Friday, September 30, 2011

Singleton #5 prospect in Cal League

Jonathan Singleton is Baseball America's #5 California League prospect. So you know.

Interestingly enough, Jose Altuve is #15.

Lance Berkman is not surprised by how awesome Lance Berkman was

An article from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch's Joe Strauss finds Lance Berkman reflecting on his ridiculous season.

"I don’t question my durability but I know other people did. Beyond the statistics, that’s the most satisfying thing, proving that I can get on the field every day. You get to the end of September and everybody is tired. Everybody is beat up. But that’s more of a normal year."

He then lit a match and set fire to a cotton doll with a picture of Ed Wade resting delicately on its face.

Remembering the predictions

Let's go back and check on those predictions from Spring Training:

ESPN's Steve Berthiaume:
The Houston Astros will win the NL Central in 2011. I'm calling it right now -- Astros '11 division champs.

Larry Carney (ABC):
Brett Myers, J.A. Happ & Wandy Rodriguez are three great starters. The Houston bullpen looks strong. Brandon Lyon settled into the closer role late last year. Houston's offense is weak, but so was the Padres lineup last year when you take out Adrian Gonzalez. Houston's offense will be good enough to win some games, like they did over the last two months of 2010. The Padres didn't make the playoffs. And Houston doesn't have enough to beat Cincinnati, but the Astros will be relevant in September.

Big League Stew:
Am I nuts for thinking I'd rather have the Pirates' roster than the Astros' right now? Houston probably has it over Pittsburgh in starting pitching.

Scott Miller (CBS):
5th: If Biggio, Bagwell, Berkman and Oswalt can ... wait a sec. Who the hell ARE these Astros?

Hardball Talk:
This season brings 90 losses for the first time since 2000 and a close-shave fifth place finish over the sixth-place Pirates at the bottom of the National League Central.

The best-case scenario has Houston finishing fourth in the division, as they did in 2010. If the Astros hit some bad luck, there is a good chance they finish last in the division and maybe the league.

FanGraphs' FAN projections:

Baseball Prospectus:

Alex Remington (Yahoo):
The Astros don't have a single player as good as Pirate center fielder Andrew McCutchen, and they might not have anyone as good as third baseman Pedro Alvarez, either. After years of Pirate dominance of the NL Central cellar, the race for the bottom might finally be competitive in 2011. I'm predicting a 64-98 record.

The Constable, on Berkman:
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...

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

The Constable, on 2011:
They should be better offensively with Hall and Barmes over what the Astros were working with in Tommy Manzella, and even with a career year from Jeff Keppinger, and while Carlos Lee isn’t likely to get any MVP votes in 2011, he’s simply not a .250 hitter…yet. So I think they can put up a fight, and I don’t buy into the 100-loss predictions....77-85, 4th place


Thursday, September 29, 2011

Andy Van Hekken to pitch for Team USA

Moving right along, Andy Van Hekken has signed on to pitch for Team USA in the upcoming World Cup and Pan Am Games.

The impending free agent had this to say about his 2011:
“I don’t want to say I never went beyond what I thought I could do, but I was pleased how it ended compared to where the season started. I started on the inactive list because we didn’t have enough room. I was the odd man out. Hopefully, some opportunities will come next year because of what I did.”

A knee-jerk reaction to game 162

I imagine that I was like most baseball fans last night. Having convinced my spouse that what happened during Game 162 - for four different teams - was going to top whatever the playoffs could throw at us, I frantically flipped between the Yankees/Rays, Red Sox/Orioles, Braves/Phillies, and Astros/Cardinals.

Predictably, I spent a little more time on the Astros game, just to see their demeanor - to see if they would be able to get up for the last game of the season, show some emotion, knock the Cardinals at least into Game 163, and generally have respect for themselves.

I had to go to the Red Sox/Orioles game to find all of that. As the Orioles battled the Red Sox, and the rain, it was clear that they were dialed in to their opponent, and were going to make the Red Sox earn at least a play-in game. The Astros were down five runs before coming to bat. Brett Myers was nibbled to death by ducks, the defense looked like a JV team, and the offense...well, the offense did exactly nothing.

Even allowing for the fact that the Cardinals were throwing Carpenter (who had a 16IP, 10H/2ER, 19K:2BB line against the Astros in 2011), the Astros managed two hits. The Cardinals had two hits before Myers adjusted his jock for the first time of the game.

And then Myers comes up to bat...and decides to hit left-handed. Maybe I'm taking this too seriously, too personally, but there was absolutely no reason for that to take place. Sure, he was a .161 hitter coming into that AB, but to say, "You know what? We're already down by 61 runs, it's the last game of the season, I think I'll turn around and try it with my left hand on top this time" is an absolute joke.

