Saturday, January 24, 2009

Team home runs versus World Series championships

So you've been there. Arguments with other baseball fans (probably Yankees or Red Sox fans) that you think you're right, and you settle on a bet, and you're pretty sure you're going to be wrong.

That was me just the other night. The discussion was whether or not the home run was as valuable as John Kruk and that screaming baseball would have you believe. Sure, there's the One Swing of the Bat effect and the pressure on the pitcher, but I just didn't think it had an effect on post-season success. So that was the bet, and for some reason, I posited that you would find the ML leader in home runs would win the World Series less than 20% of the time. The bet was on the table, and I just needed some internet access.

So I looked it up. The following are the instances in which the ML leader in home runs actually won the World Series...

1903 - Boston Americans
1905 - New York Giants
1927 - New York Yankees
1928 - New York Yankees
1936 - New York Yankees
1937 - New York Yankees
1938 - New York Yankees
1939 - New York Yankees
1941 - New York Yankees
1943 - New York Yankees
1944 - St. Louis Cardinals
1954 - New York Giants (tied with Brooklyn)
1955 - Brooklyn Dodgers
1957 - Milwaukee Braves
1961 - New York Yankees
1968 - Detroit Tigers
1976 - Cincinnati Reds
1983 - Baltimore Orioles
1984 - Detroit Tigers

That's it. 19 teams. 104 World Series (106 years, minus 1904 and 1994). What does that come to? 18%. Bet won.

Now looking at this, are you surprised that it's been since 1984 that there has been demonstrable post-season success for home run-hitting teams?

Friday, January 23, 2009

"We can't wait to settle on a price you don't think you're worth."

Easy Eddie is hoping to get Wandy and Geary's Excellent Arbitration Adventure over by the beginning of next week - or it's going to Los Arbiters, anyway.

"We're having on-going dialogue with both guys, and we hope to get something done by early next week. If not, then they're more likely to go to hearings."

Within the same piece, David Newhan - who threw a titty-fit and wouldn't accept an assignment to Round Rock in November - has been offered a minor-league deal with an invitation to Spring Training. The Astros are "awaiting his decision."

Andy Pettitte? We don't need no stinking Andy Pettitte.

That's according to our fearless owner.

"We're pretty well set," he said. "I don't see us entering into the negotiations."

But he didn't completely nix the possibility, adding: "But it's a long time until spring training."

But it's not really a long time until Spring Training...thanks be to God...

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Can I see a menu, please?

From Alyson Footer's Q&A with Roy Oswalt, who basically says all the right things about playing for Team USA. He started throwing earlier. Spring Training is boring. The World Baseball Classic is better than Spring Training. All of those WBC host sites simply have to be better than Kissimmee. But then there's this... Let's talk about the offseason. Besides working out, What have you been doing to pass the time?

Oswalt: I get up at six most mornings and try to do some type of work, something on the ranch. I'm actually building a restaurant in my town. It'll be a weekend thing, not open all the time. It's going to be a steakhouse. It'll be more of a cafe -- I only have 500 people in my town and I wanted to put something in for them, because you have to drive 20 miles to get anywhere. You're building it yourself?

Oswalt: I bought some land that's close to the town where I grew up, and I'm building a pad to build the restaurant on. I'm going to start on the foundation before I leave for Spring Training. It's going to be called "Home Plate Steakhouse." It'll probably be ready for business by September of this year.

Pump the brakes, Keith Law

Jeesh. One day after basically saying the Astros' minor league system was run by monkeys playing roulette, Keith Law posted his Top 100 MLB prospects (which, some of whom are in the Majors. I don't quite follow...wouldn't you cease to be a prospect if you make the Major League club?)

