Friday, January 7, 2011

McTaggart's Projected Opening Day roster

Brian McTaggart takes a shot at predicting the Opening Day roster.

Notable among the selections is Ryan Rowland-Smith as SP5.

Baseball America's Astros Prospect Rundown

So! Baseball America posted their breakdown of Eddie's Farm. It's well worth your read, but here's how they see the Astros' Top 10:

1. Jordan Lyles
2. Delino DeShields
3. Jonathan Villar
4. Mike Foltynewicz
5. Jiovanni Mier
6. J.D. Martinez
7. Jimmy Paredes
8. Tanner Bushue
9. Austin Wates
10. Ariel Ovando

There are the usual rankings of best pitches, tools, etc, and here's your money quote:

The Astros still have much more work to do with their farm system, which Baseball America ranks as the 26th-best in the game, and the major league club, which has had three losing seasons in the last four years after only one sub-.500 record in the previous 15. A rotation built around veterans Brett Myers and Wandy Rodriguez and younger arms Happ and Bud Norris holds promise, but the bullpen needs help and the offense ranked 28th in the majors in scoring and 29th in home runs last year.

Now. We have never been in the business of trying to project players (mainly because we haven't seen them), aside from looking at statistical evidence. And even in that role, we don't feel qualified to make any hard decisions. But that can't stop us from listing a few players we really like, and want to keep an eye on. So allow us to provide a supplementary list of prospects for your perusing pleasure (in no particular order):

A) Dallas Keuchel
B) Grant Hogue
C) Jack Shuck
D) Ben Heath
E) Jose Altuve
F) Luis Cruz
G) Bryce Lane

Thursday, January 6, 2011

G1: Astros @ Phillies to be televised

Brian McTaggart has a friendly tip that G1: Astros @ Phillies will be televised on April 1 at 12pm. It's your first chance to see Halladay throw a no-hitter in 2011!

Looks like the Astros are going to have to pay Keppinger

So for all the talk of Jeff Keppinger getting traded, those ideas changed today as Keppinger is going to need surgery on his foot, and will likely miss the beginning of the regular season.

Keppinger spent two weeks on the disabled list late last year with left big toe sesamoiditis, which is an inflammation of two small bones near the ball of the foot. He spent six weeks in a walking boot and told general manager Ed Wade on Wednesday he was beginning to experience discomfort trying to accelerate while walking and jogging.

He'll miss 3-4 months, so if the surgery is scheduled for next week, that puts him back around May.

"Due to the fact he's had this health setback, the opportunity to put him in a situation with another club and get more playing time has gone past the board until it resolves itself. We're hoping he bounces back quickly and gets healthy and everybody else on the club is healthy."

A few thoughts on the Steroid Era

Take a look at the Single-Season leaders in Batting Average. Go ahead, we'll wait. Maybe you're lazy, and don't want to. So allow us to do some copying and pasting:

1. Hugh Duffy - .440 - 1894
2. Tip O'Neill - .435 - 1887
3. Ross Barnes - .429 - 1876
4. Nap Lajoie - .427 - 1901
5. Willie Keeler - .424 - 1897
6. Rogers Hornsby - .424 - 1924
7. George Sisler - .420 - 1922
8. Ty Cobb - .420 - 1911
9. Tuck Turner - .418 - 1894
10. Sam Thompson - .415 - 1894

Of the top 10 highest batting averages recorded in a single season, six of them came before 1900, and eight of them before 1920. What is your initial reaction? Something along the lines of, "Yeah, but that was the Dead Ball Era?"

It's widely accepted to be a unique period in baseball history. Of those ten players, seven are in the Hall of Fame (Tip O'Neill, Ross Barnes, and Tuck Turner aren't). O'Neill is the only one who would actually be eligible for the Hall of Fame as the other two didn't play ten seasons.

If you're thinking, "The game was just different back then," you would be absolutely correct. If you are a proponent of the Hall of Fame and what it stands for, then you look at the above numbers and qualify it for what it is - an era in history which took on a different dimension, and has since evolved.