The Rays were down seven runs, kept fighting, and will now be playing in October. The Astros didn't even look like they wanted to be there, and they played like they had already left the stadium.

Forget the Rays as a model franchise for a second (and do you really think Andrew Friedman would want to leave that to come to Houston?), how about the Orioles as a franchise?

That celebration is for a team that just avoided it's 94th loss. What I'll remember from the 2011 season isn't the 106 losses (well, I'll remember that, too). I'll remember about how the Astros had a chance to look like they gave a crap, and then threw that away.

They Are Our Astros.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011


How in the hell did Angel Sanchez win Best New Astro?

It's true that Sanchez, who can also hold his own at the second and third base positions, doesn't pack a lot of punch, but with mini hitting streaks here and there, the 28-year-old may very well be prime for a breakout campaign next season. Now let's see if the rest of these bums, uh, minor-leaguers, um, Astros players can follow suit.

Pardon me, while I go and toilet plunge my face.

1st Annual J. Fred Duckett Houston Media Award

With tonight's game against the Cardinals, the regular season will come to a swift, merciful end, and we can - with gratitude - turn our backs on 2011 and pay attention to 2012. So let's have a poll: Who do you felt (in print) did the best job covering the Astros in 2011? The winner will actually get a nice little JPG certificate, and perhaps even a Starbucks giftcard.

Who is J. Fred Duckett? That, my friends, was the first PA announcer for the Colt .45s.

On to the poll:

Michael Bourn is texting the Astros. Frequently.

According to the Augusta Chronicle, Michael Bourn is all over his phone, texting the Astros.

So with those happy thoughts, Braves fans will be sweating it out on the final day for the second season in a row. The Cardinals facing the last-place Astros an hour later in Houston. It’s reached the point where Bourn is texting his old Astros teammates and pleading with them to continue fighting from the abyss. Fans were chanting “Let’s go Houston!” at Turner Field while the Braves were getting hammered 7-1.

What do you think the texts say? Best response wins...something.

What they're saying: G161

How about some reaction from the Cardinals' perspective this morning from last night's meltdown?

St. Louis is right now living the dream. Let's just hope they don't wake up until they are popping champagne corks this evening.

Viva El Birdos:
It's the last day of the season. One game to rule them all and in the darkness bind them. Well, maybe one game plus an extra, but that doesn't really work for the meter. Chris Carpenter should take the mound, and really, who else would you want? You know that game, where you ask the question, "If you had just one game that you absolutely, positively, had to win, who would you want to take the mound?" Well, we're actually going to play that game tonight, and Carp is that pitcher. It's pretty good to be a baseball fan right now.

Aaron Miles' Fastball:
Just 26 short days ago, the Redbirds’ season was all but over. But 26 short days ago, everything changed. Yes, thanks to the Braves for collapsing. Yes, thanks to the Phillies for not playing dead this week. But nothing that happens tonight can take away this magical, improbable, historical run from all-washed-up to all-tied-up with one to play! One game.

Brandon Lyon will start throwing on Monday

Oh yeah. Brandon Lyon is still on the team, and he'll start throwing again on Monday for six weeks, take some time off, and start back up around Christmas.

So that means that Mark Melancon and his fairly-impressive rookie season will likely head to the 8th inning. Because Lyon will get over $5m next season, and I doubt the Astros will pay that much for an 8th inning guy. Unless he melts down in the 2012 season opener. And he's mentally preparing anyone who will listen for the unseemly possibility that he'll be in pain:

“The surgery I had, I’m not going to say it’s not a major surgery. Any surgery you have is major. But as far as the repair, it wasn’t reconstructing the shoulder. I’m not going to say I’ll come back to spring training and not feel anything, that it’s going to be completely gone.”

Castro out with oblique injury

Within the Lucas Harrell-on-Ozzie piece by McTaggart, we find that Jason Castro isn't feeling so hot:

Astros catcher Jason Castro, who's participating in the instructional league in Florida after missing the entire 2011 regular season because of knee surgery, sat out his second consecutive game Tuesday because of tightness in his oblique.

J.A. Happ: Season In Review

The 2011 season for J.A. Happ was a tale of two seasons with the bad part of the season lasting longer than the good part of the season. After a brief demotion to Oklahoma City to iron out his issues with Burt Hooten, J.A. Happ returned to the Astros and finished his season with a strong six starts that gave hope that he can have a better year next year. The charts below take a look into Happ’s past two seasons compared to his 2011 season, the various stages of his 2011season, and pitch type data to try and determine why Happ struggled this season.

