Saturday, January 31, 2009

Three things are etched in stone. The other five? Uhhh....

Coop has decided on three lineup spots for sure:

Matsui will hit first, Berkman will hit 3rd and Lee will hit 4th.

Everything else is up for grabs. The linked article says Coop hasn't decided on the 5th spot down, and hitting second could be anyone from Bourn to Tejada to Pence to Boone. And, like my favorite album of all time, the lineup changes from day to day. Regard the Coop:

"I've been playing around with it all winter and thinking about it. One day, one guy's here, and one day another guy is there. We have options, and we have some time to decide."

Man, you go out of town for one night...

So I went out of town to enjoy a night out with The Wife and come back to 22 comments and almost 2,000 visits - by far an Astros County record.

And while I certainly don't wish to fan flames, I would like to point out that the "Disaster" of trading for Jake Peavy was a credit to the Cubs' rotation, which does not have anyone named Hampton or Backe in it.

Take it easy, Cubs fans...Astros County is very clearly an Astros-centered blog. And the Cubs mix in the Astros' world. Obviously no one (myself included) thinks that the wind from Hurricane Ike made the Astros' bats silent for nine innings, plus seven innings in the next game, too. And the no-hitter was a valid no-hitter. Congratulations. You win.

Enjoy the sarcasm. It's here all week. And for our friends in Miller Park South? I changed the picture just for you.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Alyson Footer breaks down the catchers

In an article yesterday evening, Alyson Footer brought the noise on who, exactly will win the right to bat 8th in 2009.

I think all the worrying about catcher pretty much sums up the farm system woes, because we're all really worried about who is going to pick up Ausmus' slack. Are you kidding? Sure he was a great guy, and could "handle a pitching staff" - which, by the by, is ridiculous.

An aside: I'm looking into the impact Ausmus has had on the pitching staffs of his teams. That's coming soon.

Within the article, there is an interesting note saying Pudge Rodriguez' representation has contacted Easy Eddie on different occasions this off-season. But since he'll cost more than $2.13/hour + tips, they'll pass, thanks. Anyhow there are seven catchers on the roster, but only four in the mix to make the team: Quintero, Towles, Palmisano and Toby Hall.

Here's how I'd handicap the race...
1. Quintero
2. Hall
3. Palmisano
4. Towles

Q and Hall, I feel, will open the season on the team. Remember Palmisano has to stay on the roster all season in order not to lose him. But Hall is a veteran, and could provide some leadership for Quintero. Footer notes that Palmisano has some pop in his bat, which would be a change, but I just don't think he'll outplay Hall in Spring Training.

Easy Eddie said this about Palmisano:
"I've never seen him, but our scouts have seen him and [assistant GM] Bobby Heck had first-hand knowledge and contact with him. The knee issue he dealt with last year that kept him out longer than anticipated has completely healed. He has a chance to be an offensive catcher for us. With Rule 5 guys, you stick them out there and try to get as good of a look as possible to get a true evaluation."

Don't rule out Bobby Heck getting what Bobby Heck wants. I still believe the starting catcher's job is Quintero's to lose.

Tracy Ringolsby is gunning for Coop's job

Not really, but in Ringolsby's column yesterday he puts Coop on the Hot Seat. Regard:

* Houston manager Cecil Cooper enters the season in the final year of his contact, which is not the norm for the Astros. That would put him on the hot seat if the Astros start the season cold.

I, personally, am calling bullcrap. We all know how the Astros finished the season on a 39-game winning streak, only to be screwed out of a post-season berth by Bud Selig and Cracker Jack taking up the cause of the Cubs' 100 years of abject failure.

Cold starts are something the Astros, and their fans, are used to. So I don't think any legitimate Astros fan panics in May. There is only one manager who should be on the hot seat for a cold start: Girardi, eyes up. To have those resources available and be 10 games behind Toronto on May 15 would mean Girardi could be dragging the East River.

The only reason to fire a manager before mid-season is if he plays cards in the clubhouse during the game. We'll focus on this as we get closer to the season opener, but I guarantee you the Astros will not be picked to finish higher than 3rd in the NL Central by any writer (save Richard Justice).

