Saturday, February 2, 2013

The Blue Jays are to blame for Wojciechowski's numbers

When the Astros traded away Brandon Lyon, J.A. Happ, to Toronto for - among others - Asher Wojciechowski, we were excited, right? A 1st Round pick in 2010 by the Blue Jays, Wojciechowski just turned 24 in December, and at 6'4" 235lbs, is a big guy.

But when we - and likely you - checked Baseball-Reference, it was a little surprising. He had a good 2012 before coming to the Astros' organization, but there was that glaring 4.70 ERA (and his 4.03 FIP wasn't all that impressive for a 22-year old in high-A.

But thanks to this handy profile from the Charleston Post and Courier, we get some clues as to what happened:

Wojciechowski survived an early attempt by the Blue Jays to tinker with his arm slot and the grip on his slider, leading to an 11-9 mark and 4.70 ERA in 2011, his first full season in the minors.

“That just didn’t work for me. But it also taught me what I need to do to get better, and what I need to stick to and not change.”

Citadel baseball coach Fred Jordan thinks he profiles as an SP3:
“I feel very confident that if he throws the ball the way he did at the end of last season, this year could be his call up. To me, he is a big league team’s No. 3 starter, and I think that’s where he’ll wind up if he stays healthy.”

It'll be interesting to see which level a lot of the recently-acquired pitchers begin the season. Corpus is a likely destination since he's only seen 43.2IP above High-A, but his 2.27 ERA (2.95 FIP) in those 43.2IP could mean a promotion, and not just to OKC. 

Thursday, January 31, 2013

DeShields just outside Top 100

Two days ago we summarized the Astros on Jonathan Mayo's Top 100 Prospect List and noted that Delino DeShields, who was ranked #77 last year, fell completely off the list.

How did that happen? Well, we'll discuss that later today or tomorrow, but it's worth noting that Mayo posted his 101st-110th prospect list today (saying there was "no time" to go into each of the players on the list).

DeShields made this particular list, at #102.

Mayo had some words about the passionate reaction to DeShields' fall:
You thought people were upset that Ben Affleck didn’t get a Best Director nod for “Argo”? You should talk to Astros fans about Delino DeShields Jr. Sheesh.

Update: It seems as though the lists we linked to in the original post were not pre-season rankings, they were that season's end-of-season rankings. Check out WTHB's post on the subject...

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Jeff Bagwell and the Insurance Fiasco of 2006

You can blame all this asinine talk about the Yankees trying to void A-Rod's contract due to continued link to PEDs for this journey back in time. You can also blame Ken Rosenthal's "Hey everyone A-Rod should just commit fraud!" column.

Go ahead, and read it. Rosenthal said that all A-Rod has to do is to:
A-Rod certainly will attempt to go through his rehabilitation, but he may be physically unable to perform. A doctor surely could make such a diagnosis quite plausible, given the weakened condition of Rodriguez’s two hips... A legal fight could ensue, with the insurance companies contending that either A) Rodriguez could still play or B) that his use of PEDs contributed to his physical deterioration. But good luck trying to win either case.

Oh "a doctor surely could make..."? No.

Let's think back to 2005. All of this you already know. The Astros went to the World Series for the first time, getting swept by the White Sox. Jeff Bagwell managed 123 plate appearances in 39 games. Sure, he had been productive in the years prior, but his OPS had declined in every year from 1999 to his last season in 2005. Check it out:

1999: 1.045
2000: 1.039
2001: .966
2002: .919
2003: .897
2004: .842
2005: .738

Of course, we'd think about murdering somebody to have a player "only" post an .842 OPS for the Astros in 2013. But Bagwell was breaking down right before our eyes. 2005 was the final straw. He hit .250/.358/.380 - all of those categories representing the worst of his 15-year career. He played in 24 games to start the season, and then returned in September in mainly a pinch-hitting role, and wasn't particularly good at any point.

Then the post-season came. I'm sure you remember. It was painful just to watch Bagwell get in the batter's box. He played in two games in the NLDS against Atlanta and one game in the NLCS against St. Louis - and totaled 3 PAs. He did get two starts in Games 1&2 of the World Series, and went 1x6 with a strikeout and two HBPs. He got two hit-less pinch-hit appearances in Games 3&4, finishing the post-season with a .490 OPS.

Jeff Bagwell would not pick up a bat in 2006, yet he made at least $17m (or $19,369,019 according to Baseball-Reference). The Astros did everything they could to not pay it.

January 13, 2006: Bagwell is examined by Dr. James Andrews, in Birmingham.

