Saturday, February 20, 2010

Tal helps the Industry, not the players

Arbitration is such a weird idea. I mean, I get it, the team doesn't want to pay every salary demand. The player wants as much money as possible. And in Wandy's case, who could have seen 2009 coming? (One may have been able to, but I sure didn't.)

But we see a few interesting things from Brian McTaggart's post on how Wandy is okay with making $4.7m in 2010.

It sounds like Wandy understands it as much as I do:
"Valverde talked to me about it last year, so I knew something about it. It's reasonable, because at the end of the day, it's all about the team trying to make its case and me trying to make my case for it."

Tal wants what's best for the Industry, according to Easy Eddie:
Tal did another tremendous job," Wade said. "To have the representation of Tal and the people that work at Tal Smith Enterprises was great. Tal's presentation was very thorough. There was not a discouraging word said about Wandy. This was about comparables and where he fit in the salary structure, and I think Tal framed the issue very, very well, as he always does.

"This was a big decision for the Astros, obviously, with a $2 million spread. And it was a big decision for the industry, because [of] where the numbers were. As was the case with the Valverde decision a couple of years ago, the work that Tal did not only helped the Astros organization, it helped the industry."

I get that, too. But it sounds so weird.

Lexington Legends: Brian Wabick

Brian Wabick
How did he get here?: Drafted, 34th Round (2007)
Stats: 6'0", 180 lbs, Throws: Right
Age as of April 1, 2010: 22

2009 Overview


Career (2007-09)


What happened?

Wabick has seen a fairly normal progression through the minors, starting in Greeneville in 2007, Greeneville/Tri-City in 2008, and throwing 86.1IP in 2009 for Lexington. He saw a little stiffer competition in the SAL, posting a career-high in BB/9, a career low in K/9 (though throwing 23K:1BB in 21IP for Tri-City is pretty hard to beat). He finished 12 games for Lexington, spending his professional career mostly in relief (two starts in 79 total appearances).

What went right?

His season after the All-Star Break. Pre-ASG Wabick threw a 5.25 ERA/1.33 WHIP, with 36K:8BB and a .276 BAA. Post-ASG, Wabick went 3.04/1.19 with 30K:13BB, and .258 BAA.

What went wrong?

Control. Wabick followed up a 1.4 BB/9 in 2008 with 2.2 BB/9 in 2009. Add to that three HBPs and 12 WPs, and you've got some excitement in there. I'm not terribly concerned, as his H/9 dropped a tick (9.2 to 9.1). His K/9 dropped by 2K/9, but in his first season of more than 50IP, I'll take it.

Brandon Lyon: Cyst-a Sledge

McTaggart's blog post on the first day of camp has an update from Brandon Lyon, who notes that he doesn't know when a mound return will happen:

I've been trying to throw every day to build up strength. As soon as I'm ready and strong enough to do it. Right now, I'm back and trying to get strength and throwing 90 feet. It's not like I'm in a rush to get back on the mound. We have plenty of time to get going, and I just want to make sure everything's good before I push it too much and have any more complications."

Ed Wade: Doin' Work

In Tyler Kepner's blog post for the New York Times (!) has a quote from Ed Wade, regarding the Astros' approach to rebuilding:

"The eventual goal is to make sure that our core nucleus is coming from within, because that provides not only the strength from a competitive standpoint but also long-term stability. That gives you the opportunity then to supplement or augment what you’ve already got. There’s no magic to this. It’s dogged, determined scouting, and it’s the commitment Drayton has made to allow us to strengthen our scouting budget and do things on the player-development side that we need to do."

So, Keith Law, try not to put the sins of Tim Purpura on Ed Wade's shoulders.

That's "Camp Mills" to you

Brian McTaggart's report on the first practice of Spring Training was, of course, complimentary.

"Camp Mills was very well organized, and it was everything he said it was going to be. It was organized, it was smaller groups, it was quick and it was good. It was very efficient and we got a lot of work in a short amount of time."

Lindstrom, saying all the right things:
"I've heard nothing but good things about the Houston Astros organization. I liked pitching at Minute Maid the last three years going there, and I think general manager Ed Wade did a nice job bringing some guys in and hopefully it will take us over the top."

"I couldn't think of a better day. Brad is very energetic and hands-on with the players, which I respect a lot. We had fun today, and I couldn't tell you that my first day of Spring Training in the past seven, eight years was fun for me. It always felt like hard work. We worked hard today, but they made it fun doing the hard work. When I go home tonight and sit back and realize how much we did, I'll go, 'You know, we did work hard today,' but they made it go by so fast and made it so much fun, you had to have that extra step. Instead of standing around all the time, we were moving all day today, so it was good."

"They were very good. I loved the energy level and how they went about their business. I only saw this side of camp. I didn't get a chance to see the other side of the camp, but from what I understand, it went real well. That's what we're tying to get accomplished."

Ed Wade wasn't the only one extended

Alyson Footer mentions that, in addition to Ed Wade's extension, Bobby Heck, David Gottfried, and Ricky Bennett have also been extended through 2011. This is even better.

Valverde's feeling froggy

Valverde is feeling his oats in Detroit.

“I can do maybe 74 saves. This is a good team here. I know I can do more than 50 saves with this club.”

Early reaction to Ed Wade's extension

There has been some early reaction to Ed Wade's extension:'s Victor Rojas:
In fairness (to) Ed Wade, he inherited a bad situation-doesn't mean I'm on-board w/ his moves, but deserves time (to) try & turn it around.

Circling The Bases' D.J. Short:
It's tempting to jump all over the general manager for the offseason moves mentioned above, but I firmly believe that Drayton McLane's refusal to legitimately rebuild makes Wade look ever-so slightly worse than he really is.

Keith Law:
#ownerfail #talfail #failfail #fail

“We feel this is very appropriate. Ed is an outstanding baseball man. He’s organized and has surrounded himself with a good, solid staff. Much of the work Ed did in Philadelphia had a lot to do with them becoming a champion. We feel he has us moving in the right direction to be a champion as well.”

