Saturday, September 12, 2009

Wright to the rotation? And lots of other notes!

So maybe the whole "getting Wesley Wright to throw until he runs out of electrolytes" experiment at Wrigley Field had some farther-reaching motives, as we read that Wesley Wright is expected to compete for a spot in the rotation in 2010.

Why? Because he's 24. And he can throw a fastball about 94mph.

Wright has been one of the topics of discussion as the baseball staff begins working on a blueprint for 2010. Third baseman Chris Johnson, shortstop Tommy Manzella, second baseman Edwin Maysonet and catcher Jason Castro could all be in the opening day lineup.

Those four players would transform the Astros from one of baseball's oldest teams to one of its youngest. With Michael Bourn and Hunter Pence back, there would be only two thirtysomethings—Lance Berkman and Carlos Lee—in the everyday lineup.

What does this do to the rotation? The first three spots are locked up with Roy, Wandy, and The Troof (Bud Norris). We read that the Astros are "almost certainly" gonig to offer a contract to Brian Moehler, leaving some competition for SP5. Among those candidates are Yorman Bazardo, Felipe Paulino (who continues to audition, apparently), and now Wesley Wright. It's a low-risk move to ask Wright to at least give it a shot, as they can just move him back to the bullpen if it doesn't work out.
As the Astros look to 2010, we read some more interesting tidbits about the bullpen: now it looks as though the Astros will attempt to resign LaHawk and Valverde. The money needed to resign both would be an offsetting of not paying Tejada the $13 million he'll get once September wraps up.

Valverde is certain to get a raise, probably to $10 million/year. LaHawk got $3.5 for 2009, and wasn't a slouch, so he'll be looking at a raise. Will the Astros bring Tejada back? It won't happen for $13 million, but he's had a career year. With Manzella getting to see what the bench looks like, he'll be in the mix for SS1 come February 2010.

Recap for 142 - Pirates @ Astros

It only took two swings of the bat, but it was enough for the Astros as they sent the Pirates to their 12th straight road loss in a 4-2 win. Carlos Lee hit a two-run jack in the fourth, and Miggs took Ohlendorf deep for a two-run jack in the sixth. Despite getting nine hits, the Pirates only got two across in the loss. Let's do the thing:

Moehler: 6IP, 7H/2ER, 4K:3BB, 17/27 first-pitch strikes, 20/59 non-contact strikes (15 called:5 swinging)
Fulchino: 1IP, 1K, 1 win, 2/3 FPS, 4/7 NCS (2c:2s)
LaHawk: 1IP, 2H, 2/5 FPS, 3/7 NCS (2c:1s)
Valverde: 1IP, 3/3 FPS, 2/7 NCS (1c:1s)

Astros pitchers threw first-pitch strikes to 24 of 38 Pirates batters, and Moehler threw another quality start, lowering his ERA to just a tick above 5.00, and if he gets under 5.00 for the year, that would qualify as a surprising turn of events. How did it happen? Moehler got 10 groundball outs, compared to three flyball outs.

Offensively, there wasn't much happening for the Astros, except for those two swings. Carlos Lee's homer was with two outs, and his 94 RBI put him within tapping distance of 100 RBI for the season. This is how we know Ross Ohlendorf got a raw deal: Pirates batters saw 139 pitches in eight innings. Astros batters saw just 97, in nine. Whoops. The Astros also had a grand total of zero at bats with RISP.

Keppinger was back in the lineup after missing five (six?) games with a bad back. Tommy Manzella still hasn't seen any starting action, as the young'uns sat on the bench and talked about Round Rock, and road trips to Nashville, Oklahoma City, and Portland.

Pitch Count Punk: Chris Coste - 4 pitches in 3 PAs (0x3)

Pitch Count Hero: Lance Berkman - 16 pitches in 3 PAs (1x2, BB)

Man of the Match: Brian Moehler. He's given up six earned runs in his last 17 innings, and hasn't allowed more than 3ER in a start since August 10 (six starts)

Goat of the Game: How about Chris Coste? Those are some short at-bats, with nothing to show for it...

Recap for G141 - Pirates at Astros

Wahey! Astros win 9-1 and the following players saw action:

Chris Johnson (0x4)
Tommy Manzella (1x1)
J.R. Towles (0x2)
Edwin Maysonet (def replacement)
Bud Norris (6IP, 6H/1ER, 7K:1BB)
Sam Gervacio: 1IP, 1K
Yorman Bazardo: 1IP, 3K

After going two months without a homer, Lance hit his second in two games in an offensive romance explosion.

Quick version:
Man of the Match: So hard to say. But let's give it to Lance. 2x2 with two walks. Man made no outs.

Goat of the Game: I'm not giving one out. So there.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Lineup for G141 - Pirates @ Astros

Lineup for tonight's game:

Bourn CF
Matsui 2B
Berkman 1B
Lee LF
Tejada SS
Pence RF
Johnson 3B
Towles C
Norris P

Tejada stays in the lineup despite making 11 outs (approximately) last night. Manzella stays on the bench...

Minor League MVPs

The Astros announced their season-ending MVPs for the minor league teams.

Round Rock: Tommy Manzella
Infielder Tommy Manzella was named MVP at Triple-A Round Rock Express. He hit .289 in 133 games with nine home runs, 31 doubles and 56 RBI sand finished the Pacific Coast League season ranked second in at-bats (530) and third in hits (153).

Known for his defensive ability, Manzella earned Round Rock's Defensive Player of the Month honors twice this season and was named by Baseball America as the organization's best defensive infielder prior to the 2009 season.

Corpus Christi: (surprise) Drew Locke
He was a midseason All-Star and finished first in the Texas League in batting average, hits and RBIs, second in slugging percentage (.531), third in runs scored (81), and fourth in on-base percentage.

Acquired by Houston in the Minor League phase of the 2008 Rule V Draft, Locke finished second among all Astros' minor leaguers in batting average and RBIs.

Lancaster: Koby Clemens
Clemens put together a remarkable season, hitting .345 with 22 homers, 45 doubles and a Minor League leading 121s RBI. The right-handed hitting catcher slugged .636 and posted a .419 on-base percentage for an OPS of 1.055. Clemens was a California League Postseason All-Star and led the league in RBIs and slugging percentage, while ranking tied for first in batting average and doubles. He also had the highest average and RBI totals among all Astros minor leaguers.

Lexington: Brian Pellegrini
Outfielder/first baseman Brian Pellegrini finished with a .291 average with 27 home runs and 74 RBIs en route to claiming team MVP honors. He finished first in the South Atlantic League in home runs, while ranking second in both slugging (.578) and on-base percentage (.396). Among Astros' prospects, Pellegrini finished the season ranking second in home runs (34) and fourth in RBIs (89) in combined totals between Lexington and Lancaster.

Tri-City: Barry Butera
The short-season Tri-City ValleyCats named infielder Barry Butera team MVP after he hit .267 with 16 stolen bases in 61 games. Butera, a 21st-round selection in the 2009 First-Year Player Draft, finished his first professional season by winning Tri-City's Offensive Player of the Month in August. In the month, he posted a .358 average with eight RBIs.

Greeneville: Jose Altuve
Infielder Jose Altuve hit .324 with 20 doubles, 21 steals and a .408 on-base percentage to earn team MVP honors. The 2009 Appalachian League All-Star finished the season ranking third in the league in steals and fourth in batting average and on-base percentage. His performance earned him a late-season promotion to Tri-City, where he played in 21 games for the ValleyCats.

GCL Astros: Enrique Hernandez
For the Astros Gulf Coast League affiliate, infielder Enrique Hernandez earned team MVP honors by hitting .295 with 27 RBIs and 35 runs scored in 53 games. A sixth-round selection in the 2009 First-Year Player Draft, Hernandez finished the season ranking third in the league in hits and fourth in runs scored.

