Saturday, February 4, 2012

Just when I think I'm done with Lance Berkman, he goes and says this

So our buddy John Royal was asked by the Associated Press to go over to Katy for a Christian Men's Rally, where Lance Berkman was introducing Josh Hamilton, upon whom the story was based.

In an email to Astros County, Royal said:
As the two joked before things got serious, Berkman fired off this:

"Did you really want the Rangers to win? Being from Houston, I felt like I was doing this city a favor. I don’t want Dallas to have the first ring in the major leagues here."

Slow clap.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

The Meat Wagon makes an early round

Zachary Levine has a post up in which we learn about a mini-camp for the following players:

Jake Buchanan, Jarred Cosart, Mike Foltynewicz, Brett Oberholtzer, Ross Seaton, Jason Stoffel, and Josh Zeid.

And also some Meat Wagon notes:

*The Astros signed minor-leaguer Mike Hessman.
*Vince Velasquez is ready to go after Tommy John surgery at the end of 2010.
*Chia-Jen Lo had to have TJ surgery at the end of the season, and probably won't be back until 2013.

Livan Hernandez - Hall of Famer

There has been some outcry among fans, and jokes among national writers, about the Astros signing of Livan Hernandez to a minor league deal. But I say they're missing the historical significance of this unquestionably dominant pitcher.

Ok, by now you're already typing your "Juvenile Court Clerk is an idiot" comments, and that's ok. I realize this in depth analysis will be lost on many readers. I'm willing to take the heat to get this historically important conversation started.

You see, most BBWAA members often start looking at two things when determining whether or not to vote a player into the HOF: a dominant peak and longevity. For example, CBS Sports writer Jon Heyman explained this very process when he was talking about Jack Morris' HOF candidacy. Here's what he says:

Morris' detractors generally point to one unextraordinary number, and while it's an important number, it should not define his career. His lifetime ERA of 3.90 would be the highest of any pitcher in the Hall of Fame, and his ERA plus of 105 is barely above average. But Morris pitched deep into his games and deep into his middle age, trampling his lifetime ERA. Morris is known by teammates to have pitched to the score, which enabled him to win more games than anyone else in the '80s and 254 games overall. (The leading winners in the seven preceding decades are all in the Hall.) In seven seasons, he received Cy Young votes. So he had plenty of great years.
Morris was a bulldog who refused to leave games. He completed 175 of them, and that doesn't even count Game 7 of the 1991 World Series, in which he turned in one of the greatest pitching performances in baseball history to help his hometown Twins beat the Braves 1-0 and win the Series. Morris was considered a great pitcher during his career, not someone who was defined by less meaningful games that dragged his ERA up beyond a representative number.

Well, we all have heard by now that wins are falling out of favor as a measurement of pitching success, so I got to thinking what else would indicate an ability to "pitch deep into games and deep into middle age"? How else could we determine who "was a bulldog who refused to leave games"? I propose that such profound questions can be answered by looking at innings pitched. After all, you can't rack up high innings totals without pitching deep into games for multiple years, right?  But how do we determine where to set the bar? Again, let's use the same process esteemed BBWAA member Jon Heyman uses above. Let's look at who the innings pitched leaders are by decade and how they fared in HOF voting.

1880's - Pud Galvin - HOF member
1890's - Kid Nichols - HOF member
1900's - Cy Young - HOF member
1910's - Walter Johnson - HOF member
1920's - Burleigh Grimes - HOF member
1930's - Carl Hubbell - HOF member
1940's - Hal Newhouser - HOF member
1950's - Robin Roberts - HOF member
1960's - Don Drysdale - HOF member
1970's - Gaylord Perry - HOF member
1980's - Jack Morris - Not HOF member, but gaining support
1990's - Greg Maddux - Not HOF member, but possible first ballot selection

Wow, that's 12 straight decades of innings leaders who are either already in or likely to be in the HOF. That's an even stronger indicator than Jon Heyman's win leader by decade, right? So who was the leader in the 2000's? None other than Houston's newest starting pitcher, Livan Hernandez.

Who's joking now?

The Best Age 32 seasons in baseball history

Today, I - your Constable - turn 32 years old. This sucks. I'm afraid that I'm getting too old to blog, in addition to my penchant for yelling at the television, thinking about wearing earplugs to concerts, and the necessity of the nose-hair trimmer (which sounds like a weed eater when I use it twice a week).