McLane's "childhood friend," Wayne Fisher, of Fisher, Boyd, Brown, Boudreaux and Huguenard (in March 2006):
"One of the things that happened was he was thoroughly examined at Dr. James Andrews' facility. He went through in this laboratory computerized analysis of videotapes that were taken showing how much he could move his shoulder, what the arc was, how fast he threw a ball and how he was throwing — how he would push the ball, as opposed to the normal rotation of the shoulder...He was throwing the ball at 35 mph at what distance he could throw. On Jan. 12, we know total disability began, because Dr. James Andrews, a world-renowned physician, told him. That was the first time any physician had ever said that to Jeff. If Connecticut General Insurance Co. can tell us what person in that insurance company knows more about whether Jeff Bagwell was totally disabled on Jan. 12 than Dr. James Andrews, I'll be very interested in cross-examining him."

January 24 Despite the Astros saying he's hurt, Bagwell plans to attend Spring Training. Agent Barry Axelrod:
"He believes he's going to be ready for the start of the season. That's what we're counting on."

Bagwell is taking the Astros' stance personally: 
"To me more than anything else, it's just amazing how bad they don't want me to play. They just want to collect their money. It's an awkward situation. It probably will never be fixed between me and the Astros."

January 27: Based on Andrews' and Astros team physician David Lintner's findings, the Astros file an insurance claim to recoup $15.6m of his $17m salary (91.8%).

January 31: The Astros' insurance policy expires.

Ty Buthod, a partner at Baker Botts - the law firm hired by Connecticut General:

"The policy terminated on Jan. 31, 2006. The Astros took the position that Mr. Bagwell had become totally disabled sometime between the end of the 2005 season and Jan. 31, 2006. Throughout the process, Mr. Bagwell and the Astros were cooperative, gracious and professional. Connecticut General wishes the club and Mr. Bagwell the best."

February 2: Purpura is getting anxious:
"It's Jeff's position that he's going to report, and there's little if anything a team can do to keep a player from reporting. It's a tough situation all around. It's tough and complex. You don't collect on the claim until he's actually missed time, so he would have to miss time throughout the season for that to actually go through. The big issue right now is the interpretation of whether we lose our rights after spring training starts. I don't know of any club that's had to deal with this kind of situation in this manner, so it's very murky."

February 24: Bagwell wants to give 2006 a shot.
"This is a difficult thing. I understand the business side of baseball. Trust me, I want them [the Astros] to collect as much as they can. But I just want the chance to see if I can play..."I still should have the right to see if I can play."

March 11: Bagwell plays in his first Spring Training game of the season, the first time he has taken the field since May 2005:
"The major focus of this black cloud that's sitting over this locker is that throwing arm. If it starts hurting bad enough where it's affecting my swing, we're going to have another talk."

March 13: Connecticut General Life Insurance Company denies the Astros claim that Bagwell is disabled.

"On March 13, 2006, Connecticut General Life Insurance Co. notified the Houston Astros that it had denied a total disability claim submitted by the Astros relating to Jeff Bagwell," said attorney Ty Buthod, a partner at the Houston law firm of Baker Botts, which is representing Connecticut General. "The company determined that there had been no adverse change in Mr. Bagwell's condition or ability to play baseball between the end of last season, when he was an active member of the roster, and Jan. 31, 2006, the date the policy expired. The company carefully reviewed the claim as submitted by the Astros and determined that the claim did not support a finding of total disability."

March 18: Bagwell plays in back-to-back games at 1B. He makes a throw, but underhanded. Garner:
He hasn’t made a quick, hard throw and we want to see that. It will happen when it happens. Obviously, we’d like to see it before opening day.”

March 25: Bagwell is placed on the DL. 

March 26: Bagwell acknowledges his career may be over.

"I may never play again. It's been 15 years with the Astros. I have to do what's best for me, what's best for the Astros and best for baseball...I came down to spring training to see if I could still make it as a first baseman with the Astros. There were times in the offseason where I felt like I could do this. But with the condition of my shoulder, I'm not going to be able to start the season with the Astros."

March 28: McLane vows to pursue legal recourse against Connecticut General.

"We have not filed (a lawsuit) yet," said Fisher, the former president of the Texas State Bar Association, Texas Trial Lawyers Association and International Academy of Trial Lawyers. "We will ask them to reconsider their decision based on the information Mr. Bagwell has provided. If they continue denying the claim, we will file litigation against Connecticut General. We're going to give them several weeks to reconsider their position." 