More Run-DMc:
"We wanted to make a bold statement about the confidence that we have for his leadership, his integrity and the direction he’s taking the Astros."

Everyone is going to make fun of Drayton for the "champion" thing, but he's right. The Astros are not champions now, and may not have a chance for a few years, but the Astros are moving in the right direction, with solid drafts and international free-agent signings.

Wade has been hamstrung by huge contracts, and I've said it before, but the Astros can't rebuild with $60m committed to a few players. He's making do until his guys are ready, and if Drayton won't approve a trade for Roy, and Lance and Lee don't want to leave, there's nothing he can do. Everybody has a boss.

The fact is that Ed Wade brought Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Pat Burrell, Shane Victorino, Cole Hamels, Brett Myers, and Kyle Kendrick to the Phillies while he was GM. It's worth giving that guy an extension to see if he can do the same thing in Houston.

Buy your Astros County apparel

So now that it's apparently cool for Astros blogs to promote their swag, I'll go ahead and re-post the links for Astros County apparel that I took down a while ago.

Astros County (Proof of Citizenship)

'Stros Before Hos (pretty self-explanatory, but requires a little thought)

Do it.

Three True Outcomes

Buster Olney's blog this morning talks about Russell Branyan's three true outcomes: Walk, Strikeout, Homer. Branyan had one of the highest percentages of PAs resulting in the 3TO (47.1% - Mark Reynolds had the highest percentage with 51.8%). What about the 2009 Astros?

Berkman: 39.1% - 98K:97BB:25HR
Bourn: 30.2% - 140K:63BB:3HR
Pence: 29.7% - 109K:58BB:25HR
Pudge: 27.6% - 74K:13BB:8HR
Blum: 24.4% - 61K:33BB:10HR
Matsui: 24.0% - 85K:34BB:9HR
Keppinger: 19.5% - 33K:27BB:7HR
Lee: 17.8% - 51K:41BB:26HR
Tejada: 12.0% - 48K19BB:14HR

OMG! Job security!

Brian McTaggart is reporting that Ed Wade has received an extension through 2012. Wade's contract was up after the 2010 season.

This is ultimately good news for Brad Mills, whose two-year deal includes an option for 2012. If the Astros don't go 40-122, given that Ed Wade will be around through that option year, Mills should be given a fair shake to be the manager for a while.

This is the type of stability a rebuilding team (even if it doesn't look like they're rebuilding to anybody else but us) needs.

Mills' 1st meeting with pitchers and catchers

Alyson Footer has a report from Brad Mills' first meeting with Ps and Cs (know your dress code, Bs and Cs! - Makaveli):

"I told them we need energy. There's a reason why pitchers and catchers get here early we have to make sure they go through the purposeful things to get ready (for season)."

And the Meat Wagon is making an early run

Bernardo Fallas is way better at this Twitter thing than JJO was, and this morning he's telling us that freaking Jeff Fulchino has a sore ankle and will be limited in practice.

Meet Your 1977 Houston Astros

So not long ago I shared with y'all that I will be managing the 1977 Houston Astros in a Strat-O-Matic replay of the 1977 season, entitled Play That Funky Baseball. I also promised that I would share my lineups.

Let me know what you think, and check out the options for yourself. Opening Day is February 28.

vs LHP
SS J. Gonzalez (.256/.310/.368)
LF T. Puhl (.275/.370/.350)
2B A. Howe (.273/.353/.413)
1B B. Watson (.322/.387/.553)
3B E. Cabell (.335/.382/.549)
CF C. Cedeno (.296/.393/.512)
RF J. Cruz (.239/.283/.310)
C J. Ferguson (.180/.279/.352)

vs RHP
C J. Ferguson (.290/.420/.471)
CF C. Cedeno (.274/.330/.440)
1B B. Watson (.276/.350/.478)
RF J. Cruz (.321/.396/.535)
LF T. Puhl (.307/.388/.413)
2B A. Howe (.260/.329/.411)
3B E. Cabell (.262/.288/.399)
SS J. Gonzalez (.241/.276/.293)

SP1 J.R. Richard
SP2 M. Lemongello
SP3 J. Niekro
SP4 J. Andujar
SP5 F. Bannister
SP6 D. Larson
CL K. Forsch

Checking the barometer with Brad Mills

Bernardo Fallas' article on how Spring Training will be run by Brad Mills looks a lot different from how Spring Training was run by Cecil Cooper:

We want it to be competitive, but we don't want these guys to try to get those spots the first couple of days right out of the chute. That's when injuries happen; that's what we're trying to stay away from. It's the atmosphere that we're trying to create, and a culture of playing the game well and these guys giving us all their effort to play the game the way they can.”

Ed Wade:
“We need the guys to be physically and mentally prepared to get off to a good start and sustain it over the course of the season. You can't give every team in your division a head start.”

And it looks like SP5 is Paulino's to lose, according to Ed Wade:
“The pitching should be solidified if Norris and Paulino step up, Wandy pitches the way he did last year and Roy goes out there and is the true ace for us.”

Friday, February 19, 2010

Remember this when Mills is up for an extension

McTaggart's near-Nocturnal Emission-worthy piece on Brad Mills has this quote from Ed Wade:

"It's human nature that if you're comfortable in your work environment, you're more productive. I don't mean there aren't demands placed upon you or you're not held accountable, but I do think the work environment, whether it's a baseball player or working in an office or factory, plays into your level of productivity...

It's about talent on the field, and by and large, the most talented teams win. But the margin between a championship-caliber club and also-ran is sometimes very thin. How big a difference a manager makes strategically, how big a difference he makes from the standpoint of environment, you can't quantify...

