Saturday, December 20, 2008

Let's get a little perspective here

There are those of us who have been a little hard on Run-DMc, myself included. Do I think sometimes he's cheap? Absolutely. Do I think sometimes he needs to do more owning and less general managing? Sure. Do I think he has the track record for us to give him the benefit of the doubt? Yes.

Remember when the Astros traded Billy Wagner (who is 15 saves away from 400, mind you - 6th on the all-time list. Did you realize?) for Brandon Duckworth, Taylor Buchholz and Ezequiel Astacio? Remember how the Asttos were crucified for giving away a premier closer - and then went out and got Andy Pettitte with the extra payroll? Remember how sheepish we felt after hammering the Astros for being cheap and stupid and then pulled off that move, which then pulled off Roger Clemens (ah, how times have changed)?

Let's be considerate of that possibility that one of the mystery teams talking to free agents could be the Astros. (beat).

Do I think that's happening? No, I don't. But the Astros have had a pretty good run over the last ten years and they deserve that consideration. We'll feel pretty stupid if Derek Lowe is in the rotation, or Manny is patroling the outfield when we complain about using the $6 million we saved on Ty Wigginton for Aaron Boone if it means more maneuvering room later.

Again, I don't necessarily believe it myself. One of the things I've seen firsthand in my line of work is that people will still pay for diversions. They may sacrifice at Starbucks by making Chock Full o' Nuts at home. They may sacrifice by taking a PBJ to work instead of ordering the steamed veggie dumplings. But Americans will NOT skimp on diversions. The NBA is faring reasonably well in the worst part of the economic crisis. The Kings and T'Wolves are down over 1,000 fans from last year to this year, but...it's the Kings and the T'Wolves.

But poor play doesn't seem to be affecting overall attendance too much. That New York Times article says the Oklahoma City Thunder are 2-24 and still outdrawing the Sonics crowds by 5,000 a game. Attendance at Rockets games has consistently been above 15,000 per game this season.

I do not think attendance will suffer at Astros games. If baseball can survive the Great Depression (with only 16 teams in the Majors), if baseball can survive World War II, baseball will survive this economic downturn. I just hope that Run-DMc is paring payroll in preparation for the future of this team and I hope that he's not running the Astros like a grocery store. There's no reason to think he doesn't have the best interests of the team at heart. (But that doesn't mean you can't make dumb decisions).

Friday, December 19, 2008

Huh? Part 1: VORP

I've got some time off, thanks to the holidays, so expect the postings to ramp up. Remember when you could look on the back of a baseball card and see a player's batting average and RBI and doubles, and ridiculously false notes about a different player completely? (Not kidding: I saw a baseball card for a not-very-well-known player that said Mark Koenig threw a baseball 130 mph in the 1930s. Just...false.)

Today it feels like you need a slide rule to follow which players are actually good. Damn that Rob Neyer with his....math and his...statistics! Well, today we begin to explain some of the less obvious (though helpful) statistics.

VORP: Value Over a Replacement Player.

Baseball Prospectus defines it as "The number of runs contributed beyond what a replacement-level player at the same position would contribute if given the same percentage of team plate appearances. VORP scores do not consider the quality of a player's defense."

The Replacement Player "performs at 'replacement level,' which is the level of performance an average team can expect when trying to replace a player at minimal cost, also known as "freely available talent." So maybe "Value Over the Astros" is more accurate.

How do you find it?

1. Find the league's average runs per out.

2. Multiply this by the player's total outs. The resulting number is the number of runs an average player would have produced with that number of outs.

3. Muliply the number of runs by .8 (the number depends on the position),

4. The resulting number of runs is what you would expect a Scrub to put up.

Now you need to know how many runs your Starter created. Runs Created was "invented" by Bill James (now a special advisor to Theo Epstein), where the goal is to determine how many runs a player creates (this isn't hard. Well, the definition isn't, anyway).

