Friday, September 16, 2011

Pence: "Getting to the playoffs is hard"

With all congratulations due to the Phillies and Hunter Pence, this is dubious:

“It's exciting,” acknowledged Pence, who'd joined the Phillies at the trade deadline after an early career with the ever-struggling Astros. “It would be my first opportunity to do that in the big leagues. It's something I am not ever going to take for granted because I realize how difficult it is and how fortunate we all are to be a part of this.”

First of all: "Ever-struggling Astros" ? I know in baseball years, the Astros struggles date back to when Moses descended from Mt. Sinai with two tablets (with six commandments on one tablet, and four on the other, causing great consternation among the Car Salesmen in the crowd). But come on. We're talking about three years of "struggling."

Also, yes, Hunter Pence, it is difficult to get to the postseason. Get traded to the best team in baseball midway through the season, from the worst team in baseball to the best, and then do what you've been doing, but for a team with seven other guys just like you. And maybe the best rotation in baseball history.

Nit-picky? Yes. But that's the level of frustration I have right now.

Altuve, Buchanan named Minor-League players of the year

The Astros gave out a couple of awards yesterday - naming Jose Altuve and Jake Buchanan as their organizational players of the year.

They also named Charley Taylor (GCL pitching coach) the Player Development Man of the Year, and Luis Martinez (DSL manager/coordinator) the International Man of the Year. The latter is a title I would get put on a business card. IMMEDIATELY.

A quick note about last September...

So yesterday it broke that Bagwell's wife Ericka filed for divorce last September. Last October, Bagwell declined the hitting coach role towards the end of October, where he said:

"This was a very difficult decision for me...At this point in time, I'm unable to commit to a full season of putting in the time that is necessary to be effective in that role. But, I do look forward to continuing to work with the Astros."

But in September - around the time Ericka Bagwell filed for divorce - the Astros extended Mills, Arnsberg, Meacham, Pedrique, and Quirk. But not Bagwell. Ed Wade said:

When Jeff accepted the hitting coach's job during the season, he did so with an understanding that we would both have a chance to reassess the situation at season's end. We have clearly stated to Baggy that we want him to continue in the job and he wants to make sure that his family is on board before committing."

So why are we talking about this? For the life of me, I don't know. But we've apparently been sucking it up lately. So here's to you, anonymous.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Bagwell's wife filed for divorce last September

In an updated story on the Michael Brown trial (which resulted in Brown's wife having an affair with then-married Jeff Bagwell), Bagwell's wife Ericka told the Chronicle she filed for divorce in September 2010.

Bagwell announced in October 2010 that he would not return as hitting coach for the 2011 season.

Would you re-sign Clint Barmes?

One of the decisions the Astros will need to make this off-season is whether or not to offer a long(er)-term contract to shortstop Clint Barmes. Would you do it? Let's look.

First of all, Barmes - so far - has hit .249/.323/.395, with a .285 BABIP and a 99 OPS+. He has a .975 Fld%, with the average NL shortstop posting a .971 Fld%. FanGraphs has given him a 3.3 WAR, while Baseball-Reference comes in at 3.2 WAR. His current defensive WAR - at 1.6 - is 4th in the National League. How much would you pay for a shortstop with a solid glove that can do some league-average hitting?

Because FanGraphs puts his value at $14m. He's making just under $4m in 2011, but has his first shot at free agency coming his way in 2012.

Let's keep in mind that Barmes will be 33 on Opening Day 2012 - I wouldn't be interested in giving him more than a two-year deal, especially with Jonathan Villar primed to start 2012 at Corpus. Allowing for a logical progression (which isn't exactly how the Astros operate), a two-year deal for Barmes would expire about the time Villar would be "ready" for the Majors - if it happens.

So. Would a two-year, $10m deal suit Barmes? Based on our $60m Question post from July, the Astros are looking at about $50m in 2012 with guaranteed contracts, and educated guesses for arbitration-eligible players. But that's only six players' worth of contracts. There are 19 other spots to fill (for around League Minimum), so let's give it a $450K average, and we total about $8.5m. That's a payroll of $58.5m, without Barmes.