Terry Francona didn't become an appreciably better manager between his Philadelphia and Boston experience. The players got better. Terry's an outstanding communicator and leader, and the players trusted him and they knew he had their back. He's loyal to the organization...

Millsie is from the same core personality. He's the same guy who was the first-base coach in Philadelphia when I let Terry go. That core individual who was first-base coach brings everything to the table to be a successful manager in Houston. Talent or circumstances dictate whether you're viewed as a success or failure."

I'm afraid that, if the Astros live up to expectations (which isn't much), then Mills will take the fall. I hope that the Astros are loyal to Mills.

This is a pretty good indication of what other bloggers think of the Astros

Influential Mariners blog, Lookout Landing, has this to brag about their bullpen.

When you combine David Aardsma, Mark Lowe, Brandon League, and Shawn Kelley's 2009 performances, you get a strikeout an inning and a 3.6 FIP, and there's not a team in baseball that wouldn't be thrilled to have any one of them, except the Astros, because the Astros are stupid.

Just in case you were having a good day.

More Deelz

Brian McTaggart is saying that the Astros have signed three minor-leaguers to a one-year deal for $400,000 each:

Matt Nevarez
Henry Villar (I'd like to think this post had something to do with it.)
And everyone's favorite butcher, Jose Vallejo. Not a bad pull for a guy who will be in David Duchovny's hand chamber for all of 2010.

Lexington Legends: Henry Villar

Henry Villar
How did he get here?: Signed as undrafted free agent, July 2005
Stats: 5'11", 150 lbs, Throws: Right
Age as of April 1, 2010: 22

2009 Overview


Career (2006-09)


What happened?

Villar appeared mostly out of relief in 2009, a year after starting all 13 games he appeared in for Greeneville. In Greeneville, he threw 65.1IP, 4.41 ERA/1.24 WHIP, so he fared much better in his second full season in the US after spending 2006-2007 in the DSL. Villar also improved upon his K:BB ratio, which had been over 5.00 in each of the last two seasons, until 2009 in which it was 6.06:1.

What went right?

Home games. In 45.1IP at home, Villar posted a 1.79 ERA/1.06 WHIP, and a .224 BAA. His away splits weren't bad (3.43/1.12, .246), either, which is promising as he moves forward.

What went wrong?

Not a whole lot.

Ohh, the guy from Rice has some ideas

In a completely new, original opinion, the Rice Thresher says the Astros' problems all start at the top. Why didn't we think of that! I thought if Strech Suba could finally pull his crap together, it would be a difference of 15 wins!

But help for the minor league system is a long time coming, because Wade is too busy allotting his resources towards securing mediocre pitchers like Lyon and Myers. Only a truly awful 2010 season will convince Wade that he cannot fix his team without making drastic changes. I hate to wish for disaster, but if the Astros do not fail completely and quickly, the team's management will remain oblivious to its steady fall into the cellar.

The Astros need to completely overhaul their minor-league teams. They need to assert themselves, and powerfully, in the international free agent market. They need to find ways to trade for the young talent that they currently lack. They need to unload the engorged contracts of players like Lee for anything they can get. And they need to heed these warnings before it is too late.

This is a team on the brink of several seasons, or maybe even a whole decade, of futility. Pirates fans know the frustration of a talentless farm system and a mediocre major league team, and they recognize their team's past in the Astros' future. The Pirates should be a warning, not a role model, for Wade and his team.

Perhaps the most obvious sign that the Astros are a team nearing oblivion came when team owner Drayton McLane announced that he was accepting bids from groups interested in buying the team. But nobody wanted the hapless Astros. One group sniffed, but McLane never received an offer.

If this article would have been written in 2005, it would have been timely and insightful. How much more can you overhaul the minor-league system than what Bobby Heck has done over the past two drafts? And the international signings? I guess Mesac Laguna, Edgar Ferreira, and Chan-Jong Moon don't really count as being aggressive in the international market, because, you know, we didn't get Aroldis Chapman or Miguel Sano.

And Drayton didn't sell the team because he wanted too much money, not because nobody wanted it. There's not a Major League team that nobody wants. This one's about five years too late.

Brad Mills faces "toughest challenge"

The St. Louis Globe-Democrat put out their Superlative List this morning, and the Astros make some appearances.

Brad Mills: Manager Facing Toughest Challenge:
The team’s quality veterans are getting old, and there is not much young talent ready to take over. The Astros lost 88 games last year, and if they improve on that total this year, Mills ought to be a candidate for Manager of the Year.

And Roy Oswalt/Lance Berkman, Most Likely To Get Traded:
If the Astros stumble as everyone expects, long-time stars Oswalt and Berkman might be more willing to move to a contending club, and the Astros would like to get some decent prospects in return as they begin a long rebuilding process.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Sabernomics tests the Verducci Effect

With Tom Verducci red-flagging Bud Norris with his Verducci Effect, Sabernomics' J.C. Bradbury attempts to test the theory.

I'm not going to pull the tables and math behind it - you should read it for yourself - but I'll pull the concluding quote:

So, where are we? The results do not bode well for the Verducci Effect. Pitchers who were predicted to decline actually improved. One potential problem with this study is that pitchers who pitched no innings at all in a season were not included; however, I think this bias is slight since this number is small, as even injured pitchers normally get in a few innings every season. Frankly, this is about as quick and dirty as you can get with a test; but, it’s a starting point, and I’d like to see others examine the effect further. While appreciate the intuition behind the Verducci Effect, I don’t see much evidence for it.

You don't mess with the Tal

Every so often some silly agent decides to test his luck against Mr. Arbitration, Tal Smith. And then it goes poorly. So it was with Barry Praver and his charge, pitcher Wandy Rodriguez, who lost their case to the Astros.

Ed Wade:
We're pleased with the result. Now, it is time to focus on the upcoming season. Wandy is a tremendous pitcher who we think very highly of. We expect great things from him."

What you didn't hear was something about "testicles," "frying pans," and "motor oil."

