Friday, January 14, 2011

AstroBrit brings the noise

If you follow Astros County on Twitter, you know that we engage in polite and lively discourse with Our Man Across the Pond, AstroBrit. He has quite the Astros blog, and his post today is a great companion read to Royal's post today about Jeff Pearlman.

Meat Wagon Updates

Zach Levine has a new post in which he addresses a couple of players who need the Florence Nightengale treatment (and not "Syphilis" - turns out she never had syphilis. Yet I digress.)

*Jose Vallejo, who was on the wrong end of a kitchen knife, is trying to get back to pre-sliced form (see what I did there?)

*Chia-Jen Lo is "a little behind" after a UCL injury.

*Alberto Arias should be ready for Spring Training after his shoulder cleaning.

Appy Astros interviews Altuve

Hey! There's a good interview over at Appy Astros with lil' Jose Altuve.

Did the Chronicle kill a story on steroids and the Astros?

John Royal takes Jeff Pearlman, everybody's favorite SI writer, to task in a post today at the Houston Press.

It's a good read on how Pearlman doesn't have much to go on with his Biggio/Bagwell + PED allegations, but there's an interesting quote from former Chronicle Sports Editor Fred Faour (in Pearlman's Clemens book, "The Rocket That Fell to Earth.")

"I had [an Astros steroid probe] all planned. We all had suspicions about Roger and some other guys, and we did a lot of digging. But that kind of thing takes a lot of time and costs a lot of money. I had an investigative reporter I had planned on hiring just for the task, but I was not allowed to bring him in."

"There was no commitment from management to go after it. So we let it die. If the players wanted to live a lie, we wouldn't stand in their way."

Now, granted, had I read Pearlman's book - which I have not done, though not for any reason - this quote would have been the subject of a post far earlier.

Royal, with your money quote:
So because the Houston Chronicle was too cheap to do any investigative work, Pearlman had nothing to glom off of regarding Bagwell and Biggio. Thus he just makes allegations without backing up anything. And because the Chron was too cheap, the reputations of guys like Bagwell and Biggio can continue to be besmirched.

Oh great, Berkman's on a mission

Last night, over a couple of adult beverages, a couple of friends of mine (one a Cardinals fan, the other a Yankees fan) talked about Lance Berkman - strangely enough we three represented the last - and only - three teams of Berkman's career.

I said that Berkman was going to have a great year, for three reasons:

1. He's healthy for the first time in a while.
2. He'll be playing on a team that will contend for the postseason.
3. He's going to want to stick it to the Astros.

And then Joe Strauss of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch went and published this huge article on Berkman. And I think I'm right.

Anyhow, on the wooing of Lance Berkman:
La Russa lobbied the five-time All-Star at least twice over the phone while explaining a desire to return Berkman to the outfield. Berkman rejected the Cardinals' initial $4 million offer as the Oakland Athletics, Texas Rangers and Chicago Cubs circled. Berkman remained in touch with Adam Wainwright, whom he and Cara had befriended during a pair of faith-based retreats for athletes.

Shortly after Berkman told Wainwright of the Cubs' interest in him as Derrek Lee's successor at first base, Mozeliak called with an enhanced, $7.5 million offer. By that time Cubs general manager Jim Hendry was en route to Houston for dinner with Berkman. Sensing Hendry might be prepared to offer as much as $10 million, Berkman told the Cardinals he would commit for $8 million with no incentives attached. When Cardinals chairman Bill DeWitt Jr. signed off on a second modified offer, the two-day negotiation was finalized.

Hendry still dined with Berkman but returned empty-handed to Chicago.

Berkman, who validates my Position #3:
"Circumstances had to be so bizarre for me to end up where I am: We had to be a bad team. I had to be doing really poorly, which forced them into not picking up my option. I had a really bad year with a relatively new GM who doesn't have attachment to the old guard. Once they cut me loose I think they washed their hands of it."

Berkman's wife, who validates Position #1 & #2:
"I hate that so much of people's opinion is based solely on last year. It was such a poor year starting off with surgery. That was the root of it. Then when you're on a team that's bad and you're expected to lift the team up … I just don't think it was a fair year."

Get ready, because I think Berkman is going to go off this year.

Is Justice talking about a different Carlos Lee?

What in the world is going on here?

Mills might not be able to count on Carlos showing up early or being the take-charge guy in the clubhouse. But he can count on him hitting. When the Astros evaluate their questions about the 2011 season, Lee is way down the list.

Now just hold on a gosh-darn minute. There are indications that Carlos Lee will bounce back, as the Crawfish Boxes recently pointed out. The .238 BABIP alone should tell you that his average should come up. But that's a big "should."

