Friday, December 16, 2011

Jason Michaels is no longer our problem

The gentleman who took so many ABs away from Brian Bogusevic, the gentleman Brad Mills trusted off the bench above all others - Jason Michaels - has signed a minor-league deal with the Washington Nationals.

What might have been

What if there were no trades, rule 5 picks, or free agency? Ever wondered what the Astros would look like if no player transactions were allowed?  Well you're in luck, because CBSSports.com's blog Eye on Baseball is in the middle of a series that is putting together current lineups for each team as though each player stayed with the organization that first signed them. Their conclusion? The Astros would still only be a 75 win team in 2011, even with their best homegrown current player at every position. Given our horrible drafts in the earlier part of the decade, I'd say that's about right.

Melancon's mixed emotions

Brian McTaggart describes a tortured Mark Melancon:

Mark Melancon was eating a vacation lunch on a Cancun beach with his uncle on Wednesday when his wife walked up to him with a concerned look on her face. Melancon immediately thought the worst, thinking something was wrong with the couple's baby daughter, Brooklyn Marie.

"I hadn't seen a face like that from her since Brooklyn's been around," he said. "I just figured something was wrong and she needed help. She was full of emotions and then she told me the news, and I was just thankful Brooklyn was OK."


The Boston Globe's Peter Abraham talked to a very excited Mark Melancon:

Mark Melancon was on a beach in Cancun on Wednesday when he looked up and saw his wife, Mary Catherine, running his way.

“There was no reason in the world she would be running that fast and she had this expression on her face that was full of emotion,’’ Melancon said last night. “I was worried for a second that something was wrong. Then she started screaming, ‘You just got traded! It’s the Red Sox!'"

-

To McTaggart:
"I wish I could have won a little bit more, but every organization goes through those periods. I was looking forward to helping rebuild the team and create something very positive, but obviously I'm moving on and it's going to be a new and exciting adventure for me and my family."

To Abraham:
“I loved playing for the Yankees and getting a chance to pitch in the AL East. I’m glad to be going back to that division. Competition like that is good for you. I want to be on a contender with that kind of history and a front office that is solely there to win. It was amazing to me how different it was with the Astros. Houston was wonderful for my career and I enjoyed it. But now I’m in the kind of place I really want to be. Boston is the kind of team where you can create a lot of great memories."

Ahhh, the beauty of perspective...

Paul Clemens expects to be in Houston by the end of 2012

In an interview with Patch.com, Paul Clemens has some high hopes for 2012:

“I feel this year I will definitely get my shot at some point during the year. Things have been going great for me the past few years. When I get a shot I will be ready...

...“My fastball tops at about 97. I throw a circle change and a curve. I have worked some on a two-seam fastball but I have real life on my four-seam fastball. The two-seam is not something that I need. I hope to compete for a job at the big league level. That is my goal.”

Travis Smink moves into coaching

Travis Smink, 31st Round selection in the 2009 draft, has moved on from professional baseball, and will be the new head coach for Carlisle (PA) High School.

In three seasons with the Astros (two with Greeneville, one with Tri-City), Smink posted a 4.57 ERA/1.37 WHIP, with 75K:19BB in 104.1IP.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

The J.R. Towles era has come to a swift end

The Minneapolis Star-Tribune's Joe Christensen tweeted that the Twins have signed J.R. Towles to a minor-league deal with an invitation to Spring Training.

Ahhh, Justin Richard. The promise you had! The ways you would tease us! You're now a Twin. No longer will we confuse your appearance with Chase Budinger.

Over five seasons - three of those stints totaling fewer than 53 plate appearances - Towles hit .187/.267/.315. But man, on September 20, 2007, we thought we saw Johnny Bench. Do you not remember that game? It was a meaningless one, although anytime the Astros beat the Cardinals 18-1 it can hardly be described as "meaningless."

It was Towles' sixth career major-league appearance. He started it off with a two-run double to left in the top of the 2nd. And a two-run single to left in the top of the 4th. And then an RBI ground-rule double to right in the top of the 6th. And was hit by a pitch in the 7th. And drew an RBI walk in the 8th. And then topped it off with a two-run homer in the top of the 9th.