Wandy will earn $5m, instead of $7m in 2009.

Lexington Legends: Ross Seaton

Ross Seaton
How did he get here?: Drafted, 3rd Round (2008)
Stats: 6'4", 213 lbs, Throws: Right
Age as of April 1, 2010: 20

2009 Overview


Career (2008-09)


Yep, Seaton only threw 4IP in 2008 for Greeneville, but showed enough for him to skip Tri-City.

What happened?

In 24 starts, Seaton had a pretty good year, warranting being named the Astros' 6th-best prospect by The Hardball Times and Baseball America. The Hardball Times said, "Seaton's fastball hasn't been as good as advertised, but he has shown strong consistency with his control."

His Pre-ASG and Post-ASG splits are telling, as he threw a 2.57 ERA/1.18 WHIP in 13 starts before the All-Star Game, and a 4.22 ERA/1.42 WHIP in 11 starts after the ASG. But six of his final ten starts were Quality Starts, while three would be considered Disaster Starts (ER>IP).

What went right?

Seaton got a full season in, with 24 starts. It has been speculated that Seaton could start 2010 at Corpus.

What went wrong?

Sure, there were some bumps along the road (namely, August), but if we're going to pick one thing, it's probably the GO/AO ratio, which was upside down (0.90).

Lexington Legends: Kirkland Rivers

Kirkland Rivers
How did he get here?: Drafted, 37th Round (2008)
Stats: 6'1", 195 lbs, Throws: Left
Age as of April 1, 2010: 24

2009 Overview


Career (2008-09)


What happened?

Rivers didn't get a whole lot of playing time in 2009, getting in 20 games for 18.2IP for Lexington. This is approximately half of the innings he pitched for Tri-City in 2008, and he saw a sharp drop-off from the NYPL to the SAL, with a WHIP almost half a baserunner higher in 2009 than in 2008. His K/9 dropped by 5.0, while his BB/9 jumped by 4.0, resulting in an upside-down K:BB ratio. And if the walks weren't enough, he got ripped for a .314 BAA in 2009.

What went right?

Applebee's Park. In 11 games at home (12.1IP), Rivers posted a 4.38 ERA/1.70 WHIP, as opposed to an 11.37 ERA/3.47 WHIP on the road.

What went wrong?

We're only talking about 18.2IP, so it's easy for numbers to get inflated. But July was what went wrong here. In four games in which Rivers only lasted 2.2IP, he gave up 9H, 8R/6ER, with 0K:5BB for a 20.25 ERA/5.25 WHIP. It's easy to skew an entire season's worth of numbers with a line like that.

So basically, those walks are going to have to come down. It's one thing to give up some hits, because there will be luck involved, even in a pitcher's league like the SAL was last year. But 19 walks in 18.2IP is just too high.

Berkman predicts a bounce-back year

In an interview with the San Antonio Express-News, Lance Berkman had a lot to say:

Last year was clearly the worst year I’ve ever experienced in the big leagues, and from a personal standpoint and from a team standpoint, it seemed like one thing after 50 would go wrong. Guys got hurt, things happened. It was just a bad year.

But I would say that even if we hadn’t done one single thing (during the offseason), we were going to be better than last year just by virtue of the fact that guys were going to perform better because it was such a freakish deal last year...

...I think things are going to have to go right for us, and we’re not going to be able to suffer a major injury to anybody, and guys are going to have to play up to their potential, but if that happens — and of course those are two big ifs that everybody has — we’re going to be very, very competitive.

Is it? Yes! A big rainbow over Minute Maid Park! And angels singing!

Biz of Baseball Breaks down the Wandy case

Bernardo Fallas did something similar yesterday, and the Biz of Baseball comes through on an in-depth breakdown of Wandy's arbitration case (which was, apparently, professional).

I won't pull too much, because it is completely worth a thorough read, but:

Salary arbitration is tricky to predict given the “selling the deal” aspect by the sides presenting. But, based on Rodriguez spike in July, his asking salary, and the Astros recent history in salary arbitration hearings, we’re going to side with the Astros winning the case.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Brandon Lyon, #17 pitching pick-up

Sporting News' Stan McNeal has another one of his lists. This time it's the Top 20 pitching pickups of the off-season. And Brandon Lyon clocks in at #17:

No reliever signed for more ($15 million) than the righthander. No wonder the Astros are saying the cyst drained from Lyon's shoulder last month was no big deal.

Snow Day: You Know You're An Astros fan When...

Snow day. Eight episodes of Lost. I'm ready for baseball. Comment with your submission, I'll delete your submission and re-post it, and keep putting this up top:

(I'll start)

You know you're an Astros fan...

...When you yell at every replay of Game 4 of the 2005 World Series that Orlando Palmeiro was safe.

When you can still feel Albert Pujols' home run in your heart.

When most of your baseball arguments start with 'Oh come on, he's not THAT bad...'

Jeff Polman:
You just can't bring yourself to throw out those yellow and orange striped boxer shorts.

You keep getting asked, "How'd you end up being a fan of *that* team?"

When you no longer refer to Brad Ledge as Brad Lidge.

Deputy Jason:
You can name-drop the entire 86 team and spell Knepper correctly.

You think Bagwell was held back in Boston's organization because he had a mullet.

You stood in awe, at the seat in the upperdeck at the dome where Eric Anthony once bashed a homer.

You ran onto the field after the final game at the dome an pulled out the dumb flowers that ran along the outfield fence.

(+3 for quality)

As if you didn't already know about the Verducci Effect

SI's Tom Verducci has red-flagged ten pitchers who risk injury. And of course, thanks to the increase in 2009 innings, Bud Norris is on this list.

