Saturday, February 13, 2010

So Jimmy Van Ostrand carried the torch

Quick: Name every Canadian you know. I'll go first.

Geddy Lee. Bryan Adams. Wayne Gretzky. The Tragically Hip. Jason Bay. Grant Fuhr. Joel, from my The American South class in college!

That's pretty much it. But wait, there's Jimmy Van Ostrand!

Did You Know:

-JVO was part of the Canadian Baseball Team in Beijing?

-He was a torch-bearer for something going on in Vancouver?

-He's going, going, back, back to Cali, Cali to prepare for Spring Training?

-His attention is currently focused on America's Attic for the Winter Olympics:

“I guarantee I will be spending my fair share of time checking things out on TV and over the Internet. I hope that Canada has a great showing and my national pride will definitely be on display south of the border. I have so many memories and experiences from my time over in Beijing that will stay with me forever.

Some of the highlights were the parade of athletes at the opening ceremonies, beating China in front of a packed stadium to open the tournament, watching Usain Bolt break the 100-metre world record and spending time in the Olympic village interacting with so many world-class athletes...

...If you open up your mind there is nothing more entertaining than the Olympics, and kids will get that. I think it will impact them in a positive way. I know I grew up watching the opening ceremonies on TV and being glued to all the different events for the duration of the games. It motivates you because it comes across how hard these people have worked by the emotion you see during the competitions. I know some of the images I saw on TV stuck with me, and for people in Vancouver and Richmond and all over the area being able to witness these things first-hand will be a real boost to local athletics.”

For me, my mind is firmly closed, and ready for Spring Training.

Friday, February 12, 2010

What's in the truck?

It's Truck Day (see masthead), and the Astros' gear is making its way to Kissimmee. What's in the truck?

The Houston Business Journal tells us:

30 pounds of rosin;

• 600 pounds of laundry detergent;

• 6,192 baseballs;

• 1,000 pairs of baseball pants;

• 300 baseball caps;

• 288 black socks;

• 200 jerseys;

• 200 belts; and

• 150 batting helmets.

Some 31 dozen bats and 20 cases of sunflower seeds and bubble gum shipped out ahead because, well let’s face it, some cargo is apparently more precious than others.


Manzella on the Need to Know list

USA Today's (somewhat flawed) 100 Names You Need To Know list was released, and Tommy Manzella heads up the Astros' reps at #42:

Manzella, 26, a third-round pick by the Astros in 2005, is the favorite to win the starting shortstop job this spring after being named the MVP at Class AAA Round Rock (Texas) last season. He ranked second in the Pacific Coast League in at-bats (530) and third in hits (153). He has good range and a strong arm. He's considered the best all-around defensive player in the Astros' system.

And that's it. Nobody else that the world needs to know about...

Lincecum vs. Oswalt

Buster Olney has in his blog today a comparison of Tim Lincecum, 2007-2009, with Roy Oswalt, 2001-2003.

W-L Record

Lincecum: 40-17
Oswalt: 43-17


Lincecum: 2.90
Oswalt: 2.92


Lincecum: 89
Oswalt: 72

Cy Youngs:

Lincecum: 2
Oswalt: 0

This is bullcrap. Oswalt has finished in the Top 5 in Cy Young voting five times in his career, coming as close as 3rd in 2004.

I want to know more.

2001: 14-3, 2.73 ERA/1.06 WHIP, 144K:24BB. It goes to Randy Johnson, with Curt Schilling, Matt Morris, and Jon Lieber (!) getting more votes than Roy. Of course, Roy only threw 141.2IP.

2002: 19-9, 3.31 ERA/1.19 WHIP, 208K:62BB. It goes again to Randy Johnson, with Curt Schilling, John Smoltz, and Eric Gagne and Roy tied for 4th. Smoltz and Gagne were both relieving.

2004: 20-10, 3.49 ERA/1.25 WHIP, 206K:62BB. Roger Clemens gets it for Houston, with his 18-4 record. Randy Johnson is next, and Roy gets his 1st 1st-place vote.

2005: 20-12, 2.94 ERA/1.20 WHIP, 184K:48BB. Chris Carpenter goes 21-5 and wins it. Dontrelle Willis and Roger Clemens finish ahead of Roy.

2006: 15-8, 2.98 ERA/1.17 WHIP, 166K:38BB. Brandon Webb wins the Cy Young Award, with Trevor Hoffman and Chris Carpenter finishing ahead of Roy.

Hard to argue with the guys that won it in those years. I retract my indignance.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

God have mercy...

Bernardo Fallas is delivering the sad, sad news that the Astros have offered Willy Taveras a minor-league contract, after he cleared waivers.

