Friday, December 21, 2012

Hall of Fame Update

With roughly 5% of the 575 total Hall of Fame electorate having released their ballot, its high time to release a summary of what we've learned so far.

We have Bagwell and Biggio both over 80% based on the ballots we have found. This is obviously a very good start. Repoz, at BBTF, reports lower figures for over 6% of the voters, with Bagwell at 74% and Biggio at 65%. Still within striking distance, but not as promising.

The majority of writers have focused their write-ups on Clemens, Bonds,etc., so we don't have a good feel for why the voters are saying yea or nay to Biggio and Bagwell. Only one, Pat Caputo, has explicity brought up steroids. You know what we have to say about that. One voter, Bob Klapisch, has said Biggio is not a first ballot Hall of Famer, and plans to vote for him next year. I hate this reasoning, but its common. My expectation is that if Biggio does not get in this year, it will not be steroids or anti-Houston bias, but rather this first ballot nonsense keeping him out. Keep in mind that Alomar and Larkin both got in on their second try.

Was Biggio Just a Compiler

The early returns on Biggio's Hall of Fame candidacy are promising, with many touting Biggio as the "clean" choice among all the steroid muck. However, the one knock that keeps coming up against Biggio is that he was never a great player, but was merely a compiler of stats, hanging on past his prime to get to 3,000 hits and his ticket to Cooperstown. Now, my first inclination is to call those people idiots and be done with it. However, maybe a better approach would be to actually look at the evidence, to see if it has any merit.

In the past ten years, there have been three middle infielders elected to the Hall of Fame: Ryne Sandberg, Roberto Alomar and Barry Larkin. All of them played several years less than Biggio, and none of them got to 3,000 hits. In fact, Biggio bests them in all of the major counting stats for his career. But how does Biggio's prime compare with these players? Is the knock on Biggio, that he was never as great as these players, but just played long enough to accumulate more counting stats, accurate?

Looking at these four players, it is remarkable how similar they are. Their career bWAR ranges from 62.1 (Biggio) to 67.1 (Larkin). (On Fangraphs, the range is wider, with Sandberg trailing with 62.6 and Biggio and Larkin leading with 70.5). They also had a easily definable decade long stretch where they consistently performed at an All Star level and then a fairly steep decline in later years. Comparing these peaks can determine whether Biggio was ever as dominate as his other Hall of Fame contemporaries, or merely accumulated stats by playing longer.

Sandberg's peak begins earlier than the others, and extends from 1983 to 1993. Larkin's peak actually stretched from 1988 to 1999. For ease of comparison, lets use 1998 instead. Biggio and Alomar's both began in 1991 and stretched to 2001. Comparing these stretches shows some amazing similarities.

                  Runs  Hits  2B  3B HR  RBI SB     BA  OBP SLG  OPS+ WAR/Career
Sandberg   1038 1907 307 62 233 827 291   .292  .353  .466   122      57.7/64.9
Larkin        864   1561 285 56 141 656 286   .305  .382  .466   128      56.4/67.1
Alomar      1105 1895 368 60 168 861 355   .313  .389  .477   126      52.0/62.9
Biggio        1174 1856 386 41 160 704 313   .296  .390  .448   124      53.2/62.1

I think it would be difficult to find four more similar players than these four during their peaks. Larkin falls behind in several of the counting stats, due to injuries, but is right there in the rate stats. Obviously, the offensive environments were much different for Sandberg in the 80's NL and Alomar in the 90's AL, but that is reflected in the OPS + figure. Overall, these are remarkably similar lines. Where any one has an advantage, they give it up in other places. Furthermore, they each amassed over 80% of their career value in those 11 seasons.

There is no doubt that by the time Biggio reached 3,000 hits, he was a shell of his former self. By WAR, he was worth -2.3 in 2007 (meaning he would have been with Sandberg with 64 career had he just not played.) Thing is though, Biggio did not need 3,000 hits to be a Hall of Fame caliber player. His career was right in line with those of Sandberg, Larkin and Alomar, who were all elected to the Hall of Fame without any magic numbers. If Sandberg, Larkin and Alomar are Hall of Famers, there is absolutely no basis to keep out Craig Biggio.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Newsday "debates" Biggio's HOF candidacy

Looking for some outrage today? Newsday had a little "debate" over Craig Biggio's Hall of Fame candidacy.

My favorite Pro:
During his career, Biggio was a seven-time All-Star, won five Silver Sluggers and four Gold Gloves and finished in the top 16 of MVP voting five times.

My favorite Con:
While Biggio was a prolific hitter, he was only a good player (no top 3 finishes in MVP voting) and he doesn't have much else to commend him to the Hall.