So let's run down the best Age 32 seasons in baseball history:

1. Easy. Babe Ruth, 1927. Ruth hit 60 homers with a .356/.486/.772 slash line. 17 of his 60 homers came in September. He led the AL in homers (obviously), runs (158), walks (137), OBP (.486), SLG (.772), OPS (1.258), and OPS+ (225). Generally considered to be the best player on the greatest baseball team in history (the Yankees went 110-44, and swept the Pirates in the World Series).

2. Bob Gibson, 1968. One of the all-time great pitching seasons, all around. But Bob Gibson went 22-9 for the Cardinals, with a 1.12 ERA/0.85 WHIP, and 268 strikeouts (all NL-bests). He threw 13 shutouts, and had a 258 ERA+ - better than any other 32-year old pitcher. Gibson only allowed 5.8 hits/9, and gave up just 11 homers all season, good enough for 0.3 HR/9 innings - the best of his career, and topped 300 IP (304.2) for the first time. They lost the World Series in seven games, which Gibson lost Game 7, but he did go 2-1 (all three starts were complete games) in the '68 World Series with a 1.67 ERA/0.82 WHIP.

3. There are undoubtedly better seasons, but I'm bored of the research for this post already, so let's finish up with Craig Biggio, 1998. Led the NL in PA (738) and doubles (51 - 3rd-highest total among 32 year olds). 1998 was also the year he set a career high in average (.325), SLG (.503), with his 2nd-best OPS at .906, and a career-high 50 stolen bases (only caught stealing eight times). Also, he was only hit by pitches 23 times in 1998, down from a career-high of 34 the year prior.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Random random Astro - Billy Goodman

In this installment of Random random Astro, we're going all the way back to the first year of the franchise's history as we look at former Colt .45 Billy Goodman.

Billy was signed a month into Houston's inaugural season, 1962, after being released by the Chicago White Sox. He would be released by Houston after the season, ending his major league career. He hit .255/.306/.292 with Houston while playing first base, second base, and third base. Earlier in his career he was a perennial .300 hitter including winning a batting title with the Red Sox in 1950 when he hit .354 and finished second to Phil Rizzuto in MVP voting.

The highlight of his short time with Houston would be June 7th in a game against the Milwaukee Braves. Billy appeared as a pinch hitter in the bottom of the ninth with the score tied at two, two outs, and runners on first and second. Against reliever Hank Fischer, who had been brought in to face Goodman, Billy hit a game winning walk-off single scoring Al Spangler and bringing the young team's record to 23-30.

Following the 1962 season, Billy stayed with the organization as a player/manager for the 1962 and 1963 Durham Bulls and manager of the Cocoa Astros in 1964.

Luhnow "comfortable" with the team as it stands

Zachary Levine has an article up in which, following the signing of Livan Hernandez, the Astros just might be done wheeling and dealing (for now).

“We’re going to continue to be opportunistic, but I feel pretty comfortable with the group we have now."

Look later today for a look at the log-ride that is the pitching staff...

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Astros sign Livan Hernandez

Ken Rosenthal is reporting via a source that the Astros have signed Livan Hernandez to a minor-league contract, with an invitation to Spring Training.

Hernandez is now 36 (he'll be 37 on February 20). He's spent the last two seasons and change with the Nationals, where in 2010/11, he threw 387IP, 415H/173ER, 213K:110BB, for a 4.02 ERA/1.36 WHIP. FanGraphs lists his xFIP at 4.57 in 2010, and 4.28 in 2011, with 4.8 WAR in those two seasons.

Back in September, FanGraphs' Eric Seidman had this to say about Livan:
He was always hittable and lacked top-notch stuff, but understood his limitations and smartly broke down the opposition. While it’s laughable to picture Hernandez teaching Stephen Strasburg how to throw 84-mph slop, it’s tough to imagine many pitchers better suited to teach these young arms. After all, you don’t tally 36 WAR on the mound, over 15 seasons and with subpar stuff, without having plenty of pitching know-how. For $1 million this season, the Nationals got 175+ league average innings and a second pitching coach. Not a bad investment at all.

Mark Berman has your quote via Luhnow:
"Livan has been doing it. Ever since he came over from Cuba many years ago, he's been an effective pitcher."

Top Prospect Alert's list

Top Prospect Alert has their Top 150 prospect list posted, and there are some Astros on there. Where, you ask?