So let's recap. The Reds thought he sucked, so they traded him to Oakland, where the A's thought Aaron Miles sucked enough to trade him over to the Reds. The A's were happy enough just to dump his contract, designating Taveras for assignment the same day they traded for him, where upon he was released. No other MLB team would claim him (with the size of his contract having a lot to do with it, I understand), meaning that of the 30 major league teams, nobody wanted him.

Except the Astros.

Now I get the possibility of his being a late-inning replacement, defensive specialist, etc. He'll have to outwork Yordany, Bogusevic, Sullivan, Michaels, etc. I get it. $400,000. I understand. I still hate it.

Nocturnal Emissions, Vol. 3

Brian McTaggart is getting in on the Nocturnal Emissions love (pun intended) with his profile on Hunter Pence:

The nuance of the hit-and-run. The art of knowing on which count to steal a base. The science of defensive positioning in the outfield. Astros right fielder Hunter Pence would rather talk about any of those things, and many others, than himself.

He's not really unique in that way, though. He's not the first baseball player to shy away from giving himself a pat on the back in favor of praising teammates. But Pence remains a different kind of soul, an interloper in a clubhouse culture that prefers PG-13 movies over thought-provoking literature.

Pence is humble with his words, but not his actions. He plays right field at Minute Maid Park with the kind of reckless abandon that has made him a fan favorite. He embraces those fans and welcomes their chants, signs -- "Hunter, will you marry me?" -- and autograph requests.

It's part of the job, just like running into a wall to chase a foul ball that landed 20 rows up. Just like throwing out a runner at home plate or hitting a three-run homer. That's what he's paid to do, so why all the fuss?

And Hunter knows his baseball history:
"In baseball, you're always learning. No one has ever hit 1.000, hit a home run every time and struck every guy out. There are times you feel you're really close and you can have good days, but you're still never perfect."

More McTaggart:
Pence watched Super Bowl XLIV intently and paid attention to the way New Orleans Saints quarterback -- and fellow Dallas area native -- Drew Brees handled himself and his success. He recently read the book "The Art of War," an ancient Chinese work of military strategy and tactics that has inspired leaders and been applied to business and managerial strategies...

...He's already won over the fans with his hard-nosed style of play, his production at the plate and his willingness to acknowledge them. Even if it's a simple wave and smile after batting practice, Pence can find comfort in the fans. Everything else, he says, is a work in progress.

"Don't Overdo It, or You'll Get A Cyst" and other ways to scare young children

In line with going blind and getting colds from wet hair, Brandon Lyon has a new one: overdoing it.

At the time, I was [concerned]. I've never had anything like that, so I was a little worried. When I got to Houston and checked it out, I was relieved it wasn't anything major. I definitely feel good about that. The only thing we can maybe attribute it to is overdoing it a little bit. That's the only thing I know and can come up with. In the MRI in December it was there, but it started to enlarge in a month to where it became a problem."

But everything is sunshine and corndogs now!
"The problem and what has caused me to be behind is the strength I've lost over the last couple of weeks in my back. It drained out one my muscles completely in my back and shoulder. I didn't have any strength doing exercises. I'm building that back up to get it to the way it was before. It doesn't come back overnight. That's the only problem with it now. I'm getting the strength back and starting the throwing program like I stared day one in the off-season. I'm definitely excited to put some names with the faces and meet up with everybody. I'm working for another great season."

Perks, and cool opportunities

In starting Astros County over a year ago, I didn't know what to expect. I figured that I would be reading everything I could about the Astros, anyway, why not compile stories, offer some opinions, leave the Hard Math to the Crawfish Boxes, and go about my business. Comments that you, citizens, leave are very nice to read, and in many cases keep it going. I thank you for not jumping all over me for abandoning the minor league review midway through Lexington (those are time consuming, and they felt like a job. And I already have one of those.)

But something came along last month that may very well turn out to be one of the coolest perks of running Astros County. And it's found here.

In short, Jeff Polman contacted me about managing the 1977 Houston Astros in a Strat-O-Matic replay of the enters 1977 season with other managers. Who are these other managers?