To determine Runs Created:

1. Add the number of hits to the number of walks.

2. Multiply by the number of total bases.

3. Divide by the number of at-bats plus walks.

4. This is the Runs Created (generally divided by some number of outs).

Simply subtract the replacement's runs created from the player's actual runs created, and the result is VORP.

It's not easy. It basically is a more accurate way of measuring a player's value over a scrub. But listen, no one's going to go figuring this out on their own, so let somebody else do it. Like Baseball Prospectus. According to Baseball Prospectus, who are the three Astros with the largest VORP?

Lance Berkman: 72.5
Carlos Lee: 44.1
Ty Wigginton: 26.2

Michael Bourn actually has a VORP of -11.8, meaning a replacement player would be an upgrade over 2008 Michael Bourn. But that's not nice.

If you didn't know, now you know.

Interesting note about Randy Wolf

According to Ken Rosenthal, the Astros were willing to give $22-24 million to Randy Wolf, but he's looking for three years and $30 million.

Welcome, Citizen Michael

Want Astros County to ask you about your fandom? Send an e-mail to astroscounty@hotmail.com!

Today we welcome the 2nd official citizen of Astros County...

Citizen: Michael, Houston resident since 1980

How long have you been an Astro fan? Since 1980

Who is your favorite all-time Astro? Nolan Ryan

What is the most memorable game in Astros history? Two games are memorable - Mike Scott's no hitter and the extra inning playoff game with the Mets in which Billy Hatcher hit the home run.

Who is the heart of the current Astro team? Berkman & Oswalt are the hearts of the club.

Who is the key for 2009?
A key for 2009 is Mike Hampton. If he flames out, the Astros are toast. If he starts 25-30 games, it could be an interesting year.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Update: Aaron Boone's financials

One-year contract for $750,000.

Says Easy Eddie: "We're still going to be open minded with regard to Chris coming to spring training with the potential to win the job. But it behooves us to have all our options available."

This is not true. Chris is coming to Spring Training with the potential to be called up later in the year. +1 for using "behooves" in everyday conversation, though.

JJO also mentions that with the, um, bargains at catcher and third base, the Astros now have the financial flexibility to field a 25-man roster.

Enjoy Central Texas for another season, Chris Johnson

Apparently Easy Eddie read the post from yesterday and decided the Astros don't have enough third basemen. The Law Offices of Blum, Johnson and Saccomanno just weren't enough. So the Astros went out and found themselves a former hero.

Platooning with Geoff Blum at third base, the Astros signed Game 6 star Aaron Boone to a one-year deal. ::softly crying::.

Yep, the man who screwed Boston twice in a two month span (The ALCS homer and then screwing up his knee in a pick-up basketball, prompting the Yankees to sign A-Rod away from the Red Sox) will be playing some games at 3rd base in Houston this season. Let's take a look at some career highs for Mr. Boone:

Runs: 92 (2003)
Hits: 158 (2003)
2B: 38 (2002)
HR: 26 (2002)
RBI: 96 (2003)
Avg: .294 (2001)
OBP: .356 (2000)
SLG: .483 (2001)

I just....just.....want to cry.

I don't get it. Bring Saccomanno or Johnson up and let them platoon with Blum. Boone made $1 million last year as a back up to Nick Johnson and Dmitri Young, so I can't imagine he'll make much more than that. But you know who'll make less? Saccomanno or Johnson. Then you're developing your farm system, giving some guys a chance, and saving money.

Boone hit .275 vs. lefties / .220 vs. righties in 2008. Five of his six home runs came in May (three in a one-week span), two of them in back-to-back games - one of those a 7th-inning pinch-hit homer off Shawn Chacon in Houston.

And it's not like he finished strong. A .227 average in August (5-for-22). .191 in September (9-for-47).

Maybe one of the reasons I'm pissed about it is because I was going to have the inside scoop on Tejada moving to 3rd. Now that won't happen.