DSL Astros: Hector Rodriguez
Infielder Hector Rodriguez was tabbed MVP of the Astros Dominican Summer League team after posting a .269 average in 55 games. The 20-year-old native Dominican was signed as a non-drafted free agent by Astros scouts Julio Linares and Arturo DeFreitas prior to the 2008 season.

Heyman said what?

Jon Heyman, via Twitter:

wagner doing great audition in boston. best possibilities for next year: #braves, #astros, #cubs, #tigers, #nats (maybe)

Holy crap. Everyone knows Valverde's out the door. The only question is whether the Astros offer him arbitration and take a risk that he really will leave (which he probably will) and get a couple of draft picks for him. The bad news is he could take it, and make $10-12 million next year. That's bad. So maybe they'll pull a Ty Wigginton and not offer him arbitration, and just let him walk, and thank him for his 66 saves (and counting).

But what if he leaves? LaHawk makes $3.5 million. As a setup man. One of the last contracts before everyone in baseball realized the economy was going to suck for a long time. So if he is promoted to closer, will he get a raise? Did the Astros sign Armando Benitez this season to give him Triple-A action in order to give him a shot in 2010? But a homecoming for Billy Wagner? What do you think?

Astacio could be giving the Zeke Face at a park near you

We find from this article that the Chicago Cubs have purchased Ezequiel Astacio's contract. I don't know when it happened, but...huh.

Quintero was paying attention

McTaggart's article on Quintero has some interesting things about Quintero:

1. He was paying attention over the last couple of years:
"(Ausmus) taught me a lot of things, and I learned a lot from him. I appreciated that. I'm seeing what other catchers and our catchers are doing, and I'm going from there and learning. These last two years, I've had two of the best catchers in the big leagues, and I think I've learned something from those guys."

2. Winter ball is bad for spring:
Unlike he did last year, Quintero said he doesn't plan to play winter ball in his native Venezuela over the offseason and will stay in Houston to work out. He skipped winter ball following the 2007 season and reported to Spring Training in great shape, hitting .341 that spring. He played winter ball following last year and hit .116 in Spring Training.

3. Quintero wants to stay:
"I'm happy, and I hope I'm going to have more years here. I would love to stay here and come here next year and be ready for spring. Hopefully I can do that and we make the playoffs next year."

4. The Astros are likely to grant that wish, according to McTaggart:
The Astros are likely to keep Quintero in the catching mix in 2010 as they wait for No. 1-ranked prospect Jason Castro to reach the Majors, likely sometime next season.

At some point the Astros are going to have to do something with Towles. I'm not one to comment on other bloggers' posts, but Chip Bailey at the Chronicle suggested shifting him to second base, as that worked out pretty well for Craig Biggio. It can't hurt. If the Astros bring Coste back - and I don't know if that would happen - the Astros would have Quintero/Coste/Castro (at some point)/Towles. That's a lot of catchers. Too many. If they get rid of Coste and go with a Quintero/Castro platoon, with Towles as C3, we're getting to where he needs to be given a shot with another team.

Will the Cardinals re-sign Holliday?

Buster Olney doesn't think so. A snippet:

But the Cardinals already have enormous contract obligations on the books. Albert Pujols will make $16 million in salary next year, and Chris Carpenter, the leading contender for the NL Cy Young Award, is set to make $14.5 million. Kyle Lohse will make $8.9 million, Yadier Molina will earn $4.25 million, and Adam Wainwright will make $4.6 million. Ryan Franklin and Trever Miller just signed contract extensions that will cost St. Louis about $5 million next year. That's $55 million for seven players, and if DeRosa gets an extension of something in the range of $5 million-$6 million and St. Louis elects to keep Ryan Ludwick through arbitration, that'll take the payroll to somewhere in the area of $70 million.

And if Holliday costs something around $12 million to $15 million next season, that would put the Cardinals in a position in which they'd have to approach or surpass $100 million in payroll to keep him.

Nothing in the Cardinals' recent history tells us they will do that. We'll see.

Keppinger still out, Johnson still in

Jeff Keppinger is surprised that it has taken so long to get his back worked out:

“I didn't think it would take this long. I thought maybe it would be two days, but we have a lot of guys here now. So instead of trying to push it and get out there it's better to take an extra day to make sure it's right so it doesn't happen again...

...I still hadn't tried to run yet. Running was the main thing that was bothering me in the game that I came out of when I hurt it. It was mostly the pounding that sent little jolts in my back. To try to go out there and run I still felt it. So talking to Nate, the best thing he said to do was to take an extra day. It keeps getting better and better every day, so one more day is probably the best thing for it.”

“He's not ready to go yet. He swung the bat yesterday and felt fine swinging the bat. You have to run the bases.”

Can I make the obvious joke that is begging and panting to be made here? Okay. Here it is...

Not the Astros. They do a lot of swinging the bat without running the bases.

Okay, thanks.
This obviously opened the door for Chris Johnson, who was 1x4 last night.

“It is exciting. I'm glad because of (Wednesday) night. I just wanted to get out there and start playing again and get all these nerves out of the way. That's the best way, I think. I'm anxious to play today. Yesterday I was nervous to play. Today I'm just anxious to get out there. It is baseball. I think it's the big leagues. So mentally it's a little different, but it's the same game.”
Wandy gave an update on his fatigued shoulder, indicating that he's fine and will make his next start:
“I'm fine. I don't have any pain. I just didn't feel much strength on my pitches (after the seventh inning Wednesday). I'm fine. I'm cool. I'm a bit tired, but it's nothing out of the ordinary. The important thing is that I'm fine and I'll make my next start.”
Alberto Arias will be throwing a bullpen today for the first time since hitting the DL on August 24.
Parting shot: If Tommy Manzella doesn't get the start tonight in place of Tejada, who grounded into three double plays last night, I'm clubbing a baby seal.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Lineup for G140 - Braves @ Astros

Apologies for no matchup post today, but here's the lineup:

Bourn CF
Matsui 2B
Berkman 1B
Lee LF
Tejada SS
Pence RF
Johnson 3B
Coste C
Oswalt P

Hooray! And congratulations to Chris Johnson. It took a high-ankle sprain and a busted shin to get him in the lineup, but at least Coop didn't throw a jacked-up Keppinger in there. Now about making room for Manzella...who's going all Tonya Harding on Tejada?

Tri-City: Pay no attention to the moving men on the field

Tri-City ValleyCats General Manager Rick Murphy:

“Obviously, we can’t control what happens on the field. No matter what we try to do, that’s out of our control, given the way the minor leagues are set up. The Houston Astros (the ’Cats’ parent team) draft the players, they assign them here, they develop them here. With that being said, “we in the front office (assistant GM) Vic Christopher, myself and the 12 fulltime employees that we have all take it upon ourselves to control the things off the field as much as we can. And I think the data that we collect, and getting a better understanding of our fans base and knowing what companies and groups enjoy the experience allows us to be better informed when we put together our offseason plan and then go out and try to market the ValleyCats...

...There is professional baseball out there (on the field) and that’s part of the experience, but … knowing that you may see the next Dustin Pedroia, you may see the next Hunter Pence, the next Ben Zobrist; that’s really a message that we try to sell, whether it’s our guys, or the opposition’s...

It may be a future Hall of Famer, the Wade Boggs of the world."

What about all that losing?

“The level of frustration one could experience by finishing in last place three straight years could compel someone to think that sooner or later, fans will stop coming. But again, the only thing we can control is the relationship with the (parent) organization that supplies us with players...

...The nice thing about signing two-year PDCs (Player Development Contracts) is that you do have an opportunity at the end of each term to evaluate whether or not the major league affiliate is philosophically aligned with our philosophy.