Of course, the $60 million is allegedly a Crane-mandated figure, which won't mean Jack Crap if he's not the owner, but I'm guessing that if Drayton is running the team, he won't be real interested in overpaying for a team he wasn't planning on keeping. Still, if you look at the free agent shortstop list for this off-season, there are only two players under 30 years old hitting the market: Jose Reyes and Ronny Cedeno. There are only four other impending free agents younger than Barmes who will be free agents: Yuniesky Betancourt, Omar Infante, Cesar Izturis, and Ramon Santiago. And pardon, but they're not exactly worth reaching for.

I bet he'd prefer a three- or four-year deal in the neighborhood of $20-25m, but if that's what he's looking for, he needs to find a different franchise, because it makes no sense for this team. Jose Reyes is going to be the prized shortstop on the market this off-season, with Jimmy Rollins coming in second. Barmes could find himself a pretty attractive - and affordable - target if a team needing a shortstop comes up short (see what I did there?) on Reyes and Rollins.

But if the Astros gave Barmes two years and $10-12m, I wouldn't be too terribly upset. Would you?

Interview with Tri-City Prospect Jordan Scott

Just like last year, Greeneville Astros MVP Jordan Scott made himself available to us for a few questions. Jordan was very receptive to our request for an interview and easy to interact with. Give him a follow on Twitter @jtscott1

You've put together a couple good seasons since being drafted, including being named the MVP for Greeneville this year. What areas of your game do you see as opportunities to improve? There’s room for improvement in every aspect of my game, but my outfield work is what I’d like to focus on the most. It’s been an adjustment to see the ball coming from left field instead of center field like I was used to growing up, so I need to improve on reading the angle of the ball and taking more efficient routes to it.

Do the players pay any attention to what guys like me are saying about them? Obviously any player would be curious about how an outsider perceives them on and off the field, but as players, we tend to focus on the feedback coming from inside the organization rather than the outside.

What do you have going on this offseason? Have the Astros given you any indication of its plans for you next year and going forward? I think offseason is really important to prepare myself for another season, so once instructional league is over I’ll take a few weeks off and start working out at Acceleration Sports Institute with trainers and a few other minor league players. As far as plans for next season, I can never be one hundred percent sure of where I’ll end up, I’m just preparing myself for wherever I do go.

What was your favorite moment this year, both on field and off? On the field: Playing with the Lexington Legends in my home town against the Greenville Drive (see next question). Off the field: Rooming with my Korean teammate Chan J. Moon. Helping him learn how to pump gas and use his cruise control for the first time was entertaining. We had some major cultural differences, but we got really close. He’s a great guy.

Early in the season you had a chance to play in Greenville. How did it feel being back home as a visiting player? It’s always been my dream to get drafted and play professional baseball. To actually do it and in front of my friends and family was an experience I’ll never forget.

It seems like the younger players, such as yourself, are more in tune with social media outlets like twitter. What do you, as a ball player, feel are the benefits and drawbacks of having that level of fan interaction? Has the Astros organization given players any guidance concerning the use of social media? I think having social media helps fans to connect with me on a more personal level which is cool. But sometimes I feel bad for high profile players because it seems the more popular you become, the harder it is to keep professional life separate from personal life. The Astros tell us to be careful of what we post on social media because once you post something, it’s there forever.

What made you want to play baseball? Growing up, I played a lot of sports, but I excelled in baseball and felt most comfortable with it. That’s why I chose to pursue baseball.

What was your favorite team growing up? Favorite player? Atlanta Braves and Andrew Jones

At what point did you start to realize you were going to be drafted? I started to realize I was going to get drafted probably the summer after my junior year. I was playing with a pretty good ball team that summer called the Carolina Cyclones and played in a lot of showcase tournaments around the country. A lot of scouts came to the games and watched me throughout the summer and towards the end they started talking to me after the games and a few actually came to my house. So by the end of that summer I realized it was a possibility I was going to get drafted.