We don't study world history and think, "21st century civilization is bullcrap, because they all had FourSquare and Twitter and whatnot. Telegraphs: That's when civilization was pure."

Another table, if you will, and I bet you can guess what it represents:

1. Barry Bonds - 73 - 2001
2. Mark McGwire - 70 - 1998
3. Sammy Sosa - 66 - 1998
4. Mark McGwire - 65 - 1999
5. Sammy Sosa - 64 - 2001
6. Sammy Sosa - 63 - 1999
7. Roger Maris - 61 - 1961
8. Babe Ruth - 60 - 1927
9. Babe Ruth - 59 - 1921
10. Jimmie Foxx (and Hank Greenberg, Ryan Howard, and Mark McGwire) - 58 - 1932, 1938, 2006, 1997

Yes, seven of the ten seasons with the most home runs came within a five-year span (1997-2001). So, it's been labeled the Steroid Era. But does it not just mean that the game took on a different dimension from those that came before it? Does the availability of technology (medicinal and otherwise) change the fact that 1994-2004(-ish) was a different time in the game?

Or is it because, this time, writers are accountable for their own actions? Bernie Miklasz has an excellent column today in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. An excerpt:

We're many of the same voters who looked the other way and glorified McGwire — godded him up, really — when he was filling those stadiums, creating excitement and selling extra newspaper copies in the late 1990s. The struggling print-news industry needed a boost, and McGwire was our performance-enhancing story. His muscle drove home runs and single-copy sales.

And what proud, card-carrying member of the BBWAA wants to be reminded of that now? We've found religion on the steroids issue, and it is never too late to convert.

That's a remarkable piece of accountability and journalism.

Had the Steroid Era happened (if you don't count amphetamines) in the late 1800s, how many of the BBWAA would be writing "If Ring Lardner had any balls at all, then he would have..." articles?

At our favorite Phillies blog, Crashburn Alley, they have a post on boycotting the Hall of Fame, and it's a poignant and interesting read. But I still can't see holding the Hall of Fame responsible for how the voters choose their candidates. Think of it in terms of American Idol. That show sucks, and I haven't watched it in years, because people are - collectively - stupid ("One of us is not as dumb as all of us" mentality) . If, in your mind, the Hall of Fame should become like American Idol, it's certainly your prerogative.

We just shouldn't be so shocked that the BBWAA is collectively ignorant (you know how hard it is to get 75% of 581 people to agree on anything?), and to take it out on the institution that has nothing to do with how the BBWAA votes (aside from refraining to guide their choices) and makes the voters figure out for themselves who best represents the era - whether that era encompasses using rolled up socks for a ball, or performance-enhancing drugs - isn't fair.

The Steroid Era doesn't need an asterisk. It's a walking asterisk, just like the Dead Ball Era.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

And from Bagwell himself

Click to read Alyson Footer's post on the Bagwell press conference, but you can tell from the pull that he still knows how to get in that batting stance:

On whether or not he finds the suspicion of PEDs offensive?:
"Not one bit. Someone from Toronto's obviously not going to know a thing about me. That's going to happen in this era. The suspicion is ridiculous...just because I worked out? I mean, come on. But it doesn't bother me. I knew this was going to happen. Whatever happens, happens."

Reaction to Bagwell's HOF voting

So let's do a little Twitter round-up of the reaction to Bagwell's 41.7% showing:

Brian McTaggart (quoting Brad Ausmus):
"I think he'll get in eventually and I think he deserves to get in."

Buster Olney:
Jeff Bagwell's vote percentage is stunningly low for someone who clearly has Hall of Fame numbers -- but tied to no evidence of PED use.

Zach Levine:
Bagwell total should rise next year. Saw with Alomar what a huge number of first-ballot "protectionists" there still are.

Alyson Footer:
Disappointing day for Astros fans, but not terribly surprising. A 41% showing in first year is very, very encouraging.

Bagwell will resume his candidacy in 2012

Congratulations to Roberto Alomar and Bert Blyleven for their election to the Hall of fame.