With that being said, I don’t think that you need to win at all costs at this level. That’s not the makeup of our league. I would say that putting a competitive team on the field year-in and year-out is what we would look for from a major league affiliate. Finishing considerably out of contention this year – 18 games out -- and finishing in last the past three years, one could ask, ‘are you fielding a competitive team?’ I think the fair assessment right now would be, “no.” But where does that go next year."

“We’re going to be faced with a decision at the end of next year to determine whether or not the Astros are philosophically viewing this league in the same way we would hope, from an ownership perspective, would give us the best probability of having a competitive team,”

Billy Sadler gets an A in Baseball Comm 101

McTaggart's article on call-up Billy Sadler has him saying all the right things:

"I'm thrilled to be here right now. It's such a great group of guys and everybody's welcomed me and I'm excited for a new start in baseball. I'm looking forward to finishing up the year to try to make a good impression on everyone and go from there. I want to help any way I can...

... "I grew up watching Houston play. I'm seven hours from my hometown and went to LSU and am just excited about being closer to home. [General manager] Ed Wade and [assistant general manager] Dave [Gottfried] are solid guys, and I'm glad they gave me an opportunity. It seems like they welcomed me with open arms, and I said, 'Let's go.' When we sat down and came to an agreement, I went to Kissimmee, Florida, to rehab, and I'm ready to go."

Sadler throws in the low 90s with his fastball and has a curve and changeup.

"I just try to attack the hitters and do my job and work with the catcher and go from there," Sadler said. "I just want to give my best and see what happens."

How did Blum hurt his leg?

McTaggart says it was while he was breaking up a double play.

Astros County's own version of Texts From Last Night

My cousin is a Braves fan through and through. So we had this text volley last night:

Cuz: Wow. Tejada is now one of those players I hate unless they are a Brave.

AC: You can have him after this season. Free agent. Total contract year performance.

Cuz: No thanks. I wouldn't want to subtract from your extreme team age.

AC: Seriously. If Tejada re-signs, the average age on Opening Day 2010 will be 62. (our grandfather) will get a non-roster invitation to Spring Training. And win a job.

Cuz: Hilarious. Laughing hard.

AC: He'll be a defensive replacement for Carlos Lee.

Cuz: He's faster. That's for sure.

AC: More fit, too. Harder work ethic.

Cuz: Absolutely. Church groups visit the Astros clubhouse on their senior citizens' home circuit delivering communion.

AC: There's a Meals on Wheels stop at Minute Maid. And the Scouting Reports are in large print.

Cuz: They have fiber one and geritol in the dugout, and a soft frozen yogurt dispenser.

AC: Lawrence Welk is the post-game music in the clubhouse

Cuz: They all eat dinner at 4:30 pm. The favorite team restaurant is Furr's Cafeteria.

AC: The only time they get angry is when Furr's runs out of fried fish and okra

Cuz: 7 current players are WW2 veterans.

AC: Four got struck out by Satchel Paige

Cuz: They get pissed if the half maraschino cherry is not on their tapioca. The DL has a "fell unloading the dishwasher, fractured hip" category.

AC: I'm laughing too hard. Give me a minute.

Cuz: Under their jersey is a Life Alert system, for when they can't stand up diving for a grounder.

Justice can fix Paulino

As if lately he needed to be fixed. Nevertheless, Justice has some ideas...

Felipe Paulino needs to establish his fastball instead of throwing so much breaking stuff early in games. He threw just 30 fastballs and 22 breaking pitches in the first two innings Tuesday night.

First, this is too many pitches, but it's far too few fastballs. If he's going to make it, it's going to be because he was able to locate an above-average major league fastball.

If he can't do that, he has no chance. See Brad Lidge for helpful instruction about what happens to a guy with a great arm but no command of his fastball.

He made it look easy in the third and fourth innings when 13 of his 15 pitches were fastballs, including 11 in a row. He threw some breaking pitches to open the fifth, but then finished the final two hitters off on a diet of 96-mph fastballs.

Pitchers must throw an occasional off-speed pitch to keep hitters honest. In the end, though, it's the fastball that'll determine whether they succeed or not unless they have an extraordinary breaking pitch. Paulino's best pitch is his fastball, and he needs to command it better. If he does, he'll make a whole lot of money.

It's true. But it's also a little obvious. I can understand pitching backwards, but the Key to the Game of "locating your fastball" is right out of the Fox Saturday Game of the Week in which somebody - generally McCarver - says that Team X needs to shut Team Y's offense down, while scoring more runs."

Concern about Berkman, and his lack of hitting home runs

There is some grumbling going around on Berkman's lack of power - McTaggart pointed out that last night was the two-month anniversary of Berkman's last home run.

Richard Justice:
Lance Berkman has a .378 OBP since the All-Star Break, but he hasn't homered in 102 ABs. Getting on base is a very good thing, but it's not what Berkman is paid to do.

Until his power returns, why not slide him to No. 2 in the batting order and move everyone up a spot? Or leave everyone where they are and Hunter Pence in the No. 3 spot? Coop can then bat Kaz Matsui or whoever's playing second base in the ninth spot. Just a thought.

And JJO has a post in which Berkman denies that he's a home run hitter. Berkman:
"I don't really consider myself a home run hitter. I never have even though I've had some seasons where I've hit a bunch of home runs. I've been susceptible to the homer-less drought. If you go back and look at my career, I had a pretty good one in '03, and a pretty good one in '05. Last year I had a pretty good homer-less drought. In '04 I remember having a real long homerless drought that I broke at Shea Stadium. You remember things like that. It's not all that out of the ordinary. I wish it wouldn't happen, but all I can do is go out there and hit the ball hard...

...It's hard to figure. I wish that it weren't the case. One of the best things I've ever heard an athlete say — and I'm not saying I'm for or against him — Tony Romo said, 'If the worst thing that ever happens to me in my life is sports related I'll consider myself blessed.' I feel the same way. While this is not the season I would like to have or am accustomed to having personally and for the team, everybody faces challenges in one form or another. That's the way I look at it. I'll just try to do the best I can the rest of the year and come back next year...

...I think a lot of it is mental," he said. "Clearly you're the same guy that's had other seasons that have been a lot better than this one. I don't think I'm old enough yet to where you get the law of diminishing returns from your age. I think that might start in another three or four years. I don't know from a baseball standpoint that it begins in your early 30s. So it's hard to figure from a physical standpoint. I just think there is a mental component to it. You lose confidence, you try to do too much or you press a little bit. Those are things that I've always had to deal with my whole career. Some times I'm been able to handle it better than others."

I'll agree with Justice, here, and not Lance. Berkman has averaged 33 home runs per season in his career, and he needs three more this season to equal his career-low, when he hit 21 in 114 games (he played in his 115th game of the season last night).

Homer Recap:
2006: 45
2007: 34
2008: 29
2009: 18

That's disconcerting.

Blum Leg

Geoff Blum exited last night's game in the 5th inning. Why? A shin contusion and a mild high ankle sprain. Time to shine, Chris Johnson...
A follow-up on the age discrepancy of Jose Valverde has been downplayed organization-wide (and here, and you can read why I don't care).

And JJO chimes in with a "well, it's pretty common to cheat and forge" line - which didn't help me much in 10th grade chemistry (the only "C" I got in high school. A streak which lasted until second-semester Greek.)

The practice of altering dates of birth in the Dominican Republic is not rare. Miguel Tejada and Wandy Rodriguez, who actually secured a different identity to initially sign with the Astros, are just two of Valverde's teammates who forged their age to sign professional contracts.

