Friday, March 2, 2012

Today in unsurprising news...

Jeff Luhnow, at the Sloan Sports Analytics Conference, said that he has had a clean slate as far as analytics go, because the Astros hadn't been very analytical before. As you were.

No Carlos Lee this weekend

You likely won't be seeing Carlos Lee at first base this weekend, friends, as he has a hamstring issue.

Reply of the day comes courtesy of John Wessling:
but all Carlos heard was HAM. Mmmmmmm...HAM!

Lineups!

Thank God, we can actually talk about lineups now. When the Astros take the field tomorrow against the Nationals, this is what you'll see from a defensive standpoint:

SP - Livan Hernandez
C - Jason Castro
1B - Carlos Lee
2B - Jose Altuve
3B - Chris Johnson
SS - Jed Lowrie
LF - J.B. Shuck
CF - Jason Bourgeois
RF - Travis Buck
DH - Jack Cust

Jay Austin Injury

Zach Levine reported last night that minor league outfielder Jay Austin will miss time with a broken hand. 
Outfielder Jay Austin, a second-round pick in 2008, suffered a broken hand and will miss four weeks before rehab.“We were concerned three or four days ago that it was something that might require surgery and that’s not the case right now,” director of player development Fred Nelson said.
Last season Jay hit .242/.313/.336 with 23 steals as he split time between Lexington and Lancaster.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Will Carroll's Team Health Report

SI.com's Will Carroll posted his Team Health Reports for all 30 teams. But we don't care about all 30 teams. Click the link, because it's definitely well-worth your time, but here are some notable items:

On Jed Lowrie:
I don't begrudge any guy his chance, but Lowrie is better in small doses. He can be streaky, but he tends to be overexposed, which leads to injuries, as it did last year. Wrist and shoulder injuries affect his rating a lot more than mono, but it's the kind of thing that seems to pop up with this kind of player. The Astros have Matt Downs backing things up as their super-sub, but he's just a poor man's Lowrie. How much the medical staff can prop up Lowrie through small dings will go a long way in helping the team.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Brett Myers' fastball in 2011

So I played around with (the invaluable) Brooks Baseball Brett Myers card, because I'm curious about his velocity in 2011. So let's look.

In April 2011, Myers threw his four-seamer 27% of the time for an average of 89.39mph.
May 2011: 28%, 89.06mph
June 2011: 19%, 89.25mph
July 2011: 25%, 88.95mph
August 2011: 31%, 90.35mph
September 2011: 17%, 89.36mph

How about 2010?
April 2010: 21%, 90.8mph
May 2010: 19%, 90.6mph
June 2010: 19%, 90.7mph
July 2010: 16%, 90.5mph
August 2010: 10%, 89.8mph
September 2010: 17%, 89.3mph

So Myers' fastball averaged over 90mph from April-July 2010, and has only enjoyed one month above 90mph avg (Aug 2011 - where he threw a higher percentage of four-seamers - by far) since July 2010.

This is more of a Public Service Announcement post than anything, other than that it doesn't look like Myers' velocity took a big hit from one month to the next - meaning it's not as though he went from throwing 94mph to throwing 87mph one month to the next. Do with this information what you will.

Anyone who had Feb 29 as The Day Mills Lost His Mind can collect at the window

Zachary Levine just tweeted:

Brad Mills is running the bases in a pickoff drill and making sounds like Curly from the 3 Stooges. That's all.

More on this Brett Myers thing

...I've now had some time to think more about this Brett Myers situation. Freeing up 200IP in the rotation is a major plus for a guy who took a significant step backwards in 2011 (as if no one could have predicted such a thing), the first year of a possible three-year deal.

Myers just wasn't as effective in 2011 - when he was making $8m - as opposed to 2010, when he was making $3.1m. That's not good economics. We can debate all day about how Wade should have traded Myers at the 2010 trade deadline, but he didn't, and now the Astros have the 3rd-most expensive closer in basbeall.

But if Jeff Luhnow wants to create an atmosphere of winning, then the bullpen had to be addressed. The fact is, the Astros lost 22 games in 2011 when they were either ahead or tied going into the 8th inning. If the Astros hold on to half of those leads, their record is 67-95. Not fun, by any means, but not considered one of the worst teams of all time.

