Saturday, October 27, 2012

Dave Borkowski helped Mike Foltynewicz

Here's a nice little profile on Mike Foltynewicz from his hometown paper, in which he credits his 2012 success to pitching coach Dave Borkowski.


“We finally figured everything out. All the parts were clicking. Basically, my pitching coach and I sat down before the season and talked about everything. The mental part is big, getting prepared right before a game and getting prepared properly on the days leading up to your next start. We figured it out and I had one heck of a year.
Click the link for the whole story on strength and pitch selection. 

Angels sign Angel Sanchez

The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim have signed long-time Houston Astro of Houston Angel Sanchez to a minor-league deal, meaning that Sanchez will be able to tell the Angels all of the Astros' secrets, and ensuring that he must be eliminated. 

Not to be outdone with such a clever name signing, the Astros signed Astro McGillicuddy to a minor-league deal. 

Friday, October 26, 2012

Academy awfully sorry for selling new Astros merchandise before the Astros unveiled it

So it kind of spilled earlier today that Topps had accidentally tweeted out a picture of the new logo. That sucked. But when fan @Astromo1977 tweeted a pic he took at a Houston-area Academy of some new merchandise, it got fishy.

Turns out, yep, Academy had started selling the new Astros merchandise before the Astros had unveiled it.

This prompted an apology from Academy which basically said, "Yeah - we kind of nutted that...sorry. Looking forward to the launch!"

Astros claim Che-Hsuan Lin

The Astros claimed former Red Sox OF Che-Hsuan Lin off waivers today, and designated Enerio Del Rosario for assignment in the corresponding move.

Lin, a 24-year old 6'0" 180lb RHB out of Taiwan, signed as an amateur free agent in 2007 with Boston. He spent most of 2012 with Triple-A Pawtucket, hitting .247/.323/.316, with 65K:42BB in 445 plate appearances. His minor-league best was in 2010, when at Double-A Portland, he hit .275/.386/.343, with 63K:72BB.

Enerio Del Rosario, a waiver claim made by Ed Wade from Cincinnati at the end of the 2010 season, had a 6.01 ERA / 1.84 WHIP in 75 appearances - all out of the bullpen - for the Astros. In 19IP for Houston in 2012, Del Rosario allowed 34H/19ER, 11K:7BB for a nice round 9.00 ERA / 2.16 WHIP.

Logo Leak? just posted an apparent leak of the Astros soon to be revealed new logo, as accidentally revealed by the Topps trading card company. Nothing real surprising as far as the logo goes, but between the doctored image that floated around a month ago and this, the official reveal November 2nd is shaping up to be a bit anti-climactic.

*Update* It seems the new logo can now also be found at local Academy stores.

Should the Astros Pursue Otani and Do They Have a Chance?

The big news on the prospect front is that one of the top prospects in Japan, Shohei Otani, has declared his intention to pitch in America.  Although he instructed Japanese teams not to draft him, he was selected by the Nippon Ham Fighters in the first round. I’ve seen conflicting information on this, but it looks like he will be still be able to sign with an MLB club at any time, despite being drafted. As he is not under contract with a Japanese team, he will not have to go through the posting process that often drives the price up on Japanese stars. Should the Astros pursue this intriguing talent? And do they have a chance of signing him?

According to available scouting reports, Otani is a tall, strong pitcher, who has been clocked in the high 90’s with his fastball, with less refined offspeed offerings including a slider, splitter and slow curveball. He has struggled significantly with his command. If he were in the MLB draft, he would likely be a first round talent, but no sure thing. The Astros need young pitching, and Luhnow has made it a point to stockpile as much first round talents as possible, though any avenue available. I fully expect the Astros to kick the tires on this high risk high reward signing.

In the most recent collective bargaining agreement, a cap was placed on international bonuses. For the 2012-2013 signing period, the cap was placed at $2.9 million for all teams. Penalties for exceeding that cap are harsh, but not as harsh as the penalties for exceeding the draft pool. Exceeding the pool by 10-15% carries a 100% tax and a $500,000 limit on bonuses to any one player in the next year signing period. Over 15%, the limit drops to $250,000. Depending on how each team views the potential of Otani, this might not serve as a deterrent for a large bonus. Jim Callis does not believe the cap will be a major factor in Otani's bonus. 

Beginning in the 2013-2014 signing period, the cap is based on the previous season's record, and the Astros would have a distinct negotiating advantage with $4.7 million in available bonuses. As it stands now, assuming Otani signs before July 2013, the playing field is relatively level. The Red Sox, Dodgers and Rangers have shown interest, and the Rangers can use Yu Darvish as a recruiting tool.  If the Astros believe Otani represents a first round talent, I believe they should definitely pursue getting him into the system. I think they should be hesitant, however, to incur any penalties, particularly the year before their available bonus pool will increase. I don’t think we should get our hopes up too high. What say you?

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Bogar turned down the Astros due to contract language

Jon Heyman is reporting that Tim Bogar turned down the Astros' Bench Coach job because they didn't want him interviewing for any other managerial openings.

