Saturday, November 22, 2014

Tales from the GOATpen Update

It's been another two weeks in our alternate universe; let's see what happened.

The standings are still relatively tight, which isn't surprising given the structure of the league. Nacogdoches continues to have the best record overall, but is only 4 games better than the worst team.

Here are the highlights from the last two weeks. Shutouts seem to be very common so far:

4/14 - Delayed Honorees starter Mike Hampton threw a 4 hit shutout against Little Rock, striking out 10 and walking 3. He's currently 3-2 with a 3.55 ERA.

4/16 - Nacogdoches pitcher Larry Dierker shutout Huffman on 5 hits with 10 strikeouts and no walks. He's 4-2 with a 2.70 ERA.

4/19 - Shane Reynolds joined in the fun as Greenville shutout Albuquerque on 6 hits. Reynolds is 2-3 with a 2.95 ERA so far.

4/21 - Our two Players of the Week for week 3 were Mark Bailey and Ken Caminiti. Bailey hit .500 with 1 HR and 6 RBI for the week, while Caminiti hit .433 with a homer and 4 RBI.

4/21 - Getting back to shutout news, Philadelphia's Brett Myers shut out Huffman on 4 hits. Myers is 3-1 with a 3.00 ERA.

4/23 - Shane Reynolds pitched his 2nd straight shut out, this time against Houston. He struck out 8 and walked 1.

4/27 - J.R. Richard had a monster game in Huffman's 1-0 win over Little Rock. Richard went 10 innings and allowed just 2 hits and 2 walks while striking out an amazing 19 batters. So far on the season, Richard is 2-4 with a 2.98 ERA and 77 strikeouts in 48.1 innings.

4/28 - Biggio and Berkman picked up Player of the Week honors this week. Biggio hit .409 with 2 HR while Berkman hit an even .500 with a home run and 6 RBI.

In addition to the traditional standings, we also get a set of power rankings. Here's how those shape up so far.

And the individual stat leaderboards.

Mark Bailey's hot streak has put him near the top of many categories so far. While it's still very early in the season, this is a bit surprising.

The pitching leaderboard is a bit more diverse, though JR Richard seems to be a bit ahead of most everyone else so far. Oswalt is also quietly putting together a good season so far.

This is shaping up to be a competitive season. Who do you think comes out on top?

Also, OOTP has much, much more detail than the basic summaries I'm showing you. Is there anything else you'd like to see? Keep your comments and suggestions coming!

Friday, November 21, 2014

So Let's Recap the 40-man News

As expected, a flurry of moves - from all teams, not just the Astros - occurred just prior to the Thursday 20 roster deadline at midnight ET.  A large number of players were DFA'd, waived, claimed, and added to various rosters all around baseball.  Lets look at what the Astros did.

But firstly, a large nod - well, a bow, really - in Batguy's direction for looking at the habits of the Astros in the Rule V Drafts since the late 1990's.  Really worth a read if you haven't already.  And secondly, thanks to Framin' Mike Fast - or at least someone who knows about the November 20 deadline with a google account called "Mike Fast" - for stopping by and answering a question.  ZOMG!!!  Someone who actually knows about baseball (other than the other 17 learned readers that frequent these web-pages) actually reads this blog.  And is good enough to comment after stopping laughing at my crappy, uninformed analysis.  Excellent!!

Lets look at what actually happened.

Added to the 40-man were Vincent Velasquez, Ronald Torreyes and - at the 11th hour, according to the previously linked MLBTR page - Michael Feliz.

Subtracted from the 40-man roster were Anthony Bass (I guess we have to disconnect the 534-8455 bullpen phone number now - not that it was either funny, clever or used much) and Josh Zeid.  Zeid was subsequently claimed by the Tigers, who, like, really need bullpen help.  Given that his sesamoid bones in his foot were playing up all year (ie. he was pitching with an injury) and he has decent velocity, that is probably a great grab for them.

By my count, the 40-man sits at 39 now.  Feliz isn't listed on the publicly-listed roster at the time of writing this, which sits at 38.  I am guessing that the webpage-update-programmer is asleep in bed, as they should be.