The Crawfish Boxes have done some excellent work on this, so it's worth noting Verducci's explanation for Norris:

I hate to see guys with non-contenders getting pushed, as Kansas City and Pittsburgh used to do, but these guys have a common denominator: their previous workloads were depressed by injuries in minor league seasons. Carillo had Tommy John surgery, Norris suffered from an elbow strain (the Astros sent him to the AFL in 2008 and he still made the at-risk list) and Latos was bothered by oblique, ankle and shoulder injuries. The size of those increases remains significant.

Lexington Legends: Matt Nevarez

Matt Nevarez
How did he get here?: Traded, with Jose Vallejo for Pudge Rodriguez (August 2009)
Stats: 6'4", 220 lbs, Throws: Right
Age as of April 1, 2010: 23

2009 Overview


Career (2005-06, 2008-09)


What happened?

Nevarez came over in the Pudge trade, and I kind of wonder what the Rangers were thinking (alright, they were thinking "Playoffs"). Nevarez has had an up-and-down career, as this was really his first full season (42 appearances in 2009, 27 appearances previously), thanks to injuries.

But he dominated this year, posting his lowest ERA since throwing a 1.61 for the Rangers' Rookie-League team in Arizona in 2005. 2009 also saw his highest K/9 rate, K:BB ratio, lowest BB/9 rate, Hits/9 rate, and WHIP.

It has been speculated that he could skip Lancaster and go to Corpus, given his age (he'll turn 23 on the 26th).

What went right?
Cutting down on walks. Nevarez struck out 50 in 2008, and walked 43. Compare that to 2009, in which Nevarez walked 15 all year long, and none in his eight appearances in Lexington.

What went wrong?

I'd like to see more groundball outs. In eight games at Lexington (and we can't get his stats in Hickory), Nevarez got flyball outs at a rate of 3:1 to groundball outs. That's scary, and a good reason to let him skip Lancaster. Still, at only 0.3 HR/9 in 2009, he doesn't seem to get lit up.

Orange County Register puts the Astros off-season at third-worst

The Orange County Register says there were only two teams with worse off-seasons than our fair Astros: The Cubs (30th) and Nationals (29th). An excerpt:

Look, there’s nothing wrong with going cheap on your closer — I don’t necessarily think that Jose Valverde at two years and $14 million would have been a good deal. But they didn’t go cheap, either. They just went bad.

The result: They don’t have a shortstop. Or, rather, they’ll rely on Tommy Manzella, a 27-year-old with a .695 career minor league OPS and five big league at bats.

Dave Clark is AGGRESSIVE!

In today's Hot Stove U with ESPN, BP examines third-base coaches who send runners from 3rd base in a sacrifice situation. Only seven third-base coaches were perfect in sending runners without getting them thrown out at home...

And if you're good at context clues, you have probably already guessed that Dave Clark is one of those coaches.

Bray Day: Episode 17

Aaron Bray was the 27th round draft pick for the Astros in last June's amateur draft. He was also the winner of the Astros County Adopt-a-Player contest. Each week, Aaron will write a column for Astros County detailing his off-season. Check the sidebar for archives.

Astros fans,

It's that time of year. I am sure most of you are really excited about the upcoming season. I know I am, and I cannot wait to arrive in Florida. I am finishing up my workouts here in Charlotte and will be heading out the 27th of Feb. to get down to Kissimmee. I will be making a stop in Jacksonville to stay the night with family, and Sunday I will get up and get to Kissimmee. Monday, I will start working out for a few days before my official report date, which is the 9th of March.

I actually plan on starting to pack this week so I know what I need to go get before I leave. I will of course be packing clothes and toiletries, but as for the good stuff...I will have my laptop. I use that to be able to talk to my girlfriend and I will be able to see how big my pup grows while I am gone. My laptop will be used the most, it gets a little boring sitting in the hotel. Then my iPod. I love listening to music especially when I am driving down, laying in bed or on the bus. My PlayStation 3 will be packed and Call of Duty will be ready to be played when I arrive at my hotel. Then all of my baseball equipment, which most of it will probably be waiting on me when I get down there, thanks to my agent. I'll have my gloves, Old Hickory Bats, batting gloves, 3n2 cleats and dri-fits.

I am eager to get down there and get to work. But I am very nervous, because I have heard what to expect from former minor league players, but I have to see for myself what it is exactly like. Wondering what Spring Training is like has been running through my head the past month. What to expect, what will I do, how does it work....Those questions run through my head as I prepare for my upcoming trip.

I hope all of you have a great week and I look forward to giving you updates throughout my time in Florida.


Got a question for Aaron? Send it to

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Minor league update!

Zach Levine returns with a blog featuring some minor-league updates:

-T.J. Steele and Jay Austin will progress a level despite missing time with hamstring issues. (Steele to Corpus; Austin to Lancaster)

-Matt Nevarez could skip Lancaster and head to Corpus

Bennett, on Nevarez:
We're still getting to know him a little bit. He had a good instructional league last fall. We're going to keep the same open mind with him as we do with our other top prospects. His performance, to a certain extent, will dictate where he goes, but I'm of a mindset where we can challenge him. He's had huge success at low-A ball. He had a lot of strikeouts. The command of his fastball is pretty good. If he shows us that he can handle AA, I'd be open to it."

These fellas get extra credit

In Brian McTaggart's piece on Mills' first impressions of the Astros complex in Kissimmee, we learn that some players get some extra credit.

So +1s go to the following players for already being at camp:
Matt Lindstrom
Jeff Keppinger
Jeff Fulchino
Jason Castro
Humberto Quintero
Brian Esposito
Casey Daigle
Gary Majewski
Lou Santangelo
Wladimir Sutil

Lexington Legends: Jordan Lyles

Jordan Lyles
How did he get here?: Drafted, 1st Round Supplemental (2008)
Stats: 6'4", 185 lbs, Throws: Right
Age as of April 1, 2010: 19

2009 Overview


Career (2008-09)


What happened?

