he got walked a lot because of his power, but Barry Bonds did not destroy Baseball's Home Run books. McGwire and Sosa hold positions 2-6. Giancarlo Stanton hit 59 home runs this season while David Ortiz's best is 54.

Point being: Whereas the early days of organized major-league baseball highlighted batting average for a period of maybe 40 years, the last 40 years of Major League Baseball have highlighted power. Hitter exploits weaknesses in the opposition and the rules. That much remains the same. So you look at Hugh Duffy's .440 average in 1894 and you're all, "Yeah, but that was 1894. Game was different." Then look at Barry Bonds' 73-HR season in 2001 and you're all, "Yeah, but that was 2001. Game was different." Baseball fans don't need an asterisk.

*Joe Morgan, a Hall of Famer himself, a member of the Hall of Fame's Board of Directors, and the Hall of Fame's Vice-Chairman, sent a Very Earnest Letter to...everyone, I guess, but specifically the voting members of the BBWAA pleading:
We hope the day never comes when known steroid users are voted into the Hall of Fame. They cheated. Steroid users don't belong here.

People with more scientific knowledge than I can argue that the rampant use of amphetamines in the latter half of 20th century baseball, or the hypocrisy of Joe Morgan decrying this most recent era in baseball history.

*"Here" is a very small, idyllic, pastoral town that is the home of James Fenimore Cooper in upstate New York. While short-lived, our (The Wife and I) time in Cooperstown is a massive part of my life. It is the home of the best artifacts in baseball's history, and has plaques with biographies of the players that 75% of baseball writers could agree were the best in the game's history. That said, aside from trade shows and what I would assume can only be described as drinking sessions between buddies who were also really good at a game, the only time Hall of Famers get together is during Induction Weekend. So Joe Morgan really only has to be associated with other Hall of Famers on three nights out of the year. My wife and I lived about a block and a half from the Otesaga, the hotel in which the Hall of Famers are comped their rooms and whatever they consume during the last weekend in July. It is a massive hotel. Don't want a drink with Barry Bonds? Go to your suite, and invite your old buddies. Do some greenies and reminisce.

Joe Morgan, acting as an influential member of the HOF's Board of Directors, over-stepped his bounds. But think about it like this: How many extremely successful people do you know who actively give you an in, or a tip, or a secret, that can put you on their level? Rich dudes don't want more rich dudes. Joe Morgan, and most members of Baseball's Most-Elite Club aren't interested in swelling the ranks of their Elite Club. Morgan apparently doesn't see a correlation between being able to perform at a high level day-after-day in the 1950s-1980s and being able to perform at a high level day-after-day in the 1990s-2000s (2010s?). It's grandstanding on Morgan's part.

*I do not understand why, if the BBWAA voted to make all ballots public after the election announcement, the HOF (including the Board of Directors) said no. Writers can release their own ballots as they wish, but the HOF will not make all ballots public. 90% of the voting members voted to make their ballots public. My guess is that it was a very loud 10% who objected. The Hall of Fame has said "We don't elect, we induct." The voting members are looking for guidance, and the Hall is perfectly willing to not provide it. Is that deflection? The HOF has been very clear that any controversy regarding results in the voting is a voter issue, not a Museum Issue. That's disappointing. Bloggers don't monitor the accession/deaccession records of MFA Houston and question the logic.

*The Hall of Fame, as an institution, has a tremendous opportunity - perhaps a mandate - to take control of the narrative and set some guidelines for voting. Provide clarification for which the members are asking. But rather than be the Principal and gain control of the 500+ member schoolyard fight, they're just willing to let whomever wins reign as the champ. And that's disappointing.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Monday Morning Hot Links

*Random 2017 Astros fact:

There are currently 38 players on the Astros' 40-Man Roster. The deadline to set the 40-Man roster for Rule 5 purposes is at 7pm Central today.

