Friday, September 23, 2011

Johnson vs. Paredes: Who Ya Got

From the same article, we see that Brad Mills entertained, then rejected, an idea to move Chris Johnson to 1B (for what reason, I have no idea) in Winter Ball. He'll now focus on a Spring Training steel-cage match with Jimmy Paredes to see who opens 2012 at 3B.

You would think Paredes would have the edge, just given the shakeout of playing time over the second half of the season. But let's look at a few things, eh?

Johnson has struck out in 23.3% of his PAs in 2011 (walking in 3.8% of his PAs), with a .132 ISO (SLG%-AVG). He's hitting .253/.292/.385 with a .315 BABIP. Also, FanGraphs shows that his glove is a liability, and gives him a -13.9 UZR. His FanGraphs WAR is -0.7. He's also going to be 27 on October 1.

Jimmy Paredes, the Double-A call-up, will be 23 at the end of November. In limited playing time (43 games, 167 PAs), Paredes has - incredibly - about the same K/BB numbers as Johnson. Paredes walks in 4.8% of his PAs, strikes out in 24.6% of his PAs, and is hitting .293/.325/.395 buoyed by a .383 BABIP. Defensively, he's better than Johnson - FanGraphs gives him only a -0.4 UZR, but at least a positive WAR at 0.6.

The fact that Paredes is a good five years younger than Johnson gives him the edge, but if Johnson was going to lock down a spot for the foreseeable future, it probably needed to be this season.

The most obvious draft strategy. Ever.

And it comes courtesy of Bobby Heck. With the Astros locking up the #1 pick in the 2012 draft, Bobby Heck discussed the strategy heading into the draft:

“At this point, we’ve got a handful of names of guys who are targets. That group will probably grow throughout the fall as we begin scouting and seeing high school players at showcases as well as visiting-four year colleges on scout days. Hopefully as we get closer to the draft, we’ll start zeroing in on a couple of guys.”

Wait, so let me get this straight:

1. Have a handful of guys in mind.
2. Grow list as scouting begins.
3. Narrow down closer to June.
4. Pick one.


(That said, he did give a good look into the philosophy:
“Our approach right now is get the best talent pool and get it in the right order. Right now, it’s just going to be talent-driven in evaluating players. Also, be mindful that the best player on draft day is not always the best big-league player or the best long-term big-leaguer. You look at a lot of drafts, and a few later, a lot of those orders would be reverse. The idea is the guy who has the most impact in the major leagues for a long time.”

Thursday, September 22, 2011

And the Astros are on the clock

With win over the Mariners, the Minnesota Twins have successfully managed to (a) break an 11-game losing streak, and (b) ensure the Astros will pick first in the 2012 draft.

Drayton slams his fist on the table

Drayton insists that he has not given any thought to a Plan B, should Crane not be approved. Why? Because Crane is going to be approved.

Drayton, staring at Selig without blinking:
“This is going to work. Jim Crane and his group – he has a wide variety of Houston people. If you look at a lot of franchises that have been sold in the last few years, a lot of investors have been from out of town. Almost every one of these investors live in Houston. They’re very, very prominent, highly successful people. It’s for those reasons that this will succeed."

He then yelled, "NOWGIVEMEMYMONEY!" and ran out of the room.

If You Don't Know: Sisyphus

Via Steve Campbell's Lunchtime Links, we read a quote from the Twins' Kevin Slowey:

“At this point, in this clubhouse, it’s like we’re watching the fate of Sisyphus himself.”

This is in reference to the Twins having lost 11 in a row, 17 of their last 20, and 25 of their last 30 games. Last year, the Twins went 94-68 on their way to losing three of their last three games against the Yankees in the ALDS.

So who the *#@$ is Sisyphus? He was a Greek king - not a very good one (it's not hospitable to show your dominance by killing your guests) punished by the gods by being forced to roll a boulder up a hill, only to watch it roll back down, and start over.

When Kevin Slowey talks about "the fate of Sisyphus," one can only assume he means that he threw a pitch, and it got thrown right back at him.

Two good seasons and the DFW media is out to throw 'bows

Here's a verrrry funny mailbag with the the Dallas Morning News' Gerry Fraley.