YANKEES: Joe Sheehan, late of Baseball Prospectus
ROYALS: Rany Jazayerli, of Rany on the Royals
RED SOX: Josh Wilker, of Cardboard Gods
INDIANS: Joe Posnanski, of Sports Illustrated and the one and only JoeBlog
TWINS: Howard Sinker, of the Minneapolis Star Tribune
WHITE SOX: Keith Scherer, baseball analyst for the defense
ORIOLES: The Eutaw Street Hooligans
RANGERS: Evan Grant, of the Dallas Morning News

DODGERS: Larry Granillo, of Wezen-Ball
PIRATES: Pat Lackey, of Where Have You Gone, Andy Van Slyke?
REDS: Amanda Cross of Red-Hot Mama
EXPOS: Jonah Keri, of Jonah Keri
PHILLIES: Daniel Rubin, of the Philadelphia Inquirer
CARDINALS: Mike Metzger, of Stan Musial’s Stance
CUBS: Scott Simkus, of Strat Negro Leagues reknown

So what will happen with this? I turned in a lineup vs LHP/RHP and a 6-man starting rotation, with a closer, and Jeff will simulate the games, writing up recaps for Play That Funky Baseball. And I'll link back to the site each morning, because I want to, and I think it's cool. And even though the 1977 Astros went 81-81 (17 games behind the Wezen-Ball Dodgers), the possibility of facing Joe Posnanski in the World Series might break my mind.

If this is something you're not interested in, just...uh, read past it.

Mills = Tabasco Sauce

ESPN's Jerry Crasnick's huge-a$$ profile of Brad Mills has a lot of words. Let's condense, and glean:

Ed Wade:
"He doesn't come in with a joke book or 100 baseball stories to engage his audience. His message is consistent whether he's in front of crowds or he's having individual discussions with players. I really think the players are buying into his program: Prepare to play the game the right way. Know that the manager and the staff have your back. But you're also going to be accountable."

Crasnick, on what the Astros need:
The Astros need Oswalt to improve upon his 8-6 record, Brett Myers to rediscover his old 200-inning form; Brandon Lyon and Matt Lindstrom to stabilize the back end of the bullpen; Berkman and Carlos Lee to scare people in the middle of the order; and Pence, Bourn, Bud Norris and the kids to keep maturing.

A decent start would also help. From 2000 through 2009, the Astros posted a .480 winning percentage before the All-Star break (427-462) and a .555 win percentage after the break (405-325). It would be nice if they don't play themselves into a hole by Memorial Day.

Braves GM Frank Wren:
"If there's a better training ground than he got in Boston, I don't know what it would be. I think he'll do a terrific job."

During a recent interview with his hometown California paper, Mills described himself as "a little bit vanilla." When his three kids came over to the house for dinner a couple of nights later, they immediately gave him the business.

"They told me, 'You're anything but vanilla!'" Mills said, laughing. "Then they started listing things. They told me, 'You're more like Tabasco sauce than vanilla.'"

I'll pour tabasco sauce all over my ice cream if it means a winning season, or at least a season that looks like the Astros are interested in playing in September. I will say this, where Blum and others have taken their opportunities to rip Cecil Cooper, Ed Wade had this to say:
"I'm not into comparing and contrasting. Coop's a great baseball man, but things got rough from a win-loss standpoint last year. We're facing forward at this point and building off the strengths that Millsy brings to the table."

That's some class.

Astros interested in Smoltz?

Rob Neyer's new post references an Atlanta Journal-Constitution report that, among other teams, the Astros have expressed interest in John Smoltz this off-season.

Like most of the rest of the unsigned veterans who used to play in All-Star games, Smoltz probably is still good enough to play in the majors. It's just a question of money and pride.

What do you think? Should the Astros take on Smoltz? And in what role?

What are other teams who lost players to the Astros saying?

It's Spring Training preview day, apparently, because all 30 teams have Spring Training previews up. Catch what I did there? Logic.

Anyhow, what did the teams who lost players to the Astros say about them?

Marlins, on Lindstrom:
The hard-throwing right-hander entered last year as the closer, but he had some shoulder problems, and later on had forearm/elbow issues. Lindstrom had a rough year, and he was traded in December to the Astros.

Phillies, on Feliz:
He will be playing third base for the Astros this season. The Phils will miss his glove.

Tigers, on Lyon:
The Tigers gave some effort toward re-signing Lyon before he landed a three-year, $15 million deal in Houston and Detroit turned its attention towards Valverde. Not many relievers could duplicate Lyon's second-half dominance, but a healthy Zumaya would go a long way toward replacing Lyon in his previous eighth-inning role.

Ed Wade discusses the lineup

Brad Mills and Ed Wade had unusually loose lips regarding the 2010 Astros and the lineup. Let's run it down:

On the departure of Tejada/promotion of Manzella:
Mills: You lose a guy like Tejada and close to 200 hits, we're going to miss him. We're not asking [Manzella] to be Tejada or a frontline offensive shortstop this year. We just want him to be himself, and I think that's a pretty good hitter besides being a very good shortstop. And Feliz has proven he can drive in runs."