If you take a gander at Carlos Lee's ISO (in which you subtract BA from SLG), measuring isolated power, he has a career ISO of .208. But in 2009, it was .189, and last year, it was .170. He's hitting more groundballs (38.5% in 2010, compared to a 36.2% career GB average). 9.5% of his flyballs resulted in home runs, down from a career 12.9% (and that was 10.5% in 2009).

Furthermore, in looking at his plate discipline (captip: FanGraphs - linked above), Lee took a hack at 34.5% of pitches outside the strike zone, far higher than his 24.4% career percentage (and over 10% higher than 2009), and took a swing at half the pitches thrown to him (seriously, exactly 50%), his highest rate since 2007. He made contact on the same rate as he did in 2009 - 87.8%. While the results of 2010 may indicate bad luck, it also may just indicate that he's losing his power, and doesn't hit the ball as hard as he once did.

Regardless, while you can probably count on Carlos Lee returning to previous form in 2011, it's far from a sure thing.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Astros release Rorabaugh and Kemp

According to Baseball America, the Astros have released pitcher Phil Rorabaugh and OF Brian Kemp.

Rorabaugh was an undrafted free agent who signed shortly after the 2009 draft.

Kemp was the 19th Round pick in 2009, and hit .226/.323/.268 for Lexington in 2010.

Of all the players they could have spent a week profiling

Somehow NESN chose to spend five days profiling Dan Wheeler.

Just how much interest is being shown in the Astros?

Here's a quote from Zach Levine's article on the progress of the sale of the Astros, from Steve Greenberg, in charge of the investment firm handling the sale:

"We're pleased with the level of interest that's been expressed to this point."

And Tom Kirkendall tweeted a sentiment this morning that perfectly sums up our reaction:

Does the Chron think that McLane's investment bankers would ever say publicly that the sale of the Stros is going badly?

Exactly. Nobody would say, "Yeah, this kind of sucks. We've been offered $20, a stack of legal pads, and a roll of 32-cent stamps for the Astros. We'll never sell this team, unless ol' Drayton lowers his asking price by, say, $300 million."

The Hardball Times' Top 10 Prospect List

The fellas over at The Hardball Times listed their Top 10 prospects for 2011, with a pull from their summation (click the link for the full article):

1. Jordan Lyles - He has a chance to be the next Oswalt-level Houston hurler.
2. Jiovanni Mier - He is still one of my favorite players in the minor leagues but needs to bounce back.
3. Delino DeShields - I like him but don't love him.
4. Mike Foltynewicz - The tools are likable, but there is so much to prove.
5. Tanner Bushue - His curveball has shown promise, but his overall command has been inconsistent.
6. Jonathan Villar - Villar's strikeout rate and fielding percentage don't inspire much confidence, but he is 19 years old, has some speed to work with, and a nice line-drive swing.
7. Jimmy Paredes - Whether or not his power develops could be his make-or-break factor.
8. Austin Wates - Some say his power could take off, while others think his plate discipline could separate him.
9. J.D. Martinez - His displayed home run power is pushing Martinez up prospect boards, but his flat swing makes me think it won't show at higher levels.
10. Jay Austin - Austin has game changing speed, but his strikeout-to-walk ratio isn't doing him any favors.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

10 Non-Roster Invitees

So the Chronicle has a list of non-roster invitees who will be attending Big League Spring Training:

Those Ten are:
P Jordan Lyles
P Pat Urckfitz
C Rene Garcia
1B Koby Clemens
SS Jiovanni Mier
OF Jon Gaston
OF Drew Locke
OF J.D. Martinez
OF Jack Shuck
OF T.J. Steele

What might strike you is the presence of SS Jiovanni Mier, the Astros 1st pick in the 2009 draft. Well, don't you worry. Zach Levine says that Mier is in Big League Camp because of contract stipulations. So all you Jose Altuve enthusiasts need not worry, for the moment.

“It gives these kids the chance to come in and see what the atmosphere is like on the big league side. And it gives Millsie and the coaches the chance to see some of the guys we talk about a lot. And frankly, it allows us to show that we’re making progress in player development.”

Exactly. Because he knows we'll be covering each Spring Training game like our lives depend on it.

Hey! We're the 4th most-miserable team in baseball!

Jim Caple updated his Misery Index, and saw the Astros jump from 9th to 4th!

4. Houston Astros (9): Houston is a good case study for the nuances of the Misery Index. As Red Sox fans can -- and unfortunately will -- explain at great length, reaching the World Series doesn't necessarily reduce misery if you don't win. Sure enough, Houston finally reached the World Series for the first time in 2005, something that probably would have satisfied Cubs fans until Chicago finally ran out of B-list celebrities to sing "Take Me Out to the Ballgame." But the Astros got swept in that series, losing two games by one run (including a 1-0 clincher) and a third in 14 innings (Geoff Blum!!!!). The Astros haven't been to the World Series since while going through four managers and losing Biggio and Bagwell to retirement. So that, plus the success of other teams which lowered their misery numbers, means Houston's Misery Index rank actually went up, just like beer prices.