Let's be honest here, so far this off-season has felt like Easy Eddie has been playing with dynasty mode in MLB 2002: The Game. I mean, I hope to God that Hampton rebounds, and Russ Ortiz regains his former glory and all Aaron Boone does is hit walk-off home runs. But to play with a poor team and get poor results should not a fire-able offense.

There's also the "Who are they going to replace him with?" factor that should not be ignored. Like when the Brewers - who could be the most knee-jerk organization in the National League - fired Ned Yost (whose son I made fun of at a college baseball game, because I thought the shared name was a coincidence. I should have known better. And little Neddy, I'm sorry. I really am. That was bush-league of me to yell "The Brewers suck!" when you were at the plate in a Lone Star Conference game) with ten days left in the season to replace him with a manager who I vaguely remember from a Donruss complete set. Any thoughts on when Ausmus is offered a "professional services" contract within the organization?

So no, Coop is not on the hot seat - nor should he be.

Astros resign David Newhan

The Astros signed utilityman David Newhan to a minor-league contract with an invitation to Spring Training yesterday.

And then of course the Chronicle's bulletin boards exploded with mean and hateful things. As do all bulletin boards - except this one, the home of clean, God-fearing, upright Astros fans who read blogs "The Right Way."

I'm not sure why everyone is panicking. Newhan hit .260 last year in a limited role (and .283 at home, mind you) - better than more than one regular starter - and is a lefty, and will provide some experience and competition for the younger guys coming up. Like Saccomanno, Johnson, Sutton, etc. He's got some pop. 9 of his 27 hits last year were for extra bases. No, he doesn't walk, but if you're a pinch-hitter, it doesn't pay to be too terribly patient.

When he was at second base, Newhan had a line of .304/.333./.449. When he led off the inning, which he did 29 times, he hit .448.

Jeesh, it's like everytime the Astros sign someone not named Manny Ramirez or Ben Sheets, everybody gets all bent out of shape...

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Huh?: Game Scores

Perhaps you've seen it at the bottom of the box scores on ESPN.com - the game scores of starting pitchers. What the heck does it mean? That's what Astros County is here to help with. This morning, in the absence of news, and because my hands hurt from all the wringing, we're going to learn to calculate Game Scores.

And since the Astros' best Game Score of the year came from Roy Bulldozewalt against Colorado on September 6, a complete-game one-hitter the Astros won on a 6th inning Hunter Pence two-run homer, we'll use that game to start. (Roy's numbers are in parentheses as we calculate).

-Every pitcher starts with a 50. That's your base line number. A score higher than 50 means the pitcher had a quality start. (50)
-Add one point for every out the pitcher records. Roy threw a complete game. Nine innings - 27 outs. (77)
-Add two points for every inning completed after the fourth inning. Roy completed five innings after the fourth. (87)
-Add one point for every strikeout. Roy struck out six Rockies. (93)
-Subtract two points for each hit and one point for each walk. Roy gave up one hit and walked two. (89)
-Subtract four points for each earned run and two for unearned runs. Roy, obviously, allowed no Rockies to cross home plate (89).

That's it! Of course Carlos Zambrano's bullcrap no-hitter was the highest rated Game Score of the season, with a 96.

Brandon Backe's 3.1-inning 11-run debacle against the Cubs on August 6? Yeah...-8.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Have I mentioned how disastrous it would be if Jake Peavy was traded to the Cubs?

Because, man. That would suck. Like it wasn't bad enough that the Astros had to run into C.C. Sabathia, Ben Sheets, Carlos Zambrano (and his stupid, tainted no-hitter).

However, I don't think Sabathia and Burnett will impact the Yankees like Everyone thinks they will. Burnett will - at best - replace Mussina. Sabathia will only affect 20% of the Yankees 2009 season.

That said. Peavy owns the Astros, but he didn't play Us that often. Two games in 2008 (1-0, with a 2.77 ERA). However, if the Cubs rotation becomes Peavy, Zambrano, Harden, Dempster and Lilly? That would suck. Especially if, in an ideal scenario (a 5-game set), we see Peavy-Oswalt, Zambrano-Wandy, Harden-Hampton, Dempster-Moehler, Lilly-Backe. Maybe - MAYBE - the Astros take two of those games. And only the second if Lance decides he's going to eat Zambrano's face during the game.