Wade, on Bourn and Pence:
"A year's more experience from Bourn and Pence will serve both of them very well. Michael opened the season hitting eighth, and it wasn't until an appreciable amount of time into the season he was moved into the leadoff position.

"I think (Bourn) hitting first the entire season will serve him well. Hunter continues to make adjustments and we expect good things out of him, and I do think that Lance and Carlos had good, not great, years and are capable of having a great year because of the standards they've set for themselves."

Wade, on Feliz:
"Feliz gives us a guy capable of knocking in 85, 90 runs at third base, and I think we have the ability to keep him productive in the fact we have Geoff Blum that can play a lot of games over there as well."

Wade puts it on Matsui:
"Kaz is in the last year of his contract and certainly we expect him to step up. If not, we've got Blum and [Jeff] Keppinger who could both go over and play second base. We're certainly hoping Kaz goes out there and plays the lion's share of the games at second, but we do have an alternative."

Wade, on needing Lance to be Lance, and Lee to be Lee:
If Lance and Carlos are doing what they've done throughout their careers, that makes the opposing pitcher pitch differently to our lineup and gives great opportunities to whoever's hitting in front or behind them. Whatever way Mills decides to set the order, the big guys in the middle are capable of making everybody better."

Spring Training Preview!

Brian McTaggart has the Spring Training preview at How does he break it down?

1. Who's the catcher?
McTaggart puts Quintero at C2, regardless of whomever comes out of Spring Training with C1 locked up.

2. Who's the closer?

3. Who's SP4/SP5?
McTaggart gives Norris the likely SP4 spot, and says:
Veteran Brian Moehler will likely get the final spot if hard-throwing Felipe Paulino doesn't cut it. Paulino might be on his last chance with the Astros to prove he can pitch at this level.

This is something we've discussed in length, but I really hope that Moehler gets the SP6 spot, and anchors the bullpen.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010


Alyson Footer is reporting the Astros have signed three more players to one-year deals. And they are:

Jeff Fulchino: $425,000
Yorman Bazardo: $400,000
Evan Englebrook: $400,000


McTaggart has a new inbox. What do we learn?

On Edwin Maysonet:
The Astros value his versatility and will even try to get him some reps in the outfield this spring. Defensively, management has no doubt he could play in the Majors right now, but at 28 years old he needs to seize the opportunity to prove he can hit well enough to stay on a Major League roster.

On the Round Rock/Ryan mess:
The Astros' player development contract with Triple-A Round Rock expires at the end of this year, general manager Ed Wade said. Houston management has expressed a desire to the Nolan Ryan family to keep the affiliate in Round Rock, but with Ryan having an ownership stake in the Texas Rangers, don't be surprised to see the Express become a Rangers affiliate eventually.

On where Jordan Lyles will start 2010:
Lyles, a first-round pick in 2008, had a strong first full season in the organization in 2009, striking out 167 batters in 145 innings at Class A Lexington. He could start this season as high as Double-A Corpus Christi along with one or two other pitchers that did so well at Lexington last year. The Astros have said they will push players as long as they can handle it physically and mentally.

Brocail to move into advisory role

Doug Brocail will be working for the Astros on an informal basis, now that he's retired, and all.

Ed Wade:
"We just talked to see if he wanted to put his toe in the water, sample this side of the business, and see what it's all about. We talked about him coming to spring training, during the latter stages of camp, and spending some time with our pro scouts. Doug will also spend some time in our minor league camp...

...We would like for him to watch our minor league clubs play and give us an independent evaluation of the pitching in our minor leagues. His role with us would be similiar to what Enos Cabell and Cheo are doing, but on a less extensive basis. I also want him to come to Minute Maid Park and sit in the general manager's box during games. Where it leads remains to be seen."

I think I have something to contribute. I didn't win a ring playing, so you never know. I honestly felt when I was playing that when I said I'm done, I'm done, but I don't feel that way anymore. I believe there is value to have players with extensive Major League experience to remain in the game. I'm pretty good at getting the best out of people."

New info on the Astros' awareness of Lyon's grape cyst

FanHouse has some information regarding the timeline of the Astros' awareness of the cyst in Brandon Lyon's right shoulder.

Tom Fornelli:
The Astros signed Lyon to a three-year $15 million deal to replace Jose Valverde at the back of their bullpen in December, and the team noticed the cyst in his shoulder when performing a physical on him then. According to general manager Ed Wade, the team brought Lyon in for another MRI on the shoulder, and after seeing the results they decided to move forward with the surgery.