The Astros' #1 prospect was, obviously, catcher Jason Castro. Law said this about him:

This is how close the Astros came to being shut out of the top 100 entirely. One year after what might be the worst slate in Rule 4 draft history, Houston's system has bottomed out and only their top pick in this June's draft was even a candidate for the global list. Castro has a simple swing geared to maximize contact, with good bat speed and a very good idea of what he's doing at the plate. He should hit for average with plenty of doubles -- he likes to drive the ball to the opposite field -- but probably just average overall power. His defensive tools project as average across the board, although he could use some work on his plate-blocking; his arm is playable and he has good energy behind the plate. There's not much star potential here, but the contact and on-base skills are not common in a catcher and he's likely to move quickly once he gets to full-season ball.

Oh yeah. Did I mention the Astros' top prospect ranked #96 out of 100?

New signings -

The Wisconsin Radio Network is reporting the Astros have signed 23-year old outfielder Jordan Comadena, an undrafted free agent out of Purdue.

Baseball America is reporting the Astros have also signed outfielder Jason Tyner. Tyner is from Beaumont, and his middle name is Renyt. Now look at it in a mirror. Clever, yeah? Tyner played in a career-high 114 games in 2007 with Minnesota, hitting .286 with 14 doubles and 1 homer (that's a .331 OBP and a .355 SLG). That one homer? His only one - after 1220 at bats, the longest HR-less drought in the Majors. Wikipedia says this:

Prior to 2004, Tyner had a severe home run drought that dated back to Little League. Throughout 2,631 high school, college, minor, and major league at bats, Tyner went without a home run until he hit one in a minor league game in Richmond in 2004.

The ML home run came against Jake Westbrook and went 352 feet.

So I've been thinking about this farm system thing.

General Sherman? General Sherman! Brutal. Though it's true the Astros are in a tough spot when it comes to prospects, all is not lost. There are benefits to a strong farm system beyond the potential they bring the big league club. A pipeline of prospects ensures that you don't have to pay El Caballo $100 million. Free agency isn't your only chance of getting better. Mainly this off-season, having a plethora of prospects (which, no, we don't have many plethoras) works as trade bait. Jake Peavy wanted to come to Houston - but the Astros didn't, and don't, have the pieces necessary to get the other best pitcher in the National League (I'm counting Roy here).

But let's take a look at our roster, as it stands. Because the farm system is only as effective as the positions that are open for them to advance. And one disclaimer: you can never have enough pitching and live arms to bring up to the Big Leagues. A few good pitching prospects and we're at least rebuilding, not patching (I'm talking to you, Mike Hampton. But I hope you tear it up. And by "tear it up" I don't mean "tendons" or "ligaments.")

True, it would have been nice for Towles to step right in and be Joe Mauer. Instead, he was Brad Ausmus. However, Quintero is 29. Palmisano is 26. Towles is 24. And Castro is one year away from contributing (ideally).

No one is taking Lance's spot at first. Kaz Matsui has two years left. Tejada has one more year. So the Astros really could have used a top prospect at third base this year, and someone to step up in the Minors this year to produce at short in 2010.

Lee is owed too much money to lose his job in left. Bourn is in center for the time being and is 26. Hunter Pence is 25.

The team has a lot of younger guys (except in the starting rotation) who are considered prospects, and there are a lot of positions locked in by high-priced veterans and untouchables like Lance and Roy. No, the Astros don't have a strong farm system. But the way the team is set up now, we don't need one for a little while. (Lemons = lemonade).

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Doesn't this feel good?

Keith Law gave out his organizational farm system rankings today. I don't want to give too much away, but there are 29 teams ahead of the Astros. And look, kids, we even got a history lesson out of it!

Houston's farm system looks like General Sherman marched through it, then turned around and marched through it again just to be sure the job was done. The Astros' 2007 draft class might turn out to be one of the worst in history...

We, as Astros fans, can only hope there's a reason the Blue Jays fired him...

Son of a gun...

Ken Rosenthal says this:, citing a baseball source, reported Tuesday that Pettitte is weighing a lesser offer to return to the Astros. However, Astros GM Ed Wade told, "I haven't had any discussions with Andy or any of his representatives at all. We're up against our (budget) number right now."