Somehow that doesn't make me feel better.
Keppinger was out for the fifth consecutive game, and will be treated gingerly for a few games. Coop:
“He looked fine,” Cecil Cooper said. “It looked like he might be ready to get back out there. I'll probably be still a little careful with him. I would think probably just pinch-hit him and something like that. We have enough bodies to get by defensively to put him on the defensive side. But he looked OK. He was bouncing around. It still bothers him when he runs.”

So Chris Johnson might get his first start tonight. Or the Astros can shift Tejada to third to see what happens, and let Manzella start at short. If that's going to be an option for 2010, we might as well get a look.

Wandy: Getting dead arm?

There was a strange line in JJO's G139 recap last night, as he describes a happy dugout when Tommy Hanson didn't come out for the 9th inning.

“When (Hanson) left, I thought we had a chance, and that's how it happened,” said Rodriguez, who declined an opportunity to pitch the eighth because of shoulder fatigue. “We won. I could see he had great pitches, he was throwing them all for strikes and they were all dominant. He had a great fastball, 90-plus and great breaking pitches. Oh, I was happy he was gone.”

That's weird. Coop was willing to give him the ball, and Wandy declined due to shoulder fatigue. He only threw 85 pitches over the seven innings, but last night's innings brought him to a tie with his previous career high for IPs with 182.2 (2007). He has thrown 45 innings over 2008.

Recap for G139 - Braves at Astros

Thank God for Rafael Soriano. He's the player of the game for the Astros, as Tommy Hanson made the Astros look foolish for eight innings. I understand Tommy Hanson is slowly returning from injury, but he was sitting at 98 pitches, with 5H/0ER, 7K:0BB. Think maybe he should have gone for the 9th? Who cares! That's a walk-off, 2-1 win.

Let's do the thing:

Wandy: 7IP, 3H/1ER, 6K:2BB, 20/26 first-pitch strikes, 27/59 non-contact strikes (20 called:7 swinging)
Wright: 1IP, 2K, 1/3 FPS, 7/9 NCS (3c:4s)
Valverde: 1IP, 2K, 2/3 FPS, 7/12 NCS (3c:4s)

Great pitching performance, and it's getting to the point where the staff needs to keep the opposition below two runs to win a game. At home, Wandy is 8-2 (with six no decisions), and a 1.58 ERA. 1.58, and six no decisions. That's disgusting.

Hanson dominated the Astros, who managed just five hits - all singles. Thankfully, Soriano came in and it all happened. Berkman got a clutch double in the 9th to move Matsui to third. An intentional walk to Lee (which is a great managerial move by Bobby Cox to get to double play-prone Miguel Tejada. Who ripped a single to center, scoring Matsui and Berkman to win the game.

Chris Johnson saw some game action at third after Blum was taken to the hospital for precautionary measures after suffering a contusion on his leg. More on that later this morning.

Pitch Count Hero: Hunter Pence - 16 pitches in 3 PAs (0x3, 2K)
Pitch Count Punk: Lance Berkman - 7 pitches in 4 PAs (2x4, 1K)

Man of the Match: Rafael Soriano (ha!). Tejada had a clutch hit, but it's going to Wandy.

Goat of the Game: It's hard to say. How about Pence - 0x3, 2Ks, and ended the inning twice.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Jim Pankovits reflects on the season

I guess it was "check with your local minor-league manager" day. This time, Ed Weaver of the Troy Record checks in with Jim Pankovits, Tri-City ValleyCats manager.

The team not only occupied last place in the Stedler Division from July 3 on, they also tied Auburn for the worst record in the entire league.

No one was more disappointed that first-year manager Jim Pankovits.

"No doubt, the way the season played out was unexpected and not what we wanted by any means. I couldn’t be happier with how hard these kids have worked. My staff (pitching coach Gary Ruby, hitting coach Joel Chimelis) worked extremely hard and I think we prepared hard and played hard. We’ve done everything we could to be successful on the field, but unfortunately things didn’t work out in the won-loss department. And that’s part of (player) development. Offensively, it seemed like they all got off to a bad start. If it had just been a couple of guys, and we had a couple getting off to a real good start, then it they could have learned from one another. Unfortunately, it seemed like it was collective, for whatever reason and that weighs on you, too. When you’re struggling individually and the team struggles, that’s an added burden...

...“(In spite of) what’s happened here this year, we’re trying to develop winning players. And I think they’ve learned the concepts of what they need to do but it’s going to take longer for some that for others and unfortunately we’ve got a lot of times here that it’s going to take even longer. We probably won’t see the fruits of this labor for some time, but I think we will. I’ve seen some tremendous progress with some hitters and with some pitchers."

The rundown: Legitimate prospects, according to Weaver -
-J.D. Martinez
-Erik Castro
-Dallas Keuchel

Longshots, but still prospects, according to Weaver -
-Brian Kemp
-Brandon Wikoff
-Nick Stanley
-David Duncan
-Wander Alvino
-Colt Pitkin
-Mike Schurz
-Kirk Clark
-J.B. MacDonald

Obviously the wins and losses doesn’t reflect that (is did). I think our (2009) draft was top-heavy with younger players. I didn’t take a real deep look at other teams’ drafts but it’s obvious that the majority of the better players in our draft were in Greeneville. We did have some good players here, though, but I think, for whatever reasons, it took the majority of kids here a long time to make the transition and adjustment from where they came and I take responsibility for some of that.”

56 wins and the praise of hundreds

That's Wes Clements, manager of the Lancaster Jet Hawks (and 1980 6th Round Astros pick), according to the local paper.

"He's helped everyone on this team with their approach to the game, constantly motivating us, trying to make us better."

Jon Gaston:
"He saw something in me back in spring training and said so, and he's kept reiterating it, pushing me to do my best."

Ricky Bennett:
"Regardless of the talent level, he's getting the most out of the players and that's what's most important. Everyone loves his approach to the game and how he relates to the young players. He hasn't disappointed anyone...

..."The progress the team made isn't reflected so much in the wins and losses," Bennett said. "We can tell the kids are getting better."

"I only had to raise my voice two times all season. I think I got the message across - show up to play, respect your opponents, respect the game - and if you get that, that's all I ask. These players are probably learning more off the field than on it. Only time will tell how far they advance."

Put him on the list.

Lexington got a lot of fun out of a 68-72 record

Nice little season recap of the Lexington Legends 2009 season. Highlights:

*68-72 is better than last year's 45-93
*Team ERA dropped from 4.40 to 3.59
*Pitchers 20 or younger made 122 of 140 starts
*The team stole 114 of 191 bases

Manager Tom Lawless:
"We did a really good job based on the age of our team. We were probably one of the younger clubs in the league and, to play almost .500 for the year, it's a credit to the kids. They battled hard. The pitching was probably the highlight of our season. The young kids did a great job of going out there and throwing strikes. Offensively, we were at the bottom of the league most of the year, but we seemed to get hits when we needed them to win some ball games."

Mark Maloney, on Albert Cartwright:
Second baseman Cartwright, 21, finished at .236. However, he was hitting .316 when he suffered a broken bone in his lower arm on May 3. When he returned in mid-June, he went hitless in his first six games and eight of his first nine. He finished the season on a five-game hitting streak (11-for-23).

Lawless, on 2009 5th round pick Brandon Wikoff:
"I think he's done enough to warrant that he gets a chance to go to the next level and continue to do what he's doing. He's a good defender, and he knows what kind of hitter he is. He's not trying to hit the ball out of the ballpark, he's trying to put the ball in play. And he can bunt."


Got a question in the inbox this afternoon:

From Ricardo, in Galveston:
Why aren't you making a big deal about Valverde's age thing?

Well, Ricardo, I'll tell you, because it's a simple explanation:

I don't care.

It doesn't matter if it just came out that Valverde was actually 63 years old, because he's not going to be on the team for more than 24 more games. He might stick around and make overtures about wanting to play in Houston, because it's "nice" here. But it doesn't matter. Valverde made $8 million this year, and because he's been lights out since returning from injuries, his value is up to the point where he'll make at least that much next year, and I don't see the Astros ponying up the cash to retain him.