Bogar is said to have turned down the offer to become the Astros' bench coach because Houston wanted it written into a multi-year offer that he couldn't interview for managerial jobs that might arise elsewhere, sources familiar with the situation say.

Luhnow didn't reply to Heyman's texts (plural), which only tells me that he's the right man for the job.

While it's odd that the stipulation would be written into the contract, I can understand it. The Astros are building for the long-term, and staff continuity is important. If a bench coach isn't interested in sticking around for a few years while the team completes its rebuild, then it's better to know now than to have to go through the process all over again next season.

What can Biggio expect from the BBWAA?

This winter will provide the best chance Astros fans have been waiting for since Nolan Ryan decided to wear a Rangers cap for all eternity - an Astros cap on a plaque at the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Craig Biggio's journey to baseball immortality will be tested for the first time this winter when the voting members of the Base Ball Writers Association of America get to stand on their soapboxes and vote on the eligible candidates, of which there are many.

The sanctimonious group will be judged fully in this space throughout December and early January when we're sure to get pissed off at somebody, but we can at least make some educated guesses as to what Biggio can expect from the BBWAA. Well, as close to an educated guess as you can get when trying to predict what a wholly unpredictable, asinine, holier-than-thou group of petty, vindictive voters will do.

Since 2000, there have been 184 players eligible in their first year of election. Only 24 received the 5% of the votes needed to remain on the ballot for a second year, but were not elected in their first year. Those players:

Roberto Alomar (2010), Jeff Bagwell (2011), Harold Baines (2007), Albert Belle (2006), Andre Dawson (2002), Juan Gonzalez (2011), Goose Gossage (2000), Orel Hershiser (2006), Barry Larkin (2010), Edgar Martinez (2010), Don Mattingly (2001), Willie McGee (2005), Fred McGriff (2010), Mark McGwire (2007), Jack Morris (2000), Rafael Palmeiro (2011), Tim Raines (2008), Ryne Sandberg (2003), Lee Smith (2003), Dave Stewart (2001), Alan Trammell (2002), Fernando Valenzuela (2003), Larry Walker (2011), and Bernie Williams (2012).

Now here's the thing about that list...

*Seven of the 24 received less than 10% of the vote (McGee, Gonzalez, Baines, Valenzuela, Stewart, Belle, and Williams).
*Nine more received between 10-30% of the vote (Palmeiro, Hershiser, Trammell, Walker, McGriff, Morris, McGwire, Raines, and Mattingly).
*So 16 players received less than 30% of the BBWAA's votes, and none of those 16 have been elected (yet, anyway).
*Of the eight players who got more than 30% of the vote in their first year of eligibility, five of them have since been elected to the HOF (Gossage, Dawson, Sandberg, Larkin, and Alomar), and the other three are Edgar Martinez, Jeff Bagwell, and Lee Smith.

We know what Craig Biggio has done. There's no doubt in Astros fans' eyes that Craig Biggio is a first-ballot Hall of Famer. Twenty-eight players have racked up 3,000+ hits, and 24 of them are in the Hall of Fame. Who are the other four? Pete Rose (because he's a jackass), Derek Jeter (because he's still playing), Biggio, and Rafael Palmeiro (because he made a syringe-plugged ass of himself by wagging his finger at Congress before getting popped for PEDs - he got 12.6% of the vote in the 2012 election.). Furthermore, every eligible player with more than 2,900 hits is in the Hall of Fame.

We can look at Biggio's Similarity Scores and see that he is most similar to Hall of Famer Robin Yount, then - in order - future Room-of-Famer Derek Jeter (because a Hall isn't big enough to hold Derek Jeter's plaque), then Hall of Famers Joe Morgan, Paul Molitor, Roberto Alomar, and Cal Ripken.Well hey, this is interesting, because...

*Ten players since 2000 have been elected in their first year of eligibility: Wade Boggs (2005), Dennis Eckersley (2004), Rickey Henderson (2010), Tony Gwynn (2007), Paul Molitor (2004), Eddie Murray (2003), Kirby Puckett (2001), Cal Ripken (2007), Ozzie Smith (2002), and Dave Winfield (2001).

Molitor and Ripken - 4th- and 6th-most similar to Biggio were elected on their first ballot in 2004 and 2007, respectively, with 85.2% and 98.5%, also respectively. Robin Yount - the player assigned a value most similar to Biggio's career - was elected on his first ballot with 77.5% of the vote in 1999.

These are all facts. But the BBWAA isn't big on facts, and we can't count on them to agree on an AL MVP. I would like to think that we can count on the BBWAA to agree that Biggio belongs in the same company as Paul Molitor, Roberto Alomar, Robin Yount, and Ozzie Smith. But that may be as silly as hoping that everyone on Twitter agrees with your personal political views. (Timely simile!)

There is also a significant chance that many voters are going to write this election off, as it includes Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa, Roger Clemens, and Mike Piazza. Ask a lazy sportswriter to pass immortal judgment on this list and they'll happily write a column about the Sanctity of the Hall of Fame and the Purity of The Game. And then they won't vote for anybody, because they JUST DON'T KNOW EVERYTHING. Or, more accurately, they knew enough to not say anything, and now they can play the Saint card in the easiest December column for a Base Ball writer.