Our boy Bagwell got 41.7% of the vote - the highest for a first-ballot showing since last year, when Alomar got over 73% - and UPDATE Barry Larkin, who got 51.6% of the vote in 2010.

Other than Alomar (and Larkin), Bagwell has the highest percentage since Ryne Sandberg, with 49.2% (in 2003), of eligible candidates who did not get in on their first ballot.

Every first-ballot candidate since 1993 who received over 40% (Sandberg, Fisk, Carter, Sutton, Niekro) got in - except for Steve Garvey, who received 41.6% of the vote and had his 15 years (peaking on his 3rd ballot in 1995 with 42.6%) before falling off the ballot, and is waiting on the Veterans Committee, I suppose. Larkin saw an 11% bump in voting in this, his second year on the ballot.


The Astros made some moves over the last couple of weeks, according to Baseball America. Here are the ones that involve new information:

-Signed LHP Xavier Cedeno

Xavier Cedeno will be 25 in August, and has spent his entire career in the Rockies' system (drafted in the 31st Round of the 2004 draft). Cedeno didn't play in 2010, after being moved to the bullpen in 2009. In 47 appearances at Double-A, Cedeno has thrown 149.2IP, 172H/72ER, 77K:59BB, with a 4.56 ERA/1.54 WHIP.

This winter, he's playing in the Puerto Rican Winter League, has made seven starts (12 appearances), and posted 32H/11ER, 31K:13BB (2.32 ERA/1.05 WHIP) for Carolina.

-Released RHP Leandro Cespedes, LHP Chris Blazek, LHP Angel Gonzalez, C Carlos Mojica, 2B German Duran, 2B Pedro Feliz.

Cespedes spent the majority of 2010 in Lancaster. Chris Blazek was suspended for something in 2010 after his return to Tri-City after being drafted in 2005. The other notable name on the list is German Duran, who was picked off waivers by the Astros in July 2009 from the Rangers. Ken Rosenthal at the time thought that Duran could figure into a utility role for the Astros long-term. I guess not.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Tyler Kepner = New Hero

Tyler Kepner's NY Times article is well-worth a read. Your money quote:

Maybe Jeff Bagwell took steroids, maybe not. Bagwell played most of his career before testing, but so did everybody else who has ever appeared on a Hall of Fame ballot.

As far as I can tell, the only thing Bagwell is guilty of is playing in an era when his union fought against cleaning up the game. The legacy of that shameful stance is that baseless suspicion may now keep some deserving players, like Bagwell, out of the Hall of Fame.

Jayson Stark perpetuates the oh-so-vicious cycle

Jayson Stark's new column on ESPN has a high Whining Rate about the madness of voting for inductees into the Hall of Fame (to his credit, he does vote in Bagwell):

Now, the performance-enhancing-drug disaster has officially crashed into the laps of those of us who vote this way. We live in an age when nobody who has been connected with, or even suspected of, PED use is getting elected. And if my fellow voters want to take that stand, that's their right.

But if the people in Cooperstown, the people who run the Hall of Fame, want to continue to sit back and avoid taking any stand on this issue for the rest of time, they'd better understand what that means.

Are they fans of empty podiums? Are they worried about holding induction days with no inductees to honor? Are they prepared to start throwing players out of the Hall of Fame -- players who may be linked to PED use after they've gotten elected?

All those possibilities hover over Hall of Fame voting for the next quarter century unless the folks in Cooperstown figure out how they want to deal with the mess that the steroids era is about to make of their heretofore-hallowed institution.

I hope they're wise enough to see where this is leading. I hope they're enlightened enough to take some sort of stand. But in the meantime, for voters like me, the PED nightmare is only making a mess of my ballot.

Can we stop and dab a tear at our leg for Stark? First of all, the Hall of Fame has nothing to do with the actual election of the eligible nominees. Take this quote from Hall of Fame President Jeff Idelson:

"We don't elect. We induct. It's really a question for the voters."