April 18: The Astros file suit against Connecticut General Life Insurance Company. Fisher files a 20-page brief with the lawsuit:
"To acquire this disability coverage, the Astros paid $2,409,343 in premiums to CIGNA, The terms of the Policy are relatively straightforward. The Policy provides a schedule of benefits payable to the Astros in the event (a) Mr. Bagwell becomes totally disabled and (b) the terms of and conditions of the Policy are met...In section 2 on page 6 of the Policy, the benefits scheduled for the 2006 regular season that CIGNA, by contract, agreed to pay are $85,748 for each regular season day that Mr. Bagwell misses due to a total disability. Plaintiff has timely presented a claim for these benefits to Defendant. Defendant has denied the claim. Hence, the lawsuit."

December 16: The Astros settle on an undisclosed amount with Connecticut General. Baker Botts' Ty Buthod and McLane's attorney Wayne Fisher released a joint statement that said:
"The Houston Astros and Connecticut General Life Insurance Company have reached an amicable resolution of the lawsuit brought by the club relating to the total disability policy on Jeff Bagwell. The details of the resolution are confidential."

That same day, Bagwell retires:
"Physically, I can not do it anymore. I wish I could. I wish I could continue to play and try to win a World Series in Houston. But I'm just not physically able to do that anymore. ... I feel very blessed to have met all of you, to be part of the Houston Astros for 15, 16 years."

What's the point of all of this? Jeff Bagwell was examined by team doctors AND Dr. James Andrews, was found to be completely disabled, didn't make a single appearance in 2006, and it still took eleven months to come to an undisclosed settlement with the insurance company. Good luck with that claim, Yankees.

Topps gives HMA a shout

Here's a cool note from the County Clerk side project How Many Altuves. Topps gives HMA a shout-out on their 2013 Jose Altuve card:

Expect George Springer in 2014

Hey thank God CSN Houston's website isn't blocked in the Houston area, amirite? Here's a post from John Kelly about George Springer, the Astros' first pick in the 2011 draft. 

As Kelly mentions, Springer hit well in 2012, his first real season in the system (as he only got 33 PAs in 2011). For Lancaster in 2012, Springer posted a .955 OPS in 106 games, and a less-than-stellar .630 OPS after his 22-game stint in Corpus. 

But dadgum, those strikeouts. He struck out 156 times in 581 PAs in 2012 - 26.9% of his PAs. Twenty-five of those strikeouts came in the 81 PAs in Corpus - 30.9%. 

Luhnow knows this, too, since he presumably can read Baseball-Reference just as easily as I can. And he has, you know, seen him play, and gets reports and stuff from people who saw him play that very night. He said on Saturday:

"We know what type of player (Springer) is...he's a speed, power, strikeout guy. Great work ethic, great athleticism. I think he knows the issue on the strikeouts."

So that's why Luhnow tabs him more for 2014 than 2013. And keep in mind, the guy only has 614 professional PAs. 

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Astros get the Hardball Times' seal of approval

It's easy to get bogged down in the rebuilding of our fair franchise. Aren't you excited about Rick Ankiel? No? Carlos Pena? Meh? Erik Bedard? Seriously?

Then read this piece, from the Hardball Times, that shows a broader perspective:

The problem with many teams when they try to rebuild is that they don't do it all the way. For a major league organization, a rebuilding process, should that prove to be the right decision, is not something that can be done halfway. The organization must be all-in. This is what the Astros have done. 

Did you wish the Astros had not traded Wandy? Reference this:

The influx of talent that has entered the Astros farm system - both through trades and through better drafting - has given them one of the deepest farm systems in baseball. Not necessarily one of the best, especially in terms of major league-ready impact talent, but one of the deepest. 

There are notes on various players acquired recently, so be sure to read this. There's never the promise of a...rainb...uh good thing at the end of all of this. But at least there's someone else to tell you not to panic too much.

Greeneville Astros update unis

The Houston Astros aren't the only ones updating their look for 2013 - the Appy League Greeneville Astros are following suit...

Nicely done, Gastros. Nicely done.

Astros put four on Top 100 list

Tonight unveiled its Top 100 Prospect List for 2013. The Astros had four players on said list:

#27: Jon Singleton
#30: Carlos Correa
#57: George Springer
#89: Jarred Cosart

Interestingly enough, if we look back to the 2012 Top 100 Prospect List, the Astros had 

#25: Jon Singleton
#34: Carlos Correa
#48: George Springer
#76: Jarred Cosart
#77: Delino DeShields, Jr. 

Comparing the two, Correa and Springer advanced their rankings, while Singleton and Cosart dropped, and DeShields dropped off the list entirely. 