What did you do to celebrate? I was on a senior trip in the Dominican Republic and all of my friends and I just went out and had a good time that night. When I got home my parents threw me a going away party which was nice and had a lot of fun.

What’s the best part of minor league life? The worst? The best part would have to be getting to visit all the cool stadiums the minor league has to offer. Worst would have to be definitely the bus rides and the not so nice hotels you stay at.

What major league player do you compare yourself to? Jacoby Ellsbury. He is a 5 tool player that can do everything well. He has worked real hard to be where he is today and I’m pushing myself to become as good as he is.

I’ve been lamenting the lack of good baseball nicknames the last several years. Do you have a nickname? Most everyone on the team calls me Skinny.

What teammate do you think will be getting people’s attention in the next few years? I played with 3 teams this year and there were a lot of really good ball players I played with. Some guys that I think will be getting a lot of attention in the next few years would be Chase Davidson, Ariel Ovando, Jean Batista, George Springer, Delino Deshields, Mike Kvasnicka.

Legends open season April 5

Lexington released their schedule (Spoiler Alert: Bud Selig moved them to the AL West). Opening Day is April 5 at Greensboro, with the home opener coming a week later against exotically-titled Kannapolis.

The Morning After

Here's your morning-after round-up of reaction to yesterday's 1-0 loss to the Phillies:

Daily Philadelphian:
Brett Myers, J.A. Happ and Bud Norris made the Phillies line-up look like, well, the Phillies current rotation. Four runs on 15 hits in three games against the league’s worst team playing out the string is worse than pitiful. This isn’t how you want the Phillies closing out the season.

NBC Philadelphia:
it is hard to find too much surprise in the Phillies failing to put forth their absolute best effort in Houston. The Milwaukee series was against a team they might see again come October, but the Astros are dead enders at the end of a road trip. There's not going to be the same urgency. That's understandable, if not desirable. If things don't change once the team is back in Philly, then there's something to worry about. For now, just consider it the revenge of the ex-Phillies and hope that Pat Burrell isn't on a flight to Houston.

The Good Phight:
Folks, these are the glory days of this franchise. It's impossible to understate that. Tell anyone who tries to downplay that fact that they are misanthropes who are better suited for rooting for the late-80s or late-90s version of this franchise. They don't deserve this team.

Jeff Bagwell is mixed up in a criminal trial

It's not baseball related but it's saucy.

(Captip to What the Heck, Bobby)

Michaels "still a good guy"

Don't go taking Michaels behind the barn and shooting him for his ruined broken hand just yet. He's still a good guy.

“J-Mike, he’s still a good guy on a ballclub. He’s going to give you the best at-bat he possibly can each time out. As a veteran guy on a club, you can’t underscore the significant influence that he has.”

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

2008 Bourn was one of the worst of the last 50 years

Baseball-Reference has a blog post looking at the worst everyday players of the last 50 years*, and Michael Bourn was one of them.

(* Most plate appearances in a season since 1961 by a player with an OPS+ of 60 or worse, provided that they didn't play at least half their games at 2B, SS, or C)

Michael Bourn's 2008 season - where he hit .229/.288/.300 in 514 PAs - made the Top 20. Glad we could work out those kinks for you, Atlanta.

All of the Astros' innards in one prominent post

Grantland's (and others') Rany Jazayerli takes on the decline of the Astros, and it is not pretty.

The story of the decline of the Astros, much like the story of their success, can't be told without a discussion of their owner. Drayton McLane bought the Astros in the summer of 1992, and on balance was an asset to the organization for his first 15 years. Like many owners getting to play with a shiny new toy for the first time, he was impatient. Wanting to make a big splash in his first offseason, he signed star hurlers Doug Drabek and Greg Swindell to four-year contracts. After both were disappointments in Year 1, he tried to release them — until it was explained to McLane that their contracts were, you know, guaranteed.