Happ’s 2011 season compared to his 2009 and 2010 seasons

So why did J.A. Happ struggle so much this season. The easy answer is that Happ had consistently outperformed his peripherals since his major league debut, and this year he just didn’t. The chart below compares Happ’s three seasons in the majors:


Happ’s ERA of 5.35 is fueled by a higher than average homerun per nine inning rate, and also a lower than average left on base percentage this year. His FIP this year is only marginally higher than it was in 2009 and 2010, and his xFIP sits in between the 2009 and 2010 seasons which show that Happ’s 2011 season has been about the same as his previous 2 seasons minus the bad luck. One positive that can be drawn from Happ’s season this year is that he raised his strikeout per nine inning rate to 7.71 in the majors.

Happ’s 2011 season: Before demotion, AAA, After demotion

J.A. Happ made a total of 22 starts before being demoted to AAA Oklahoma City where he made another 3 starts before being recalled to make another 6 starts to close out the season. Below shows the breakdown of Happ’s 2011 season:

2011 Season
Before Demotion (22 Starts)
Triple A (3 Starts)
After Demotion (6 Starts)

When Happ was sent to Oklahoma City this year one of the big things that the Astros wanted Happ to work on was his control. Through his 3 starts his walk rate really did not change that much, but he did manage to almost cut in half the number of hits he gave up per nine innings. Happ’s ERA of 1.50 was a big improvement from the 6.28 to start the season, but he benefitted from a .239 batting average on balls in play and a 75% left on base percentage which left his FIP at 2.92 which was higher than his ERA but still solid. Upon his return to the majors Happ was able to maintain his lower hits per nine innings rate which was really the only stat that changed significantly from his first 22 starts of the season.

Pitch Types for 2011 Season

Looking deeper into the reasons why Happ could have been more successful in his last 6 starts I decided to look at the breakdown between his pitches and see if there was anything different from his first 22 starts and his last 6 starts. All pitch type data was gathered by

Total Pitches
2-seam Fastball
First 22 Starts
% thrown
# strikes thrown
% strikes thrown
# swinging strikes
% swinging strike

Last 6 Starts
% thrown
# strikes thrown
% strikes thrown
# swinging strikes
% swinging strike

One of the things to notice since his recall is that his fastball has been more effective. He is throwing the fastball almost 10% more than he was before, and he is throwing about 4% more fastballs for strikes, and also getting 4% more swinging strikes with his fastball. He also recorded more swings and misses with his changeup since his return. Another thing to notice is that since returning he is throwing his slider and curveball less, which were his least effective pitches in terms of strikes thrown and swinging strikes. On the whole he threw more strikes since his return even though his walk rate remained about the same. He threw his fastball more often and was also more effective with it, which could suggest that if Burt Hooten said anything to him that resulted in fixing J.A. Happ then he could have said to be more aggressive with his fastball.

Final Thoughts

J.A. Happ had an up and down season in 2011, but ended the season on a high note which hopefully can carry over into the 2012 season. It seems like Happ’s success relies heavily on his batting average on balls in play and his left on base percentage which could lead to him having good years and bad years. Happ has always had a respectable strikeout rate, but also has a high walk rate. During his best seasons in the minors (2006 and 2008), and his best season in the majors (2009) his walk rate hovered around 3.2 BB/9 which shows what very well could be the key to his success.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Astros payroll plummeting, ticket prices remain the same

MSNBC's Darren Rovell says that the rumor is the cost of 2012 Astros season ticket packages are not being lowered.

How does that make you feel?

What They're Saying: G160

Here's your morning round-up of what the Cardinals bloggers are saying about last night's 10-inning loss to the Astros:

The Atlanta Braves keep trying to give the wild card away. The St. Louis Cardinals just won't take it. Knowing that Philadelphia had already disposed of the Braves, the Cards rallied late in the game, but were unable to win it in regulation. That's always a problem on the road, where one bad pitch, one bloop hit, and you are done. Which is pretty much how it happened.

Viva El Birdos:
The Astros are a startlingly bad team, but they've beaten the other team 56 times, even with Carlos Lee serving as the focal point of an offense that's gone from bad to not really an offense anymore. There are times, mostly selfish, when I wish baseball were as skewed toward the favorite as, say, the NBA Playoffs, but overall I'm willing to trade the occasional brutal loss for a reason to actually watch baseball's regular season and the NLDS...In a way this loss almost feels right, though—now we know exactly what the Cardinals have gotten themselves into.

Aaron Miles' Fastball:
This is a BIG game. THE big game. It needs to be won. Henry Sosa will be on the mound for the Astros. That’s right … WHO? No Ifs, Ands or Buts about it. It’s crucial that Jake Westbrook pitch the best game of his life. Probably needs to bring his A-Game at the plate and help himself out with another homer. It’s imperative that the Big-3 do their thing and then some. Yadi must be Yadi. David Freese? Ryan Theriot or Skip Schumaker? The whole team? It’s Go Time Boys. You know what you have to do.