You want an "elite" closer if you're planning on winning 89+ games. The Astros probably will not be doing that next year. The Astros have paid $8 million (minus the last three weeks of the season) for 22 saves. That's too much. But the Astros haven't given him many opportunities to save a game to warrant that kind of jack.

Through the 5th inning of G139, Valverde has appeared in 44 games. On September 9th of previous seasons?

2008: 67
2007: 61
2006: 37

And so on. I know it's not his fault that he missed so much time due to getting drilled in the leg by Orlando Hudson. But if the Astros do what everyone - including myself - thinks they should do, and start moving in a youthier direction - then there aren't going to be many save opportunities for a guy who may command $10 million a year. Now, if we were in a different situation, and this year was an anomaly, I would be okay with pulling that trigger. But this year isn't an anomaly. Last year, that was an anomaly. This year is a preview of the next two or three years. And by the time the Astros get to the point where they need an elite closer, Valverde will be 34, 35, 36 years old.

No, I don't care much about Valverde's age. He's someone else's free agent problem.

This man knows his grass

I know, it was juvenile. But did you smile?

Corpus field manager Garrett Reddehase was named the Texas League's Turf Manager of the Year today.

Lineup for G139 - Braves at Astros

Captip, Alyson Footer:

And the Bench Watch continues with Day 3 of the Johnson/Manzella/Maysonet Conspiracy...

Bourn CF
Matsui 2B
Puma 1B
Lee CF
Tejada SS
Pence RF
Blum 3B
Quintero C
Wandy P

Matchup for G139 - Braves at Astros

Game 139, 23 to play in this miserable (though strangely entertaining, if only for the train wreck aspect) season. The Astros have had four chances to get to five straight wins, and haven't done it. When was the last time they won five straight? Well, they won eight straight, twice, last year. So...there you go.

Wandy Rodriguez

I don't think anyone other than Carpenter or Wainwright will win the NL Cy Young this year, but if it hadn't been for a rough late-May/early-June, where he had three disaster starts in four games, he might at least be right there in the discussion. Factor those out (work with me here), and he's 13-6 with a 2.05 ERA. Just sayin'.

Last three appearances:

8/25 @StL73/16:18/1093/64
8/30 @ARI67/47:38/9109/65
9/5 vPHI77/07:09/12111/82

Wandy pitched at Atlanta on May 3, getting - typically - a no decision in 5IP, 6H/3ER, leaving after just 86 pitches. And he wasn't happy about that.

2009 home: 8-2 (13 starts), 90IP, 69H/21BB, 1.60 ERA/1.00 WHIP, 79K:21BB

Let's do the splits:
vs Righties: .256/.323/.412, 125K:48BB
vs Lefties: .187/.238/.269, 37K:9BB

When swinging at the first pitch (66): .303/.303/.500, 7XBH (3HR)
After First-Pitch Strikes (381): .199/.236/.272, 117K:15BB
After First-Pitch Balls (276): .291/.404/.522, 45K:42BB

RISP: 32x135, .237/.316/.356, 31K:14BB
Runners on: 62x250, .248/.325/.352, 52K:25BB
2OwRISP: 16x68, .235/.342/.382, 17K:9BB

Tommy Hanson

Rookie Tommy Hanson is one of the reasons the Braves were willing to let Smoltz try his hand in a Boston uniform, and has been dominant, with a 9-3 record, and an ERA of 3.07

Last three appearances:

8/22 vFLA74/37:37/999/64
8/28 @PHI22/14:01/329/19
9/3 @FLA52/15:47/5104/60

2009 road: 3-2 (8 starts), 2.68 ERA/1.37 WHIP, 43.2IP, 29K:21BB

This will be Hanson's first appearance in Houston.

Let's do the splits:
vs Righties: .220/.259/.327, 100K:16BB
vs Lefties: .243/.286/.409, 99K:20BB

When swinging at the first pitch (43): .293/.286/.463, 4XBH (1HR)
After First-Pitch Strikes (201): .186/.231/.314, 59K:7BB
After First-Pitch Balls (148): .288/.432/.466, 19K:29BB

RISP: 14x71, .197/.333/.394, 17K:13BB
Runners on: 29x160, .218/.331/.414, 29K:21BB
2OwRISP: 8x39, .205/.354/.410, 11K:8BB

How old is Valverde?

Lisa Gray notices a discrepancy with Valverde's age.

See, one place says 32. She notes that the 2008 Astros Media Guide says his birth year is 1979, as does Baseball Cube and Baseball Refernce.

However ESPN and Yahoo says 1978. Odd.

This isn't my imagination or me mis-remembering. According to the Chron, Valverde was 28 in December of 07 when we obtained him from the Diamondbacks. In fact, almost every Chron story which lists Valverde's age corresponds to him having a July 79 birthday.

Might could be that the extra 15 months may affect Valverde's value as far as long term contracts go, even though he is still obviously a top-notch closer.

UPDATE at 2:30pm: Ed Wade says the age discrepancy is simply a mistake, and...
...Adding that extra year to [Valverde's] age at this point of time is of no great consequence.”

Papa Grande just became Papa Viejo.

So this may be why Luis Pujols won't be joining the Astros in a callup

Greg Rajan's biggest off-season question is whether or not Hooks manager Luis Pujols will be retained, after his two-year contract ended Monday.

Ricky Bennett:
“Over the next week, I’m going to sit down with (general manager Ed Wade) and (president of baseball operations) Tal Smith and talk about staff for the next year. I think Luis has made an impact on the guys there in terms of teaching them how to play the game the right way. That’s one thing we stress as a staff and Luis has told the players there that you have to play the game the right way. From a win-loss perspective, it’s not what we’ve been hoping for, but I think it’ll get better in time.”

“I don’t have any problems managing at the Double-A level,” Pujols said. “If it’s my call, I’d like to stay here because it’s a little bit more teaching (involved). But it’s not my call — it’s the Astros’ call. But I don’t mind (returning). We also had maybe three or four players who went to Triple-A and performed well. And we have four or five players here who will be in Triple-A next year...

...I said at the beginning that this (team) was different from last year’s. They approached the game more like baseball players instead of (saying), ‘I’m a prospect or I’m playing because he has to play me.’ This group, they behaved well and I think they played well. We don’t have as many prospect types as we had last year, those names. But we developed a little bit more this year than last year. We had guys moving up who, earlier in the season, you thought they were going to stay here the whole year. If you look at the won-loss record, we still had a better year than last year. We moved a lot of players up and down just to help the Triple-A club. I’m very satisfied with the job we did here with this group of guys.”

It will be a pretty strange turn of events to punish a manager for not winning with a group of players who weren't exactly Buster Poseys and Gordon Beckhams. Rajan noted that it was Pujols who pushed to add Drew Locke to the Hooks, and we all know how that turned out...

Bleacher Report looks at Koby

And yep, he was doin' work.

This was obviously a breakout season for Koby (I'm sorry. I just can't refer to him as "Clemens" yet), and writer Andrew Godfrey compares his numbers from 2008 to 2009. Let's take a look:

Doubles: 2008 - 29; 2009 - 45
Homers: 2008 - 7; 2009 - 22
RBI: 2008 - 52; 2009 - 123
Avg: 2008 - .268; 2009 - .341
OBP: 2008 - .369; 2009 - .415
SLG: 2008 - .423; 2009 - .620
OPS: 2008 - .792; 2009 - 1.036

Caught Stealing rate (as the one catching the stealing:
2008 - 35% (45/130); 2009 - 26% (25/96)

Unless he falters in 2010, he may be catching in Minute Maid Park sooner than anyone thought.

