Friday, October 7, 2011

Connie Mack Award

Alright, now we get in to the fun part of being in the Baseball Bloggers Alliance (not that there's not a fun part...). So it's awards time, which means that we get a chance to talk about other teams, and how good they are - this time not necessarily in comparison to the Astros. The Connie Mack Award highlights the best manager in each league.

We'll start with the National League. Because it's superior.

3rd place

Don Mattingly, Los Angeles. Mattingly was up against a limited payroll, limited options for improvement, and limited hope of doing anything noteworthy. So finishing up 82-79 is impressive, given his circumstances.

2nd place

Ron Roenicke, Milwaukee. Yes, Milwaukee won the NL Central, but they were decent last year, and got better in the offseason in an attempt to make a run at the title. You shouldn't get first place votes for doing what you're supposed to do.

1st place

Kirk Gibson, Arizona. Now this, this is impressive. They went 65-97 (34-49 under Gibson), and turned around to win the NL West in impressive fashion.

American League

3rd place

Ron Washington, Texas. He falls in Ron Roenicke territory. They were good, they're still good, and they did what they were supposed to do.

2nd place

Jim Leyland, Detroit. The Tigers, on the other hand, were supposed to be okay. Maybe challenge for the AL Central. They were certainly not supposed to win it by 15 games.

1st place

Joe Maddon, Tampa. Maddon took a Longoria-less Rays to the post-season, taking advantage of the historic collapse of the Red Sox (as if "collapse" isn't enough, you have to preface it with "historic") to do it, and playing in probably the most exciting game of the season. Seriously, Maddon deserves the award just for pinch-hitting Dan Johnson in the 9th inning.

Andrew Friedman sure doesn't sound like a guy who wants to leave

The St. Petersburg Times' Marc Topkin has a story on Rays' GM Andrew Friedman, amid speculation that the Cubs and/or Astros may make a run at him.

"As an organizational philosophy, we don't comment on rumors and speculation in any part of our business; there's no reason to. My focus is on taking the learnings from the 2011 season and rolling them into the (Rays') 2012 team."

Really, though, why would he leave Tampa?

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Chris Johnson's dad might be out of a job

Red Sox first-base coach Ron Johnson - Chris Johnson's dad - might be out of a job, according to an ESPN Boston report.

Rumor was that Johnson was held at fault for not physically carrying the Red Sox players to first base in September.

Vote for Rene!

Rene Cardenas, broadcaster since 1958 and the man who called Astros games in Spanish for 16 seasons (1962-1977), is on the ballot for the Hall of Fame's Ford C. Frick Award.

Final voting for the award will be conducted by a 20-member electorate, comprised of the 15 living Frick Award recipients and five broadcast historians/columnists.

Including Gene Elston and Milo Hamilton.

Chronicle lines up behind Crane

Hey, so here's an editorial from the Houston Chronicle, weighing in with an opinion on the Jim Crane Saga:

We don't know why Commissioner Selig has drawn out this process, but we do know that Crane has put together a more-than-fair proposal, including a solid ownership team of local investors. Rather than leaving the Astros and Houston in limbo, Major League Baseball officials need to specify whatever objections they have to the deal. If Crane can't win their approval, it's time to say so.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

You know you've made it as a pothead when High Times covers your bust

Congrats to Jordan Schafer, whose pot bust got picked up by High Times, which offered up some advice for the young stoner:

Next time around, Schafer would be better advised to keep the party indoors (or at least roll up the Rover windows), update those license plates every once in a while and never carry more than half an ounce while hanging in Florida.


The Astros took three players off the 40-man roster today. Who, you ask?

-Blake King, who was placed on Corpus' roster.
-Xavier Cedeno, who will be a free agent after the World Series.
-Lance Pendleton, who can become a free agent, thanks to an earlier outright off the 40-man roster.

I hope the Astros keep Cedeno and Pendleton, but this was likely about freeing up three spots for the 40-man roster to protect three of the newcomers from the summer from getting got in the Rule V draft.

Aha. Zach Levine has a note that Brandon Lyon, Alberto Arias, and Sergio Escalona were on the 60-Day DL at the end of the season. So they were not on the 40-man roster.

Farmstros' tribute to Dustin Kellogg

Over at Farmstros, there's a nice tribute to Dustin Kellogg.