Maybe his velocity will return. Mitch Williams said on Clubhouse Confidential that Myers wasn't all that smart, and maybe a reliever role was more suited for Myers than starting, and that Myers preferred to come out of the bullpen. That may all be well and good, but we're also looking at a player's velocity from five years ago as a guide for what his fastball can do. And I'm a touch uncomfortable with that.

Also, freeing up a rotation spot is a good idea for the Astros to see what they have in their young arms. Reportedly. But McTaggart said yesterday that the move "all but guarantees" a spot for Livan Hernandez. Should that be the course of action, the Astros traded 200+IP from a 30-year old pitcher for 200+IP from a 37-year old pitcher.

In 2011, Myers threw 216IP at an 85 ERA+. Livan Hernandez threw 175.1IP at an 87 ERA+_with a higher WHIP (1.40 for Livan, 1.31 for Myers). I'm struggling to see how this is an upgrade. If Myers' spot would be used for seeing what Lyles/Harrell/Sosa/Weiland could do (and yes, that could still happen), it would be a different matter altogether - for me, anyway, humble pants-less basement-dwelling momma's boy blogger.

And what of his trade value? Myers will get $11m this season, and his contract has been reworked to where his $10m vesting option for 2013 can be reached. Should Myers be traded on July 31, that would be before the Astros' 105th game of the season (there's a brutal stretch of 20 games in 20 days immediately following the All Star Game), where - if we break down $11m into 162 games - he would be owed about $3.9m for the rest of the season. Depending on whether or not his option vests, receiving teams would be inheriting that ~$3.9m plus the $10m option, should it vest, or the $3m buyout. That's an awful lot of scratch for a reliever, especially one who had not previously relieved for five years. The Astros would have to eat a lot of the contract, regardless of his role, anyway, so it's a question of whether a team would be willing to pay half ($7m-ish) for whatever Myers does in the first half, and then projects over the next season and a half.

Ultimately, it's a matter of whether or not Myers can do the job. And whether or not his rotation replacement can, as well. That remains to be seen. I don't hate the idea. But I don't love it, either.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Former FO member sues Astros

Mark Berman is reporting that Charlie Norton, former director of baseball research/pro scouting coordinator, is suing the Astros for breach of contract/wrongful termination.

According to the lawsuit, during a meeting on Dec. 16, 2011 that included Norton, Luhnow told those who were there, "everyone here and around are signed through next year and can have comfort that they have a job for a year." The lawsuit also states Luhnow made similiar comments on Jan. 3, 2012.

Berman:
Nine days later the Astros fired Norton and according to the lawsuit the reason given was "not for cause, but as set forth in its termination letter, due to an elimination of your position as the club's director, baseball research and analysis."

Norton's attorney:
"It's our contention that they did not have the ability to terminate Charlie for restructuring reasons for which they ultimately did terminate him."

On Brett Myers - Sunk costs and player development - An exercise in rambling


My first impression is that I don't like this move. Everything being equal, a pitcher that can give you 200 innings is much more valuable than one who can give you 60 innings.

But everything may not be equal. Myers' pitched better out of the pen in 2007 than he has at any other time.

So, even if he pitches as well as Myers did that one year in Philly, what business does Houston have paying $11M for a relief pitcher? In an ideal situation I'd like to think GM Jeff Luhnow would know better. But this isn't an ideal situation. After all, it's not like he signed Myers this off-season for $11M to be our closer. So once we accept the fact that Myers' money is a sunk cost, one that Luhnow has zero control over, it may put this decision in a better light.

The money's going to be paid regardless, so where is he of most help on the field  in 2012? Or maybe we should ask are there other pitchers we'd like to see in the starter role instead of Myers? For the long-term success of the franchise are we better off having an extra rotation spot for (hopefully) a young pitcher? And what effect does having a potentially stable bullpen that's not blowing every other lead it inherits have on a developing rotation?

Now, if we move Myers to the 'pen just to see Zach Duke turn in 120 innings of 4.80 ERA "pitching" then this decision just seems silly.