Godfrey puts him in Houston in 2011, but barring a catastrophic collapse by Castro (how's that for alliteration?), I don't see him as much higher than a C2. However, if his bat keeps him in the lineup, he could see time at 1B in 2011-2012. If this year was his Prove It year, next year in Corpus will be his Year of Establishment.

Breaking Down: The GCL Astros

Part One in a series of Eddie's Farm teams, statistically.

The GCL Astros finished the season 18-38, worst in the GCL, 20.5GB of GCL East Division winner GCL Marlins. They were 11-17 at home, 7-21 on the road. Monthly?

June: 0-5
July: 12-14
August: 6-19

Longest win streak: 3 games (July 22-25)
Longest losing streak: 6 games, twice (June 23-July 1, August 19-25)

Team batting statistics:
.231/.317/.316, 253 RS, 10 HR, 482K:181BB, 46/71 SB/CS (64.7%)

Team pitching:
18-38 (obviously), 4.84 ERA/1.53 WHIP (both league-worsts), 21 HR allowed, 377K:203BB

Soon enough we'll go player by player through the Astros' minor-league organization, with splits and stats. But not today. There's 4th-place to win.

Tri-City hands out awards

Vic Christopher, Tri-City Assistant GM, has an excellent blog post - I guess as part of a series, that you can bet we'll be following - on an award, and some updates for the off-season. Regard:

-J.D. Martinez hit .326 for the NYPL batting title.

-Barry Butera was named Tri-City team MVP:
Barry carries himself like a true professional, day in and day out and its great to see Barry rewarded for his efforts.

-The Front Office is taking the week off, and returning for a two-day strategic planning session on 16-17 September.

-The Instructional League begins on 15 September at the Astros' Spring Training facility in Kissimmee.

Meat Wagon

JJO's blog post this morning has some notes on the Meat Wagon:

-The Astros are among MLB leaders with 21 trips to the DL this season, paying almost $9 million. The Mets have paid over $41m to hurt players.

-Oswalt doesn't want to miss any more starts this season, even though he left with a strained back (of course not, he wants to get to double-digit wins).
"My back feels all right. I threw (Monday) off flat ground and felt OK. I think I'll be fine to go, but I'm not throwing a bullpen (in between)."

-Keppinger should be back (pun intended) today after missing four games with a strained back.
“It's getting better, getting better. I'm hoping I'm good to get in there (today).”

-Welcome to The Show, Chris Johnson. Yorman Bazardo, in a simulated game before the G138, clunked Johnson on the head.
“It hurt. I still have a headache."
Not cool, Yorman, not cool. You're lucky Johnson is bright-eyed and throbbing-templed enough about being in Houston that he doesn't care.

Cooper, on the lack of Yormans in the game:
“He just needed to get some work. He hadn't been in a game, and he needed to face some hitters. He had been sitting out there for nine, 10 days without seeing a hitter. It's one thing to throw a pen and another thing to face a hitter. He unfortunately hit one (batter), but the ball came out of his hand real good and I saw some good movement. He threw some real good sliders. I just would like to see him command the zone a little bit better. I've talked to him about that.”

And finally, Ed Wade on Johnson and Manzella:
“If nothing else, it's a chance for them to absorb some of the atmosphere. Chris Johnson has already absorbed some of it with a fastball in the helmet. It's a chance for guys to become familiar with the big league surroundings. I'm sure (manager Cecil Cooper) will find some playing time for them along the way, but by and large it's just sort of to absorb what this is all about and hopefully get a clearer understanding of what it means to be a big league ballplayer.”

So Call-Ups are a reward

I thought Ed Wade didn't believe in using September Call-Ups as a reward. But that's exactly what it means for Tri-City hitting coach Joel Chimelis, who has been brought to Houston for the three games with the Braves, Lancaster pitching coach Don Alexander (this weekend against the Pirates), and Round Rock manager Marc Bombard (Sept 21-27).

"We usually bring people up in September when we have extra guys on the roster, but it's also somewhat of a reward. Bomby's been up several times over the course of his career, so he wanted to spend a little bit more time with his family. So I asked Ricky (Bennett) for some alternatives, and he recommended Joel and Donnie. These guys work hard and don't get a lot of recognition for what they do, particularly at the lower levels.

"So it's nice to give them an opportunity to be here. Plus, I think it helps from the standpoint of a frame of reference and perspective. They spend an entire season, (Chimelis) does, in the New York-Penn League looking at those kids. When he's in spring training and you ask him to evaluate talent and put prospect grades on guys, if all you've watched is New York-Penn players, it's hard to say this guy's an impact. Then you come up here and spend three or four games up here and you see the game at field level and I think in your mind's eye you begin to sort of maybe slide back a little bit of those evaluations."

Where's the love for Luis Pujols!

Recap for G138 - Braves @ Astros

What the heck does Felipe Paulino have to do to win a game? He had another good game, and the Astros offense was typically awful. McTaggart pointed this out last night in a tweet, but it's worth repeating: Javier Vazquez allowed three hits in his seven innings of work, but had two hits of his own. Braves win, 2-1. Let's do the thing:

Paulino: 6IP, 4H/2ER, 6K:3BB, 14/24 first-pitch strikes, 30/53 non-contact strikes (25 called:5 swinging)
Byrdak: 1IP, 1H, 4/4 FPS, 6/16 NCS (5c:1s)
Brocail: 1IP, 1K, 3/3 FPS, 4/6 NCS (3c:1s)
Fulchino: 1IP, 1K:1BB, 2/4 FPS, 4/8 NCS (2c:2s)

Paulino's two earned runs both came off solo homers by LaRoche and McLouth - meaning in his last two starts, he's given up four earned runs, all of them off home runs (Lee's two-run shot last Wednesday), so that's a little troubling. But basically you're looking at three bad pitches out of 187. And two losses. The Astros have scored a total of one run in his last two starts. Since his last win, on June 27 vs. Detroit, the Astros are 0-7 in the games in which Paulino has pitched, and have scored two runs or more just twice.

Offensively. Jeesh. Hunter Pence has broken out of his little slump, going 2x4 with the lone RBI, and the Astros managed five hits over the rest of the lineup. Maysonet got a sac bunt in the 7th, and Tommy Manzella had a pinch-running appearance in his first-ever Major League action.

The best chance to break the game open came in the 6th, with the Braves up 2-0. Michaels and Bourn walked to lead off the inning, and Matsui sac'ed to the pitcher, putting runners on 2nd/3rd with one out. Berkman struck out looking, Lee walked to load 'em up, and Tejada grounded out to third. Then there was another one in the 7th, with Pence on 3rd and Blum on 2nd with one out. Erstad and Bourn both struck out swinging. In the 9th, with the Braves still up 2-0, Tejada tripled to lead off the inning, Pence knocked him in. And Blum GIDPed. Aaron Boone lined out to end the game, and is still looking for that first hit of the year.

Pitch Count Hero: Hunter Pence - 22 pitches in 4 PAs
Pitch Count Punk - Lance Berkman - 12 pitches in 4 PAs

Man of the Match: Felipe Paulino. Did enough to win the game, but had no help from the offense (Vazquez did have something to do with it), and his record is now 2-8, but he has performed well enough to get an SP spot in 2010.

Goat of the Game: It's difficult. Any thoughts?

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

FanGraphs on the Peoria Saguros

Captip to The Crawfish Boxes for the link. FanGraphs is taking a look at the Arizona Fall League's Peoria Saguros, the fall home of C-Lo, Jason Castro, and Jon Gaston.

Lo...allowed 40 hits in 64.1 innings of work with 75 strikeouts and 33 walks. His walk rate of 4.62 in double-A is too high but this was just his first year in North America after signing out of Taiwan last year.