In 2011, only listed 50 top prospects, and the Astros didn't place anybody on the list. Only Jon Singleton was ranked at all, and he was #32. Matt Dominguez, acquired in the Carlos Lee trade (which I still have a hard time believing ACTUALLY HAPPENED), was #35. Both were, of course, in the Phillies' and Marlins' systems at the time.


Comparing the 2012 Astros' Position Players to the League Average

After meeting Bill Brown, Jose Altuve, Brett Wallace, and J.R. Richard on Friday, I was intoxicated by the small taste of that which I have been craving since the end of last season. Baseball. It was my first experience meeting major league personnel in any capacity, (other than running in to Larry Dierker at Larry's Big Bamboo), and it left an impression on me to say the least.

Bill Brown asked my name and I couldn't help but grin from ear to ear like a 10 year old. It brought back the nostalgia of walking into the Astrodome when I was a kid, memories of orange folding chairs with huge cushions, and up close views of Kevin Bass and Jose Cruz at the plate seen through binoculars. I was young and simply enjoyed being there; a fan of the spectacle not yet involved in the love affair to come. It reminded me of an innocence that I will never have again. But part of that innocence lives on every season in positivity of possibility. It had me so ready for the season to begin that it was hard for me to look back at last year, a year that was the lowest of lows in the Astros' franchise relative to the major league club. But I did look back, and with an eye to the average player.

Recently I came across the numbers of the league average slash line of batting average/on base percentage/and slugging for every defensive position aside from pitcher from the 2012 season. Most people hear the word average and think not very good, but in the baseball world average is actually pretty good. These numbers are a compilation of at bats from anyone who played the position and swung the bat. Some of the numbers I have put together are slightly skewed by the fact I could no locate a position per at bat break down. So I had to lump in some players total at bats for one position, even though they contributed at multiple spots. However, the biggest chunks of AB's for each position were accounted for accurately, so that the numbers should only be slightly skewed.

League: .248/.318/.400
Houston:  .234/.313/.386
The catching platoon of Snyder and Castro were fairly close to league average last season. However, Snyder hit a lowly .176 compared to a .257 average from Jason Castro and a .269 average from limited ab's from Carlos Corporan. So if Castro can have more plate appearances this year and Corporan can provide as a serviceable back up, Houston should have a better showing at the catching position in 2013.

League: .262/.336/.442
Houston: .266/.306/.428
Although I was not able to identify every AB at every position, I was able to only include the Houston at bats from players who were traded during the season. Carlos Lee, B. Wallace, and Scott Moore made up the majority of the AB's I used for the 1B position. Moore out slugged and got on base at a higher clip than Wallace and Lee but Lee hit for a better average than the Wallace and Moore. Wallace and Moore had similar averages and each out slugged Caballo. Overall probably a similar showing at the 1B position in 2013, depending on how much 1B Pena plays and if and when Singleton is called up. Probably higher slugging, similar OBP, and lower average.

League: .257/.318/.383
Houston: .239/.286/.309
The majority of AB's came from Jose Altuve at the 2 bagger spot last year, but not all as Altuve did miss some time due to injury last year. These numbers are below average and well below average in the slugging department. If Altuve can stay healthy, these numbers probably look better.

League: .266/.327/.427
Houston: .268/.329/.418
Surprisingly solid numbers at the 3b position last year. Between Chris Johnson's .276/.329/.428 and Matt Dominguez's .273/.310/.477 lines, the numbers look pretty good. But when you include the lines of Steve Pearce and Brandon Laird the average and slugging dip. Though Dominguez will likely not slug at a rate of .477 the 3rd base position could have another nice showing in 2013.

League: .257/.318/.378
Houston .241/.296/.408
The only category where Houston' short stops performed above league average was in the slugging department, and a healthy Jed Lowrie, yes healthy, means the possibility of a similar result from the SS position in 2013.

League: .261/.326./431
Houston: .227/.284/.356

League: .265/.330/.418
Houston: .220/.303/.360

League: .262/.327/.434
Houston: .220/.305/.406

The 3 outfield positions were where Houston really suffered last year, in all categories. It is pretty brutal to look at. The main silver lining I can see is the possibility of a higher slugging percentage provided by a full season of JMax and Fernando Martinez, who slugged 427 and 466 respectively. Take away Brian Bogusevics slash line of 203/310/229 and things are already looking better. A repeat of productivity from the outfield in 2013 would be tragic.

Here's to pitchers and catchers reporting in 2 weeks and to positivity of possibility.