The result? Six plate appearances: a walk, an HBP, four hits (two doubles, a homer, a single), eight RBIs.

But what was to come was not pretty. If you take out that one game, from 2008-11 Towles hit .168/.251/.289, bouncing back and forth between Houston and Triple-A/Double-A, where in parts of four seasons, he hit a maddening .286/.389/.443. But his days were effectively done when, on May 5, 2010 Greg Lucas brought the thunder about Towles, following his demotion all the way to Corpus. He wrote:

J.R. Towles is no longer an Astro because pitchers don’t like working with him. It has not been a secret within the Astro clubhouse that at least two starters—one with significant prominence—have had problems communicating with J.R. Everything from pace of the game, to targets offered, to being on the same page contributed to the split.

So fare thee well, J.R. Towles. If anyone has ever needed a change of scenery, it's you.

The Common Man hands out the Bagwell Punishment

Hardball Talk linked to this today, but it's definitely worth a re-link: Nine sportswriters accused of plagiarizing their thoughts on Bagwell.

The task facing Luhnow

ESPN's Christina Kahrl has a good recap of what's facing new Astros GM Jeff Luhnow.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Stavinoha released

Zach Levine is reporting that recent minor league signee Nick Stavinoha has been granted a release to pursue opportunities in Japan. Not an unusual move, but a little more surprising given that he joined the Cardinals organization while new GM Jeff Luhnow was with St. Louis.

Jeff Bagwell: 1993 to 1994

This whole Hall of Fame/Jeff Bagwell stuff has me all riled up. I'm sure that the writers who actually give enough of a crap to check out Bagwell's Baseball-Reference page looked at his jump from 1993 to 1994 as enough "proof" to suspect something was going on with Bagwell's body. Let's examine, shall we?

In 142 games (609 PAs) in 1993, Bagwell posted the following:
.320/.388/.516, with 20 homers, (61 XBH), 73K:62BB

In 1994, Bagwell played 110 games (strike-shortened season), with 479 PAs, posting:
.368/.451/.750, 39 homers (73 XBH), 65K:65BB

That's a significant jump - 19 more home runs in 130 fewer PAS. If we use, you know, a calculator, we know that Bagwell hit homers in 1993 at a rate of one every 30.45 plate appearances. In 1994, it was one every 12.28 plate appearances. What changed?

In 1993, Bagwell hit .330/.409/.509 in the Astrodome and .310/.365/.522 on the road, with a difference of only seven plate appearances between the two splits. Ten of his homers were at home, ten were on the road. Seven of those homers came in May, when he busted out for a .412/.467/.676 slash line, with 13K:14BB. Three of those homers came in one series against the Reds (May 6-8) where they left the Astrodome with a 12-17 record. All three came against the Reds' relievers.

Still, Bagwell played his last game of the season on September 12, 1993 when a Ben Rivera pitch ended up breaking his hand, causing Bagwell to miss the final 20 games of the season. If you figure that Bagwell missed about 86 plate appearances, it translates into approximately three more HRs. It's not a lot, but going from 23 to 39 homers is a little different than 20 to 39.

Bagwell was also either hitting in front of Eric Anthony or Ken Caminiti in 1993. Anthony hit 4th in 86 games in 1993, and posted a .272/.346/.453 line in the cleanup spot. Caminiti - when hitting 4th - hit .237/.309/.289. Anthony was good, Caminiti was not.

In 1994, Bagwell killed lefties (he killed everybody, in general), hitting .457/.544/1.095, with 18 of his 39 homers coming in 125 PAs vs. LHP (as opposed to a .318/.408/.592 line, with 10 homers in 213 PAs. So that's a homer every 6.9 PAs against a lefty in 1994, and one every 21.3 PAs in 1993.

But here's something else: From Opening Day to June 13, Bagwell hit 4th in the lineup, behind Craig Biggio, and he posted a .327/.406/.636 line with 17 homers, one every 12.9 PAs. Impressive, but not legendary. However, starting with the June 14, 1994 game, Terry Collins moved Bagwell back to the #3 spot, When Bagwell hit 3rd, he hit .417/.505/.889, with 19 doubles, 22 homers, 28K:32BB (11 intentional), with a .398 BABIP. That's one HR every 9.9 PAs.