It's a debate, so presumably the point of the column is to say that there are qualities for and against certain players. But it's fun when one of your points for why a player isn't a Hall of Famer can be answered simply by scrolling back up to the top of the column. 

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Astros acquire John Ely

Today the Astros acquired SP John Ely from the Dodgers in exchange for Rob Rasmussen (who was acquired in the Carlos Lee/Marlins trade).

Ely, a 26-year old 6'2" 200lb RHP, debuted for the Dodgers in 2010, going 4-10 in 18 starts. He threw 15.1IP at the Major-League level in 2011-12 with not-great results (2.2IP, 6H/6ER, 3K:4BB).

Aha! But at Triple-A Albuquerque in 2012, Ely was 14-7 with a 3.20 ERA/1.10 WHIP, with 165K:36BB in 168.2IP, for a 4.58 K:BB ratio. This earned him the pitching triple crown (wins, ERA, strikeouts) and the PCL Pitcher of the Year. Even better, he has an option remaining, so he can make a trip between Houston and OKC, if need be.

Rob Rasmussen, 23, threw 54.1IP for Corpus in 2012 after coming over from Miami's organization, jumping a level from High-A Jupiter to Double-A Corpus. In his time as a Hook, Rasmussen had a 4.80 ERA/1.40 WHIP, with 44K:18BB.

The SP candidate list is now getting a little clogged because, as of now, here are the SPs with a chance to make the rotation:
John Ely, Lucas Harrell, Philip Humber, Dallas Keuchel, Jordan Lyles, Bud Norris, and Alex White. (This list includes the possibility that Cosart could get a shot at the closer role.)

That's a lot of young pitching. In fact, Lucas Harrell is the oldest of the lot, at 27. Philip Humber is the oldest, at 30.

Rasmussen was not on the 40-man roster, so a corresponding roster move will have to be made.

Blue Jays claim Mickey Storey

Mickey Storey's wild ride continues, as he is now a member of the Blue Jays, having been claimed since the Astros DFAed him.

Since the end of the season, Storey has been a member of the Astros, Yankees, Astros again, and now Blue Jays.

Astros long World Series odds

Bovada released their MLB Futures Odds this morning (can't get the link - at work), and 29 teams are within 100/1 to win. One team is listed at 200/1, and I think you know where this is going...

Yes, your Astros have been listed at 200/1 to win the 2013 World Series.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Astros to sign Jose Veras

Via MLBTR (and many on Twitter), here is ESPN Deportes' Enrique Rojas' report that the Astros and reliever Jose Veras have agreed on a 1-year contract.

The details (according to Rojas):
2013: $1.85m guaranteed
2014: Team option for $3.25m with a $150,000 buyout.

Veras, 32, is arbitration-eligible in 2013 (well, not anymore), but will be a free agent in 2014. In 327 appearances in his seven-year career, Veras has a 4.01 career ERA, with a 1.36 WHIP. In his last three seasons,  he has thrown 186IP, allowing 147H/77ER, with 16 HR allowed. Notably, he struck out 212 batters in those 186IP, walking 103 batters - that's over 10.0 K/9 in each of the last three seasons.

Read this piece to find out Veras sucks and so do the Astros. 

This means that the Astros will have to make a roster move. Maybe Fernando Rodriguez? Maybe they double designate Mickey Storey for assignment? 

Update to Hall of Fame Roll Call

We've updated the Hall of Fame Roll Call to include confirmed new votes for Bagwell from last year. So far, so good, as he has already picked up two yes votes out the 11 we have uncovered. Keep checking as we scour the internet for votes.

Want to see Carlos Correa go HAM on a flyball?

Via a variety of people, here's a ridiculous play by the 2012 draft's 1-1 Carlos Correa:

Bye bye, Aneury Rodriguez

With a captip to Brian Hamilton, we find this tweet from MyKBO that Aneury Rodriguez has signed a contract for 2013 with the Samsung Lions.

A-Rod (yep) threw 85.1IP for the Astros in 2011, after being claimed as a Rule 5 pick from the Rays, with a 5.27 ERA/1.35 WHIP. He made one start in 2012, allowing two hits (both homers) against the Marlins. He went 4-7 for OKC, allowing 130H/68ER in 92.2IP, "good enough" for a 6.60 ERA/1.88 WHIP during the rest of 2012.

Brian McTaggart goes on vacation, gives us a heart attack

Brian McTaggart went on vacation yesterday. But before he left, he gave us this sweet little Twitter treat.  

Here's the story on the#Astros signing of Carlos Lee, with video of the press conference
Well, of course the Astros signed Carlos Pena, and not Carlos Lee. And of course it was a typo, brought on by six years of psychological pain of seeing El Caballo in an Astros jersey. And isn't it telling that, for however brief a moment, we thought it was actually possible that the Astros brought back Lee?