Let's see how the Astros fare against Roy's BFF:
Blum - .500 (4x8 - not kidding)
Tejada - .444 (4x9 - still not kidding)
Lance - .250 (8x32)
Lee - .190 (4x21)
Pence - .167 (1x6)
Matsui - .143 (3x21)

That's bad. So to face Peavy four or five times? If this happens, it's the Cubs' division to lose. But then again, don't worry - they've been doing that for 100 years. Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha....

But to reiterate: Peavy to the Cubs is the worst thing that can happen to the Astros this season.

The American Dream Is Still Alive and Well in Brenham - and it has nothing to do with Blue Bell

Run-DMc was speaking in Brenham last night and painted a happy, sunshine and rainbows picture of America. And Cecil Cooper.

Then there's this:

McLane urged the audience to be “risk takers” and said that “human potential is just incredible and unlimited.”

Can anyone else smell irony? I smell it.

McTaggart's take on the lineup

Sunday I wrote a post about the statistical impact of the Astros' lineups. McTaggart went one better, noting that the Astros used 115 different lineups last season - that's a lot. Here's what McTaggart says the lineup should be:

1. Matsui
2. Bourn
3. Berkman
4. Lee
5. Pence
6. Tejada
7. Boone/Blum
8. Quintero/Hall

This is what I put...
#1 - Kaz Matsui
#2 - Michael Bourn
#3 - Miguel Tejada
#4 - Lance Berkman
#5 - Carlos Lee
#6 - Hunter Pence
#7 - Aaron Boone
#8 - Humberto Quintero

McTaggart basically puts Tejada 7th and slides everyone else up from there. Given Tejada's likely decline in this, his 35th year on earth, I would tend to agree (but again, I was looking simply at 2008 numbers). With a middle of the lineup that reads Berkman, Lee, Pence, Tejada - that's not a bad lineup - especially with everybody protecting each other. Matsui gets on base, Bourn only hit into three double plays last year, Berkman is protected by Lee, who sees some good pitches because of Pence hitting behind him.

MLB.com talks to Bagwell

Pretty good interview with Bagwell on MLB.com with Alyson Footer. Here are some highlights:

On Bud Norris' (who AF says will compete for a bullpen job) hype: He should be getting the hype. He's got a chance to really help us. I'm hoping he has a great Spring Training and can help us this year. He's got an above-average fastball and an above-average breaking ball. It's a fun to watch him. He's got a good presence out there.

On the farm system: Not every kid can just be rushed to the big leagues. Usually, the kids who can be rushed are the first 10 picks in the Draft, and they're above everybody else talent-wise. Well, the Astros have been winning for so long, we don't get those high picks. We get the 25th or the 23rd pick, and some years, we haven't even had a first-round pick. So it's been hard for us to get those types of guys.

On Brian Bogusevic: He's got a nice eye at the plate, he's got a good approach, he runs real well.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Q&A with Astros County

I love this. Someone asked a question! Got one of your own? E-mail us at astroscounty@hotmail.com. So let's take it one at a time:

I am interested in you setting an over/under number on how many different pitchers get starts this year.

Last year, 10 pitchers started a game for the Astros, and four of those players are not on the roster anymore. (Can you name those four? Answer below.) In addition to the five pitchers in the rotation now, you can bet that Hampton is not going to make 30+ starts. I'll be the first to slide butt-first nekkid into an ice bank if he does.

Injuries are a certainty. Guys like Sampson, Hensley, Wright are in the bullpen and apparently will be able to make spot starts. And don't discount the very real possibility that the season will effectively be over by mid-August (making this the AAA-stros), meaning we may see a Bud Norris, Brad James up in the rotation towards the end of the season.

The ML team using the fewest pitchers to start a game is the Angels and the Twins, with seven. The most? Texas, with 14. The Dia'm'ndba'ck', Royals, Brewers, Phillies, Giants and Rays used less than 10.