Much-heralded prospect (listed as the Astros top-ranked prospect here and here, was 2009's Organizational Prospect of the Year, and was voted Baseball America's best changeup) Jordan Lyles has been one of the brightest spots in what has been regarded as a wasteland in the Astros' farm system. So what happened? Lyles was dominant in his first full season with the Astros (he threw 55.1IP in 2008). With great control (Brad Dydalewicz allowed four fewer walks in 2009 than Lyles has in two seasons), Lyles may jump Lancaster and head straight to Corpus as a 19-year old with huge upside.

What went right?

It's hard to pick. The K:BB ratio is pretty incredible, and Lyles managed to post 31 strikeouts in 35.1IP with RISP.

What went wrong?

This is also hard to pick, but if we're going to be picky, we can talk about Lyles' tendency to allow fly-ball outs. His GO/AO was 1.02:1 in 2009, meaning he gave up just as many flyball outs as he did groundball outs. So it would be nice to see more groundballs, but let's keep in mind that, of his 434 outs recorded in 2009, almost 40% of them were via strikeout.

Lexington Legends: Arcenio Leon

Arcenio Leon
How did he get here?: Signed as free agent, February 2005
Stats: 6'1", 162 lbs, Throws: Right
Age as of April 1, 2010: 23

2009 Overview


Career (2005-09)


What happened?

Baseball America said that Arcenio Leon had the Astros' best fastball back in November. And while that may be the case, it doesn't look like he knows where it's going, what with a BB/9 rate that jumped from 3.5 to 6.2 from 2008 to 2009. Leon threw a career high in IP this year, but also jumped in HR/9, walks (from 19 in 2008 to 49 in 2009), WHIP, wild pitches (20. 20!), Hits/9, and a career-low in K:BB ratio. So what has happened? I don't know, but it ain't good.

What went right?

Leon's last ten games. After posting ERAs of 7.30 and 9.00 in June and July, respectively, Leon got it somewhat together by throwing a 4.32 ERA/1.74 WHIP. And yes, that's an improvement.

What went wrong?

Take your pick. Between the walks and wild pitches, it doesn't matter how much gas you're throwing. So unless the Legends brings in Crash Davis as the catcher, Leon needs to work on that control.

KFFL's Fantasy Outlook for the Astros

KFFL posted their Fantasy Outlook for the Astros, and there are some nuggets in there that carry far beyond your Roto or Head-to-Head League. Such as...

-Groundballs are a different story; Minute Maid has been one of the toughest parks in the league in which to score a groundball hit. Three of Houston's four most prominent hitters are groundball hitters or trending that way, too. It's true both among individuals and as a group: Houston hit groundballs 48 percent of the time last season, far and away the highest rate in the league.

-New pitching coach Brad Arnsberg, who served in the same capacity for the Toronto Blue Jays for the past five seasons, preaches to work down and then occasionally attack up. Arnsberg oversaw the development of a number of hurlers with varying pedigrees while with the Jays. While the styles should mesh, Arnsberg's staffs have produced flyball-heavy results in recent years.

Buster Olney's Best-Case Scenarios

Buster Olney's new blog post has the best-case scenario for all 30 MLB teams. What's the Astros' best-case scenario? They are four-fold:

The three highest-paid guys on the team -- Roy Oswalt, Lance Berkman and Carlos Lee -- all produce in a way that is commensurate with their salaries ... Tommy Manzella steps in and does a solid job at shortstop, while providing representative offense ... Michael Bourn and Hunter Pence repeat their success of last year ... Brandon Lyon and Matt Lindstrom perform well at the back end of the bullpen.

What the Astros Need - McTaggart

Brian McTaggart says this Spring Training isn't just about getting back into shape. There are jobs to be won and lost here, people. Among those:

-Starting Catcher
The Astros' worst fear would be if neither Towles nor Castro stepped up at the plate this spring. They need someone to win this job in impressive fashion.
Prediction: Castro starts at catcher.

Que interesante!

The wild card is Felipe Paulino. Last year it was "high noon" for Paulino and Fernando Nieve to prove they're capable big-league pitchers. Well, it's about 11 p.m. for Paulino, so it's probably now or never. If he builds on his bright spots from last year, he could be a huge boost for the rotation.
Prediction: Norris and Moehler will have the final two slots.

I'll disagree with this. When Paulino had to step up in June 09, he did it - once the coaching staff stopped screwing with his role (1-0, 2.45 ERA/0.82 WHIP, 20K:1BB). And then they started screwing with it again. If Paulino comes in with a defined set of goals, he should be okay. Luckily for us, it seems as though Moehler is the wild card here, so it's Paulino's to win or lose. But I'm guessing he wins.

Lindstrom has electric stuff and could win this job by throwing strikes and keeping the ball down. The truth is either one of these guys can handle the role. The Astros would much rather have Lyon or Lindstrom closing this year than Jose Valverde, considering the financial ramifications.
Prediction: Lyon is the closer.


-#2 hole hitter
If (Pence) hits second Berkman and Lee are third and fourth, the bottom five spots won't scare anyone. That's why Pence should hit fifth behind Berkman and Lee and stretch out the order a little bit.
Prediction: Matsui hits No. 2.

I can't argue with this, either. Both Matsui and Feliz' career OBP are terrible, but Matsui's faster (as McTaggart notes), and why wouldn't opposing pitchers just throw meatballs to Matsui, Feliz, Blum, and Manzella?

Anything else?

Monday, February 15, 2010

Have some Pepto Bismol

I had all of the symptoms required for appropriate Pepto Bismol use regarding the Willy Taveras contract heartache. (For a recap, click here). But it's all for naught, as the Nationals screwed up and signed him to the same deal the Astros offered.

Maybe Willy got his feelings hurt over the linked post above. It was certainly the most-commented on post I can remember in quite some time. I guess he has a better chance at getting a major-league spot in Washington. Or maybe he just wanted to watch Stephen Strasburg pitch. Who knows? All I know is, now I'll be able to sleep a little better.