But here's an interesting note: 49% of his Balls in Play were to left field and he's a fly-ball hitter. So he will take the ball the other way, which is a plus in Minute Maid Park. He just has trouble hitting the inside stuff (.125/.263/.211 top-to-bottom). Lemons? Or Lemonade?

Just to recap:

We have two young guys: Chris Johnson - 24 years old. Mark Saccomanno - 28 years old at third base. Just non-tendered a guy hitting 20+ homers and a .290 average. And then go out and sign Aaron Boone.

Thoughts? Comments?

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

R.I.P. Dave Smith

Astros.com is reporting long-time Astros reliever Dave Smith has passed away of an apparent heart attack in San Diego.

An 8th round selection by the Astros in the 1976 amateur draft, Smith debuted for the Astros on April 11, 1980 at the Astrodome against the Dodgers, walking the first two batters he saw as a Major Leaguer. Then Rudy Law singled, loading the bases. After a popout to the catcher, Smith got Steve Garvey to ground out to short to end the inning. The Astros scored five runs in the bottom of the inning and Smith got his first win in his first Major League appearance.

Smith's first save came two months later, a three-inning affair (early '80s style) where the Astros won 2-1. He finished fifth in the 1980 Rookie of the Year voting (Jeff Reardon finished 6th) and got his first of two All-Star nominations in the Astros' landmark 1986 season, where he notched 33 saves and a 2.73 ERA. 1987 was even better, as he lowered his ERA over a run per game - to 1.65.

He did take the loss in Game 5 of the 1986 NLCS. The Astros were up 5-4 in the bottom of the 9th and leadoff batter Wally Backman reached first on a bunt single, two batters later Lenny Dykstra homered (which would only have tied the game, had the bunt been fielded cleanly) and closed out the 9th inning and pitched the 10th inning of that legendary Game Six, obviously allowing no runs.

Smith ended his career in 1992 with the Cubs, but finished in the Top 10 in the NL in Saves seven times in 12 full seasons and 216 saves. Here are his franchise ranks:

ERA: 3rd
WHIP: 9th
Hits/9: 9th
Games: 1st
Saves: 2nd

Smith was THE closer for the Astros in the 1980s, and our answer to Bruce Sutter and Goose Gossage. 39 of his relief appearances were 3 innings or more. 8 appearances were 4 innings or more, and on three occasions Smith pitched 5 innings. Let's be honest here, how many of you were truly happy if Backe or Wandy went five innings?

Says Charlie Kerfeld: "He was probably one of the most giving people I ever met."

Says Jim Deshaies: "Smitty was unbelievably generous."

Respect. Have a Dave Smith memory? Post it here.

Breaking down...Round Rock

Let's spend some time looking at our fine prospects. Here's the thing for me as an Astros fan: If the Astros are going to be cheap, that's fine. Just call it what it is and call it a rebuilding year. I don't want Run-DMc and Easy Eddie to kid themselves and kid us about this season being about competitive baseball on a budget. They backed themselves into this corner by giving out those huge contracts. And now there are too many huge contracts (Lee, Oswalt, Berkman, Tejada) to justify "rebuilding." I'm sure getting a $1 million paycheck every two weeks is nice (did you know that Derek Jeter gets paid on the 1st and the 15th every month during the season? Do you think he holds off on his car payment until the night of the 14th, just to make sure he has enough in the account for it to clear?), but you can't ask a third of your lineup to be patient until one or two years down the road - they're competitors, and they want to win. And they will have no problem saying, "So you want to save money? Trade me."

Regardless, I would like to see some of those minor league guys come up and get their shot. Remember when Luke Scott hit something like .600 in Spring Training, and they sent him back to Round Rock anyway? Screw that. Bring some guys up and see if they can play. Roy Oswalt was a 23rd round pick. If you tell the guys in the Minors that the Astros have no farm system, they're going to believe you. So reward good play with a shot once in a while.

::stepping off soapbox::

1B: Lance ain't going anywhere.