Q: Please name one lousy team that you see that has no real chance at contending any time soon. Any clue how you solve that?

A: It's the Astros. Hope the new owner recognizes the value of scouting and player development. The Astros are an example of what happens when a team follows the "slotting" recommendations on draft signings from the commissioner's office. The Astros have adhered to the slot numbers and either do not sign draft picks (Drew Stubbs) or pick players based on signability rather than ability. Astros are a mess. it's going to take years from them to climb out of this hole.

Jeez. There's too much here to get pissed off about.

The Astros don't unleash the beast

Remember when Wesley Wright left Wrigley on a stretcher because of dehydration, and we assumed that perhaps it could have been because it was 351 degrees and Cooper let him throw 51 pitches?

Apparently, it's because Wright drank "several cans of Red Bull" before coming out of the bullpen. And the Astros can't have that. So they have kinda sorta banned energy drinks.

Ed Wade:
"We've had a couple of issues regarding dehydration, and our people think they can be traced to misuse, overuse of energy drinks. It just seemed that we shouldn't be creating an environment where we're almost facilitating the effects of dehydration."

It can't be that Wright was a 24-year old kid, and 24-year olds are looking for something, anything to drink too much of. Like Red Bull. Or Yuengling. So the Astros and Diamondbacks don't provide energy drinks anymore. What's next? Carlos Lee forces the Astros to ban Corn Nuts?

Here comes a completely unsolicited defense of Jim Crane!

We mentioned earlier about how there seemingly wasn't anyone out there - besides Drayton - willing to say how Jim Crane wasn't a bad guy.

That's not true, anymore! Greg Dykeman, an attorney with Strong Pipkin in Beaumont wrote a completely unbiased, unsolicited letter to Jim Crane (and to the Chronicle) in an effort to uphold his name.

About those pesky allegations:
“At no time during this lawsuit and investigation was there ever any belief or evidence that you personally had any involvement with or were even aware of the scheme by the responsible employees. All indications were that this was an isolated incident and you had no knowledge of their actions.”

Justice, on Crane

It's telling about this season that the only real updates we've been posting in September have to do with Jeff Bagwell's side piece and Jim Crane.

Richard Justice has a post up about Jim Crane, and the delay of his approval. Your money quote:

If Selig has questions about Crane’s character, it’s going to be very hard for him to be approved.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Stark, with a Crane update

Jayson Stark has an update on the Jim Crane proceedings:

...Sources we've surveyed report that nothing substantial has changed, that Crane's bid is still "stuck in neutral" and that he still could wind up being approved under the right conditions -- with an agreement to allow his team to move to the American League ranking near or at the top of that list.

Minor League MVPs

We've got something a little special that we're working on - which will be announced in the next two weeks, or so - that goes into this, but it's certainly worth noting that the Astros announced their minor-league MVPs today. And they are:

OKC: Anderson Hernandez
Corpus: Jimmy Paredes
Lancaster: Austin Wates
Lexington: Emilio King
Tri-City: Matt Duffy
Greeneville: Jordan Scott
GCL: Yonathan Mejia
DSL: Teoscar Hernandez

Jordan Scott makes a list

Jordan Scott was the #19 prospect in Baseball America's Appalachian League Top 20 prospect list, so named today.

Click here for an interview with Jordan Scott, by the Juvenile Court Clerk.

Everyone will come back in 2012!

Everybody on the Astros' coaching staff will return in 2012, according to Ed Wade - even if he doesn't.

"We think they’ve done a really solid job when you take into consideration that we have so many different developing players on this team."

The only one who hasn't accepted is pitching coach Doug Brocail, who needs to check with his wife:
“Right now, I just have to sit down with Mama (his wife) and the kids. Everybody knows I love the job and big league jobs don’t come every day, but I told her I’d sit down with her and we’d figure out something that’s hopefully compatible and go from there.”


Bud Norris' shoulder "grabbed real quick"

We might have seen the end of Bud Norris' 2011 season last night as he left in the 3rd inning with shoulder discomfort.

“I just felt it on that one pitch tonight where I think I overextended it and felt the shoulder grab real quick. It was a little frightening.”