On July 5, Biggio took over the leadoff spot, where Bagwell - now two spots behind Biggio, one behind Steve Finley, and in front of Ken Caminiti - hit .407/.507/.850 with a homer every 10.9 PAs, and an extra-base hit every 5.92 PAs.

In 1994, Craig Biggio also, after 5 1/2 good seasons, hit .300 for the first time - hitting .318/.411/.483, and posting his first .800+ OPS season. As the lead-off hitter, Biggio hit .347/.446/.533 in 1994.

From Opening Day - July 2, 1994, the Astros were 44-36 (.550), and hit 265/.333/.427. After Biggio was moved to the lead-off spot and the order got all shifted around, the Astros as a team hit .305/.378/.485, and went 22-13 (.629) until the strike happened.

So it's my opinion that Bagwell - after almost 2,000 plate appearances - was putting together a great year in 1994 until the lineup was shifted to maximize the lineup, and then it became a monster year. Ken Caminiti is a key player in this, as he hit .283/.352/.495 in 1994, becoming an All-Star for the first time, and providing protection for Bagwell.

Of course you're thinking, "But Caminiti admitted using steroids!" And you're right. However, he said he didn't start using until 1996, when he was in San Diego, to recover from a shoulder injury. If you think Bagwell juiced because he was buddies with Caminiti, Bagwell's MVP season pre-dates Caminiti's introduction to the magical world of injectible super-hero strength by two seasons, and Caminiti wasn't in Houston when he says he started juicing. And if you don't believe Caminiti, then there's no logic or rhyme/reason to persuade you.

Does this absolve Jeff Bagwell? I'm sure it won't mean a single solitary to anyone who doesn't want to look much more closely at the Hall of Fame than the internal "Do I think this guy is a Hall of Famer?" question. But it matters to me.

Luhnow, on today's trade

Jeff Luhnow talked to Mark Berman about the Melancon trade today:

"Obviously we're giving up a lot in Melancon, but I feel like we're getting value back in getting a guy that can play shortstop with a good (bat), a switch-hitter, as well as a pitcher who is capable of being in the rotation next year."

Brian Bixler removed from 40-man roster

Hope you enjoyed that spot on the 40-man, Brian Bixler. Because you have been outrighted to make room for Jed Lowrie and/or Kyle Weiland.

More respect for Astros farm system

J.P Schwartz over at TopProspectAlert.com just put out his farm system rankings with links to his top 15 prospects for each organization, and the Astros are solidly average, coming in at #15!

Reactions to Melancon/Lowrie-Weiland trade

Here are some quick reactions to the trade today (from respected tweeters, woofers):

McTaggart:
the Astros are unlikely to contend next year, so having a lights-out closer isn’t tantamount. Expect the club to get a good look next year at several arms they believe could close in the future. The bottom line is the Astros traded one young player and two more in return. The rebuildling continues.

Keith Law (Insider-only):
Jeff Luhnow's first move as general manager of the Houston Astros isn't a huge one, but it's a great deal for them and shows just how badly the club was mismanaged under Ed Wade over the last few years.

Baseball America:
First on new Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow's to-do list: acquire viable options to play shortstop and catcher, the two most demanding positions on the field. His search continues for a catcher to cover for the injured Jason Castro, but odds are he found his shortstop in a trade with the Red Sox.

FanGraphs:
A healthy Lowrie will make this look like a steal for Houston three years down the road, but we haven’t seen a healthy Lowrie all too often. It’s entirely possible that Weiland will outproduce Melancon next season by himself, but contenders often have to overpay a bit to deal with their pressing needs.

Sky Kalkman:
Well crap, it appears I'm going to have to give @jluhnlow the Friedman treatment and fanboy all his moves no matter what.

Jay Jaffe:
Those of you clucking about Jed Lowrie's durability, are you really going to hold a 4-month bout of mono against him?

Eno Sarris:
Weiland for Melancon would have been fair. Adding Lowrie was a mistake.

BrewersBar:
Melancon was all it took to get Jed Lowrie? Jeez.