Ed Wade:
"Brandon was experiencing some weakness and discomfort in his shoulder, and we brought him in a couple of weeks ago to be seen. At the time of his pre-signing physical, his right shoulder MRI showed a very small cyst, and when the MRI was repeated recently, it showed that the cyst had enlarged and was pressing on some nerves. Since having it drained, Brandon reports no problems, but he will be making up for a little bit of lost time when he gets to Kissimmee."

Interesting. They knew about the cyst, signed him to a big-ish deal, and went about their business. Cyst got bigger = surgery. Let's see how 2011-2012 play out.

2010 Draft Outlook. In February.

Andy Seiler's 2010 draft preview has some gold in it. (Captip to TPack for the link).

The first, and most obvious, trend is that Heck heavily favors workout arms. Lyles, Bushue, and Hyatt are all known for being picked higher than the industry consensus due to strong workouts for Houston, and Lyles’ 2009 campaign proved that his draft slot was more deserving than some thought. I see nothing wrong in this system, as Heck obviously has a specific set of standards he’s looking for in arms during workouts, and the yield shouldn’t be much different from any other set of standards that other teams employ. The other trend that sticks out so far is that Heck and the scouting department likes prep bats from Georgia. They’ve selected three in the top ten picks combined from 2008 and 2009, and they usually get picked in the second to third round range. They also heavily favor prep players in the early rounds, with the exception of Castro, and then they fill in with athletic college bats and solid college arms in the rounds directly following. These trends will likely continue for 2010...

...The first pick should carry a tag of somewhere near $2.3 million, the second $1.5 million, the third $950,000, and the fourth $650,000. That’s already $5.4 million before we’ve even gotten to the third round. In other words, don’t expect overslot signings in the late rounds this year, as the budget won’t be stretched enough to accommodate such spending...

...I really like LeVon Washington for their first slot, and that’s who I had slotted in there in my latest mock draft. Other names that I find interesting there are Austin Wilson, Yordy Cabrera (as a third baseman or outfielder), and perhaps one of the top prep arms such as Dylan Covey, Karsten Whitson, and A.J. Cole. I think they’ll go young either way, and it will likely be a very signable name.

This is gold. There's no way of knowing who the Astros will take in the draft, as Keith Law was the only one to predict the Astros would take Jiovanni Mier (in his final mock draft). But it's good to at least have some benchmarks for what we could expect. And what we can expect is another solid draft.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Are. You. Kidding. Me.

Holy Hannah. It's worse than we thought.

The Astros are actually considering bringing him back.

Ed Wade:
If Willy clears waivers, we would be interested in talking to him about a non-roster opportunity. He would have to come in and compete for one of the extra outfield spots. Because of our familiarity with Willy and the fact that he brings an element of speed, it would make sense to give him an opportunity to at least come in and compete. I wouldn't make any promises beyond giving him a chance to compete."

Look, I've been out of college for eight years now (pause for snivelling) and I know enough that, as a professional, you are to pattern yourself after someone who looks like they know what they're doing. And what did the Oakland A's do immediately upon receiving Willy Taveras? Designated him for assignment. That's not a coincidence.

Circling the Bases has this quote from Ed Wade (via Jerry Crasnick):
"Willy brings the speed element and he's a very popular guy in town and with our organization."

That's false. Patently, I might add.

Come to think of it, the perennially disappointing Taveras should fit right in with the Astros' crop of aging, overpaid veterans. It's going to be a long season in oil country.

Chip Bailey has this: The five reasons to sign Willy Taveras. I'll give you the rundown, and you can click it and read the thought process behind each point.

1. $400,000 contract
2. He's fast.
3. He's a good late inning defensive replacement
4. Tradeability
5. Who else are you going to use? Yordany or Bogusevic?

While it may be in Houston's interest to re-sign Taveras, he will likely want to go to a team that will give him a chance to play. Barring a major injury, it's not likely he'll have that opportunity in Houston. Michaels and Darin Erstad managed only 302 at bats between them in 2009 and Willy's poor batting average isn't likely to get him first-hitter-off-the-bench nominations from Brad Mills.

Okay, I can't argue with with the cheap, fast part. But his OPS was .559. .559! Yordany Ramirez should be able to do that. Jeebus, if he can't, drop him like 3rd period French. And he's at least a new face. I thought the problem with the fan's perception of the Astros was that they brought in previously underwhelming retreads. Is there a better definition of that than Willy Taveras? No. I'd rather see Yordany Ramirez strike out 54 times in 49 ABs than see the Astros bring back Willy Taveras. I don't care how cheap and fast he is.

If Taveras comes to Spring Training looking for a job, let's all go down to Kissimmee and help Brian Bogusevic do speed drills. Please, Ed Wade, don't let this happen.

One and a half grapes.