2B: Rich Paz. 30-year old infielder was hitting .287 and drawing 47 walks to 32 strikeouts in 67 games at Corpus in '08 until he got promoted. In 18 games at Round Rock, he went 10-for-46 (.217), but still drew those walks, and didn't strikeout much.

3B: Chris Johnson. Deemed the 3B of the future, it'd be nice to give him a shot (though I still have an unfounded, sneaking suspicion Easy Eddie might shift Miggy to third). 23-year old. Hit .324 in Corpus last year, and had some trouble adjusting to AAA (4 extra-base hits in 101 at-bats). Committed 23 errors in 84 games at Corpus, but just 4 errors at RR.

3B: My friend, Mark Saccomanno (Seinfeld? Anyone?). One of 12 NL players EVER to hit a home run on the first pitch they saw in the Majors. Interestingly enough, Kaz Matsui is also on that list. So is pitcher Adam Wainwright. Fared much better over a full season at Round Rock - hit .297 (33 doubles, 2 triples, 27 home runs and an .859 OPS) - but committed 24 errors at third.

SS: Tommy Manzella. Might make the club as a bench-player out of Spring Training, spelling Tejada's aching muscles from time to time. 32% of his hits in Round Rock were for extra-bases (though none were homers).

C: J.R. Towles. With Humberto likely the go-to guy in Houston and Palmisano the likely back-up unless he craps the bed (remember, if Palmisano doesn't stay on the 25-man roster all season long, he goes back to the Orioles. Rule 5 rules), Towles can expect another season in Round Rock. He had a shot to make the club, but it's funny how a sub-.200 average can derail your timeline.

OF: Drew Sutton. At Corpus, the 25-year old Sutton had 63 extra-base hits as well as a .317 average. It's hard to see where he'll fit in Houston in the outfield, because Bourn and Pence are young (though Bourn is the more expendable one) and Lee makes the GDP of Honduras. If Bourn doesn't show any improvement, you may see Sutton in the OF. He'll probably start at AAA.

OF: Brian Bogusevic. Pulled an Ankiel (though without the Prime Time wild pitches) and switched to the outfield, where he tore the cover off the ball, hitting .371 with a .556 SLG (and drew 16 walks to 24 strikeouts).

Later, the pitchers...

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

So maybe this is why Miggy is...shall we say..."undesirable"

This could be the reason why Easy Eddie is finding it difficult to move our dear shortstop. Jon Heyman is reporting that Miggy is still being investigated by the FBI.

You know. You worry about a player's knee. You worry about the surgery history. You generally don't worry about perjury. So let's recap:

December 13, 2007: Tejada traded

Later that day...(but not quite): Tejada named in Mitchell Report

Later that spring: Tejada two years older than previously thought.

Later that summer: Tejada hits 13 homers all season long.

Awesome. Would you trade for him?

Monday, December 15, 2008

Wait, one more

So there's a report from Alyson Footer that the Astros are starting to realize they just let 23 homers and a .285 average off third base, while in return getting absolutely nothing. Three possibilities she mentions, she then immediately dismisses (Wigginton, Ensberg, Crede), so you wonder if there is a word-count requirement in those Hot Stove blogs.

Pablo "Don't Call Me Jumbo" Ozuna and Chris Gomez. Footer likes Gomez, citing:

Gomez could be an attractive option. The 37-year-old veteran of 16 Major League seasons played in 90 games in 2008 for the Pirates, batting .273 with eight doubles and 20 RBIs in a backup role. He also earned only $1 million, which suggests he may be affordable for a team like the Astros, who are attempting to fill out their roster under extremely frugal guidelines.

I think those "extremely frugal guidelines" fall under Pony League rules, or Will Play for Chewing Gum signs out on Crawford Street. However, Ozuna is versatile. Says Footer:

Ozuna, 34, played in 68 games in 2008, 32 for the White Sox and 36 for the Dodgers. He hit .260 overall, knocking three homers and driving in 45 runs. He also falls into the versatility category, having played 77 career games at second, 75 at third and 23 at short. He also has played in 63 games in the outfield. Ozuna earned $1.25 million in '08.