*FanGraphs: Houston ranks 8th in total guaranteed contracts owed for 2018 and taking on Verlander's contract as well as increases in arbitration for some key players (Keuchel, Springer, McCullers) will mean - obviously - that their payroll will increase.

*Here's Bill James on Aaron Judge, Jose Altuve, Win Shares, WAR, and luck. And here's the follow-up.

*It took me a while, but I wrote about what CoolStandings told us about the 2017 Astros season.

*Joe Musgrove asked for fans' World Series tattoos.

*If you're planning on getting in line for Altuve's autograph at the Academy in Katy (I-10 and Grand Parkway) today...you're about eight hours too late.

*From the NCAA, who took time out of their busy schedule of screwing athletes, Evan Gattis' road to the World Series went through UT-Permian Basin.

*Lance McCullers and Alex Bregman were at Minute Maid Park yesterday for the Shriners Game.

*Here's Justin Verlander standing next to a pre-makeup extra on The Walking Dead:

*Leeds United beat Boro 2-1.

*Christian Pulisic: Hope of a nation

What CoolStandings told us about the 2017 Astros

Every morning while I put the Hot Links together during the 2017 season, I would check FanGraphs' Playoff Odds page. Even back in April. I wouldn't always talk about it, because I didn't want to be the guy scoreboard watching in May. Once a week, usually on an off-day, I would post a run-down of where things stood, projection-wise. It's like getting on a scale, you're not really supposed to do it every day, so you don't overreact to things like water weight and normal ebbs and flows of...things that determine how much you weigh. But I do it anyway. Getting on the scale, and checking the Playoff Odds everyday. I'd check it against FiveThirtyEight and BaseballProspectus, and I'd scoff at the projection that didn't tell me what I wanted to know - that the Astros were locks to win the World Series. Go ahead, click that link above. You'll like what you see.

So how does it work? Reading the About section tells us this:
The FanGraphs Playoff Odds are an adaptation of the coolstandings.com playoff odds originally created by Greg Agami and Sean Walsh. To generate the playoff odds we simulate each season 10,000 times. 

It's FanGraphs' tweaking of pythagorean theorem, recent results, depth charts, ZIPS projections, etc. It's updated every day in the middle of the night, so by the time I get to this part of the internet (usually around 5:30am), it's ready to release its fresh horrors.

So let's take a look, through the smug lens of hindsight, and see how the Playoff Odds reacted to the 2017 Astros' season. Here's how FanGraphs projected the season on the Eve of Opening Day:

AL West:
Houston: 90-72
Anaheim: 83-79
Seattle: 82-80
Arlington: 82-80
Oakland: 77-85

That's pretty much exactly how the AL West shook out. Anaheim actually won three fewer games, but I doubt the projections figured in how much time Mike Trout missed in 2017. The Rangers and Mariners tied, but with 78 wins, and the projections were off on Oakland by two wins. But that's pretty impressive.

Where else in the pre-season projections was FanGraphs remarkably wrong? They were -11 on the Astros. Who else either out- or under-performed by 10+ wins?

San Francisco's FG projection: 89-73
San Francisco's actual record: 64-98 (-25)

Detroit's FG projection: 82-80
Detroit's actual record: 64-98 (-18)

Mets' FG projection: 87-75
Mets' actual record: 70-92 (-17)

Arizona's FG projection: 77-85
Arizona's actual record: 93-69 (+16)

Milwaukee's FG projection: 70-92
Milwaukee's actual record: 86-76 (+16)

Yankees' FG projection: 79-83
Yankees' actual record: 91-71 (+12)

Houston's FG projection: 90-72
Houston's actual record: 101-61 (+11)

Toronto's FG projection: 86-76
Toronto's actual record: 76-86 (-10)

Minnesota's FG projection: 75-87
Minnesota's actual record: 85-77 (+10)

There are so many stories as to why the projections missed. Nine teams were off by 10 or more wins, four of them were in the National League, five in the AL. There were a group of teams that were within three wins of their pre-season projection. But injuries (cough BUMGARNER cough), regression, playing out of your mind for a month, etc. But let's just stop and note that, of the six divisions in MLB, FanGraphs' projection system got all six division winners correct.