Jordan Lyles = Brad Radke?

Over at Minor League Ball John Sickels examined the Top 50 pitching prospects, and evaluated their seasons.

Our very own Jordan Lyles was #17, and Sickels had this to say:
Grade B+: 3.61 ERA, 42/17 K/BB in 62 Triple-A innings. Went 2-8, 5.36 in 94 major league innings with 67/26 K/BB and 107 hits allowed. Remains on the Brad Radke career track.

Your first thought was probably similar to mine, in which you thought, "BRAD F&#@(ING RADKE!?" and got all indignant. But before we arbitrarily pass judgment, let's see if it's right:

Lyles' minor-league numbers.

Single-A: 144.2IP, 134H/52ER, 3.24 ERA/1.19 WHIP, 167K:38BB
Double-A: 127.0IP, 133H/44ER, 3.12 ERA/1.32 WHIP, 115K:35BB
Triple-A: 94.0IP, 112H/44ER, 4.21 ERA/1.49 WHIP, 64K:28BB
Houston: 94.0IP, 107H/56ER, 5.36 ERA/1.42 WHIP, 67K:26BB

Alright. How about Radke?

Single-A: 165.2IP, 149H/54ER, 2.93 ERA/1.18 WHIP, 127K:47BB
Double-A: 262.1IP, 248H/94ER, 3.22 ERA/1.14 WHIP, 199K:50BB
Minnesota: 2451.0IP, 2643H/1150ER, 4.22 ERA/1.26 WHIP, 1467K:445BB

Radke posted 9.7 hits/9, 1.6 BB/9, a 3.30 K:BB ratio, and an OPS+ over 100 in 10 of his 12 seasons (averaging 113 OPS+).

I think if Lyles turned into Brad Radke - a guy you could count on for 10+ seasons (Radke was 22 when he came up with the Twins in 1995) to turn in above-average numbers - I would somehow be okay with that.

The Astros played baseball for 475 hours, 26 minutes this season

Courtesy of Flip Flop Flyin' we see that the Astros played baseball for 475 hours and 26 minutes this season - 46 hours fewer than the Red Sox.

What can you do in 475:26? Watch The Godfather 163 times.

November 30 deadline "not etched in stone" for sale

Jim Crane told Mark Berman that the November 30 deadline to complete the sale of the Astros was not "etched in stone," and that a request from MLB to move to the American League was "not a deal-killer."

"If that contract expires, either we walk away or we try to negotiate a new contract. That's the two options in my opinion. We hope to sign the team up and be done with it long before November 30th, but that's out of our control."

But he didn't hesitate to fire a parting shot at MLB:
The longer this (goes) on it just creates uncertainty for the town and the fans. Baseball moves at their own pace. I think it's been detrimental to the team, to the fans, to not have clarity here and we would like to get this thing over with. They are going to go on their timetable and we're going to hang in there. We can get the job done, bottom line. I'll get the team back on track and I'll get the town engaged and I'll get the fans engaged and we'll put a good product on the field."

In this updated Chronicle story, Crane says that the longer MLB waits, the worse it could be for the Astros:
"It's really been bad for the team and the town in my opinion because (Drayton) kind of put stuff off - not that they're doing a bad job, I'm not trying to throw stones at anybody. But (McLane) wants out, the team was way below projections, and I think unless they get a shot in the arm and there's some new direction, the team could sink even further and the losses could be even greater for Drayton next year."

Barmes' stock watch

MLBTR has a post up about Clint Barmes' value heading into this offseason, his first as a free agent.

It's a good read, and MLBTR lists Omar Infante's 2-year, $8m deal as a comparison/starting point for negotiations with Barmes. That would be just fine with me, as we mentioned two years, $10-12m as an "acceptable" salary for Barmes.

DSL pitcher Kelvin Santana busted for PEDs

The hits just keep on coming, eh? Courtesy of What the Heck, Bobby, we get this note, from Baseball America:

Two minor league free agents also were suspended 50 games for performance-enhancing drugs: catcher Oscar Rodriguez, most recently of the Pirates organization, and righthander Kelvin Santana, who pitched in the Astros' Dominican Summer League club this past summer.