I'm going to put the over/under at 11.5 Astros getting starts.

I actually like the bullpen quite a bit. We could be okay there. But they will get plenty of opportunities to screw up with this starting rotation.

Exactly.

Also, do you imagine any scenario in which Danny Graves makes this team?

Here's my definite answer: Maybe. Probably not in the rotation. His only season starting was in 2003 and he was 4-15 with a 5.33 ERA. He's been much more solid out of the bullpen and, as you said, the bullpen might be the most solid part of the '09 Astros. But Easy Eddie has brought in a number of experienced guys to compete for spots besides Graves, like Russ Ortiz, Jose Capellan, Chad Paronto, and don't forget de la Vara was a Rule 5 pick - so he has to stay on the roster or the Astros lose $50,000. And nobody messes with Drayton's 50 Gs.

If Graves comes out and is lights out, while some of the other guys struggle, he could make the team. The Astros will probably carry seven or eight in the bullpen, and you figure that Brocail, Geary, Byrdak, Wright, Valverde, Sampson and Hawkins are locks. That leaves room for one more. And if Moehler or Backe doesn't have a good spring, they could get pushed into the 'pen. It's a long-shot, but it could happen.

Excellent question! Keep 'em coming. Disagree or agree? Let me know.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Astros avoid arbitration hearings with Wandy, Geary

So a while ago I tried a little game in which I projected how much Wandy and Geary would make in arbitration. I think I had Geary at $2.1 million and Wandy at $900,000.

Today the Astros avoided arbitration with one-year deals with both. Geary signed for $1.7 million. Wandy signed for $2.6 million. Nothing like a $2.2 million raise for a 9-7 season. He gets a $50,000 bonus if he throws 180 innings.

That's everybody under contract, folks! How's it feel?

Nieve and Paulino to audition for the rotation.

Open tryouts - bring a glove! Alyson Footer is reporting that Coop will give Fernando Nieve and Felipe Paulino - both of whom it feels like have been around since Mike Scott played - a shot at the rotation.

This makes Brandon Backe and Brian Moehler very nervous...

The Astros really dodged a bullet on that Andy Pettitte fella...

So in the end, all it took was $5.5 million (plus an additional $6.5 million in incentives) to sign Andy Pettitte. That's $4 million - in total - less than Honest Andy wanted guaranteed. And $4.5 million guaranteed less than what the Yankees had on the table.

Those Hendricks brothers really screwed up on this one. However, maybe the Astros dodged a bullet (that will ricochet and hit Mike Hampton in the oblique, no doubt, but only after nicking Brandon Backe and Wandy Rodriguez on the pitching hand) by not pulling the trigger on Honest Andy.

In 2008, Andy dealt with injuries and posting higher-than-career-average numbers in hits, runs, earned runs, home runs, ERA and WHIP. And throwing fewer innings, too.

His last 11 starts are well-documented: 2-7 with a 6.23 ERA, and missing his last start. But let's look at August and September. Six starts in August - three at home, three on the road. He allowed two earned runs or less twice in those last two months - once August 20 @ Toronto (1 ER in 7 innings) and September 21 vs. Baltimore (2 ER in 5 innings).

Andy is most effective when he gets more ground balls than fly balls: when he did this - or at least had a 1:1 ratio, the Yankees were 12-5 (as opposed to 3-12 when he had more fly balls than ground balls), and the Yankees were 2-8 in his last 10 starts. Andy didn't pitch into the 8th inning past July 20, either.

Maybe you'd rather have Andy than Mike Hampton - but not at double, almost triple, the price. This is a pitcher held together with chicken wire, and after throwing 3200+ pitches last year - it don't look good for Honest Andy. That doesn't mean it looks great for Houston, but I'll take Mike Hampton at this point...

The Biz of Baseball and I have similar ideas

In an excellent article arguing against a salary cap in baseball - though 3 out of 6 NL Central owners favor it - the Biz of Baseball and I share some thoughts. Notably the closing one:

What the whiners fail to acknowledge is that parity in MLB doesn’t take a backseat to any league, including the NFL. In the last eight years, 13 different MLB teams have played in the World Series – the Yankees only twice and they lost both times - compared to 12 different NFL teams that played in the Super Bowl.