I whiffed on DDS, thinking that he would be added, but as Evan Drellich/Jeff Luhnow elegantly pointed out, it is waaaaay easier to stash a pitcher in the back of the 'pen than short-hand your bench with a guy whose hitting may be questionable.  The counter argument would be something along the lines of "gosh, it is a weak FA market at CF this year, lets take a flyer on this guy", whereas the counter-counter argument would be "the Astros already have 5 guys (including Aplin) above DDS on the depth chart who can man an at-least-passable CF".  I won't even bother with the counter-counter-counter argument, which would be something about the additional possibility of an infield-gig.

I find this process so interesting - which probably says more about me than the actual process.  MLBTR has been frenetic all day.  There must be tactics employed by teams - like shoving everyone through on waivers when there are a lot of other transactions in the hope that the teams that are looking to acquire talent may either not realise a valued player is trying to slip through, or that teams have already gorged themselves on talent from other clubs already.  There must be counter-intelligence - like "Team A will grab Player B if he is available, so lets add him to the roster, or wait until Team A's 40-man is full".  Those subtleties will be lost on the casual observer, but it must be pretty intense for those participating.  All because young talent is important, cheap, and hard to get.

I also find it interesting that the Astros have left one spot on the 40-man free - perhaps with a specific target in mind for the Rule V draft, or perhaps looking to get a good waiver-claim in.  Or to add Mike Trout in a trade.  Time will tell.

My guess is that this process has really tightened up over the last decade - for all teams - because of a huge change in how talent is perceived.  Teams can't afford to whiff on players they like anymore.  Everyone is looking for an edge, and it is a fine line between success and failure.

Anyhow, the gist of all of this is that Delino DeShields Jr, Jandel Gustave, Roberto Pena, Mitch Lambson (who would have been extensively scouted in Arizona recently) and Danry Vasquez (who is apparently having a good winter season) are all available to be nabbed in the December Rule V draft.  All of those guys scream "lottery ticket" to me (perhaps not Lambson, but he is a reliever) and perhaps Johan Santana would have as well.  We will find out what the other teams think.

In terms of those definitely staying, Ronald Torreyes seems to have an interesting mix of skills at a very young age, despite doubtful scouting opinions regarding his build and stature, and how it will impact on his power.  Vincent Velasquez and Michael Feliz are a couple of good, mid-rotation righties with a chance to be better, so the Astros thought it important to protect them.  None of these guys are going anywhere, unless they are outrighted or traded between now and April.

The whole thing is fascinating.  Lets see what happens next.

Update:  Apparently, Feliz may have been initially left off the 40-man because the extra roster flexibility was needed for a trade, but Evan Drellich appears dubious about this explanation, and wonders whether the FO reassessed its position with an hour to go.  Like I said, fascinating!

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Recent Astros Rule 5 history

With all the high anxiety hand wringing going on today about who the Astros will protect from the Rule 5 Draft, I did some looking into their history of this potentially franchise altering but generally "meh" event.

The Rule 5 Draft allows teams to draft other teams prospects if they were 18 or younger on the June 5 preceding their signing and this is the fifth Rule 5 draft upcoming or were 19 or older on the June 5 preceding their signing and this is fourth Rule 5 draft upcoming. If a team does not want their eligible player selected, they must add them to their 40 man roster by the deadline, which this year is by 11pm CT tonight. More info about the draft can be found here.

In the 1st round, the Marlins selected pitcher Alberto Blanco from Houston. Blanco was coming off a year getting shelled at both High-A Kissimmee and AA Jackson. Transaction details elude me, but he pitched for Detroit's AA squad in 1999, was in independent ball in 2000, and then disappeared from professional baseball.

In the 12th round that year, Houston selected Tigers CF Glen Barker. Barker would stick with Houston for 3 years, appearing in 235 games but with only 197 PA, often being used as a pinch runner and defensive replacement. He hit .232/.330/.323 over that span with 30 steals.

In one of the more well known Rule 5 selections, the 2nd round saw Johan Santana stolen from Houston by the Marlins. The Marlins then immediately traded Santana to the Twins for career minor league pitcher Jared Camp, who never even threw a pitch for any Marlins affiliate. In 1999, Santana threw 160.1 innings for Houston's A-ball affiliate Michigan, putting up a 4.66 ERA.