It would not be shocking to see Castro behind the dish for Houston by mid-2010. The 2008 first-round pick had a very nice first full season in the minors and spent the last half of the year in double-A. He hit with good power in high-A ball but his ISO dropped from .208 to .092 after his promotion out of the extremely good hitter’s league and park.

Houston pulled the short straw last winter and ended up with Lancaster as its high-A affiliate. The park is perhaps the best hitter’s park in all of pro ball and Gaston enjoyed his time there immensely. He hit .280/.368/.602 with 35 homers and 119 RBI. His ISO was an incredible .322 but he struck out 31.7% of the time.

Manzella/Johnson stat splits

Kevin commented on an earlier post asking about the monthly splits for Johnson and Manzella. Ask, and ye shall receive...

Tommy Manzella (.289/.339/.417)
April (78 ABs): .244/.280/.321, 12K:4BB
May (124 ABs): .339/.397/.492, 23K:11BB
June (110 ABs): .227/.274/.262, 24K:7BB
July (96 ABs): .281/.337/.479, 18K:8BB
August (98 ABs): .337/.374/.459, 19K:7BB
September (24 ABs): .292/.370/.625, 3K:3BB

Pre All-Star Break: .271/.325/.369, 64K:27BB, 25 of 94 hits for extra bases (26.6%)
Post-ASB: .322/.364/.508, 35K:13BB, 20 of 59 hits for extra bases (33.9%)

vs LHP: .240/.286/.387, 21K:10BB
vs RHP: .308/.359/.429, 78K:30BB

Chris Johnson (.281/.323/.461)
April (7 ABs): .000/.111/.000, 3K:1BB
May (54 ABs): .296/.291/.389, 13K:0BB
June (104 ABs): .279/.299/.462, 24K:3BB
July (82 ABs): .220/.312/.354, 30K:10BB
August (108 ABs): .333/.376/.620, 13K:7BB
September (29 ABs): .310/.355/.414, 7K:1BB

Pre-ASB: .272/.297/.411, 50K:7BB, 30.9% XBR (extra-base rate)
Post-ASB: .291/.350/.516, 40K:14BB, 39.6% XBR

Johnson done got his hand broke in the fourth game of the season, and missed out on about 140 ABs, and it showed, though he came back pretty strong in May. He took off in August, killing the ball, and his K:BB rates were more in line for a person who has the gift of sight (get it? I was implying he was blind. Ha!). Because he started out the season with 40 strikeouts, compared to four walks.

Matchup for G138 - Braves @ Astros

A day after dispatching the Phillies with four straight beatdowns (which, I'll be honest, I never thought would happen. I believe my words were, "We'll be lucky to go 1-3."), the Astros try for their first five-game win streak of the season.

And they'll face the Braves to do it. The Braves who, despite going 17-11 in August, are 1-5 in September, and on a five-game losing streak, having just got swept in a three-gamer by the Reds. At home.

Felipe Paulino

Paulino is making his second statement start of September tonight. He needed to come out and show something to Ed Wade and Cecil Cooper last Wednesday at Wrigley Field, and did exactly that. Will he get complacent and assume his job is wrapped up? Or will he come out with something to prove? We won't be doing the splits for Paulino for this game, because he's been all over the place with starting/relieving, but it is worth noting that in his 6IP, 4H/2ER, 7K:2BB (the only blemish was the homer to Derrek Lee), Paulino allowed more than one baserunner in two innings, throwing between 10 and 22 pitches per inning.

Jaiver Vazquez

Javier Vazquez is thriving in his new surroundings in Atlanta, with a deceptively poor 11-9 record, despite a 3.18 ERA. But that's how the Braves' offense rolls. Like Houston's.

Last three appearances:

8/21 vFLA6.210/58:16/15105/69
8/27 vSD75/06:09/1188/63
9/2 @FLA5.17/57:18/9120/75

2009 road: 7-2, 3.30 ERA/1.05 WHIP, 87.1IP, 92K:19BB

Vazquez hasn't pitched against Houston since June 2006, but he is 0-4 in his last five starts against the Astros (dating back to 2002) with a 6.28 ERA.

Let's do the splits:
vs Righties: .220/.259/.327, 100K:16BB
vs Lefties: .243/.286/.409, 99K:20BB

When swinging at the first pitch (85): .321/.321/.526, 10XBH (3HR)
After First-Pitch Strikes (406): .208/.233/.314, 148K:11BB
After First-Pitch Balls (237): .243/.326/.414, 51K:25BB

RISP: 28x129, .217/.275/.349, 44K:10BB
Runners on: 56x246, .228/.275/.374, 76K:15BB
2OwRISP: 13x62, .210/.290/.226, 21K:7BB

Breaking Down: Johnson & Manzella

The Astros' two call-ups, Chris Johnson and Tommy Manzella, are coming to Houston today for the game with Atlanta, where they will most likely sit on the bench and talk to Edwin Maysonet about Waterloo Records and Chuy's.

Regardless, what can we expect? Who knows! But let's take a look at their 2009 seasons...

SS Tommy Manzella
The 26-year old shortstop posted a .289/.339/.417 line in 133 games (580 PAs) at Round Rock this season. His K:BB ratio was 2.475 (99K:40BB), only one strikeout per 5.85 PAs - not a lot. Dude can field, too, committing 13 errors in 564 chances for a .977 fielding percentage.

This is a much better season in his second go-around at Round Rock than last year, where he posted a .219/.273/.567 line, an improvement of .070/.066/.150.

3B Chris Johnson
Johnson, still 24 (until October 1), will get his first crack at the Bigs as well this month. And like Manzella, fared much better in Triple-A than last season. In 104 games (412 PAs) he hit .281/.323/.461, despite missing some time with a broken hand on an HBP. He struck out 90 times, compared to 21 walks. He's been more aggressive at the plate. Look at his strikeouts/plate appearance each of the last three seasons:

2007: 79 strikeouts in 517 PAs = 6.54 PAs/K
2008: 86 Ks in 431 PAs = 5.01 PAs/K
2009: 90 Ks in 412 PAs = 4.61 PAs/K

Yet his numbers from 2009 are an improvement in his first full season at Round Rock. In 107 PAs (30 games) in 2008, Johnson hit .218/.252/.287, an OPS improvement of 196 points.

Is it possible that we'll see an infield of Berkman, Maysonet, Manzella, and Johnson at some point in the next 25 games? If it happens, you can bet AC will be there with a live blog...

Dramatic! John Gall announces his retirement

Before last night's season-ending win over Omaha, John Gall announced his retirement from professional baseball.

After hitting a sacrifice fly in his final at-bat of the game in the seventh inning, Gall stopped just in front of home plate on the third base line on the way back to the dugout and removed his cleats. He then walked over and hung them on the dugout railing as he was greeted with a standing ovation from the crowd. After a series of hugs and handshakes from his teammates, he came back out for one more curtain call...

...Over the course of a 10-year minor league career, Gall batted .293 in more than 1,100 games and nearly 4,200 plate appearances. He was named an Eastern League and a Double-A All-Star and was voted as one of the most virtuous players in the St. Louis system by his teammates.

Fare thee well, John Gall.

Houston Press: Hire Frank Robinson!

The Houston Press is back to making fun of Richard Justice and the Chronicle, and throws out a replacement name for Coop:

Richard Justice is back on the Fire Cecil Cooper bandwagon, but this time, instead of Jeff Bagwell, he's back to urging Drayton McLane to hire third base coach Dave Clark. Clark has no major league managing experience, and he sucks as a third base coach. Yet this is the guy that Justice wants to be the new manager.