Who do you like? Can we please just promote Chris Johnson?

Catching up on today's news

Sorry, I was out of commission most of the day.

Let's see, the Astros signed fifth outfielder Jason Michaels to a one-year, $750,000 incentive-laden contract today.

Says Easy Eddie:
He's a solid player with good makeup and he brings another veteran presence to the Astros. He can play all three outfield positions, can, if needed, go out there and play on a regular basis, and can give you a professional at-bat in a tough situation."

Michaels, 32, hit .224 with eight home runs and 53 RBI in 123 games with Cleveland and Pittsburgh in 2008. In 50 pinch-hit appearances last season, Michaels hit .200 and recorded 13 RBI, ranking third in the Majors in RBI as a pinch-hitter.

On June 2 he hit a pinch-hit grand slam off Adam Wainwright and the Pirates won 5-4. And while he does spend much of his time coming off the bench as a pinch-hitter, Michaels does much, much better when facing the pitcher in his second at-bat (.206 first time, .345 the second time). When swinging at the first thing he sees (probably a good idea in pinch-hit situations), Michaels hit .361 with 11 RBI, 3 HR and 3 doubles. Bizarrely, he never saw a 3-0 count. When he's ahead in the count, Michaels hits .395. When behind in the count, Michaels in 2008 hit .134. With runners on, Michaels in 2008 hit .277 and with runners in scoring position hit .321.

So there's your 2008 statistical breakdown on your fifth outfielder. That probably means Erstad is going to be your go-to guy when Lee or Pence needs a break. Or if Bourn continues to hit .200. Michaels will be your off-the-bench pinch-hit presence with the spot start. Welcome to the Astros, Jason Michaels.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Wigginton almost dealt to the Giants last week

The Minneapolis Star-Tribune reported that Ty Wigginton - the one who got dropped like 3rd period French at the beginning of this fine weekend - was almost dealt to the Giants, but because of the pay hike he was due in arbitration, the Giants backed off.

Look, if you're the Astros, you knew the contingency plans. It's not like Run-DMc called Easy Eddie and said, "I know we had talked about re-signing him, but...yeah, we're not." The Astros had to have known that they were either going to trade Wigginton, or non-tender him.

So to have an opportunity to trade him and then let the Giants off the hook (insert Arizona Cardinals footage here) is completely unacceptable. Even if it meant covering the hike Wigginton would have received in arbitration over last year's salary, it would have been worth $2.5 to $3.5 million to get some pieces back.

Now all there is to show for it is no Dan Wheeler and no third baseman. And now there are four - wait, perhaps six teams - interested in Wigginton: Twins, Pirates, Giants, Reds, Indians and maybe the Mets. None of them wanted to come up with some ball resin or a hot tub to trade to the Astros for Wigginton, just so we could have something to show for him - other than the happiest day Chris Johnson has ever had?

I'm unhappy.

Everybody? Welcome Citizen Aaron

Would you like to be interviewed about your Astros fandom? E-mail Astros County at astroscounty at hotmail.com

Citizen: Aaron
Hometown: Forney, TX

How long have you been an Astros fan?
Roughly 19 years. In 1st grade, only having lived in the Houston area a few months, I got my first Glenn Davis baseball card and haven't looked back. I think I went to my first game in the Dome in 1990. I can still taste the Dome Dogs. For a few years (moving there from Dallas) I clung to a small liking of the Rangers (Who doesn't love Nolan Ryan), but with the maturation of the Killer B's, I grew up too.

Who is your favorite Astro of all-time? Craig Biggio (The Big Puma is a very close second)

Who is the heart of the current team? The Big Puma

What's the most memorable Astros game for you? Unfortunately, 2005 Game 5 in the NLCS. Such a roller-coaster of emotions. Fortunately, my second most memorable game is Game 6.

Who is the key for 2009? This is a tough one. Maybe Easy-Eddie? Something's gotta happen.

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