In the 10th round, the Mariners selected Houston OF Chad Alexander. Alexander had just hit .293/.356/.465 with 11 HR between Jackson and AAA New Orleans, though he struggled after his call-up to New Orleans. Seattle apparently reached a deal with Houston, as Alexander never appeared in the Majors, though he did spend two years with the Mariners AAA squad before bouncing between the Cubs and Tigers AAA teams, as well as a few games in independent ball, the next three years.

In the 7th round this year, the Padres selected Houston SS Donaldo Mendez. Mendez had just hit .270/.351/.332 with 39 steals for Michigan. He would appear in 72 games for San Diego between the 2001 and 2003 seasons, hitting just .183/.245/.277 and committing 17 errors.

In the 11th round, the Giants picked Houston infielder Felix Escalona. He had hit .289/.342/.465 with A-ball Lexington in 2001, with 46 steals,  42 doubles, and 16 home runs. San Francisco placed him on waivers at the end of spring training, where he was then picked up by Tampa Bay. In 84 games spread across the 2002-2005 seasons, Escalona hit .209/.261/.282.

In one of the more successful claims by Houston, they selected Indians OF Willy Taveras in the 16th round. Though not quite ready for the majors, the Astros worked out a deal with Cleveland, trading Jeriome Robertson for Luke Scott and the rights to Willy T, that allowed them to keep Taveras in the minors most of the 2004 season. He would play for the Astros through 2006, finishing 2nd in ROY voting in 2005 and hitting .284/.329/.340 with 68 steals before being traded with Taylor Buchholz and Jason Hirsch to Colorado for Miguel Asencio and Jason Jennings.

As best I can tell, this is the last time an Astros player was taken in the major league portion of the Rule 5 draft. In the 10th round, the Dodgers picked Houston pitcher D.J. Houlton. Houlton had just thrown 159 innings for AA Round Rock with a 2.94 ERA and 9.0 K/9. In 157 inning for the Dodgers over 53 games in 2005 and 2007, including 19 starts, he put up a 4.99 ERA, going 6-11.

In the 9th round, Houston picked Cubs pitcher Lincoln Holdzkom. Holdzkom was coming off a year where he pitched to a 1.76 ERA in 46 innings over three levels, mostly for AA West Tennesee. He was returned to the Cubs March 11, 2007.

Houston picked pitcher Wesley Wright from the Dodgers in the 8th round. Wright had thrown 78 innings with a 3.92 ERA between AA and AAA in 2007, though he had struggled to a 9.18 ERA in limited AAA action. After struggling for a few years in Houston, Wright started putting things together in 2011. In all, he spent 6 years with the Astros, throwing 239 innings with a 4.44 ERA (5.33 ERA the first three years, 3.32 the last three), before being sold to Tampa Bay in 2013.

In the 13th round, Houston picked Royals pitcher Gilbert De La Vara. De La Vara had just thrown 77 innings between High-A and AA with a 3.27 ERA and just 0.1 HR/9 and 6.5 H/9. He was returned to Kansas City March 31, 2009 and never appeared in the majors.

In the 8th round, Houston picked Boston 3B/1B Jorge Jimenez and traded him to Florida to complete the deal for Matt Lindstrom. Jimenez had just hit .289 with 13 HR for AA Portland. Florida returned Jimenez to Boston that spring.

With the 8th round pick, Houston took Rays pitcher Aneury Rodriguez. Rodriguez had thrown 123.2 innings, mostly with AAA Durham, with a 3.80 ERA. Though struggling quite a bit in the majors, Rodriguez stuck with Houston and ended up with a 5.12 ERA in 91.1 innings, mostly in relief. He last pitched in Korea in 2013.

The Astros also took Yankees pitcher Lance Pendleton with the 17th pick. Houston returned Pendleton to NY in March, then selected him off waivers in September. He threw 4.2 really bad innings for Houston, putting up a 17.36 ERA. He was released by Houston in March of 2012.

With the 1st pick, Houston took Mets pitcher Rhiner Cruz. In 71.2 innings between the Mets' High-A and AA teams, Cruz had a 3.89 ERA with 8.7 K/9 and 5.7 BB/9 in 2011. In two years in Houston, Cruz had a 5.31 ERA in 72 games. He was released in June of 2014.