So the Astros made an offer...which is being weighed....for under the $10 million the Yankees are trying to resign him for. Will Honest Andy take a 50% pay cut (or more) to spite the Yankees? Only time will tell, although I saw a note that Honest Andy is NOT weighing this offer.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Backe's incentives

Some of you may be wondering how you can earn some extra coin through incentives. Here's how Brandon Backe's incentives work out for 2009, all based on innings pitched:

$50,000 for 160 innings
$100,000 for 170 innings
$150,000 for 180 innings
$175,000 for 190/200/220 innings each

So Easy Eddie's thinking must be as such: "If Backe can stay healthy, he'll be productive, and thus earn his money." Because note that the incentives aren't based on homers given up, or wins, or ERA. It's all about staying healthy. Interesting...

Arbitration Figures Submitted

Dad gum! I was way off on Wandy. This is why I'm not his agent (hint hint). Some arbitration figures were traded today...

First off, though - Tim Byrdak agreed to a one-year, $1 million deal. I thought it would be around $1.4 million.

Anyhow, the Astros did not come to an agreement today with Wandy Rodriguez or Geoff Geary.

Wandy wants $3 million. The Astros offered $2.25 million. (This is the one I really nutted).
Geary wants $2.1 million, the Astros offered $1.425 million.

I thought Wandy would double his salary and get $900K plus incentives. Easy Eddie would have laughed his signature across the check. But then there would have been enough money for everybody. Geary...notice he wants $2.1 million. What did I say? Oh yes...yes....$2.1 million.

If this gets to the arbitration panel, they will choose either/or - not an in between. Negotiations can and will continue until February 1.

Where I think these arbitration cases will end up

Easy Eddie seems to be pretty intent on signing his boys before it gets to the arbitration hearing, what with getting deals done with Valverde, Quintero and now Backe before it gets to the ripping players to shreds part of this negotiation process.

So there are still three players who need a deal, all pitchers: Wandy, Byrdak, and Geary. Where do I think those numbers will end up?

You have to look at benchmarks, and the financials set by players before them, which is where I think it's helpful to look at a couple of recent signings, namely: Frank Francisco and Chad Qualls. And, ironically enough, Brandon Backe.

Wandy is every bit the pitcher Backe is (and that's not necessarily a compliment): given to pain, limited in innings, higher ERA, lower win total. So with Backe signing a $1.55 million contract (potentially a $2.5 million deal), you can look at Wandy and his agent licking their chops. Do I think Wandy gets a million-dollar raise? I'm not so sure about that, but Backe went from $800,000 to $1.55 million. Wandy made $451,000 and had a decent, injury-shortened year. Verdict? $900K + incentives.

With Byrdak and Geary, there's an indication of where this will end up with a couple of other recent deals: Arizona's Chad Qualls and Texas' Frank Francisco. Qualls just signed a deal for $2.35 million after making about $1.31 million last year. Francisco signed a deal for $1.615 million for 2009 after making $775,000 last year.

Byrdak made $712,500 in 2008 - Verdict? $1.4 million
Geary made $1.125 million in 2008 - Verdict? $2.1 million

These are just educated guesses, but it's what I would be shooting for if I was their agents.

Backe signs a deal!

Have I got a good one for you. Best Man Brandon Backe, Jose de Jesus Ortiz reports, signed a one-year deal today - avoiding arbitration - worth $1.55 million with another $1.075 in incentives. The Astros '09 payroll currently sits at $92 million plus any incentives reached.

This puts a lot of pressure on Backe to actually come out and earn his job. But remember, Easy Eddie has been known to say to pitchers, "It's worth more to us for you not to take the ball every fifth day, thanks." (see: Villareal, Oscar and Williams, Woody)

Who does not benefit from this signing? Russ Ortiz and any other pitcher who accepted a non-roster invitee slip, hoping the Astros wouldn't have enough guys to pitch.