So let's take a look at the Astros, specifically. 

Pre-Season:
Making the playoffs: 78.4%
Winning the division: 60.1%
Winning the Pennant: 20.0%
Winning the World Series: 10.3%

The Astros obviously had a good team coming out of Spring Training, eschewing Chris Carter for Yuli Gurriel; jettisoning Colby Rasmus for Josh Reddick; wife-swapping Jason Castro for Brian McCann. They'd be good, we knew that. If you at least make the playoffs in 7840 out of 10,000 simulations, things look alright. Then you see what happens in October.

But after sweeping the Mariners to start the season, the Astros' odds of making the playoffs jumped to 85%. Thanks to going 10-3 from April 10-25, their odds jumped from 77.6% to 92.3%. On the morning of May 18 the Astros' playoff odds were 98%, having won 15 of 19 games.

May 29: Astros' postseason chances hit 99% for the first time. So after the most incredible win of the season, the Memorial Day Miracle, the Astros make the postseason 9,930 out of 10,000 times. Which, after that win, seems low.

June 2: Having won 10 of 11, the Astros' projection to win the division hits 99% for the first time. October is an inevitability.

July 3: The Astros are a 100% lock to make the ALDS. The Astros have a 15-game lead after taking two of three from the Yankees at home (Ed. note: I was at the one loss. With The Wife, Freakin' Pat, and Tyler.)

July 16: The Astros' odds of winning the ALDS and making it to the ALCS peaked. The Astros were 62-30, projected for 103.5 wins, after taking two of three from Minnesota at home after the All-Star Break.

The trade deadline came and went and were described as "a disappointment would be an understatement." The Astros woke up on August 1 and were 57.4% to win their ALDS, 28.7% to win the Pennant (the exact same as Cleveland), and 15.2% to win the World Series. They were projected to go 102-60.

A 3-10 stretch through August 14 had them at 58.2% to win their ALDS, 28.5% to win the Pennant, and 15.3% to win the World Series. They would finish the month 8-7, so the Astros' 11-17 August didn't affect them too heavily. The numbers knew who the Astros were, and could account for a 28-game stretch (17% of a season) where they didn't play to the level they had shown prior.

(Side note: Cleveland's 22-game win streak didn't do as much as you would think for their postseason success odds. The streak started on August 24, when their odds of winning an ALDS series was 50.5%, 27.5% to win the Pennant, and 15.5% to win the World Series. By the time it ended on September 14 it was 62.4% to win their ALDS, 32.3% to win the Pennant, and 19.6% to win the World Series. Maybe that's significant, I don't know. But when the simulations take recent results into account, a 22-game win streak - winning 13.6% of the season in a row - shifted things, but not dramatically. I guess the take away is that we overreact too much on a game-by-game basis. This is not exactly breaking news.)

September 2: The Astros introduced Justin Verlander at MMP and won both ends of a double-header against the Mets in their first game back at Minute Maid Park following Harvey, pushing their record to 82-53. They were already at 100.0% to win the division, 61.3% to win the ALDS (highest since their 62.4% on July 16), 32.9% to win the Pennant, and 19.8% to win the World Series.

September 4: Following the Astros' 5th-straight win they post their highest odds of winning the Pennant and the World Series at 35.8% and 22.0%, respectively. The following day Verlander would make his Astros debut and start a string of 10 straight Astros wins in games he starts.

October 2: The Astros woke up three days out from starting the ALDS against the Red Sox in the ALDS with simulations showing them beating the Red Sox by a narrow 52.2-47.8 margin, lowest it had been since May 25th's 50.7% chance of advancing to the ALCS. They were AL Pennant winners in 26.3% of the simulations, which had not been that low since May 11's 25.8% chance. Houston won the World Series in 15.1% of FanGraphs' simulations, the lowest it had been since August 16, after the Astros had lost eight of 13 August games.