The fact that the Astros are 48 games under .500 has something to do with his return, says Norris:
“Of course I want to be out there competing and playing. I’d love to make all 32 starts, but it’s something that we need to think about and be honest and look forward. If it was a pennant race, absolutely, but I don’t know what the decision’s going to be.”

Alyson Footer said a couple of minutes ago:
Bud Norris probably will not make final start of season. Team will make final decision tomorrow. Mills said chances are slim.

So, no, it makes no sense for Norris to make his final start of the season.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

September stats

Hey, so let's take a look at how the Astros' bats are doing this September, playing virtually meaningless games (although they haven't really played a meaningful game - in 2011 terms, anyway - since 2010):

Humberto Quintero (34 PAs): .206/.206/.265, 5K:0BB
Carlos Lee (59 PAs): .291/.339/.600, 2K:3BB
Jose Altuve (40 PAs): .135/.158/.189, 6K:1BB
Clint Barmes (50 PAs): .311/.380/.556, 10K:4BB
Jimmy Paredes (52 PAs): .320/.333/.340, 11K:1BB
Jason Bourgeois (36 PAs): .371/.389/.371, 1K:1BB
J.D. Martinez (67 PAs): .233/.313/.267, 19K:6BB
Brian Bogusevic (42 PAs): .275/.310/.400, 10K:2BB
Jordan Schafer (51 PAs): .191/.255/.277, 14K:4BB

Mills' seat is hot!

ESPN's Rumor Central (Insider-Only) says that the hottest managerial seat in baseball belongs to none other than Brad Mills.

The hottest seat belongs to Brad Mills, who has presided over the first 100-loss season in Houston Astros history. His contract is up at the end of the season and the Astros' ownership group, which is still Drayton McLane at this point, show little inclination of exercising an option for 2012.

I bet Brad Mills would be on his way to Boston before the press conference was over, should this happen. But that's the question: should the Astros fire Brad Mills? This is not the team Mills took over in 2009. You could make a case that he has had to play with a pretty crap hand. You could also make the case that he's made some seriously questionable decisions (such as seemingly murdering the career of Brett Wallace) with that crap hand. It's something we'll take into consideration, but if Mills goes, Ed Wade deserves some of the blame for making Mills play these cards.

Looking far ahead, MLB lists three other managers on the hot seat: Ozzie Guillen, Mike Quade, and Bob Melvin. Bob Melvin interviewed for the managerial position the last time around, but could be on his way to Chicago if buddy Brad Pitt Billy Beane becomes the new Cubs GM.

Sigh. Why the hell not make a season of uncertainty more uncertain?

UPDATE: WAIT A SECOND. The Astros exercised Mills' 2012 option last October, and added an option for 2013. So, suck it, ESPN.

UPDATED UPDATE: ESPN updated their post, saying:
Ken Davidoff had Mills on his list of managers on the hot seat in Sunday's Newsday, and we agree. While the Astros previously picked up Mills' 2012 option and added an option for 2013 (correcting what we said earlier this morning), his future has to be up in the air given the pending sale of the franchise to Jim Crane.

Monday, September 19, 2011

I'm no lawyer, but I think subpoenas are serious

So I'm not a lawyer (though I did take the LSAT), but it seems like if you get subpoenaed in a criminal trial, you might ought to show up. Someone should tell Bagwell that.

Former Astro Jeff Bagwell was subpoenaed by the defense in the criminal trial of former Dr. Michael Brown, who is facing assault charges of his fourth wife, Rachel Brown - the alleged mistress of the former Astro/formerly married Bagwell.

The defense subpoenaed Bagwell to appear, but he did not show up. Defense attorney Dick Deguerin said Bagwell is in hiding.

A couple of things about Michael Brown, as gleaned from the article: Rachel Brown was his fourth wife. Dr. Brown was convicted of assaulting his second wife, in 2002. He lost his medical license in 2006 when he tested positive for cocaine.

He's not exactly winning this PR battle, if there is one.

To read more about Brown, try this 2002 Houston Press profile. Or this one, from 2009.

2011 Draft Sleeper

Minor League Ball has been picking one player from each team's 2011 draft as a potential sleeper. For Houston, they took a brief look at outfielder and 7th round pick Javaris Reynolds. All three sentences can be found here. We gave him a bit longer look last month.

Astros fall from the top? Unprecedented.