Or, there could be the counterpoint, where the BBWAA looks at the ballot, gets disgusted by the Usual Suspects and sees Biggio for what he is: A great player who has not been linked to PEDs. Tricky. If you asked me to put a range on where I would expect Biggio to land in his first election, I would give you two numbers:

Best-case scenario: A Yount-ian 75-80%.
Worst-case scenario: A Sandberg-ian 45-55%.


Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Would you take a look at Melky Cabrera?

As you all are likely aware, back on August 15 Giants outfielder Melky Cabrera was suspended 50 games for an elevated testosterone level, indicating that he had taken Performance-Enhancing Drugs. In a prepared statement released by the MLBPA, Cabrera said:
“My positive test was the result of my use of a substance I should not have used. I accept my suspension under the Joint Drug Program and I will try to move on with my life.”

He did try to move on, but only after he (or one of his entourage) tried to cover it up, creating a fake chain of evidence that would make it seem like his roommates tricked him into smoking testosterone.

Though his 50-game suspension would run its course during the NLDS in which, of course, the Giants were not supposed to participate because the Dodgers had bought All The Players, and the Giants were losing the All-Star Game MVP who was hitting .346/.390/.516 in 113 games. Except the Giants didn’t activate him, or use him in the NLDS, and won’t be using him in the World Series (Jeff Passan has a great take on this here, and a counterpoint by Hank Schulman here).

The point of this isn’t to say whether the Giants should or should not use Melky for the next week, but rather to ask if the Astros should take a flyer on him.

Cabrera, who is 28 (and will be until August 2013), was probably in line for at least $50m from the contract he’ll sign this winter as a free agent. He won’t get anywhere near that, at least not right away. Cabrera will need a year of solid production before he gets his Big Contract.

Might that year come in Houston?

The Astros’ outfield production – at least offensively – was atrocious in 2012. As a group, they hit .220/.208/.349. Eight Astros outfielders hit 47 homers (Justin Maxwell had 18) and averaged a 92 OPS+. The only two players with an OPS+ over 100 were Maxwell and Fernando Martinez (both with a 105 OPS+). Yet they only combined for 482 plate appearances. Astros outfielders’ with an OPS+ under 80 include Jordan Schafer (63), Brandon Barnes (41), Brian Bogusevic (64), Travis Buck (63), and Ben Francisco (77). I was looking to see how this ranked against the rest of baseball and made it to Kansas City before I picked up my monitor and brought it down, thundering, over my own head, and then stood in a bathtub. (Not holding the plugged-in monitor, mind you. That would be dangerous.)

Anyhow, the Astros need an upgrade. Right now, the only guys on the roster I’d halfway trust in the outfield for a full season would be Maxwell and Fernando Martinez and, given his knees, Martinez might be better suited as a DH. So there are open spots in the outfield.

You can see where I’m going with this, right? Should the Astros give Cabrera a one-year contract to help him build his value? I’m honestly asking, because it could go both ways.

Cabrera had a .906 OPS in his 113 games in San Francisco, and it’s completely appropriate to wonder if that was a result of the PEDs. In 2011, he posted a then-career-high .809 OPS in Kansas City. Prior to 2011 his career-high in OPS was .752, back in his rookie season in 2006. He just doesn’t have a track record where you can look and say, “Yeah, he’s that player.”

Also keep in mind the move to the AL. Sure, Cabrera hit .305/.339/.470 in 2011 for the Royals, but even with that taken into account, his AL slash line is just .279/.333/.406 – and though that’s still better than what the Astros might be running out in 2013, is it worth the baggage?

To read Schulman’s defense of the Giants organization, Cabrera doesn’t exactly sound like a clubhouse leader (there’s a little Twitter exchange going on about this with Jon Heyman – I’m not linking to him, you can find out for yourself if you’re so interested). The Astros also need all the positive press they can get – does a Cabrera signing further enrage fans? Will he bring more fans to Minute Maid? How many sane people look at the schedule and think, “Man. I gotta go see Melky F***in’ Cabrera!”

So, Astros fans, you have your choices in front of you. (A) Take a flyer on a guy who might not cost all that much, motivated to rebuild his reputation and salvage his career, so we don’t have to watch Jordan Schafer anymore. Or (B) leave Cabrera alone, because the guy just isn’t worth it.

Arizona Fall League update: October 23

While we take some time to recharge our collective batteries and work on some off-season projects, let's check in with the AFL team...

Mesa and Phoenix lamed it out for a 7-7 tie yesterday.

George Springer: 1x5, 2K (hitting .286/.444/.536)
Jon Singleton: 0x4, 3K:1BB (hitting .255/.364/.511)

Nick Tropeano: 1IP, 0H/0ER, 1K:1BB (2.57 ERA / 0.71 WHIP)
Alex Sogard: 0.2IP, 2H/4R (3ER), 1K:1BB, Blown Save (11.57 ERA / 2.79 WHIP)
Chia-Jen Lo: 1IP, 0H/0ER, 2K:1BB (3.00 ERA / 0.83 WHIP)