JJO also says (paraphrasing, since I closed that tab): Backe has a chance to really contribute.

And this is what irritates me, just a little bit. Backe will have the exact same chance to contribute that Roy will: 20%. Roy and Backe (and Wandy and Hampton and Moehler) each take the ball every fifth day. You're only as good as your entire rotation (see: Blue Jays, Toronto).

Monday, January 19, 2009

World Baseball Classic rosters are in

Here's who the Astros are sending to the World Baseball Classic in March...

Chris Barnwell (Canada)
T.J. Burton (Canada)
Carlos Lee (Panama)
Chia-Jen Lo (Chinese Taipei)
Fernando Nieve (Venezuela)
Roy Oswalt (USA)
Humberto Quintero (Venezuela)
Wandy Rodriguez (Dominican Republic)
Miguel Tejada (Dominican Republic)
Jose Valverde (Dominican Republic)

Q signs a deal!

Catcher Humberto Quintero avoided arbitration by signing a one-year $610,000 deal with the Astros today. Pretty great deal for a projected starting catcher.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Revisiting May 6, 1998

So Kerry Wood took out a full-page ad in the Chicago Tribune on the last day of the Cubs Convention thanking Cubs fans for his time in Chicago, a time in which Dusty Baker managed to destroy the arms of both he and pitching buddy Mark Prior (who could have been nothing short of Don Drysdale and Sandy Koufax, if it had not been for Dee-Bo.) And speaking of ridiculous, never-used nicknames, apparently Kerry Wood has a nickname, too - "Kid K" - because of his 20 strikeout game against the Astros on May 6, 1998. Though it's hardly a nickname if nobody has ever used it. Like Julio "Wife-Smasher" Lugo.

But still, I have maintained - and currently maintain - that Kerry Wood's performance against the Astros was the single-most dominant pitching performance...EVER. Facing Shane Reynolds - who himself was 2-2, Sha-Rey (in keeping with the nickname thing) threw a complete game, one-run game. Let's recap, inning-by-inning (only the Houston at-bats):

1st inning:
Craig Biggio struck out
Derek Bell struck out
Jeff Bagwell called out on strikes

2nd inning:
Jack Howell struck out
Moises Alou struck out
Dave Clark flied out to center

3rd inning:
Ricky Gutierrez singled to shortstop (on a bobble by Chicago shortstop Jeff Blauser)
Brad Ausmus struck out
Shane Reynolds out on a sac bunt
Biggio grounded out to short

4th inning:
Bell flied to right
Bagwell called out on strikes
Howell called out on strikes

5th inning:
Alou called out on strikes
Clark called out on strikes
Gutierrez called out on strikes

6th inning:
Ausmus grounded out to second
Reynolds called out on strikes
Biggio hit by a pitch
Bell popped to first

7th inning:
Bagwell struck out
Howell struck out
Alou struck out

8th inning:
Clark struck out
Gutierrez struck out
Ausmus called out on strikes

9th inning:
Bill Spiers struck out
Biggio grounded out to short
Bell struck out

Cubs win 2-0. Wood, of course, struck out 20 batters. He struck out the side four times. Only two Astros hit the ball to the outfield. That Gutierrez single should have been ruled an error, and aside from a Biggio HBP, we're looking at a 20-strikeout, perfect game. 11 Ks were swinging, meaning 9 of them were strikeouts that Astros' batters were caught looking, and eight of the last nine batters got rung up, as well.

Nolan Ryan holds the record for most strikeouts in a no-hitter (as well as 2nd, 3rd and 6th place on that list) with 17. Clemens, in his first 20K game, April 29, 1986 vs. Seattle, gave up three hits and one run - a homer. In his second 20K game, September 18, 1996 gave up five hits.

Wood's was the most dominating pitching performance. Disagree? Comment or e-mail.