Richard Justice looks at the factors that turned a pennant-winning team to a 100-loss team in a matter of six seasons. Unprecedented!

...Unless you count the Diamondbacks, who won the World Series in 2001 and lost 111 games in 2004. Or the Orioles, who won the World Series in 1983, and lost 107 games in 1988. Or the 1976 Reds, who won the World Series and lost 101 games in 1982. Or the Tigers, who won the World Series in 1984, and lost 103 games in 1989. Or the Marlins, who won the World Series in 1997, and lost 108 games in 1998. Or the Athletics, who won the World Series in 1974, and lost 108 games in 1979. Or the Pirates, who won the World Series in 1979, and lost 104 games in 1985. Or the Mariners, who won 116 games in 2001, and lost 99 games in 2004.

Is it amazing that the Astros were THISCLOSE to winning a World Series game in 2005, and they are where they are in 2011? Yes. But it's not unique to baseball. Teams go through smart periods, and they go through dumb periods. The Astros were dumb from 2004-2007 (and maybe still are). It happens.

Did you know...

...that Hunter Pence, as a virgin, gave birth to a young son in a manger who will go on to save the world? Buster Olney reports (Insider-only).

Brandon Wikoff: Hall of Famer

2009 5th Round pick and Corpus infielder Brandon Wikoff will be inducted into the Limestone (IL) Hall of Fame on Friday.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Season Review - Infielders

A couple weeks ago, we took an early look at what happened to our pitching staff in 2011. Now we shift our focus to the other eight positions on the field.  We'll look position by position comparing expectations, reality, and possible path forward to 2012.

At catcher, the earliest hopes were that Jason Castro would have a solid first full season, but early on those hopes were snapped along with Jason's ACL. With Castro out for the season, we were looking at a combination of J. R. Towles and Humberto Quintero.  We knew with Quintero we were going to have a solid defensive but weak hitting catcher, best suited for back up duty. Towles, we hoped, would regain his confidence and finally become what we all hoped he would be in 2009. After a promising April he quickly disintegrated and was sent back to Oklahoma in July. That left Quintero to carry the bulk of the duties behind the plate, where he's essentially been what we expected. As backup, Carlos Corporan has received entirely too much playing time as he's "hit" .192/.257/.258 and thrown out less than 20% of basestealers in 49 games. Any hope of improvement next season lies with Jason Castro both recovering from a severe knee injury and living up to our expectations.

At first, Brett Wallace was going to be given every opportunity to establish himself as a major league hitter. After a hot start, Wallace cooled off in June and was demoted to OKC in July as Carlos Lee became our 1B1.  I, for one, still don't understand this move by the front office.  Even with his struggles in June, Wallace was still a roughly league average hitter in his first full season. He may not have shown much power, but his on-base skills were still solid. Perhaps they just needed a spot for Lee's contract bat. Admittedly, Lee has been better than many expected at first. He's still getting paid too much, but he's arguably been our best offensive weapon since Pence and Bourn were traded. I would not be surprised to see Lee be our first baseman again next year with Wallace languishing away in AAA, hopefully finding the power stroke the Astros want him to have.

At second, Ed Wade decided Jeff Keppinger wasn't a starter, despite his outstanding season in 2010, and signed Bill Hall. Hall was said to be bringing a power bat and that all important veteran leadership. Hall showed none of the power we were looking for, but made up for it by striking out alot and refusing to take a walk. Hall was released in early June. Keppinger then stepped in and continued hitting like he did in the previous season, stabilizing the position for a month before getting traded to San Fransisco. That opened up the starting spot for Jose Altuve, promoted from AA Corpus. Though he's been slumping the last couple weeks, Altuve has more than held his own following the two level jump, and shows a lot of promise heading in to 2012.

Shortstop saw us looking to Clint Barmes, who had a reputation as a good fielder with some pop at the plate, but overall a below average hitter. After missing a month early with a broken hand, Barmes has slightly outperformed expectations. By some measurement, he has been the second best fielding SS in the NL, and is a better than average hitting SS as well. Barmes is a free agent at the end of the season, but has expressed an interest in returning to Houston. With no prospects knocking on Houston's door, the Astros could do a lot worse than bringing him back for another year or two.