UPDATE: Bernardo Fallas isn't taking President's Day off, which, sadly, the Nationals should have done, and has this quote from Taveras' agent:
“This was a difficult decision for Willy given that Houston is his home and given his relationship with the ball club. However, the Nationals presented Willy with the best opportunity for playing time.”

Now I return to trying to catch up on Lost, with La Constabless.

Lexington Legends: Kyle Greenwalt

Kyle Greenwalt
How did he get here?: Drafted, 20th Round (2007)
Stats: 6'0", 200 lbs, Throws: Right
Age as of April 1, 2010: 21

2009 Overview


Career (2007-09)


What happened?

2009 was Greenwalt's third season in the Astros organization, spending 2007 in Greeneville (0-7, 7.53 ERA/1.93 WHIP), 2008 in Greeneville and Tri-City, and 2009 in Lexington. So, this was his first full season in the minors, going from 77.2IP in 2008 to 139.1IP in 2009, and you could tell it caught up to him, as his ERA ascended in each month from July to September (after a pretty stellar April/May), though the September ERA isn't quite fair, as he only had one start.

What went right?

Home games. Within the comforts of Applebee's Park, Greenwalt had thirteen starts, and went 4-7 (irrelevant) with a 2.88 ERA/1.17 WHIP, and a .248 BAA. On the road, however, Greenwalt posted a 5.61 ERA/1.46 WHIP, and a .309 BAA.

What went wrong?

What went wrong could be attributed to the aforementioned jump in IP, so we won't be too hard on him here. So let's pick June. In five starts in June, Greenwalt had a 5.14 ERA/1.54 WHIP, allowing four of his seven total home runs, and posting an upside down groundout:flyout ratio (0.64:1), with a .331 BAA.

Astros sign LHP Edwin Walker

Thanks to Baseball America we see that the Astros have signed LHP Edwin Walker. Who is this Edwin Walker?

-26 year old "hard-throwing" LHP
-Drafted by the Brewers in the 9th round of the 2002 draft.

He spent three seasons with the Brewers organization from 2002-2004 before missing all of 2005, and then spending 2006 in Independent ball, missing 2007, and back in Indie ball in 2008. In 2009, Walker played in both Indie ball, and with the Yankees' South Atlantic League team in Single-A, posting a 0.78 ERA/0.78 WHIP in 14 games, finishing eight, with 20K:4BB in 23IP.

Lexington Legends: Kyle Godfrey

Kyle Godfrey
How did he get here?: Drafted, 13th Round (2008)
Stats: 6'4", 200 lbs, Throws: Right
Age as of April 1, 2010: 24

RHP Kyle Godfrey overcame a fairly miserable 2008 campaign in Tri-City by dominating at Lexington in 2009.

2009 Overview - includes three games with Tri-City


Career (2008-09)


What happened?

The question is which Kyle Godfrey is the Real Kyle Godfrey. If you look at 2008, he had a rough time of it. 6.90 ERA/1.80 WHIP. 1.68 K:BB ratio. Over 10 hits per nine innings. Almost six walks per nine. And compare that to 2009? Complete turn-around. If you factor out Godfrey's three miserable appearances in Tri-City in '09, he posted a 1.88 ERA/1.02 WHIP. 33K:8BB. His BAA dropped from .278 in 2008, to .218 in 2009. So we'll see what happens in 2010, but I like 2009 Kyle Godfrey way more than 2008 Kyle Godfrey.

What went right?

Groundballs. His groundout-flyout ratio was 3.21:1 in Lexington, and a 4.25:1 ratio in seven games in July (2.73 in August).

What went wrong?

Not a lot, but if we have to pick something, it would be RISP. In 8IP with RISP, his GO:FO ratio dropped to 1.80, and he allowed 5ER, with a .231 BAA. Still, a 5.643 ERA with RISP is not much to get concerned about.

Lexington Legends: Brad Dydalewicz

Brad Dydalewicz
How did he get here?: Drafted, 8th Round (2008)
Stats: 6'1", 180 lbs, Throws: Left
Age as of April 1, 2010: 20

Dydalewicz (whose name I have now CTRL-Cd, because CTRL-Ving is way easier than spelling it out), with the departure of Robert Bono, was tied for the team lead with Seaton and Greenwalt for wins, going 8-5 for Lexington in 2009.

2009 Overview


Career (2008-09)


Since Dydalewicz only threw 10IP (making his professional debut on August 4, 2008), there's not a lot to compare from 2008 to 2009. Still, the Astros saw enough to push Dydalewicz over Tri-City, going from Greeneville to Lexington.

What happened?

It was a tale of two halves for Dydalewicz - pre-All-Star Game, and post-ASG. Pre-ASG? 4-1, 2.59 ERA/1.14 WHIP, .199 BAA. Post-ASG: 4-4, 4.74 ERA/1.42 WHIP, .234 BAA. And specifically, it was April and May where Dydalewicz was the most dominant, going 3-0, with two earned runs in his first 28.1IP.

What went right?

Batting Average Against. With a .221 BAA and low-ish strikeout rate, Dydalewicz pitched somewhat to contact, but with a 1.72 groundout-flyout ratio, was able to keep the ball on the ground. Allowing six home runs all year, five of those were solo shots.

What went wrong?

Walks. Among Legends pitchers with 20+ starts, Dydalewicz handily held the team lead in walks with 51. Next highest was Ross Seaton, with 12 fewer walks in 26.2 more IP. So if Dydalewicz can lower those walks, and keep that BAA down, he should be able to take that Next Level jump.

FanGraphs tries to answer questions about Manzella

In FanGraphs' new post answering, "Who is Tommy Manzella?" there are a lot of "apparently"s, and even a "wickedly mediocre." Too out of context for you? Regard:

For years now, Manzella has been named by Baseball America as the Astros’ best defensive infielder. Evidently he can pick the ball. Even so, BA has yet to rank Manzella in the Astros’ top 10. That’s a bit of a problem, because the Astros’ system is not one that you would call "deep"...maybe all the disrespect stemmed from Manzella’s wickedly mediocre offensive game...

