Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Astros County Roundtable: May 14

We at AC have decided to give any readers out there small a window into the inner-workings of the AC offices.  Once a week, we meet in the AC Boardroom, get Betty and Cynthia to hold all calls, and discuss pressing issues, such as who has how Masked can finance those hair implants, and whether (Not Hank) has a future as the MMP train driver (his dream job).  We sometimes get to talking about baseball.  The results of the discussion for this week are below.

Pressing Issue:  Some people say that the Astros bullpen has not been good.  Everyone else says that it has been a horrible pit of despair so far this season.  Name a RHP and LHP somewhere in the Astros System who you would like to see being given shot in the Big League Bullpen.

Batguy:  RHP is an easy one for me. I'd like to see Chia-Jen Lo get another shot. He held his own in 19 appearances with Houston last season, with the only issue being walks, which is not something he had been struggling with the previous couple of seasons. Depending on if you use Baseball-Reference or FanGraphs, he was either just above or just below replacement level, which would be a pretty good upgrade for the goatpen.

LHP is a little tougher, as the best looking lefties at either AA or AAA (the only levels I'm considering) are currently being used in the tandem starter rotations. Rudy Owens has logged over 300 innings at AAA and, from what I've heard, was poised to be called up last summer before his foot injury sidelined him for the remainder of the season. I don't think he'd be dominating, but he seems likely to throw strikes and I'd say it's time to see if he can handle major league hitters.

Cockroach:  Can we get Matt Albers and Jesse Crain to throw left-handed and bring them both back immediately? Okay, probably not, but could they really be worse that way than what we've currently got? Failing that, we've already tried most of the lefty options at AAA, so I'd look down a level farther and give Thomas Shirley a shot. Yes, he's only got 8 games above High A so far, but he's slightly old for AA at 25, and he's been dominating there so far this season: 0.929 WHIP, 9.6 K/9, 4:1 K:BB in 37.2 IP. Because of his age, he's less prospect-y than someone like Luis Cruz, so Luhnow & Co. would probably feel better about stashing him in the big league bullpen. I agree with Batguy that Rudy Owens is likely more big league ready, and he's a much more realistic option, already being on the 40-man roster. But Shirley has surley done enough early this season to at least put himself in the conversation. (You're welcome.)

For righties, I will agree 100% with Batguy and say Chia-Jen Lo. His numbers at OKC aren't great this year, but he was one of the guys who helped the 2013 Goatpen be slightly less sucky late last season, which was a Herculean task. I was surprised that he didn't get a longer look in Spring Training this year (4 G, 3.1 IP), and even more surprised when he was outrighted off the 40-man roster in April, so it feels like The Powers That Be have less faith in him than we do. There's likely good reason for that, and the fact that David Martinez remains on the 40-man makes him a much more probable choice. But I felt much better about Lo than Martinez in Houston last year, and I haven't been convinced to change my mind on that just yet.

(Not Hank):  Righty. Mike "Bad MF" Foltynewicz. Do I believe he is still best used as a starter? Absolutely. Eventually. But this bullpen needs real help. Someone who can come and get a key strikeout with a runner in third. Maybe even a shut down closer. Keith Law recently tweeted that the bullpen is the best way to break in any young pitcher, in response to Stroman getting called up to the pen by the Jays. I'm assuming he wasn't being sarcastic, which might not be a safe assumption.  It worked for Johan Santana. It worked for Adam Wainwright. It could work for Folty. I also trust that Luhnow and Co are smart enough to stay the course, and not be swayed by the rabble demanding he stay the course if Folty has success in the bullpen.

As for a lefty. I actually like the two we have. Sipp has been excellent and I'm a big fan of Downs. If I have to give an answer, I'm also going to go down to AA. Luis Cruz has put up elite K/BB rates in the minors and has been excellent so far in AA.  I don't think anyone really sees him as a starter long term, and even if he is, he can always transition back. He's already on the 40 so that makes it easy. Also, if he's going to take up a spot on the 40, might as well put him to work.

The Constable:  GAH! I totally had Bad MF as my righty.

Masked:  I am making the RHP as a “lets cycle through these guys and have a look at who sticks” pick, which I think accurately reflects the stage where the Astros are in their rebuilding phase.  So lets see what Rhiner Cruz can do.  At the moment, he as a 1.50 ERA in Oklahoma City, with 3 walks and 13 K’s in 12IP.  Now, before everyone rolls their eyes and groans, his career BB rate is 4.72/9 versus a K rate of 6.60/9.  His OKC rates this year are 2.25BB/9 and 9.75K/9.  I doubt that those lines would translate directly to the Majors.  But he has already shown the ability to strike guys out in the Majors, so getting his BB rates under control may represent a solid improvement in the big leagues.  He turns 28 later this year, so his time is now, and the ‘Stros may wish to see whether he can take his game to the next level and perhaps have an effective, hard throwing, cheap ML reliever hanging around for the next few years.

As for the LHP, I mostly agree with (Not Hank) here.  It will be interesting to see if Tony Sipp can continue to surprise everyone, and Darin Downs has a bit of versatility.  Luis Cruz is also a very interesting name here, and he may get a look at a big-league pen soon.  Although he has been a starter in the minors, the most he has thrown is 140-odd innings.  He has hit 35 this year, with about a quarter of the MiLB season gone, so he could find himself up around 150 or so innings, especially if Corpus ditches the tandem starting later in the year (like they did last year).  Anyhow, Luis has 7.32K/9 this year, and 2.78BB/9.  A look at a big-league ‘pen this year would give him the opportunity to work out what he needs to work on should he get optioned to OKC next year, and therefore possibly be a longer-term look to the future.  And, as mentioned above by (Not Hank), the bullpen is an accepted way to break in a starter - happened with Roy O after all!