FanGraphs' response

Eno Sarris has a post up at FanGraphs about Myers' move, and he brings up a lot of the financial points we brought up earlier today.

Your close:
Long term, it will be more important for the Astros to sort out their starting rotation than their bullpen. In a strange twist, that’s why it makes sense to move a present-tense resource in Myers to the bullpen — because doing so will help them figure out what they have among their bevy of mediocre pitching prospects. If one of them steps to the fore and proves he’s a Major League starter this year, the team will have gotten what they wanted from moving Myers to the pen.

Myers moving to closer

Well, uh, ahem, I don't even

Okay, so the news out of Astros camp this morning is that Brett Myers is moving from the rotation to the closer spot.

I don't understand. Myers threw 216IP in 2011, tied for 17th-most in all of baseball, and now the Astros are going to cut his innings by 30-40% (I meant, "to," instead of "by") of that total. And with Lyon and Myers in the bullpen, that's $16m+ for the 8th-9th innings.

The idea was Jeff Luhnow's, says Alyson Footer:
Jeff Luhnow first approached Mills with the idea for Myers to close. Mills thought about it and agreed. Then they brought it to Myers.

Expanded quote from Luhnow:
"From my standpoint, we have some depth in the rotation between Duke, Livan, Happ, Sosa and Harrell and all the young guys. We feel like we're in pretty good shape there and have some choices. We felt like we were a little exposed in the bullpen, and having a guy who's been successful in that role and who's got the mentality and stuff to do well takes pressure of Brandon Lyon coming off an injury and doesn't put pressure on young kids like David Carpenter and Wilton Lopez."

Let's try to figure this out:

(1) The Astros have more rotation arms than they do bullpen arms. The majority of the arms the Astros have vying for spots are gunning for rotation spots, not necessarily a bullpen job. With Lyles, Livan Hernandez, Zach Duke, et al, the Astros needed someone reliable at the back end of the bullpen, and that apparently didn't include Brandon Lyon or David Carpenter. Your rotation is currently Wandy, Norris, Happ, and Lyles/Livan/Weiland/Sosa/Harrell/Duke. It simply opens up a spot for a *more effective* starter.

(2) Myers had better "stuff" as a reliever. Zachary Levine pointed out that FanGraphs had Myers' fastball velocity at 88.4mph in 2011, down from 92.1mph in 2007 when he came out of the bullpen.

(3) If there's one thing that's clear from this, it's that (as John Royal pointed out) the one GM in the world who thought Myers was worth $10m+ was Ed Wade. Financial breakdown of MLB's "Top 20" closers:

Mariano Rivera: $15m
Jonathan Papelbon: $11.0058m (not kidding)
Brett Myers: $11m
Jose Valverde: $9m
Brian Wilson: $8.5m
Carlos Marmol: $7m
Heath Bell: $6m
Leo Nunez*: $6m
Joakim Soria: $6m
Brandon League: $5m
J.J. Putz: $4.5m
Francisco Cordero: $4.5m
Chris Perez: $4.5m
Joel Hanrahan: $4.1m
Kyle Farnsworth: $3.3m
Sergio Santos: $1m
Neftali Feliz: $451K (pre-arb)
John Axford: $443K (pre-arb)
Craig Kimbrel: $419K (pre-arb)
Drew Storen: $418K (pre-arb)
Jordan Walden: $414K (pre-arb)

* - or whatever his name is

Yes, Brett Myers will be the 3rd-highest paid closer in all of baseball in 2012, after throwing 439.2IP over the last two seasons.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Boston writer brings Bagwell into the Braun argument

Tony Massarotti has a post up today in which he addresses Ryan Braun, and how it sure as hell isn't the media's fault for the furor and elbow-nudging going on about whether Braun did or didn't. And who does he bring as a witness? Jeff Bagwell.

Along with you stands someone like Jeff Bagwell, whose numbers (if clean) certainly qualify him for Hall-of-Fame induction. The problem is that we just don't know yet. And while Bagwell's approval rating increased in the most recent election (to 56 percent) from the previous year (41.7 percent), he is still considerably short of induction because the behavior of his peers made his accomplishments difficult to believe.