Santana, a 21-year old RHP, pitched for the first time in the Astros organization in 2011, having spent 2008-09 with Baltimore. He was presumably out of baseball in 2010. In 20.1IP (14G), Santana allowed 11H/0ER, 31K:13BB, for a 2-0 record, 0.00 ERA, and a 1.18 WHIP, striking out 13.7 batters per nine innings.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Update on Jim Crane

Zach Levine comes in with an update on the Jim Crane situation, who had a "brief editorial meeting" with the Chronicle.

In the link we find:
*The Astros-to-AL move has picked up steam, but there hasn't been any mention of compensation for the move.

The possibility of realignment was brought up before the sale was announced in a May press conference, but was sort of left alone. After a "small contingent of owners" met in Chicago in August, realignment talks lit back up.

“We’ve been asked at times to make an offer. We said we have a contract in place; we want to honor that contract and that’s what we want to execute on. We don’t want to change that. If you’d like us to consider something, give us something. We haven’t gotten that yet.”

*If November 30 comes and goes without Crane being approved, he would likely just leave it alone, but left the door open to a renegotiation.

*Also, Levine mentions a person familiar with the MLB's side of the situation:
...the primary issue delaying the sale remains past claims of unfair hiring practices and war profiteering by Crane’s shipping logistics companies.

Lots to consider here...

Terrible News: Dustin Kellogg killed in car wreck

Awful news from Fox26 overnight. 2011 34th Round draft pick Dustin Kellogg was killed when his truck hit a Wal-Mart semi in a head-on collision in Conroe.

Kellogg threw in six games for the GCL Astros after being drafted out of Caney Creek HS. Thoughts and prayers are with Kellogg's family.

...And here's your Jordan Schafer mug shot

Captip to CBSSports for posting Jordan Schafer's mug shot.

Jordan Schafer arrested on felony marijuana charge

According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Astros centerfielder Jordan Schafer was arrested on a felony marijuana charge at 12:38am Tuesday morning at a Tampa Cheesecake Factory (this detail simply cannot be made up).

The AJC's Jeff Schultz:
Let me just say this about Schafer: I’ve always liked him personally, and he was well-liked in the Braves’ clubhouse this season. Veterans, most notably Chipper Jones, believed he had turned the corner in his life and career after originally seeming too cocky when he first came up from the minors a few years ago.

In the St. Pete Times article, Schafer declined to give police the name of his employer. Because no one would EVER find that out.

UPDATE: Zach Levine says that Schafer was carrying 25.9 grams of marijuana (the felony cut-off is 20 grams), was stopped for an expired Mississippi plate, had a joint in his hand, and three marijuana peanut butter cups.

Monday, October 3, 2011

FJM time!

We at Astros County rarely FJM an article. If you're not familiar, go check out Fire Joe Morgan. It's genius. Our continual hesitance to FJM an article has more to do with respect for FJM than anything else. Nevertheless, this article warranted it. Apologies in advance to Fire Joe Morgan.

The Astros' lineup has been a revolving door in the last two years, with blockbuster trades that sent Lance Berkman, Hunter Pence and Michael Bourn to the thick of pennant races, while the Astros welcomed a steady flow of rookies getting their feet wet in the Major Leagues.

A "revolving door" would make you think that, at some point, Berkman, Pence, and Bourn will come back around. Of course, this won't happen, unless they are re-purposed as middle relievers. A more accurate metaphor might be one of a portal to a different planet where the rest of the National League is Terra Nova, and the Astros lineup is a scorched-earth apocalypse where lightning and fire descend on Minute Maid Park in a tangled braid of destruction.

The one constant: Carlos Lee.

This is actually the perfect example of a revolving door. Every time you look at the lineup, there he is. Every July you think you've seen the last of him, but come August 1, there he is, hitting fourth.

The veteran outfielder-turned-first baseman certainly didn't put up the kind of numbers he did in the first three seasons of his six-year deal with the Astros,

That's not necessarily true. Lee made $43m in the first three seasons of his six-year deal, meaning the Astros paid $9,347,826 per WAR. In the last two seasons, the Astros paid Lee $18,095,238 per WAR. Monster numbers.

but he remained the team's most feared slugger and top run producer.