Some good news on the Brandon Lyon front, seeing as how he'll be getting $5m this year. This time it's McTaggart saying that Lyon had a small cyst in his shoulder drained today.

Footer follows up with a note:

(Doctors) believe draining cyst will alleviate weakness in shoulder. He's been throwing without discomfort since the cyst was drained 2 weeks ago.


UPDATE: Maybe I spoke too soon. The cyst was one and a half grapes. Not one grape. Not two grapes. Somewhere in between.

Hey, how much time will Lyon miss in Spring Training, Ed Wade?
"It shouldn't be an appreciable amount of time."

We'll see you in 2011, Jose Vallejo

Alyson Footer is reporting that Jose Vallejo, who came over from Texas in the Pudge trade, will be out for most of 2010.

He'll have surgery on Wednesday to repair tendons in his 4th/5th fingers, that he injured when his hand ran over a knife blade he was using to cut meat DURING CHRISTMAS.

A couple of things: my wife is the one who does the cooking in the house (I do the cleaning. It works for us. It's called "playing to our strengths.") I've never seen her slide her hand over the sharp end of a knife. So either he's clumsy - a bad trait for a 2B - or he was drunk, or he's an idiot. Or it was an honest mistake. One that should have been taken care of at the end of December, not two weeks before the start of Spring Training.

And now, an update on how Vallejo hurt himself:
Wade said the injury occurred during a cooking accident around Christmas in the Dominican Republic when Vallejo was roasting a pig. Wade said the 23-year-old stabbed the pig with a knife, but he hit bone and cut himself when his hand slid down the knife.

The Astros weren't made aware of the injury until more than a week later.

And that makes Ed Wade...maaaaad!
We should have been made aware at the time it occurred. He and his agent [Steve Schneider] opted not to let us know at that time. He opted to have it taken care of in the Dominican Republic and didn't let us know. We weren't as front-loaded into the process as we'd like to be. It's unfortunate and we feel badly for the kid."

But not so badly that they won't immediately replace him. So who does this benefit? Drew Meyer, who spent 99 games as Corpus' 2B, and hit .291/.362/.395. Or maybe Edwin Maysonet, who should get regular playing time if'n he doesn't make the team out of Spring Training.

Jason Castro Call-Up Sweepstakes

Leave a comment with the date that you think Jason Castro will get called up to the Astros. Winner gets a prize, and entries must be received by February 20. If more than one person gives the same date, winner will be randomly drawn. "Opening Day" is a valid entry.

CHONE predicts the apocalypse

The annual CHONE projected standings are out, and they say the Astros will go 73-89.

That's not too bad, right? But one game behind the Pirates? With a $90m+ payroll? Apocalypse. If the Astros are behind the Pirates in September, I hope the Mayans screwed up and The Great Revealing is the weekend before the season ends.

(There's a disclaimer, though:
Standings based on current talent estimations and roster depth charts as of 2/05/2010. Team Runs scored and allowed projections are not available. Depth charts used to create these are not available, and are probably not very reliable. It is difficult for one person to have a sense of what playing time allocations will be decided by 30 managers. See the starting lineup based forecasts for a verifiable, open source team projection method. )

The Astros and RISP

So it seemed like every time we turned around, if there was a runner in scoring position, then the inning ended with that Astro removing their gloves while standing on base, and another Astro flinging his helmet at the ground and making loud, angry noises. How bad was it, compared to the rest of the League? Note, all these stats are with RISP, and are organized by OPS.


Surprised? The Astros had the 5th-highest OPS with RISP in the National League, and 2nd-highest in the NL Central. How did this translate into getting worked over in the run column? Because the Astros had 55 fewer plate appearances than the next lowest team (Pirates, natch). It doesn't matter that the Astros had a higher OPS w/RISP than the Dodgers, because the Dodgers had over 300 more plate appearances with RISP than the Astros. So obviously, you can get away with a lower OPS if you have that many more opportunities to score runs.

Why even look at this? Because the Astros are doing literally nothing right now. And I feel like I need to do something every day.

And no, I don't know what's up with that last column.

Quintero wants to be C1. Until July.

Humberto Quintero told Bernardo Fallas that he wants to be the everyday catcher.

"I've worked hard this offseason to improve 100 percent across the board, defensively and offensively. This year I hope to have more opportunities to play and show I can play every day and help the team. I'm ready to show manager (Brad Mills) and the club that I can play every day. That's my goal; I want to be the everyday catcher."

Quintero knows Castro's time is fast approaching. He also realizes this spring training is shaping up to be his best chance yet to establish himself as the No. 1 guy. He looked to be that guy this time last year, but that was before the Astros signed Pudge Rodriguez in March. No such signing will happen this spring, so the starting job will be Quintero's to win or lose.