But let's take stock of ten playoff teams' "chances" of winning each round of the playoffs, at the outset of each round:

Win ALDS (as of October 2, 2017):

Cleveland: 64.0%
Houston: 52.2%
Boston: 47.8%
New York: 25.6%
Minnesota: 10.3%

Obviously FanGraphs favored Cleveland to win the ALDS over either New York or Minnesota (whoops). Houston was a narrow favorite over Boston, likely due to facing Chris Sale twice and Craig Kimbrel however many times it was necessary.

Win NLDS (as of October 2):

Los Angeles: 65.8%
Washington: 50.4%
Chicago: 49.6%
Arizona: 19.0%
Colorado: 15.2%

Arizona and Colorado were the Wild Card teams, so they had a steeper hill to climb. But the Dodgers are the clear favorites here.

Win ALDS (as of October 5):

Cleveland: 59.2%
Houston: 52.7%
Boston: 47.3%
New York: 40.8%

I think everyone in the world thought it would be a Houston/Cleveland ALCS, but the simulations said Cleveland would easily handle the Yankees.

WIN ALCS (as of October 12):

Houston: 59.3%
New York: 40.7%

Houston was the clear favorite, but obviously FanGraphs didn't plan on the Astros dropping all three in New York.

WIN NLCS (as of October 13):

Los Angeles: 53.8%
Chicago: 46.2%

Interesting to see this series as narrow as it was projected, given that the Dodgers handled the Cubs easily while the Astros actively tried to take years off our lives in the ALCS.

WIN World Series (as of October 22, after both pennants had been won):

Houston: 52.6%
Los Angeles: 47.4%

That said, after Clayton Kershaw won Game 1 - a game nobody really thought he was going to lose - the simulations shifted to 62.5-37.5 in favor of the Dodgers. After dominating Game 1, the Dodgers won four of the next six games (three of them at home) in 6250 of 10000 simulations.

So, after Game 2 (tied 1-1):

Houston: 51.6%
Los Angeles: 48.4%

When the Astros took Game 2 in LA, it essentially made the series a best-of-five with home-field advantage. The simulations shifted slightly in Houston's favor.

After Game 3 (2-1 Houston):

Houston: 70.8%
Los Angeles: 29.2%

I guess that Game 3 was crucial.

After Game 4 (Tied 2-2):

Houston: 53.7%
Los Angeles: 46.3%

The bullpen's blown save gave the Dodgers about 1700 extra series simulation wins, needing to win two home games to take the World Series.

After Game 5 (3-2 Houston):

Houston: 79.0%
Los Angeles: 21.0%

Biggest swing of the series, naturally. The simulations figured Verlander and Keuchel could get one win in Los Angeles.

After Game 6 (Tied 3-3)

Houston: 53.2%
Los Angeles: 46.8%

Maybe it was Keuchel vs. Darvish, but I was surprised that the Astros were favored in this game. The only time - again, in the simulations - throughout the World Series that the Astros didn't win the World Series in the majority of simulations was after Game 1.

This certainly does not mean that you should check CoolStandings next March and roll out to Vegas and bet everything on CoolStandings being right. I mean, go back and check the Indians' chances in the simulations at getting through the ALDS. But still, things turned out generally how they were simulated.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Sunday Morning Hot Links

I was without wifi for a couple of days while on a work thing. I hate missing a day, not because I feel guilty about it (I don't, and actually sort of enjoyed a little break), but because it's actually kind of easier. I know where I left off from the previous day, so the four or five little tactics I use to find what I feel are the most interesting articles become compounded when it's been since, say, Thursday morning. Anyway, posting shouldn't be too terribly sporadic over Thanksgiving. Hope you had a good weekend and, if you're traveling, please do stay safe. (Admittedly this is a dumb saying. "Stay safe," as though you're reading this while driving a car full of your loved ones over Monteagle Mountain and thinking to yourself, "Oh, yes, well if AC says to be safe, I should probably put my phone down.")