No one comes out alive. Not Jose Altuve ("your basic David Eckstein starter kit"), or Jordan Lyles ("a precocious high school pitcher who reaches the majors at a young age, but whose mediocre stuff will keep him from being much more than a no. 3 starter") is spared.

Maybe take a nap before you read it, because you're gonna get cranky.

The Most Interesting Astros Short-Season Pitcher in the World

Minor League Ball highlighted a few interesting short-season pitchers today. Among them is an Astros prospect, a rare find for such lists the last few years. Kyle Hallock got their attention with his outstanding performance this year.

Threw harder than expected, and he knows how to use his curveball, slider, and changeup effectively.

Wright to remain in the bullpen

It could be a telling sign for the bounced-around lefty - Brad Mills has requested that Wesley Wright pitch exclusively as a reliever in this off-season's winter season.

So this will mark the first time since 2008 that the Astros haven't tried to screw with a lefty specialist - Wright in 2009, Abad in 2010 - in the off-season.

2012 schedule released

The basic 2012 schedule has been released, and the Astros will again open the season at home - against the Rockies and Braves. The April 10, 2012 game against Atlanta will celebrate the 50th anniversary of the franchise's first game.

Interleague series will come against the Rangers (derp), White Sox, Royals, and Indians.

The Phillies come get swept in Houston from September 13-16, and MLB has given the Astros the screw-gee by scheduling road series on Memorial Day, July 4th, and Labor Day. Thanks, Bud.

Michaels done for the year

As many of you already know, Jason Michaels broke his hand last night making a "diving" catch against the Phillies, and will be out for the season.

Mills, on whether that will mean the Astros need to add another outfielder for the express purpose of keeping Shuck/Bogusevic on the bench:
“I think we can make do. We’ll mix them around or whatever, but I think we’ll be OK.”

He allegedly mumbled, "Or we'll play without a right fielder against left-handed pitching." Working to confirm.

Reaction Roundup: Last night's win

Here's a feature we'll try out for the rest of the season (hell, we'll try new things in September, even if the Astros won't): a reaction to the game from the opposing team's perspective:

Daily Local:
For the second straight night, the Astros, owners of the worst record in baseball, beat up the uncharacteristically sloppy Phillies. Cole Hamels allowed a season-high nine hits and the Phillies, who have the fewest errors in baseball this season, made two errors in a game for the first time in two months.

Delaware County Times:
The Phillies have not clinched a playoff spot. Yet. They will, they just haven’t managed to pop the cork on the champagne, despite needing only one win – or one loss against by the St. Louis Cardinals. That’s because the Phils have gone into lowly Houston and fallen on their face two straight nights. Last night it was Cole Hamels falling to the Astros. The Phils have now lost three straight.

Crossing Broad:
The Phillies just pounded the Braves and Brewers, now they’re forced to fly to Houston and play baseball's rejects? Dangerous circumstances made worse by the fact that former teammates Brett Myers and J.A. Happ were pitching. I’d imagine Myers and Happ spent the better part of Sunday slipping out of SUVs and moping, all while thinking about sticking it to their former team. You can guess who did what.

They managed just five hits on the night, marking the first time in 32 games that the club hasn’t tallied at least six knocks. The fact that the Phils looked so inept against J.A. Happ, of all people, was salt in the wound.

Phillies Nation:
The Houston Astros, post all-star break, are quickly ascending to “hobgoblin” status, as the Phillies dropped their second consecutive game to a fetid assortment of castoffs, has-beens, and fringy prospects that seems to turn into the 1927 Yankees at the mention of the word “Philadelphia.”

The Good Phight:
Maybe we should appreciate this. The almost universal excellence of the 2011 Phillies has meant precious few opportunities for a fan base long steeped in self-pity and paranoia to vent its fear and loathing... but this week in Houston, where the best team in baseball has dropped two straight not particularly close contests to the worst team in the game, fits the bill.