Carlos Lee's OPS+ in 2010: 92. Hunter Pence's OPS+ in 2010: 113. There were actually four players on the 2010 Astros who put up better OPS+ than Lee in 2010. And Pence out-RBI'd Lee, as well. 2011 hitters with a higher OPS+ than Lee: Hunter Pence, Matt Downs, Brian Bogusevic. If by "most feared," you mean, "shortstops who are most on edge that Lee will hit a towering pop-up that will hit their glove with such force that it splits their arm down to the elbow," then yes, this fits.

Lee is the Astros' nominee for the 2011 Hank Aaron Award.

Hank Aaron hangs his head in shame.

What made his numbers this year even more remarkable was the fact he got off to such a bad start in April.

Vote for Lee's relative mediocrity, because he would have been even more cut-worthy had he not sucked it up when the games kinda-sorta mattered.

He hit .194 with two homers and 15 RBIs in the season's first month. He finished the season hitting .275, with 18 home runs and 94 RBIs.

Fact: Take out April, and Lee would have hit .294/.364/.474 over the course of the season. Also, if you take out Carlos Lee, the Astros' payroll would have been $48.5m in 2011.

"That's something I take a lot of pride in my career, driving in runs and getting the best out of it.

"I am very proud of driving in runs at roughly the same rate as Nick Swisher and Shawn Green. The best."

At the same time, that's why you play 162 games," Lee said. "You've got to play and go hard, and it ain't over until it's over."

...Lee said, who has played 162 games twice in his 13 seasons. "You've got to play, and jog down the first base line when you hit a grounder to the left side. It ain't over until I remember how to hit. Take 2011, for example. The Astros were already six games back before I got my average over .200. That's when it's over."

Astros manager Brad Mills has been a staunch supporter of Lee, who is seldom out of the lineup, even when he's struggling.

"Seriously, what choice do I have?" said a weeping Mills, who muted his tearful conversation with Terry Francona to answer. Checking to make sure Francona was still just talking, Mills continued, "The bastard is making over $18 million. Ed Wade won't let me sit a guy making that much money."

"What he's done to be able to get to 90 RBIs is good," Mills said prior to the end of the season.

It's so good, 28 other Major League players achieved as many RBIs as Carlos Lee.

"He's doing some things differently now than he was doing back in April and May, and it's something that we're going to be able to look back on."

"The things he's doing differently? Putting the ball in play. That's different. We hadn't seen that side out of Carlos in April 2011. We'll be able to look back on it. Not fondly, but we'll be able to look back on it."

The big man handled himself pretty well at first base, which wasn't too surprising,

He did well at first base, the place where you stick your biggest defensive liability after they nut it in the second-easiest fielding position on the field, especially in Minute Maid Park, where trying to throw a ball from left field to home plate is approximately the same distance from the yellow line to the 6th bucket in Bozo's Grand Prize Game.

...considering Lee came up through the White Sox system as a third baseman.

His success shouldn't surprising, because as recently as 14 years ago Lee played on the other side of the field.

"It's more of a challenge at first base than it is in left field," he said. "You have to be somewhere on every pitch, you've got to be moving every single pitch."

"I stand in left field, and I can look at the people in the stands. I was probably 30 feet away from that douchebag getting out of the way of the foul ball to let it hit his hot girlfriend. That was a challenging thing to watch. Not nearly as challenging as it is at first base, where I have to concentrate throughout the whole game. And I don't even get to have Michael Bourn standing between me and the dugout, covering foul balls. I had to move constantly. That was more challenging."

"You're more in the game when you're in the infield, and you're always on the move. When you play in [chilly] weather, if you're in the outfield and you're not doing much, you're going to get stiff. At first base, every time the ball's hit, you've got to move."

"Did I mention that my joints get stiff? There used to be entire games where I didn't take one step. Last September, I didn't move an inch. I mean it. I stood in left field next to Jose Tabata even when the Astros were up to bat. Nobody noticed. I got stiff. Couldn't move. Now I move. All the time. It's very tiring. Thank you for nominating me."

Delino DeShields is FanGraphs' Most Disappointing Astros Prospect of 2011

FanGraphs broke down the NL Central team-by-team in Most Disappointing Prospects. The Astros pick? Delino DeShields, Jr.