Random 2017 Astros fact:

1st-Place votes, MVP (in either league) since 1993:
Albert Pujols: 32, 2009
Barry Bonds: 32, 2002
Joey Votto: 31, 2010
Bryce Harper: 30, 2015
Mike Trout: 30, 2014
Barry Bonds: 30, 2001
Sammy Sosa: 30, 1998
Kris Bryant: 29, 2016
Chipper Jones: 29, 1999
Andrew McCutchen: 28, 2013
Barry Bonds: 28, 2003
Ken Griffey: 28, 1997
Ken Caminiti: 28, 1996
Jeff Bagwell: 28, 1994
Frank Thomas: 28, 1993
Jose Altuve: 27, 2017
Buster Posey: 27, 2012
Joe Mauer, 27: 2009

*From a couple of days ago: Hunter Atkins writes how Jose Altuve captured Houston's heart a long time ago.

*Jon Heyman says the Astros are trying to sign A.J. Hinch to a long-term extension. Hinch is under contract for 2018 with an option for 2019.

*The Chicago Tribune's Paul Sullivan wonders how the Astros can be Not Like the Cubs and avoid a World Series hangover in 2018.

*And I guess the Chicago baseball writers were at the same bar because here's the Sun-Times' Gordon Wittenmyer with the lesson the 2017 Cubs provide for the 2018 Astros.

*I hope you got to read JMay's "The Astro Way" post.

*Jake Kaplan writes that the Astros plan on Gattis being the primary DH in 2018. Luhnow:
I think we'll have some options for backup catcher next year that will allow Gattis to primarily be a DH and third catcher, which is probably ultimately the best role for him.

*The Round Rock Express denied a Fort Worth Star-Telegram article saying that they're planning on telling the Rangers next month that they'll flip back to the Astros following the 2018 season, when their PDC expires. Houston's PDC with Fresno expires following the 2018 season, as well.

*Oooooh Lance McCullers was not happy with a couple of Kansas City AL MVP voters who did not give Altuve 1st place on their ballot. The Kansas City Star's Rustin Dodd explained why he voted for Cleveland's Jose Ramirez over Altuve (2nd) and Judge (3rd).

*Kyle Tucker went 2x4 in the Arizona Fall League championship game yesterday. Tucker:
I wanted to come here and work on some stuff and get a little bit better, and work on stuff that I can now do in the rest of the offseason and get ready for next year.

*Josh Reddick went home to southeast Georgia, got a hero's welcome, and broke ground on a $1m community baseball field, which Reddick completely funded.

*Astros minor-leaguer Carlos Pimentel got popped for Stanozolol and will be suspended for 56 games in 2018. Pimentel, 23, made his debut in 2017 throwing 19.1IP, 18H/10ER, 21K:6BB for the GCL Astros, where he was 2.6 years older than his average competition.

*Watch this:


*Thoughts and prayers to Scott McCaughey.

Friday, November 17, 2017

The Astro Way

Friend of Astros County JMay wrote this, and I'm happy to post it here:
----

The Astro Way

In 1986, I was six and Billy Doran was my favorite player.  At least that’s how I remember things today when I wear my vintage Billy Doran jersey with rainbow stripes on the shoulders to every big game.  But, history, and especially memory, has a way of pulling tricks on us.  With only a little introspection, I know that Glenn Davis was my favorite that year because he hit two homers in a game garnering me two souvenirs after of a bet with my dad.  With only a little basic math, I realize I was actually seven years old for the season, even if I was six at the start of the calendar year.  

My memory also says I went to 32 games that year and at one time knew the Astros exact record in games I attended.

I remember my mom speeding home after baseball practice during Mike Scott’s no-hitter, listening breathlessly on the radio only for the final out to occur a block from our house.