Marc Normandin:
This is a trade where both sides did well. I know we all hate trades without clear winners.

Jon Heyman:
melancon nice pickup for #redsox. cant be their closer, tho. they still need someone for the 9th.

Buster Olney:
Like the Astros-Red Sox trade for both sides; Melancon gives BOS possible high-end reliever, and Lowrie could do some damage for HOU.

Keith Olbermann:
Red Sox rip Astros off

Astros trade Mark Melancon, get a shortstop

Have a seat, Angel Sanchez. The Astros have a new shortstop, Jed Lowrie.

Jeff Luhnow has apparently pulled the trigger on a trade with the Red Sox sending 2011 closer Mark Melancon to Boston for Jed Lowrie and Kyle Weiland.

Jed Lowrie answers the question of "Who in the hell is going to play shortstop?" A definite upgrade over Angel Sanchez, Lowrie has hit .252/.324/.408 in parts of four seasons with the Red Sox. His breakout year was in an injury-shortened 2010, when he hit .287/.381/.526 in 55 games, with 25K:25BB.

In 88 games for Boston in 2011, he regressed, hitting .252/.303/.382. Fire Brand of the American League has a review of Lowrie's 2011, with this money-quote:
Certainly, if you think this is a good buy-low situation, then now is a good time to get in. Depending on who you talk to, in 2011 Lowrie is everything from a 4-win shortstop to an injury-riddled super-utility. If I were dealing for him, I would bet the latter.

I didn't watch the Red Sox in 2011, because they play in an inferior league, but I feel like Lowrie's promise is an upgrade over Angel Sanchez' existing skill set.

Kyle Weiland is a 25-year old 6'4" 195lb RHP from Albuquerque, and was the Red Sox' 3rd Round pick in 2008. He appared in seven games (five starts) for the Red Sox in 2011, pretty much getting beat up (7.66 ERA/1.66 WHIP), but in 90 minor-league appareances (85 starts), has a 3.51 ERA/1.22 WHIP, with a 2.49 K:BB ratio. In Triple-A in 2011, Weiland threw 128.1IP, allowing 108H/51ER, 126K:55BB.

Sox Prospects says:
90-95 MPH fastball that comes in two-seam and four-seam varieties. Two-seamer has excellent late life and arm-side run. Attacks the zone with solid-average command of his fastball. Doesn't make a lot of mistakes with it and uses both sides of the plate, but can leave it up on occasions. 78-81 MPH curveball has made strides since signing.

WEEI's Alex Speier has this excellent article on Weiland, where Red Sox pitcher Andrew Miller says:
“From what I understand, they always thought, ‘He was a closer in college and maybe he’ll be a reliever again.’ But what I’ve seen from him as a starter, he’s certainly got the ability and stuff to do it. It’s good that he’s getting the opportunity. He’s earned it – especially this year. At a certain point, if he’s able to have success in Triple-A as a starter, he’s able to hold his velocity, maybe you think, ‘Oh, maybe he’s a starter.’

The Astros of course are (reportedly) losing Mark Melancon, the 26-year old closer acquired from the Yankees in the 2010 Berkman trade, and 20 saves. With Brandon Lyon and his millions expected to be back (and healthy-ish), Melancon was expendable, and the 2012 Astros need a shortstop more than they needed Melancon. Jed Lowrie is under team control until 2015 (Arbitration-eligible this off-season), and Weiland is under team control until 2018.

Who does this affect most on the current roster? Brandon Lyon gets his job back (presumably). Jimmy Paredes stays at 3rd, and Jonathan Villar now has the luxury of having time to develop. It also may pave the way for a Wandy/Myers trade, as the Astros have Weiland waiting in the wings for the rotation.

Et Tu, Brutus?

The Hartford Courant - Jeff Bagwell's home newspaper - has a columnist named Jeff Jacobs, who apparently is a voting member of the BBWAA and wonders if the chore is "worth the hassle."

About Our Boy Jeff Bagwell:
Based on numbers alone, Bagwell deserves to be in the Hall of Fame...

...We have seen tens of players like Bagwell blow up from a skinny 20 to a cartoon 35. We have seen tens of players like Bagwell break down physically in their late 30s. I will never vote for Rafael Palmeiro or Mark McGwire, not in 15 lifetimes, but I also don't want to be part of any witch hunt. I only want to play the percentages...