Houston also traded AAA phase selection Marco Duarte for Boston's 10th pick, infielder Marwin Gonzalez. Duarte had spent the last 2 seasons in the Mexican League. Gonzalez was coming off a .288/.343/.400 season for the Cubs AA and AAA teams. In 3 seasons and 751 plate appearances, Marwin has hit .248/.291/.354 for Houston.

Again with the 1st pick, Houston picked Red Sox pitcher Josh Fields. Fields threw 58.1 innings in 2012 between AA and AAA, posting a 2.01 ERA and 0.96 WHIP with 12.0 K/9. In 2 seasons with Houston, he has a 4.66 ERA in 95 games with 10.7 K/9.

With the 14th pick, the Astros picked Padres 1B Nate Freiman. Freiman had hit .298/.370/.502 with 24 HR for AA San Antonio that season. The Astros we unable to keep Freiman, who was selected off waivers by Oakland. In 301 plate appearances over the last two years, he's hit .256/.309/.408 with 9 HR.

With the 1st pick, the Astros took Diamondbacks pitcher Patrick Schuster. Schuster had a 1.83 ERA in 44.1 innings for Arizona's High-A club in 2013. The Astros traded Schuster to San Diego for Anthony Bass. San Diego then returned Schuster to Arizona. Bass had a 6.33 ERA in 27 innings for Houston in 2014.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Phew! Presley Avoids Arbitration!

Alex Presley signs for a cool million.  Thank goodness he is locked up!!  Another vital cog in the Astros rebuild in Houston for another year!

Unnecessary snark aside - and only written to support the headline - this is quite an interesting development.  Lets start at the beginning, as I see it.

The Astros' 2015 roster has been taking shape for a few years now, and I am pretty sure most AC readers would be able to guess what most of it looks like next year.  That guy Altuve will get a look.  As will Springer and Singleton.  Chris Carter had a great half-season, and with the scarcity of RH power in the Majors at the moment, he can also expect to be staying.  The starting pitching is starting to sort itself out, with three slots pretty much decided for next season, barring injury.  And in the 'pen, Fields, Qualls and Sipp form the backbone, with a bunch of other live arms getting the chance to establish themselves.

I find the outfield situation most fascinating at the moment.  I count five outfielders for four or five slots, with a couple of potential guys knocking on the door.  Springer, barring ongoing quadriceps issues, has RF locked up.  Presley has just signed for a mil - perhaps that portends a trade, but it probably signals that he will be the fourth or fifth OF next year.  Fowler is an established major-league player, and as Batguy elegantly pointed out, he was pretty decent offensively for an AL CF last year.  Marisnick has nothing more to prove at AAA, and boasts better D - via both the eye and the stats - than Fowler.  Grossman has been given a bunch of chances, and has managed to tease with elite OBP for decent periods that sandwich suckitude during his short career.  The FO seems resistant to giving up on him.

L.J. Hoes and Domingo Santana round-out the 40-man outfielders - the former seems to be used as a contact-first platoon bat, and the latter seems to be the LF of the future, if he can get his strikeout percentage below 80%.  Joe Sclafani - who has been taking some OF reps in the AFL - and Preston Tucker are also outside candidates to bolt onto the 40-man, and onto the active roster either at the start of the season, or part way through 2015.

As opposed to the rotation (where there is clearly room for an upgrade) or the infield (which desperately needs an upgrade), there is a plethora of similar talents in the outfield.  All players there have their warts.  A couple are capable of carrying a team offensively.  The remainder need to have a go, so that Baseball can work out what the rest of their careers look like.  Springer, Presley, Marisnick and Grossman are all cheap.  Fowler projects to earn in the 10-million range in arbitration.  Much can happen during Spring Training to upset the proverbial applecart, including injuries.

Gosh, this conversation would be quite different with one Julio Daniel Martinez still on the roster.

I am fascinated with Fowler.  He is arguably the fourth best defensive CF on the roster.  The Astros traded for him last year, and he has proven he can hit away from Coors Field.  He has one year to go to free agency - which can be a bonus (qualifying offer) or loss (not going to be around for long), depending on your point of view.  But trading Fowler means losing valuable production in an outfield where perhaps only Springer is the only other good candidate for an above-average bat.  Fowler also isn't going to agree to a move away from CF anytime soon - that would cost him millions in free agency next year - so he is not going to suddenly agree to a move to LF to allow Marisnick to get the starts there.