Fightin Phillies:
There's been whispers of 1964 already, and we'll have more talk on that year later in the month on this blog, but for now it's Houston and a slight signal that there may be a problem. We'll see what happens this afternoon when the Phils and the Astros wrap this series up.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

I see a duel in someone's future

Maury Brown has a pretty good theory on the recent non-events in the sale of the Astros:

Crane and his sources could say that it’s the unwillingness to jump to the American League that ultimately doomed the sale. The league will say it’s a number of issues, but not say one way or the other on the jump from the NL. Hypothetically, Crane could have an out. His character ultimately wouldn’t be the reason for the deal not going through. In other words, Crane would save face.

With no one being able to come to a solid conclusion on just what is holding up the sale, it's certainly possible that it's all a way for Crane to back out, save his (and his investors', and Bank of America's) $680 million and go home. And we're back to Drayton.

Here's your Instructional League invitations

Zach Levine has your Instructional League invitees.

Mills: Spring Training matters more than September

Perhaps it's indicative of the Astros organization that they will put more stock into Spring Training than into games that actually count. But that's exactly what he said.

"We've always heard you can't evaluate too much in Spring Training or September, but we can get an idea and we can kind of have our wish list. We want guys to earn spots in Spring Training as we move forward."


Rays owner expects Friedman to stay

Tampa Bay Rays owner Stuart Sternberg says that he expects GM Andrew Friedman to stay in Tampa.

"Andrew is a partner here, he's a partner of mine. And he treats this organization even better than I possibly can. There's nothing to report on that. We've been at it now, it'll be six years, and it doesn't feel like six years, and I would think we would keep the band together another six years."

Good God, Philly. Try to sugar-coat it a little

It's either a cautionary tale to Vance Worley, or a Chacon-type choke slam of J.A. Happ. I can't tell. Matt Gelb brings some noise to Happ:

Before Vance Worley, there was J.A. Happ.

He was a rookie in 2009, the unexpected jolt to a Phillies rotation that needed one. Happ won 12 games, posted a 2.93 ERA, and tossed two shutouts. Two years later, he is one of the worst pitchers in baseball, toiling in the obscurity that is life as a Houston Astro.

Gelb goes on to ask Happ why he sucks, and then shows that 2011 Worley is a lot like 2009 Happ. Anyone else feel like throwing batteries at Happ?

Monday, September 12, 2011

Life After Roy

When Roy was dealt to the Phillies 14 months ago, it started a huge ball of anguish and despair rolling towards the point where we Astros fans find ourselves today: with Roy Oswalt coming into Houston with the sole purpose of sending the Astros to a franchise record-setting loss.

Let's look back at what happened since that time:

Since acquiring Oswalt, the Phillies are 135-67 in regular season games (and 5-4 in playoff games). And for the Astros, since trading Oswalt away, they have been 82-114.

Roy Oswalt has dealt with injuries in 2011, but in 31 starts for the Phillies, Oswalt has posted a 14-9 record, with a 2.88 ERA / 1.18 WHIP - both of those numbers better than his 10-year numbers in Houston. In Oswalt's starts, the Phillies are 19-13, with a 9-10 record in 2011. According to FanGraphs, in 2010/11, Oswalt was worth 6.7 WAR, making $31m in 2010/11 (with the Astros covering $11m).

J.A. Happ, the ML-ready pitcher acquired as part of the Phillies' package, is 10-19 with Houston (38 starts), with a 5.07 ERA and a 1.50 WHIP (oh, for the Phillies, that was a 3.11 ERA and 1.30 WHIP in 47 appearances). The Astros are 10-28 when Happ pitches. Happ has been worth 1.0 WAR, making about $944,000 over the two seasons.

Was the deal worth it? Like the Pence trade, it's too soon to tell. But if Happ continues to put up an ERA on the wrong side of 5.00 (or an xFIP of 4.63, as he has in 2011), and Brett Wallace doesn't contribute, then the Astros are putting all of their Roy-O eggs in Jonathan Villar's basket. And he's at least two years away from knowing for sure.