...I have wanted to wait a few years to see if anything surfaced. To watch ESPN, Yahoo!, New York Daily News, the Texas media — someone with the resources and vigor — put Bagwell in its headlights and see if he emerges clean. I have no intentions of making him wait forever. I will wait another year or two.


To recap:

*By the standards of baseball, Jeff Bagwell is a Hall of Famer.
*But Bagwell played with Rafael Palmeiro and Mark McGwire.
*So this writer will wait until someone with enough time, money, and desire decides to put Bagwell on trial for PED use (something of which Bagwell was never officially linked).
*If no one does so, and soon, he'll just go ahead and vote for him.

This has to be one of the laziest arguments I've ever heard in not voting for a player. "By the numbers," Bagwell is a Hall of Famer. By the character clause, too, actually, Jeff Bagwell is a Hall of Famer, because he has never been linked to the use of PEDs. There have been whispers, even flat-out, undeveloped accusations, about Bagwell. But a whisper isn't admissible in a court of law. Which is exactly what the Hall of Fame is not.

Jonah Keri sums it up:
We believe ourselves to be experts, able to pinpoint when a player supposedly started using, exactly how much benefit he gained, and how we should thus evaluate his numbers. With players like Jeff Bagwell, the pseudo-analysis goes a step further, with hordes of writers declining to vote Bagwell into the Hall of Fame because he had big muscles, and some other players of his era were caught using, so … well … you know.

Jeff Jacobs is a prime example of why this Michael Rosenberg column is spot on:
It was probably always wrong for the media to determine the news with its award votes, but now it is ridiculous. We're not just creating news; we're creating controversies. Why should we be the judge and jury for every ballplayer? It is one thing for columnists (like me) to express opinions about what Braun did, did not do, or should have done. It's quite another for us to officially validate or void a player's achievements.

The purpose of becoming a sportswriter or columnist is to have an opinion. What Jacobs has done is to shy away from that role, let others do the work, and then pass judgment on other journalists' - the ones with "resources and vigor" - work.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

The Indians are not in on Willingham, still want an OF/1B

Hey, so Ken Rosenthal says that the Indians, who have been linked to any and all short-term deals involving right-handed outfielders who can play first base, are not in on Josh Willingham.

Carlos Lee is as inevitable as a tazing at your work Christmas party.

J.A. Happ tendered contract

J.A. Happ was offered arbitration, and will return in 2012.

This makes sense, given how cheap he is. Before you get all crazy, let's look at Happ's June/July:

1-9 record. 51.2IP, 71H/44ER, 46K:29BB, 8 homers allowed, .332/.408/.565, .389 BABIP, 7.66 ERA/1.94 WHIP.

Then Aug/Sept:

3-4 record. 41IP, 29H/16ER, 36K:23BB, 4 homers allowed, .201/.310/.333, .238 BABIP, 3.51 ERA/1.27 WHIP.

They call him Mr. Glass

Jason Castro is out for three months following surgery to remove the sesamoid bone in his left food.



Jon Heyman (I know) already says that the Astros and Pudge - yes, that Pudge, could be a fit. Although I really hope not.

Regardless, the timetable for Castro's return should put him back right around the middle of Spring Training. Get ready for Quintero Time (who signed a 1-year deal worth $1m + bonuses).

Monday, December 12, 2011

FanGraphs: Wandy-to-Boston makes sense

In a post that looked remarkably similar to one I was working on to be published tonight, I will humbly withdraw my post and just link to this FanGraphs post saying that Boston makes a whole lot of sense for both sides.

Money quote:
The Astros are unlikely to be ready for serious competition by the time Rodriguez’s contract is up, and if they are able to net a couple of prospects in need of some more seasoning without eating too much of his contract, that’s a big win for them.

Red Sox interested in Wandy

With a captip to Native Astro, the Boston Herald's Michael Silverman says that Wandy Rodriguez is among the available pitchers interesting the Red Sox, along with the White Sox' Gavin Floyd and John Danks, and the A's Gio Gonzalez.