This was in reference to the Barry Bonds exhibit in 2007. Nobody from the Hall of Fame pressures a voter. Nobody from the Hall of Fame has a vote. Would the Hall of Fame like there to be an Induction every year? Absolutely. Having just been to Cooperstown, I can't imagine what NOT having an Induction would do to the local economy. But to pass the problem of how you're going to vote off to the Hall of Fame is the same kind of "Don't-want-to-be-responsible" thinking that led the reporters and voters to this point in the first place.

Everybody contributed to the mess that is your ballot, Stark. It's not anybody else's problem, anymore. You got into this business to have the last word, so stand up and have the last word. Don't blame the Hall of Fame - who might have the least to do with the "steroid problem" in baseball - for messing up your morals and ideals. Those should have been sorted out a long time ago.

ESPN Ballot looks shaky for Bagwell

Credit Zach Levine with the link first, but ESPN asked 18 of their BBWAA voting members to show their ballot.

Bagwell got eight of the 18 votes with: Jim Caple, Jerry Crasnick, Gordon Edes, Tim Kurkjian, Buster Olney, Brendan Roberts, Adam Rubin, and Jayson Stark voting for him.

Yep, the Astros are pretty much done with these "roster moves"

McTaggart has an article from last night in which Ed Wade is apparently ready to roll the dice with what he's got.

"At this point, we're pretty much in the mode of just getting ready for Spring Training. We've got arbitration issues we continue to deal with, and we'll continue to pay attention to other opportunities to improve that might present themselves, but by and large we're anxious to get to Spring Training and see where we are."

And then Wade calls out the likes of the Astros:
"But this year is going to be about guys hitting their marks. That means veteran players hitting their production in the past or younger guys building on numbers they produced a year ago.

"There's no reason to believe that's not going to happen."

Monday, January 3, 2011

The Astros County Power Rankings: January 3

Here's a little something we'll be doing throughout Spring Training and the season: rather than going with a traditional Power Ranking post every Monday morning, we're going to rank the Astros on a 1-25 system, with a pithy little blurb after each name. Will it be lusciously flawed like Megan Fox? Yes! Will it piss you off? Perhaps! Let's get going on this first Monday of 2011, and not do it again until Spring Training starts...

#1: Brett Myers

Can Myers improve on his 2010 as the ace of the staff? The key to an interesting August depends on it!

#2: Hunter Pence

Pence will have to step up and fill the offensive shoes of Carlos Lee, whom you won't see on this list until much, much later...

#3: Wandy Rodriguez

Which Wandy shows up in 2011? Early 2010 Wandy, who sucked and almost got traded, or Late 2010 Wandy, who was pretty dad gum great?

#4: Michael Bourn

Bourn has the defensive prowess and speed on the basepaths, but who gets to first base first: Bourn, or a 6th-grade tuba player on a band trip?

#5: Chris Johnson

I don't think any of us are expecting Johnson to hit .340 through 2011, but if he can hit within 60 points of it (on either side), we'll be happy.

#6: J.A. Happ

Showed up in the second half and provided solid, solid work. If he's that solid again (and everything goes right with Myers and Wandy), the Astros could have a solid core of 30-year old pitchers, peaking three years too late.

#7: Brandon Lyon

With the CL1 all his, will Lyon keep pitching like his role depended on it?

#8: Bud Norris

Will 2011 be the year that Norris comes into his own, and allows you to stop wondering if he'll walk, or strikeout, ten batters?

#9: Bill Hall

Ed Wade is betting Hall can provide some pop to the middle infield. Hitting 18HR last year, the most since hitting 35 in 2006, will certainly help...if he can stay healthy.

#10: Wilton Lopez

Should take over the 8th-inning if he can continue to dominate his command (5BB in 67IP in 2010).

#11: Clint Barmes

Sure, he's an offensive upgrade over Manzella, but is he worth the price?

#12: Brian Bogusevic

Two years ago, would you have imagined some fans clamoring for Bogusevic over $18.5m Carlos Lee?

#13: Fernando Abad

Had a decent showing in a handful of 2010 outings, and could feature in the SP5 spot.