The speedy Astros prospect was over-matched during his first full pro season in A-ball. As expected, he didn’t hit for much power (.102 ISO) but he also didn’t post much in terms of average (.222). If we’re looking for positives, he posted a respectable walk rate (9.6 BB%), especially for someone that needs to get on base to use his best tool – his wheels. Despite his raw speed, DeShields needs to work on his base running and reading of the pitchers because was was nabbed 11 times in 41 tries.

Congratulations, we've just made Urban Legend status

A newspaper's blog in Wisconsin has found it fit to name Astros fans as "urban legends" on a list of the different fans one might encounter.

Astros fan: This fan is more of an urban legend. You know, “I have a cousin who knows a guy who’s neighbor is an Astros fan.”

Castro out with ribcage injury

Jason Castro is still dealing with a ribcage injury, and has been temporarily replaced on the Arizona Fall League roster by Roberto Pena.

The Astros are currently a stupid, petty organization

Last night I had the opportunity to appear on the Crawfish Boxes season-ending podcast, and had a rip-roaring good time. Over the course of the conversation (and we'll provide the link once it's available), it came out that the Astros engaged in some dubious PR in reference to the Houston-area chapter of the BBWAA. David Coleman wrote a post this morning detailing it:

This year, my friend and other members of the chapter voted for Hunter Pence as Astros MVP, which is why he was announced as the winner last week. Before that announcement, though, shenanigans ensued.

According to my boss and friend through Mr. Hartman, there are Astros officials who called him (and presumably other writers) to get them to change their vote so it would be less embarrassing that a Phillie won Astros MVP. This brilliant plan predictably did not work...

...Until this team can get away from these kinds of bone-headed decisions and get back to being a first-rate organization, things are going to be pretty grim. Grim enough to vote a guy as team MVP even though he hasn't been there for 55 games.

If this is true, and there's no reason to think that it is not, then the Astros are - as previously mentioned in the title of this post - a stupid, and petty organization. Think of all of the things wrong with the Astros. And then think that this is what they are spending their time on. This is the kind of bullcrap that makes me ashamed of my favorite team, and makes me not want to support them anymore. It won't happen, of course, and I suspect Drayton, Tal, and Pam Gardner know that this is the case for whatever fans still care about this train-wreck of a franchise.

I suppose that, for me, this episode sums up everything that's wrong with this team.

Davey Lopes is not impressed with Ed Wade's work

USA Today's Bob Nightengale has a story on Hunter Pence (who, along with Berkman, will likely be the sole source of posts at Astros County for the time being). Dodgers First Base Coach Davey Lopes, who spent the last four years with the Phillies, wasn't impressed with the Astros side of the trade:

"That's why Ruben Amaro is the executive of the year," said Los Angeles Dodgers first base coach Davey Lopes, who spent the previous four years in Philadelphia. "You get Cliff Lee to come there and take less money. And then you steal Pence? That wasn't a trade. That was a steal. You kidding me?"

Amaro told Nightengale that he told Wade of his interest in Pence as early as May:
"It was a lot more perfect fit that we thought. The fans are really into him. And he fit right into this clubhouse."

Berkman's conditioning was just fine

In the second of a two-part series on Former Astros Dominating Once They Leave Houston, Fox 43 (out of Pennsylvania) addressed Lance Berkman.

Tony LaRussa:
"We've been really impressed with his conditioning and how his legs have stood up. That was the only thing we worried about because you have a sore leg like he did last year and he's basically hitting on one leg. That explained those stats."

Now, remember Milo blasted Lance for his conditioning back in April.

Differences between Phillies and Astros clubhouse

So while the playoff teams' local media search for angles about their respective teams, some attention is being cast towards the Astros, who have supplied approximately 85% of all eight playoff teams' rosters*.

Like the Press of Atlantic City, who talked to some former Astros. Hunter Pence, who apparently played for the Astros in 2011:

"It's been kind of a whirlwind for me. The main difference here, there are a lot of people watching a lot of film. Little things going on. There is a lot to learn. Everyone is just professional veterans. Quiet, going about their business, but willing to help if you have questions."

Or Brad Lidge:
"There was an element of confidence I haven't seen before. There was a swagger here. I played with some great players, too. This is fun to be a part of."

To recap: In Philadelphia, they do things like "watching film," and have something called "swagger." That's different enough from Houston that it's apparently worth mentioning to the media. I'm sure we'll have more on this later, but for now, my heart just can't bear the fact that the Astros don't watch a whole lot of film.