A salary cap in MLB is merely a pipe dream. It’s also a convenient crutch for incompetence on the part of team management. If the Pirates had drafted as well as Tampa Bay over the past 12 years, they - not the Phillies - would have played the Rays in last year’s World Series. Now that’s something for Coonelly to focus on.

Wherefore Art Thou: Jason Lane

The second installment of the Wherefore Art Thou installment - Jason Lane! This nugget came up today:

Jason Lane signed a minor-league contract with a Spring Training invitation with the Blue Jays today.

Since leaving Houston, Lane played (kind of) with the Yankees, in a season where the Yankees tried to emulate the Astros' '05 success by having Pettitte, Clemens, Ensberg and Lane on the roster at one time. It didn't work out so well.

Lane did not play in the Majors last year.

Honest Andy will kneel before Hank and kiss his ring...

Jon Heyman is reporting the Yankees are in "serious talks" with Honest Andy and "there is a lot of optimism" they'll get a deal done - possibly for less than the $10 million Andy previously thought beneath him...

Who would be our best Joe Torre?

So as you probably know, Joe Torre is writing an expose on his years with the Yankees, where he rants and raves and rips - which will be delightful.

It got me thinking - who would write the best Astros expose? Tim Purpura? Gerry Hunsicker (my vote)? Daryle Ward?

So...Richard Justice says Drayton is spending enough money...

In a blog yesterday, Justice says that Run-DMc has spent plenty of money, and the state of the Astros farm system isn't necessarily his fault.

As I've pointed out before, the issue isn't necessarily how much money you spend, but where you spend it.

The problem - as RJ points out - is that the Astros have $60 million tied up in four players. But that's in 2009, and Tejada - and I'm projecting here - will not be back in 2010.

And RJ talks about the Astros' high payroll like it's a good thing to take on huge contracts, and while that shows a willingness to contend, it also shows a short-sighted front office. Don't get me wrong: I'm glad they ponied up for Roy and Lance. Carlos? Eh. Tejada? Maybe not. But I am excited for the Bobby Heck era to have an impact on the roster.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

You've got 243 home games left to enjoy the wonder that is Roy Oswalt

This isn't something that should be too much of a surprise, but everytime he reiterates it, I throw up in my mouth a little bit...

During an interview at the Astros’ invitation-only party Wednesday night hosted by team owner and Temple businessman Drayton McLane, Oswalt said he wants to fulfill the remaining three seasons of his contract and then retire from baseball - at 34.

Run-DMc said this: “We drafted Roy in the 23rd round (in 1996) and nobody knew who he was. I believe he’s now one of the three or four best pitchers in baseball,” McLane said. “We’ve spent more money than most teams to keep our top-notch players here.”

I'm calling bullcrap.

If Ed Wade offers you anything, take it. Take it immediately.

The Wolf himself told Ken Rosenthal he didn't have time to accept the three-year $28.5 million contract, because Easy Eddie immediately developed a case of buyer's remorse, and pulled the offer.

"I'm not bad-mouthing them. They decided to go in a different direction. Even though it didn't turn out that well for me, I don't blame them for going in the direction that they did."

But there is this closing quote, which could only be spoken by a man who has no control over the money he'll receive...

"It's obvious why I don't bet horses. I haven't been too successful with my picks. My goal is never to sign for the most money. It's always to find the right fit. I eventually hope to find it and pitch in October."

I bet horses once. It's why I now don't have any horses.

The Perfect Statistical Lineup Card

I'm going through the Astros roster, it's early on a Sunday morning, coffee pot's on, wife's still asleep, so I might as well think about baseball. As I'm doing this, I start to think - traditional roles? Throw 'em out. Let's take a look to see in which slot in the lineup did each Astro perform the best?

As always: a couple of disclaimers. We're going to give Boone and Blum their own consideration, because they'll presumably be platooning, which leads to another disclaimer that we're doing a little projecting here. Here's who we're looking at: Berkman, Matsui, Tejada, Boone, Blum, Lee, Bourn, Pence, Quintero. Some of these are going to be iffy, because well, "iffy" pretty well defines the Astros. Then we'll see how this specific lineup would have fared against the Astros actual 2008 season.