I still think it shapes up as such:
C1: Towles
C2: Quintero
C3: Castro

I think Castro will be up at some point, but will start the season in Round Rock.

It must be Tuesday

Because it's Rip the Astros time in Richard Justice's new blog post!

This time, it's about the poor draft history of the post-World Series era (a valid sore spot, sure):
I still don't think Drayton gets it, and some of the people involved are still employed. What a joke. Just thinking about it makes me mad all over again.

The reasons for the Astros decline, according to Justice, are three-fold:
1) Scouts sucked - with Chris Burke as Example A
2) Max Sapp - no kidding:
Another first-round pick. Scouts thought he would be a big league catcher. So far, he has been a bust.
3) Brian Bogusevic:
Another first-round pick. Scouts said he would be a big-league pitcher. He won't be. He may make it as an outfielder, but the point is that what the Astros drafted him to do he won't be doing.

Three huge mistakes. Three big signing bonuses.

If the main reason for the Astros' decline is scouting woes, that's valid. And I've read this four or five times to figure out if that's the underlying message, or Justice thinks that two of the three reasons the Astros are in trouble is because of a catcher who almost died last year, and our very own Rick Ankiel. Surely that's not what he's saying.

Then we get to the 2007 draft, with Chad Bettis and Derek Dietrich as prime examples:
It's a bad deal those guys aren't going to be in Corpus Christi or Round Rock this summer. Scouts did great jobs, but the front office dragged its feet about getting them signed. I think Drayton McLane didn't want to be out in front because he didn't want to offend MLB. I'm sure there were others to blame, but it came down to absolute incompetence top to bottom.

Scouts...bad! Scouts...good!

And how about some words on Drew Stubbs?
He'd agreed to a $900,000 deal with the Astros out of high school, but when MLB complained about the Astros paying over the slot price, Drayton ordered his people to pull the offer...

...Organizations fall apart when scouts miss on certain guys, when ownership pulls the money on certain guys, and when idiots don't let good scouts do their jobs. Hopefully, those days are over. The Astros appear to have had two solid drafts in a row and seem to be on their way back.

This post is a train wreck. There's so much going on here, it's like reading a Guy Ritchie screenplay about baseball.

So...uh. Who's ready for baseball?

Berkman, Hooton inducted into Texas Sports HOF

Congratulations to Lance Berkman and former Astros/current Express pitching coach Burt Hooton, who were inducted into the Texas Sports Hall of Fame in Waco last night.

Here's a nice article on Hooton's nasty curve.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Astros planning for fissures

In McTaggart's new blog post today, we see that Geoff Blum will get the majority of his starts at 2B, with Feliz at 3B and Keppinger backing up Manzella.

"Millsie and I have talked, and my opinion to him is we need to put the best lineup on the field we can put out there. Our hope is Kaz is playing the majority of the time, but we've got alternatives. If there's a point in time it looks like giving either Geoff Blum or Keppinger more at-bats over there [will help the offense] or if Edwin Maysonet makes the club and is playing well, we have to be opened-minded about putting our most productive lineup on the field."


Jeff Keppinger, and that low walk rate

A Friday post got some of us wondering about Jeff Keppinger's high percentage of pitch selectivity and the surprisingly low number of walks. So let's take us a gander.

1st Pitch41.486n/a.438
After 1-0148.20814.9%.270
After 2-065.19627.7%.209
After 3-021.00066.7%.000
After 0-1155.2413.2%.270
After 1-1143.2766.3%.308
After 2-186.24312.8%.269
After 3-136.11147.2%.118
After 0-246.1590%.200
After 1-283.2222.4%.053
After 2-269.2884.3%.321
Full Count38.17923.7%.185

Alright, so a little analysis:

-Keppinger had 27 walks in 344 plate appearances, for a 7.8% walk rate.
-Keppinger either hit a home run, or got out in 41 of those appearances (11.9%). It's worth noting that, of Keppinger's seven homers in 2009, three of them came on the first pitch.
-Keppinger's highest OPS in a non-three-ball count was at 1-1, in which he hit .333/.333/.513 (though he hit .486/.500/.857 when connecting on the first pitch.)
-After 3-0, Keppinger walked in 14 of his 21 plate appearances.
-Keppinger got to a three-ball count in just 18.3% of his plate appearances, and worked the count full in 11.0% of his PAs.
-The count he saw the most often was 2-2 (49 PAs), just ahead of 1-2 (47 PAs). With a 2-2 count, Keppinger hit .306/.306/.408.
-He drew a first-pitch ball in 48.8% of plate appearances lasting more than one pitch.
-Keppinger drew just five walks after getting a first-pitch strike. So once he was behind, he was going to stay behind, with OPS' of .592, .424, and .587 (0-1, 0-2, 1-2, respectively).