Third base was a position of both promise and concern coming in to 2011. Chris Johnson gave us some hope with a good late season showing last year, but there were indicators that it was luck driven and a regression was expected. Just how much remained to be seen. After a brutal April, Johnson showed good improvement in May and June. In another inexplicable demotion, Johnson was sent down in July with Wallace and Jimmy Paredes was brought up from Corpus. Jimmy is doing his 2010 Chris Johnson impersonation with a good showing so far driven by an unsustainable BABIP to go with strikeout rate of 25% and a walk rate of 5%, which is actually higher than is minor league BB%. I suspect next season's starter will be decided in spring training, with an edge given to Paredes due to his age and prospect status.

Outfield review to come...

A Glance at Jordan Lyles Rookie Season

In the midst of the Astros worst season in franchise history, constant change of ownership drama, the trade deadline, and several prospects making the jump from Corpus Christi to the majors, the Astros highly touted prospect Jordan Lyles major league debut was lost in the shuffle this season. Not since Hunter Pence have the Astros had a prospect that has been hyped as much as Jordan Lyles was, whose name was mentioned so much last year that you would have thought he was the Astros own version of Stephen Strasburg. In his 92 innings pitched this year Lyles put up a respectable debut season for a 20 year old, but it was not impressive enough to distinguish himself from the other headlines surrounding the Astros this season. With that being said I decided to look deeper into Jordan Lyles rookie season to see how good he was, and try and see what we can expect out of him going forward.

Here is a look at some of Jordan Lyles stats for the season, and also his career minor league stats as well:

2011 Houston Astros Stats
Jordan Lyles

Career Minor League Stats
Jordan Lyles

When looking at the two stat-lines side by side the biggest disappointment is that his K/9 ratio dropped from 8.9 to 6.31 this season. His K/9 ratio in AAA this season was also 6.06, which was also a little disappointing considering the solid K/9 ratio he posted at AA the year before of 8.15. This is probably an indication that Lyles could have benefitted from a full year in Oklahoma City this season to work on missing a few more bats.

Lyles ERA also rose from a career total of 3.55 to 5.24 this season, however his FIP for the year sits at 4.48, and his xFIP sits at 4.07 due to the fact that he had an above average HR/9 ratio. Another stat that suggests that Lyles was slightly unlucky this season is that his left on base percentage was 65.6% this season, but was never lower than 72.6% in full season ball. He was also typically billed as a groundball pitcher in the minors, so there is reason to believe that he will raise his GB% from the 40.2% level that it sat at this season.

By looking at his stats for this year we can tell that Lyles had a respectable season, and also that there is reason for hope that his numbers will improve next year. If he is able to reduce the number of hits that he gives up per nine innings while some of his other stats normalize then there is reason to believe that we may soon see the Jordan Lyles that we heard about in the minors. As a little reference point to see how Jordan’s rookie season compares to others of the same age, I generated the chart below.

According to Baseball-Reference, there have been 32 other pitcher’s who have made their major league debut at age 20 since 1980. Of those 32, 12 of them threw 85 innings or more their rookie year. The chart below details the results for those 12 pitchers in their rookie season.

CC Sabathia
Rick Porcello
Jeremy Bonderman
Zack Greinke
Mike Witt
Clayton Kershaw
Steve Avery
Jordan Lyles
Oliver Perez
Alex Fernandez
Jeff D'Amico
Gil Meche

To sum up the graph above, here’s where Jordan Lyles ranks in the categories listed above:

K/9 – 5th
BB/9 – 2nd
HR/9 – 10th
ERA – 10th
FIP – 6th

Quite a few of the pitchers listed on this list are having, or went on to have pretty descent seasons at some point. Only Zach Grienke posted a better walk ratio than Jordan, and he also finished slightly ahead of the middle of the pack in strikeout ratio and FIP as well. However, only Zack Greinke and Jeff D’Amico posted a worse homerun ratio than Lyles, and only Steve Avery and Jeff D’Amico finished with a worse ERA as well.

To sum everything up Jordan did not live up to the hype that surrounded him, but he also was not disappointing in his first full season in the majors as a 20 year old rookie. Given his makeup and composure on the mound, he should be an interesting pitcher to watch in the upcoming seasons.