Kaz Matsui: When not dealing with a cracked anus, Matsui was pretty good. He spent time in both the #1 and #2 spots, and actually had the exact same batting average in each - .295. But hitting leadoff suited him better, as he coupled a 46x156 average with a SLG of .500.

Michael Bourn: Though he had a higher average in a smaller sample set in the #8 spot, Bourn was most effective at #2 (ha ha, grow up). This is a player with only 19 extra-base hits in 2008 and five of them were in the second spot. Posted a .292 (21x72) average and a .375 SLG.

Miguel Tejada: 54 of his hits went for extra-bases in 2008, 37 of them from the #3 spot. However, with a .353 batting average from the #2 (24x68) and a .485 SLG, Tejada could be an effective #2 hitter.

Lance Berkman: Spent most of the season in the #3 and #4 spot. Hit .262 in #3 (50x191) with five homers and a .429 SLG. In #4 went 123x360 for a .342 average and a .644 SLG.

Carlos Lee: Also performed best in the #4 spot, going 75x212 (.354) and a .608 SLG. In the #5 spot, it dropped to .278/.534.

Geoff Blum: Nine of his 14 HR came from the #5 spot, and his .253 average (39x154) and .500 SLG reflect some comfort in that spot.

Hunter Pence: Had at least four at-bats in spots 1-7. In #6 he batted .305 (94x308) with a .545 SLG. In the #3 slot, he did bat .313, but with only 5 hits and 1 for extra bases. #6 it is.

Aaron Boone: In the #7 spot, Boone had a smaller sample set, but three of his four hits in 12 at-bats were for extra-bases. So a .333/.583 line looks alright to me.

Humberto Quintero: Only really saw action in the #8, hitting in the cleanup spot (!) once, and striking out. He hit 9th 11 times, but in #8 went 36x156 and a .231 BA, .308 SLG.

So here's our clear consensus so far:
#1 - Kaz Matsui (46x156)
#2 - Miguel Tejada (24x68)
#3 -
#4 -
#5 -
#6 - Hunter Pence (94x308)
#7 - Aaron Boone (4x12)
#8 - Humberto Quintero (36x156)

So what are you going to do with Bourn/Berkman/Lee? Because Bourn was most effective in the #2 spot, let's put Bourn there, and then we get the 3/4/5 of a combination of Berkman, Lee and Tejada.

In the #3 spot we have:
Berkman, who hit 50x191 (.262) or Tejada, who went 119x420 (.283). - Lee never hit in the #3 spot in 2008

For #4:
Lee hit .354 (75x212)/.403/.608. Berkman went 123x360 (.342)/.440 OBP/.644 SLG. Tejada didn't hit fourth in '08.

#5:
Lee hit .278 (62x223). Tejada went 35x140 (.250). Berkman didn't hit fifth in '08.

Well this isn't easy, either. Both Berkman and Lee absolutely tore it up in the cleanup spot. So let's put Tejada 3rd, Berkman 4th and Lee 5th (does this look familiar?).

Here we go:
#1 - Kaz Matsui (46x156)
#2 - Michael Bourn (21x72)
#3 - Miguel Tejada (119x420)
#4 - Lance Berkman (123x360)
#5 - Carlos Lee (62x223)
#6 - Hunter Pence (94x308)
#7 - Aaron Boone (4x12)
#8 - Humberto Quintero (36x156)

That's a total of: 505x1707, or .296. What was the Astros team average in 2008? .263. Obviously there are a lot of factors at work here, and admittedly this is a very loose look at the statistics. We haven't taken into account personalities, Carlos Lee's penchant for "owning" certain spots in the line-up, injuries, slumps, etc. But it is possible to take 2008 statistics and make this team hit .296. The Cardinals had the best batting average in the NL with a .281 average - and the Rangers led the Majors with a .283 average - so to outhit the rest of the Majors by 13 points is almost an impossibility. But it's still fun to think about - because it's January, and there's not much else to do.