#14: Brett Wallace

The Big Question Mark going into 2011. How his Spring Training goes depends on whether Bogusevic becomes an everyday player, and Carlos Lee becomes 1B1.

#15: Nelson Figueroa

Did alright as the 80-year old spot-starter/long relief guy in 2010, and could also figure in to the SP5 spot in 2011.

#16: Jason Castro

Buster Posey he's not (yet, anyway). How much patience will the Astros have with Castro?

#17: Wesley Wright

Once the Astros decide if he's going to be a starter or reliever, we'll be able to tell what kind of player he is.

#18: Angel Sanchez

Filled in admirably through Manzella's injury, but just doesn't have any pop.

#19: Carlos Lee

Lee's stock is waaay down, but he can't be moved thanks to that contract.

#20: Jason Michaels

He's good for a Ruthian week every season, and as a defensive replacement.

#21: Humberto Quintero

Established himself as Myers' personal catcher, but can't get on-base, or hit for power.

#22: Jeff Keppinger

The Astros have pretty much sunk Keppinger to this point, with talks with the Yankees breaking off at some point, Keppinger is looking up at playing time.

#23: Jason Bourgeois

Thought he might be able to do a little more at the plate, but just might spend 2011 in Oklahoma City.

#24: Jeff Fulchino

Injuries helped Fulchino take a step back in 2010 after a strong 2009.

#25: Tommy Manzella

Sucks to be here, but the Astros haven't done him many favors.

Bagwell's total = 35%?

Jay Jaffe at The Hardball Times has updated projections for Wednesday's Hall of Fame announcement, with Bagwell projecting to 35% of the ballots.

Bagwell's the best candidate of the new crowd, but he has no chance to go in this year. Forget steroid gossip. It's just hard to go in the first year period. It's the nature of the process: over 500 people tallying their ballots individually and then mailing them in. The guys who make it in their first year need a special hook. It could be a big, glossy number: 3,000 hits, 300 wins, 500 homers. It could be a special distinction: best defensive shortstop ever, the ultimate closer, but they need some special hook to separate them from the "average" great candidate. You need something so that you could look at the guy for three seconds and decide he belongs.

Bagwell lacks that hook. He's the modern-day Johnny Mize: he could hit, slug, and draw walks, but he missed all the magic markers, and his career was too short. Bagwell's numbers were better because there was no WWII, and so he'll do better than Mize (who got into Cooperstown via the VC), but he lacks that hook.

Bagwell's candidacy reminds me a bit of Ryne Sandberg and Barry Larkin. They're not similar players, but both were clear Hall of Famers who got nowhere near 75 percent in their first go-around. Instead, they each finished at around 50 percent. If it wasn't for steroids, I'd put the over/under for Bagwell this year at 50 percent. Maybe a little higher, but around there. Toss in evidence-free steroid suspicion, and I have to mark him down a bit.

The good news for Bagwell fans: only twice has anyone debuted as well as I'm predicting for Bagwell and not subsequently made it into Cooperstown. One was Lee Smith, who is not only still on the ballot, but as a reliever the BBWAA doesn't know as much how to handle him. The other is Steve Garvey. They are the only ones to debut higher than 31 percent of the vote and not get in. (Next highest is Luis Tiant at 30.9 percent, then Maury Wills at 30.3 percent, and both of them could be eventual VC picks.)

What say you?

Statistical Look at Myers' 2010 has a little article on what Myers' 2010 meant to the history books.

Baseball's Morality Police

Craig Calcattera at Hardball Talk has an excellent response to the LA Times' Ross Newhan's view of the role of the Hall of Fame voter:

“Somebody said we are not the morality police, but yet I think we are. If we aren’t, who is? Part of our job is that we are custodians of the game’s history.”

The Hall of Fame is not heaven, my fellow baseball writers, you are not St. Peter at the gate, and no one — not even Jose Canseco — has written baseball’s book of life. Have a sense of humility about you. Understand that your role is not to be baseball’s moral arbiters, writ-large. You are to look at one player at a time and judge him accordingly. If you have nothing negative to say about him, and if his accomplishments are sufficient, vote him in.