I remember my stepdad teasing me about the “Lastros” even as he instilled in me the love for the sport and the team.

That team was my first baseball love:  Billy D, Mike Scott, Nolan Ryan, Cheo, Billy Hatcher, Garner/Walling at the hot corner, the Craig Reynolds/Dickie Thon platoon at short, Kevin Bass, the “coneheads” in the bullpen, Glenn Davis's moustache, and on and on.  I even loved Frank DiPino.

But, Billy D was my favorite in years moving forward because he played second base like I did, and he set the example how the game should be played..  And, as six became my lucky jersey number, six years old became my age for that season as far as my memory was concerned.  Because I wanted it to be.  That used to be my favorite season in Astros history, the year I became a die hard and the Astros played in what used to be the greatest game ever played, even if it was a loss.

Why does any of this matter?  Because the heartbeat of Billy D still lives in this team, embodying what the Astros mean to my memory and what still thumps in the veins of our current beloved team.  Our memories, as vivid as they seem now, might someday play tricks on us regarding what play happened in what inning of what game this season, but nothing can ever deny the fact that we are World Series Champions.

***

So, how does Billy D’s heartbeat still beat in today’s team?  

Billy Doran was of course a cog on the ‘86 team, not a star, but a glue guy.  He then overlapped with Biggio as the ‘86 team dismantled in the late 80s.  Biggio has cited several times that Doran was one of the team members to pass on the torch of the Astro Way:   play hard, run out ground balls, get dirty.  That's baseball.

One of Doran’s teammates, another ‘86 legend Cheo Cruz once gave Biggio the rookie indoctrination:

“Hey, boy; get me a cup of coffee.”

Craig didn’t miss a beat.

“I’m a player but I’d be happy to get you a cup of coffee if I could sit down and listen to you, Mr. Cruz.”

Thus, the lessons in the Astro Way were born.

In his Hall of Fame speech, Biggio said, “I was around guys like Nolan Ryan, Billy Doran, Buddy Bell, Terry Puhl.  Being around these guys taught me how to respect the game and play the game the right way, day in and day out.  It was always about the team.”

When Biggio made the position switch from catcher to second base, Doran, then a member of the Reds, made Biggio meet him in Houston so that Doran could teach him “how to play the position the right way.”

No Astros fan of the last 25 years needs a recap of how Biggio and his warrior-in-arms Jeff Bagwell established the Astro Way in the clubhouse over the next decade.  Cammy, Finley and Gonzo, Ausmus, Derek Bell, Billy Spiers, John Cangelosi, Alou, later Berkman, even Ensberg, Everett, Bruntlett, and even Jeff Kent’s moustache bringing Glenn Davis back full circle.  Pitchers like Hampton, Reynolds, Oswalt, Wagner, Lima Time, Wade Miller, Backe.  Every player that came through that clubhouse, rookies or veterans, as disparate as their personalities might be, had to walk on the field in the image of Biggio and Bagwell, in the image of the Astro Way.

And then, after the first World Series disappointment, that Astro Way faded to a dying ember.  The team was old and had given its best shot, and I lamented that the ties to the team of my youth were dwindling.

For a time, I put all my hope in Hunter Pence to carry the torch, one last player who overlapped Biggio and seemed to embody my Astros.  Alas, even he couldn’t outlast the disrepair brought on by the previous regime, and I thought the connection was forever severed.

And then came the 5’ 6” comet out of the stars, another second baseman who embodied everything Biggio and Billy D before him represented.  A comet that against all odds has a chance to surpass everything Biggio did in the same way that Biggio surpassed Doran.  While at the same time embodying everything right about the Astro Way.  Altuve might not have overlapped Biggio’s playing days, but it’s clear to everyone that he plays the game in a similar vein. “Perhaps the one thing that endears Altuve to Biggio more than anything else is his hustle. They're cut from the same cloth. They both rush down the line no matter how hard the ball was hit, no matter if it was March or September.”