Things We Knew, Volume 421

FanGraphs has a new piece on Houston's management issues. The money quote:

Between these five players (Pedro Feliz, Brandon Lyon, Jason Michaels, Brett Myers, and Cory Sullivan), the Astros brought in only a projected 4.5 wins over the course of this deal, according to CHONE, and that’s assuming that Lyon maintains his projected .7 WAR production over the entire course of his three-year contract. Yes, in a market where the dollar value for wins essentially bottomed out, Ed Wade and Drayton McLane spent approximately 5.5 million dollars per win.

That’s without even accounting for the fact that the Astros are at a very low point on the win curve. With Drayton McLane attempting to sell the team, the Astros low on the win curve and desperately needing some talented draft picks and international talent to infuse in the system, the Astros spent 25 million on a minimal upgrade. These are the kind of management gaffes that lead to extended periods of mediocrity. The Astros need change, and they need it fast.

It's fair to point out the Astros spent $25m on five free agents. But Lyon wrapped up $15m of that, and the Michaels hardly qualifies as a free agent. So blast the Lyon deal if you like (and take a number), but be sure to note that of the five free agents, three of them figure to be major pieces of this "lost season." It's called Holding Down the Fort.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

An NL Talent Evaluator speaks about C1

It turns out that an NL Talent Evaluator sees an opening at C1 in Houston. And I bet he didn't have to evaluate too terribly hard to figure that out. Still, let's see what we see, in reference to Mets catcher Omir Santos:

"Either he will be beaten out by Josh Thole or they will beat out the Mariners or possibly the Astros for Rod Barajas. Those are the only two clubs that have any type of opening at the position."

I don't see the Astros bringing in Barajas. They tried the Let's-Bring-In-An-Older-Catcher thing last year, and it didn't work out - though trading him was the best part of signing him, in that now the Astros have Nevarez and Vallejo.

Still, and I could be way off because I didn't think the Astros would sign Pudge, either, I just don't think the Astros will pay Barajas any more than $2.13/hour + tips.

The Monroe News-Star is hateful

In their Sunday Take on Sports, the Monroe News-Times gave their (expert, obviously) opinion on the Johnny Damon fiasco:

Just two weeks before spring training, Johnny Damon is still looking for a baseball team. What gives?

Keith Prince: He’s got a $14 million opinion of himself and that’s a tad more than anybody else has in mind.
Tabby Soignier: The Red Sox are like the Sopranos: You turn your back on them, they’re going to get you sooner or later. The curse is on, Damon. You better beg for forgiveness or you’re going to end up with the Nationals.
Krysten Oliphant: The Astros will take him! Oh wait, no, we’re busy blowing millions of dollars on our own washed up former stars. Sorry, no room for you here.

In essence, Oliphant is correct: there's no room for him here. But, uh, ouch.

It's hardly news, but...

...I do feel like even more of a slacker without posting anything for a day (I swear, that Keppinger piece is coming right up). But Nick Cafardo, in a discussion, about Josh Beckett's impending contract, says that the Red Sox may be willing to explore other options than giving Beckett a Burnett-esque deal. Why is this relevant?

Roy Oswalt, who is signed through 2011, may be willing to waive his no-trade rights for the right situation if the Astros go into rebuilding mode under Brad Mills.

I don't think that's anything we didn't know. But would Roy go to the Red Sox? Probably, even though he's really only mentioned NL teams as destinations (right?). I'd much rather cheer for Oswalt in a Red Sox jersey than a Cardinals one.

Keep in mind the Astros have a club option for 2012 - or a $2m buyout - but Oswalt will receive $15m this year, and $16m in 2011. I would imagine that, if the Astros are out of it in July, and the Red Sox come calling with prospects, Easy Eddie would test the strength of that no-trade clause.

And then Cafardo takes some time to discuss Felipe Paulino:
Among the challenges facing manager Brad Mills in his inaugural season, Paulino has to be atop the list. Paulino, who can hit the century mark with his fastball, evidently has finally bought into conditioning. Now if he can improve his curveball to go along with his heat, Paulino could make life more tolerable for Mills.

That's what we really want, after all, no? A tolerable life for Brad Mills.

Finally, Cafardo takes on the potential sale of the Astros (man, we should have hired a guy from Boston years ago!):
Someone will have to overpay for McLane to part with the Astros, but with the Rangers recently going for about $575 million, it’s awfully difficult for any group to get into the $700 million range in this economy.