Interview with Tri-City Prospect Brandon Meredith

Tri-City ValleyCat outfielder Brandon Meredith took time last week to answer a few questions for us. Brandon has recently done an interview with, so some of these questions follow up to some of his comments there.

What made you want to play baseball? I tried all the sports when I was younger, I just kept with baseball as I like it the most and that's what I felt I had a future in.

What was your favorite team growing up? Favorite player? I loved the Padres as I was growing up. I used to watch them in old Jack Murphy Stadium, also known as Qualcomm. My favorite player when I was younger was either Ken Caminiti or Tony Gwynn.

How did your second experience getting drafted differ from the 1st? I knew that it was much more likely for me to go the second time, although I must say the first was very special because it was a whole new experience. The second time I felt like I was mature enough and ready to start my professional career.

What did you do to celebrate this time? I had a draft party shortly before heading to the ValleyCats; I invited my closest family and friends and we had a good time.

Now that you’ve had a few days to process everything, how do you feel having completed your first professional season? I loved it, the perks of professional baseball are indescribable. I love everything about it, the challenges, the daily grind, the amount of time you spend with your team, I just wish that I could have played more and helped my team.

What’s the best part of minor league life? The worst? The best part is going out everyday to enjoy the game of baseball, to compete everyday and have the opportunity to make money playing the game you love. The worst part is the living conditions but that just comes with the territory, if you dont like it, get better and move up.

What was your favorite moment this year? I think my favorite moment personally was buying the pink jersey I played in for my mom and sending it home to surprise her. It meant a lot to her.

You stated in your interview with that you feel your strengths are hustle, hard work, game knowledge, defense, and patience at the plate. What areas of your game do you see as opportunities to improve? All areas. I would like concentrate in improving on defense and hitting for power. I feel that all areas are available to work on and improve though.

What major league player do you compare yourself to? As of right now I would probably say Marlon Byrd. I am a bigger guy with good speed; don't hit for too much power but a gap to gap guy.

What do you have going on this offseason? I will be heading to instructs on September 19th and be there for a month, but when I get back I would love to take another trip up to San Francisco then start an off season workout program and improve my strength and speed as well as my facets for the game.

Have the Astros given you any indication of its plans for you next year and going forward? No they have not. I'm sure I will have an idea coming out of instructs, but I feel that my progress is solely placed on my hard work from the time I leave instructs to the time I go to spring training.

What teammate do you think will be getting people’s attention in the next few years? I feel that many teammates will be getting attention such as Matt Duffy, Rafael Valenzuela, Drew Muren, Justin Gominsky, and most of all I think the most underrated player on this year's team was Neiko Johnson.

It seems like the younger players, such as yourself, are more in tune with social media outlets like twitter. What do you, as a ball player, feel are the benefits and drawbacks of having that level of fan interaction? I feel the benefits are people get to understand you as an individual, and a person, fans tend to judge you off of play and looks. To fans I may look like an intimidating guy and some may shy away so I take the time to answer questions and be personal to many. The drawbacks are the fact that you are exposed to negativity and criticism, but who doesn't get criticized?

Has the Astros organization given players any guidance concerning the use of social media? They have strong rules against talking about teammates, umpires, coaches, and feelings. You just have to smart in what you put on the internet.

I’ve been bummed about the lack of good baseball nicknames recently. Do you have a nickname? I don't, I just have little ones that I've had throughout my life like Big B, or Freight Train, nothing too exciting.

Brandon was very responsive to our interview request, and is very easy to interact with. Follow him on Twitter @blackdiamondd0

Oswalt, on the (lack of) Astros fans

Here's an article about Oswalt and Pence's return to Houston, in which Roy expects to get booed, but maybe not too much:

“The good thing is I think there will probably be just as many Phillies fans there in Houston. So hopefully I won't get booed too much.”

Seriously, Roy. Try to give it a shot.