He can blame the same people you can. And to the best our knowledge, he was never even accused of having failed a drug test.

Is any of this fair? No, no, no. A million times no. If innocent, Bagwell is every bit the victim you are. Many of us are willing to admit that. But we are not the ones who are treating you or Bagwell unfairly, Ryan. We are merely making decisions based on the behavior of you and your peers. In 2001, at age 36, Bonds hit 73 home runs in 476 at-bats, an average of one every 6.5 at-bats. He made a mockery of the game. Assuming you are truly clean, you should know how absurd that is given that you have never hit more than 37 home runs in any season.

Unfortunately, that does not prove your innocence. In fact, it only increases the likelihood of your guilt.


America - where everybody's guilty, but nobody is to blame! Groupguilt fever - Catch it!

Lyon feels much better heading into his 3rd season

Greg Lucas checks in with a post about The Forgotten Closer, Brandon Lyon:

"Last couple of off-seasons I felt pretty bad going into the off-season. I knew I needed to rest a while. It's just hard taking that time off and being able to come back and get back in the swing of things. This (off-season) felt different to me, felt a lot better. I'm just working to stay healthy this year."

Death In Center Field!

It's a fight to the death in Center Field, as Brian Bogusevic will join Jordan Schafer, Jason Bourgeois, and J.B. Shuck in getting some CF reps.

Meat Wagon Updates

Here's your Monday morning Meat Wagon update:

Sergio Escalona threw a bullpen, instead of throwing to hitters.
Jimmy Paredes has inflammation in his left wrist
Angel Sanchez has back problems.

Monday Morning Sausage Links

Here's what you need to know from over the weekend:

Brad Mills' interview with the Visalia Times-Delta:
"We're not there yet. This organization isn't in that spot yet. We're going through a process of getting better and refurbishing our ball club and helping out our major league team. But, we're not there right now. That's not a bad thing. It's really a good thing."

Jim Crane:
“If you’ve got everybody understanding what you’re trying to do and how you want to run things, they’ll either get in line or they won’t be on the team. That’s the way we’re going to run it here. I think that message was loud and clear. There will be consistency and unity — we want the players supporting the coaches and the coaches supporting the players — and we’ll stay very focused on that.”

Carlos Lee:
“I’ll tell you what, I want to stay healthy and go out there and do my best. I can’t put any pressure. I don’t even know if I’m going to keep playing or not, so I’m just going to go out there and do my job and help the team that I’m on right now to win as many games as we can.”

The Astros are leaning towards a uni change next year, Chris Johnson has been trying out some first base, and Brad Mills looks at last year's record as "a big stick sitting in your rear end."

Sunday, February 26, 2012

This is a joke, yes?

First: I have read this Charleston Post & Courier column six times trying to determine any sly wink-wink undertones that establishes the writer's tongue is planted firmly in the aforementioned's cheek. I don't believe it's sarcasm:

America's children are our future.

Too bad they're menaced by insidious images from our sporting past -- and present.

At least they will no longer be subjected to the jarring specter of a gun on the "throwback" jerseys occasionally worn by the Houston Astros.

The National League expansion team was known as the Houston Colt .45s from 1962-64, sporting uniforms with the word "Colts" above a drawing of the fearsome firearm that helped tame the West. Way back then, grown-up folks lacked this era's enlightened sensitivities about the dangers of exposing young folks to such violent visuals.


And so on. He goes on to explain that not all Irish want to fight, and laments the trivialization of cock-fighting in reference to the South Carolina Gamecocks, and a number of other sports-teams logos and nicknames that could send the message that Clemson and their "zany antics trivialize the plight of an awesome species apparently bound toward extinction due to mankind's species-centric disregard for nature's wonders."

(I was half-waiting to see if the "Astros" name is offensive because it hearkens back to a day when we engaged those dirty pig Commies in a race to leave the perfectly good atmosphere God had created just for us to live and breathe in). Just to keep my eyes from liquefying, I'm going to assume it's sarcasm. Because if it's not tongue-in-cheek, the "subliminal signals your kids receive when they watch sports" are much less of a threat than being subjected to this level of gravitas.