Monday, December 17, 2012

Not so fast about Berkman...

Just because the Astros signed Carlos Pena doesn't mean they're out of the Berkman Sweepstakes, says Ken Rosenthal.

Berkman has spoken of retiring to spend more time with his family. Astros, even with C. Pena, open to his return.

Heyman is even in on it:
Lance Berkman, an alltime astro, recently met with owner Jim Crane. word is, berkman still not 100 pct sure he's playing 

So here's the situation: Berkman isn't sure if he wants to play, but met with Jim Crane, anyway, who remains interested. I have absolutely no basis for this speculation, but I'm guessing the Astros wanted an answer about his intentions, he couldn't commit either way, and the Astros had to move on Carlos Pena rather than get left with their, uh, bat swinging.

Update: Luhnow told Daniel Gotera that the "door isn't completely closed" and that they will touch base (ha ha baseball term) in January.

Astros have talked about Bud Norris

Jon Heyman had a little throwaway tweet a few minutes ago, where he mentions that the Astros "would have to be overwhelmed" by an offer for Jed Lowrie, but have talked to the Rangers and Cardinals about Bud Norris.

Bud Norris isn't going to help the Astros win a championship. And while he might be a #2 starter for the Astros, he's probably a #3-4 on most contending teams. So why not send him to a team with a deep system - even if they're within the division - for young building blocks?

Well that lasted all of four minutes

So I guess that 2:00pm press conference is to announce (via Danny Knobler) that the Astros have signed Carlos Pena on a 1-year/$2.9m incentive-laden deal that could be worth up to $4.3m.

Pena, 34, will shuffle between 1B and DH.

In parts of 12 major-league seasons (1386 games, 5502 PAs), Pena has a .234/.350/.472 slash line, with 1474 strikeouts - a 26.8% strikeout rate. Pena broke out in 2007, hitting .282/.411/.627 for Tampa Bay, with 46 homers - and he would hit 70 homers over the course of 2008-2009.

That said, he's had batting averages below .200 in 2010 (.196) and 2012 (.197), while his 94 OPS+ in 2012 was the lowest of his career. Of course, it's been since 2008 that Pena had a BABIP anywhere close to league-average. Pena's BABIP:

2008: .298
2009: .250
2010: .222
2011: .267
2012: .264

In April 2012, Pena had an OPS of .900. And then Evan Longoria got hurt and he (as well as the rest of the Rays) went in the toilet. He wouldn't post an OPS over .640 until September, when he bounced back for an .853 OPS. 

So that's low, but it's also a four-year trend. We'll spend more time looking at Pena over the next few months because, you know, what else are we gonna do? But here are some takeaways:

1. The Astros are getting Pena CHEAP. Obviously his market was depressed because of 2010-2012, but Pena made $27.3m in those years. The Cubs and Rays signed him to fairly high-priced one-year deals in 2011 and 2012, which would indicate that he's worth seeing if he can recapture some old magic. Maybe he can, maybe he can't. But if he can't, it's less than $2m down the toilet, or what Carlos Lee would have made in about 20 games.

2. He does add power to the lineup, something of which the Astros don't have much. Justin Maxwell has some pop, but we still don't know if he can do it over the course of a full year.

3. Bye bye, Lance Berkman. Whether his knees couldn't hold up, or he and the Astros couldn't agree on a deal...we don't know (Update: Berkman is still undecided about playing in 2013). But Pena's going to DH, which means Berkman isn't. It also, thankfully, means that we won't have to get used to seeing Alfonso Soriano wearing the Tango Blast.

4. Pena knows the AL. I've been harping on this more than is probably helpful, but the Astros will need some guys who have actually faced American League teams. Pena has spent 11 of his 12 seasons in the American League.

5. Jon Singleton will likely not open the season with the Big league club. Wallace and Pena will split 1B/DH duties, and give Singleton a little Triple-A seasoning. But let's say that Pena defies expectations and has a solid first-half of the season. If the Astros are 120 games out of first place by mid-July, Pena's low-risk contract is easily tradeable for...yes, more prospects.

6. Someone has to get outrighted off the 40-Man Roster to make room, but don't expect this to be the last deal of the off-season. All this can be thrown out the window with Luhnow's next move. (UPDATE: Mickey Storey has been Designated for Assignment).

Astros schedule press conference for 2pm

This seems like a big enough deal to at least make mention of, but the Astros are holding a press conference at 2pm today at Minute Maid Park, where Jeff Luhnow is going to make "an announcement."

No idea what said announcement is, or what it could entail. Might it be a Berkman signing? More front office changes? WHO KNOWS. But you can get your news right here, despite earlier mentions of brief hiatuseseses.