Drayton McLane has hired five managers since firing Art Howe, the manager he inherited from the prior ownership. Three of those five managers were first-time-ever managers (Terry Collins, Larry Dierker, and Cecil Cooper). The other two were guys who failed at multiple managerial stops (Jimy Williams and Phil Garner). Frankly, I'm tired of Drayton hiring first-timers, and I'm tired of him hiring guys who have failed previously. Dave Clark has shown absolutely nothing in his time as third base coach to indicate that he can handle a managing job -- Justice says this doesn't matter as sucking as a third base coach doesn't mean he'd be a bad manager. I say that if Clark can't handle getting a runner from third to home, then he definitely can't handle the proper time to make a pitching change.

Since Justice is throwing names out for the job, I'd like to throw out a name. I think the first guy Drayton McLane should call is Frank Robinson...

...And he has never managed a team to the playoffs. So he appears to be just another manager who has been given the opportunity to fail with multiple managing jobs.

But it's for this reason that he's the best possible manager for the Astros next season...

...Robinson was able to get Alfonso Soriano to stop pouting and to make an effort when he was forced to change positions, so think of what he could with the likes of Carlos Lee. And if Robinson couldn't command the respect of the Astros clubhouse, then it's just not possible to tame that clubhouse and massive changes elsewhere need to be made.

Hooks manager Luis Pujols' immediate reaction to the season's end

The Hooks lost on Monday, dropping their record for the season to 61-79 - again, there will be a full recap in the coming days - but there was some post-game reaction, courtesy of our buddy, Astros County Honorary Citizen, and Corpus Christi Caller-Times' writer Greg Rajan:

Manager Luis Pujols:
“I played the cards I had and I’m glad I had the opportunity to do that. This group of guys was fun to be with. After I go home and have two weekends off, I’m going to start looking for baseball again. I didn’t feel bad about this year. With the group of guys we had, it was kind of fun and (good) to see guys make progress. I know it doesn’t show in the win-loss record, but we were better than last year.”

Collin DeLome:
It doesn’t feel like it’s over yet. It seems like not too long ago that we were just starting and playing the Astros (exhibition game) here. I can tell with my body that I’m tired and it was time for it to end. I wish we could’ve made the playoffs or had a run to make the end of the year a lot more interesting. But we hung in there and played a lot of good baseball. . . . It was a fun season this year, it was very interesting.”

Levine's Minor League Notebook

As the minor-league season wrapped up yesterday (and we'll have a full season-ending report in the coming days), Zach Levine offers up some interesting notes:

-This is the second year in a row no minor-league team has finished above .500.

“It's something we have to pay attention to. We have to be competitive. You want to build championship-caliber players, those kids need to experience success along the way. You can't be three or four years of 20 under .500 at the development level, now go win at the big league level. You've got to create an environment where they have the ability to be a part of a winning situation...

...“We knew that taking our draft pool and the young Latins and the kids left over from extended (spring training) and stocking three clubs was going to create some holes in each of those teams.”

-Tri-City's J.D. Martinez won the NYPL batting title
-It's inferred that Koby Clemens, Jon Gaston, Jordan Lyles, and Ross Seaton might start 2010 at Corpus. This would be a natural progression for Koby and Gaston, and a level jump for Lyles and Seaton.

What happens if the Astros finish .500?

That's the question Richard Justice asks.

My money is on Cecil Cooper and most of his coaching staff being Drayton's scapegoat. I think Ed Wade is safe because, well, OK, actually I have no idea why Ed Wade would be safe...

... There's just one problem with firing Coop and the coaches. They may be part of the problem, but they're certainly not the ones that screwed this thing up. It's not like they turned a 100-62 team and coached it down to 75-87. How could Drayton fire him without getting rid of some of the other people that created this mess? Why do they get a pass? Why would be single out Coop and allow everyone else to keep whistling to work...?

... Wouldn't an 82-80 record be a kick in the pants? Suddenly, Coop would have taken Ed's bad team and turned it into a winner.

Fire him? Heck, they might have to extend his contract a couple of years. About the only way Drayton could justify firing Coop after an 82-80 season is to announce he's unhappy with the direction things are going and do a top-to-bottom housecleaning.

I don't see him doing that. If the Astros finish 82-80, maybe Drayton will do nothing. He'll announce he likes the way things are headed and see you in Kissimmee, folks.

Meat Wagon Update

The Meat Wagon is making some additional stops at Minute Maid Park, with an Express to Memorial Southwest.

Roy left his start on Saturday with more back spasms. Ed Wade:
“(Trainer) Nate (Lucero) called me this morning and just said (Oswalt) had some upper-respiratory congestion or whatever. Instead of waiting until the doctor got over here, I think he’s seeing Dr. (Jim) Muntz just to make sure. All indications I’ve gotten from Dewey (Robinson) and Nate are that he should be ready to go in his next start. He just went to the doctor’s office to get checked out.”
Mike Hampton was moved from the 15-day DL and placed on the 60-day DL (because 60-day DL players don't count towards the 40-man roster), to make room for the Call-Ups. Matt Kata was optioned off the 40-man roster, as well.
Keppinger wasn't available to pinch-hit, and Erstad could pinch-hit, but has some neck discomfort. Wade:
“Erstad’s had a little bit of a neck thing. He got an injection, I think, after Saturday’s game. He’s feeling better today. He’s available to pinch hit. Keppinger’s probably still going to be a couple of days with his back tightened up on him. Nate (Lucero is) assuming it’s going to be similar to … when it happened previously and it was like a three- to five-day thing. And we’re in day No. 3 now.”

What'd I Miss? Labor Day Weekend edition

Deputy Jason was kind enough to shoot me an email last night saying, "Coincidence? You take the weekend off, and we sweep the Phils?" That was comforting.

Yes indeed. By now you've already read - probably by cheating with some other site - that the Astros swept the Phillies in a four-game set over the weekend.

What else should we catch up on? How about September Call-Ups? The Astros announced three: Chris Johnson, Tommy Manzella, and Billy Sadler.

"This is a situation for them to come and learn from some of the best players that ever played, particularly in this town. I think it's good for Tommy and Chris to seem how [Geoff] Blum, [Miguel] Tejada and Lance [Berkman] go about their work. Just to get a chance to watch some real good veteran players prepare to play is a good experience for them because they're the future. They're the kids we're counting on down the road...

..."Tommy was the one we had discussed about possibly bringing up, and we were both in [agreement], and Chris was the last one. That one I kind of pushed a little bit. It's going to be good to have them with us."

Oh, and how are those veterans going to handle it? Coop:
"I'm going to explain to them that these kids need some exposure and it might cost a little bit of playing time. It won't be a lot, but they will have a chance to get their feet wet."
Richard Justice had himself a post in which he wondered if Cooper was getting a raw deal because he's black. He spent an awful lot of words to come up with this:
Cecil Cooper hasn't done a good job, and that would be true whether he was white, brown or black. I was all for his hiring because I thought he deserved a chance, and skin color was part of it. I liked the idea of having a black manager because it said something good about a franchise that had an all-white lineup a few years ago.

Totally agree.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Valverde to test free agency

Bye bye Papa Grande.

Jose Valverde plans to test the free agent market in the off-season, though he is open to returning to Houston. He's even open to going to the Cubs - which, in a funny way, is a shot at Kevin Gregg and Carlos Marmol. Don't believe me?

I want to come back," said Valverde, who led the National League in saves in 2007 with the D-backs and '08 with the Astros. "This is a good team and a good city, too. The thing is I have to have the season over first and check out what happens. There are other teams, too, that need closers other than Houston, like Chicago [Cubs]. I have to check the market and see what happens. Do I want to come back here? Yeah, I want to come back," Valverde said. "It's nice here."

The Cubs arguably have two closers. This makes me wonder if the Cubs haven't already said something. Regardless, I highly doubt the Astros offer him the cash that it would take to resign him. Now, arbitration? That's a discussion for tomorrow.