Anyhow, what also makes the Presley signing interesting is that the Astros need to finalise the 40-man very shortly.  The deadline is midnight ET, Thursday night, for the 40-man to be set, otherwise they would risk losing unprotected eligible players in December's Rule V draft.

By my count, the 40-man stands at 38.  Continuing the maths, there are two players that are highly likely to be added to the 40-man: Vince Velasquez and Delino DeShields, who would take up the remaining two slots.  Harder decisions will need to be made with catcher Roberto Pena, short-statured and young utility-man and infielder Ronald Torreyes and flame balling starter Michael Feliz.  I would be a little surprised if two other eligible players - Danry Vasquez and Jandal Gustave - are added in the next 36-odd hours, especially at the expense of the five guys mentioned earlier in this paragraph.  That is all I can think of that is worth a mention - please comment below if I have missed anyone important.

Of course, even if an unprotected player does get selected from the Astros, there is probably a greater-than-even chance they get returned - usually prior to the end of Spring Training.  Roster spots are valuable, and aside from a couple of famous Rule V wins and losses, the Draft normally nets either useful pieces, like Marwin Gonzalez, or is a brief holiday for the player drafted before being returned to his original team.

If you want to add more than Valasquez and DeShields to the 40-man, then more spots would need to be created.  Looking a little shaky with regards to being put through waivers - and obviously currently on the 40-man - are Marc Krauss, Anthony Bass, Sam Deduno, Jake Buchanan and Hoes, I would think.  But that is pure speculation on my part, and I have been wrong before.

The wildcard in all of this 40-man spot creation is the catcher situation.  Russell Martin just signed with the Jays for a cool 5-and-82, leaving a number of wealthy teams waiting at the alter.  The Pirates, Cubs and Dodgers were all publicly linked to Martin, although none of those teams desperately need a catcher, with some probably-acceptable in-house options available.  A bunch of other teams not mentioned could certainly use a catcher upgrade.

The Astros have four catchers on the 40-man, and not enough playing time to distribute between them, so that could create another 40-man slot, potentially via a trade, or a DFA.  Obviously Castro and Conger aren't candidates for a DFA, but certainly are for a trade.

Lastly, with reference to the 40-man and Rule V draft, this year likely represents the first year in a while where the Astros will probably not be looking to draft Rule V players from other clubs.  Technically, they passed on the opportunity to draft last year as well, because they consummated the Bass trade with the Padres immediately after grabbing someone with the 1-1 pick.  But I would certainly be surprised if the Astros took anyone in the draft, and if they do, it will be a targeted player that they consider a direct upgrade over what they have available. Most likely a bullpen piece or infielder.

Going to be interesting.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Rafters Win!!! The-e-e-e Rafters... Win!!

Tied 7-apeice entering the bottom of the seventh, and the Rafters put the season away with a seven-run inning in the bottom half.  The Javelinas were unable to chip away at that deficit with the 6 outs they had left, so the final score was 14-7 to the Rafters.

How does a seven-run inning happen in a championship game??  Mostly, in this case, a bunch of self inflicted wounds (walks) with the occasional extra-base hit.  It went like this: groundout - walk (Joe Sclafani) - double - intentional walk - walk (immediately after a pitching change) - 2 RBI single - RBI single - walk (bases loaded) - 3 RBI double - fly out - walk (Joe Sclafani, again) - line out.

Evan Marzilli - the player immediately ahead of Sclafani in the order, and also the lead-off hitter, made two of the outs on a ground out and a fly out.  The big hit was a Taylor Featherston bases-clearing double from the nine-hole.  Boom.

Sclafani was batting second and DH-ing.  He had a very strong game: 2-3, 2xBB, 2B, 2R, RBI, K.  On base four of five plate-appearances.  Nice.

On the pitching side of the ledger, only Mitch Lambson made it into the game from the Astros prospects.  He threw a scoreless inning, not allowing a baserunner and striking out one.  He was relieved with one out to go in the game, with Enrique Burgos recording the final out.

Now there really is no baseball until Spring Training.  Unless you count the MLB All-Stars in Japan.  Hope they get a hit next game.