Historic despair: 6. Recent despair: 4. Historic pain: 9. Recent pain: 6. Intangible misery: 8. Misery outlook: 5.5. Misery index: 38.5.

Deputy Street: Defender of the Astros

Over at Spikes N' Stars, they were kind enough to link to the Pearlman post, in which he accuses Bagwell, Biggio, Tal Smith, Pam Gardner, Junction Jack, and Alyson Footer of all having injected each other with performance-enhancing drugs outside of the Bennigan's on Kirby and 610.

Deputy Street, unlike The Constable (or any of us), actually tried to talk to Pearlman. From the linked thread:

In Pearlman's defense re: my 'Twitter Offensive,' he did give me his email address for me to pose questions to him, and responded promptly when I wrote to him. However, he conditioned a defense of his comments on my agreement not to repeat the information that he provided me with. When I explained that I would not be willing to do so and why, he politely withdrew his offer to back up his statements.

The Twitter Offensive was epic (really, read through his feed). But there are a couple of things to note about this:

1. Why would Pearlman ever agree to share that sort of information based on the promise of a guy he doesn't know?

2. This means that Deputy Street is one of the most stand-up guys you'll ever meet. I would have agreed, and then blasted that crap all over Astros County faster than you can count Jason Smith's hits in 2009. (It's zero, if you were wondering).

3. If Pearlman has backup - or some sort of defense - why has he not come forward with it? As one SnS commenter noted, does it get into slander and libel? And why is it not slander or libel now (something actually kind of answered in the thread).

4. So two things to take away from this: Pearlman seems to have something - even if it's simply hearsay - on Bagwell and Biggio, but doesn't trust it enough to come out with it. And Deputy Street is one of the most honest guys you'll meet.

The Verducci Effect - 2009 to 2010

This is something that has been examined before, by us, and just about every other baseball blog (including today at It's About the Money, Stupid). For those unfamiliar, the Verducci Effect is a way to red-flag pitchers 25 years old (and younger) whose innings total saw a jump of 30 innings from year to year. Let's have us a look at the minor-league system and see who fits for the Astros. (We won't look at players drafted in 2009. I'm not going back to everybody's college stats and adding that up. This also doesn't include AFL stats.)

Del Rosario200980.1201074-5.2
S. Perez2009142.12010107-35.1

That's seven pitchers 25 or younger (drafted in 2008 or before) who saw a 30IP jump from 2009 to 2010. Of those pitchers:

-Jose Trinidad was placed on the DL in July 2010 and May 2009
-Doug Arguello was shut down with elbow trouble in August 2010 and put on the DL in June 2009.

As IATMS puts it:
It is, by no means, a hard and fast rule and Verducci himself is the first to admit it. But, it bears watching.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

The Astros may actually be coming out ahead in the Great Franchise Swap

Zach Levine has a rather interesting blog post adding up the WAR of the players going back and forth between the Phillies and Astros.

David Carpenter couldn't believe his luck

When David Carpenter found out he was traded, he knew his path to the Bigs got shorter:

"From what some of the guys I spent time with at the end of the season and in the Fall League said, the Astros are a little bit shorthanded in those setup and closer areas. To see that and know that I'm progressing at a fairly good rate right now, pitching in the big leagues is definitely more real than ever. Seeing that goal being very, very reachable makes me want to work even harder and get a chance to get up to Houston as soon as I can."

Jeff Pearlman just won't leave it alone

So. Jeff Pearlman appeared on Mike Silva's podcast (link captip to AstroBrit) and reiterated his stance that Bagwell and, yes, Biggio were PED users:

For the record, Pearlman reiterated his position on Jeff Bagwell saying he was “so certain he used steroids from being around that team, era, and researching his Clemens book.” He would go on to tell me that if Bagwell didn’t use then the “world is flat.”When I asked him if Craig Biggio falls into the same category as Bagwell because he played for Houston, a team that he said earlier in the show was hotbed for PED use, he said yes.

Click the link to hear the podcast.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Astros trade Cartwright for Escalona

According to MLBTR (link later), the Astros have traded Albert Cartwright to the Phillies for pitcher Sergio Escalona. More to come...

So this is strange...

...Not baseball related, but Astros related, in which "the owner of the Houston Astros" is linked to a recent Ponzi scheme. (Though not apparently involved in the Ponzi-ing).