...Manzella turns 27 in mid-April. Unless he’s Adam Everett with the glove or goes through a Ben Zobrist transformation (Zobrist was an on-base machine throughout the minors though, mind you) he’s a utility player at best.

Then, like many a writer before, the article closes with a little shot at Brandon Lyon.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Lexington Legends: David Duncan

David Duncan
How did he get here?: Drafted, 5th Round (2008)
Stats: 6'9", 230 lbs, Throws: Left
Age as of April 1, 2010: 23

Man. David Duncan was all over the place, pitching for three of the Astros' minor-league affiliates: Tri-City, Lexington, and Lancaster. He started the season in Lancaster, went 0-9 in 10 starts with an 8.51 ERA, and was sent to figure out what the heck was going on - which he did, presumably, over 13 starts between Tri-City and Lexington.

2009 Overview - all three levels


Career (2008-09)


What happened?

Duncan performed well once he got out of the Coors Light (see what I did there?), posting WHIPs of 0.98 and 1.34 at Tri-City and Lexington, respectively. Everything got better for Duncan upon leaving the Cali League: K/9, BB/9, H/9. So whether Duncan repeats at Lexington before jumping to Corpus, or they throw him and his self-confidence to the wolves remains to be seen.

What went right?

K:BB ratio. Even at his season's worst - in Lancaster - Duncan walked 3.1 batters per nine innings, and had almost a 2:1 K:BB ratio, while his career K:BB ratio sits at a nice 3.87:1. He has walked 38 batters in 181 career innings.

What went wrong?

Hard to say. Maybe having Duncan jump from Tri-City in 2008, where he posted a 4.88 ERA/1.25 WHIP in 55.1 career IP, straight to Lancaster. Regarless, it took the Astros 48.2 rough innings in Lancaster to realize he was in over his 6'9" head. Maybe a repeat at Lexington before jumping past the California League wouldn't be the worst thing.

Josh Banks is getting ready

The Baltimore Sun has a nice little profile on Astros invitee Josh Banks, whose career can be attributed to a high school coach:

He was good enough to star in Maryland baseball, but McCandless, having higher aspirations for him, brought in a pitching specialist, veteran Anne Arundel coach Clayton Jacobsen, to work with Banks.

In his new charge, Jacobsen saw a thoughtful young man with rare ability but, like most pitchers that age, poor mechanics. He taught Banks a more vertical arm slot and a curveball less reliant on wrist motion.

Like many a prodigy, Banks pleased his tutor but daunted him, too.

"Josh is a great listener," Jacobsen says. "He'd take whatever you taught him and came back the next day, having mastered it. He was an obsessive. I thought, 'I'd better not tell him anything wrong.'"

And Banks learned from a good one: Greg Maddux.

It was Maddux who made the deepest impression. The bespectacled four-time Cy Young Award winner, who was funnier in person than Banks expected, grilled the newcomer on his pitching. He spoke of how strategy on the mound should change as the pitch count changes. He even offered nuggets of advice.

"He said if you throw down and away 95 percent of the time, you'll win 15 games a year," Banks says. "He also said it's a myth that you have to come inside [throw in on a battter to get him away from the plate] to keep hitters honest. I don't know if I can make that work. He sure did. He won 355 games. At the time, I had two."

And he taught himself a hard knuckler:
"It's not like the kind you associate with Tim Wakefield. It's harder, and it drops a couple of feet. I use it when I'm in a jam."

Lexington Legends: Brandon Wikoff

Brandon Wikoff
How did he get here?: Drafted, 5th Round (2009)
Stats: 5'9", 170 lbs, Bats/Throws: L/R
Age as of April 1, 2010: 21 (22 on April 5)

Shortstop Brandon Wikoff was the fastest-rising product of the 2009 draft class, reaching Lexington on July 27, after hitting .287/.357/.347 in 28 games at Tri-City.

2009 Overview - both Tri-City and Lexington


What happened?

Wikoff is setting himself up to be a pretty decent role player in the lineup. He doesn't hit for power, but he does put the ball in play, and by all accounts, can bunt like the Dickens (which is good, if you're wondering). Wikoff just doesn't strikeout often, consistently making contact. He also has a pretty slick glove - making nine errors in 323 chances, for a .972 Fld%.

What went right?

Away games. In 84 ABs (because the only splits listed are for Lexington) on the road, Wikoff hit .321/.374/.369, with 13 of his 17 RBI for the Legends. Compare that to a .222/.250/.250 line in 72 home ABs.

What went wrong?

RISP. In 50 ABs with RISP, Wikoff hit .260/.283/.300 for a .583 OPS. It's a limited sample size, but we had to pick something. Wikoff may start at Lancaster in 2010.

Lexington Legends: Reinaldo Pestana

Reinaldo Pestana
How did he get here?: Signed, March 2004
Stats: 6'1", 180 lbs, Bats/Throws: R/R
Age as of April 1, 2010: 22

It's the return of In Review, although from here out will be an abridged version, one that doesn't take as much time to produce, so that we can try to get through the minors before the season starts.

Pestana only apppeared in 34 games, logging just 99 ABs, so we'll have to take this for what it is.

2009 Overview


Career Overview


What happened?

Well, Pestana just didn't get a whole lot of playing time, which has been the case throughout his five season career in the Astros' organization. In those five seasons, Pestana has played in just 161 games, posting a career .189/.246/.252 line.

What went right?

Not a whole lot, but the split in which Pestana fared the best was vs. LHP, hitting .240/.345/.360 in 25 ABs. We can also note that Pestana threw out 12 of 31 baserunners, for a 39% caught-stealing rate.

What went wrong?

August. When Pestana saw the most action of the season - 19 games/58 ABs - he hit .155/.197/.155.