Biggio and Bagwell’s continued presence in the organization helped bridge the gap.  And, then the return of Carlos Beltran gave us a physical passing of the torch.  Beltran lockered next to Biggio during his brief stay in 2004.  About Biggio, Beltran wrote:  “The way he played hard every single day — and I mean super hard. I remember thinking: This guy’s an animal. This is unreal. Where does he get all that energy? More importantly, though, I was like, That’s the example I want to follow right there.”

When Beltran rejoined the Astros, he told AJ Hinch, “Put my locker next to young guys who I can help.  Get me around the kids … the players who I can have an impact on. In spring training, during drills, whenever you can. Give me the opportunity to help all the young players get better.”  No Astros player or fan doubts that he did so.

After an especially huge postseason homerun (memory clouds which one, there were so many), Altuve sounded apologetic at the thought that he had showed the pitcher up, saying he was just really excited and meant no harm.  For me, the sentiment immediately resonated with a recent interview I had just heard in which Sean Casey told a story about Bagwell admonishing him for pointing into the stands after a homerun.  

The Sean Casey story, from an Astros opponent, was told in jest.  The game has changed.  Bat flips and antics now prevail, even on the Astros.  There is no judgment here on that front.  But, Altuve’s concern in such a big moment displayed for me the humility intertwined in the Astro Way that has been on such graceful display during the World Series run.  Have you heard this Charlie Morton interview, for goodness sakes?

This team played with such a relentless focus on being good teammates that at times it felt like they were stealing quotes from Biggio and Bagwell’s careers.
This game is damn hard.  This postseason left an indelible mark on me on how damn hard it is to win the World Series.  Biggio, Billy D before him, and this World Series Championship squad understand that in such a graceful way.

Play hard, run out ground balls, get dirty.  That's baseball.

***

So, at least in my mind, the Astros of my youth just won a World Series Championship, albeit through their spiritual descendants.  The six year old still left in me can’t stop crying.  The 38 year old that I am can’t either.

After the seventh inning of Game 7, watching with my wife and mom from the viewing party at Minute Maid Park, everyone stood and cheered in cacophonous nervousness, except for me.  I sat in my seat with my head in my hands, mentally ticking off all of the players who had meant so much to me through the years.  All of the family and friends who had shared those teams and players with me.  Six more outs for them.  C’mon, Charlie!  Let’s make a memory.

Why such an emphasis on memory?  Baseball is memory.  And the memories we build.  Sometimes they’re hazy, sometimes they’re factual, sometimes they need a nudge from a storyteller.  But, they are all true deep down in the soul.

Baseball is handed down.  As it was from my step dad, mom, and dad.  The memories are shared.  I will never forget charging up the stairs with my brother, high fiving every stranger in sight during game five.  Or rolling on the floor laughing with my wife after game two.

My family was fortunate enough to spend this season back in Houston, moving back just in time after an 18 year Odyssey outside the state.  I attended 30+ games before the playoffs even began just like my 6 year old self did once upon a time.  My 2 year old daughter went to 21 games and stayed for the whole game every time.  She went 11 and 9, 1 and 0 in the playoffs.

And, 31 years from now, I’ll still regale her with memories from this season.  How she would wake up and her first words would be, “Daddy, Astros game, I go.”  How she had Orbit at her birthday party and asked to see the video hundreds of times:  “Daddy, I see O’bit!”  How she would greet people with a “Go Astros!” instead of “Hi.”  Maybe she won’t remember anything except through the prism of our memories.

But, as the torch was passed from Billy D to Bidge to ‘Tuve, the memories of the Astro Way and our first World Series Championship will be passed down to her.  It took my story 38 years to end in triumph.  It took hers two, and now a new legacy begins.

Here’s to hoping she’s a spoiled brat and has about five of them by the time she can remember anything different.