Jon Singleton: #34
Jarred Cosart: #59
George Springer: #63
Jonathan Villar: #75

Monday, January 30, 2012

So yeah, about that name change

In the words of a well known Astros fan, "Not gonna do it; wouldn't be prudent."

Crane says the fans have spoken and the Astros shall remain the Astros. Footer let us know about it here.

Contract Details

Brian McTaggart has the contract details for Jack Cust and Chris Snyder. Give it a look.

An exercise in dumpster diving

As we've seen so far this off-season, the only free agency moves the Astros are interested in making right now are on cheap players who have a chance to improve their stock. Jack Cust, Chris Snyder, and Zach Duke were all once considered good, but not great, players and all have seen their value drop in recent seasons due to injury or inexplicable ineffectiveness. Well, the off-season isn't quite over yet, and there are still a few similar players out there waiting for phone calls. Might Jeff Luhnow have a couple more dumpsters to pick through? Looking through our roster and the free agents still out there, I don't know that there's much else on the position player side that is worth looking at. There are a few interesting arms out there, though. Let's see who's still available.

Rich Harden

Rich was once a can't miss future ace, but injuries have prevented him from reaching that potential. While he'll likely never be a 200 inning #1 starter, he may still be useful. His most recent health woes led to a dramatic decrease in velocity, as the once fearsome 95 mph heater became a much more hittable 90 mph. However, his velocity is back on the rise as he once again struck out over a batter an inning in 2011, and his K/BB ratio nearly matched his career best. His xFIP in 2011 was as good as it's been since 2008 when he was a 4.5 win pitcher in just 148 innings. Last season he made just $1.5M and the perception of his performance last year is below what his peripheral stats would indicate. And he's just 30 years old.

Chris Young

Chris is one that I think is not likely to regain his form. A former all-star with San Diego, his injuries have more significantly impacted his career. He's thrown just 222 innings since 2008, and his walk rate, which was never outstanding, jumped to 4.5 per 9 innings. Typically an increase walk rate following injury indicates some instability in the shoulder, which proves out here as Chris went down last May with a torn capsule in his throwing shoulder, requiring surgery. Chris will turn 33 this season.

Brandon Webb

Most baseball fans know Brandon's recent plight. An absolute stud of a pitcher in 2008, shoulder injuries have allowed him to throw only 16 innings at any level since. Brandon will also turn 33 this season and there is so little information to be gleaned from his agent's reports that Webb's arm is "strong and loose." Brandon might be the closest there is right now to a baseball lottery ticket.

Hong-Chih Kuo

Kuo's affliction has nothing to do with injury. After three straight seasons as a dominant bullpen piece for the Dodgers, Kuo went down with what is described as an anxiety disorder. Even after returning it was evident things just weren't right with Kuo. In recent memory there are two examples of pitchers dealing with similar issues. First there's Zach Greinke; needless to say he's been able to keep his anxiety at bay to become one of the best pitchers in the game. On the other hand is Dontrelle Willis. Willis is young enough to pull it back together, but so far his road back to effectiveness has been long and difficult with moments of hope followed by periods of poor performance. Kuo is just 30 and has yet to sign after being non-tendered this off-season.


Baseball America has the latest round-up of minor-league tranzactionz, in which we find:

The Astros signed Jordan Kreke (You already knew this) and outfielder Jordan Brown.

Brown, a 28-year old former 2005 4th Round pick of the Indians, got 26 games with Cleveland in 2010, hitting .230/.310/.582 in 92 PAs. But he has raked in the minors, hitting .307/.365/.470 in seven minor-league seasons. In 2011, between Columbus (Cleveland) and Nashville (Milwaukee), he hit .311/.346/.466, with 47K:23BB in 460PAs.

We also learn that the Astros have released the following players:
LHP Travis Blankenship, LHP Colton Pitkin, LHP Shane Wolf, C Federico Hernandez, SS Hector Rodriguez, and OF Kellen Kiilsgaard.

As What the Heck, Bobby noted, with Pitkin's release, the Astros only have two players left in the organization from the 2007 draft - Kyle Greenwalt and Collin DeLome.

This opens up a few spots in Lancaster, as Pitkin, Wolf, and Hernandez all finished the season with the JetHawks. Hector Rodriguez ended 2011 in Lexington, while Blankenship (Tri-City) and Kiilsgaard (Greeneville) ended 2011 with the short-season teams.