Monday, July 28, 2014

Oh You Have To Be Kidding Me, or, The Day A Bullpen Session Got The Chronicle All Whipped Up Into A Tizzy

I slept on it. I wanted to see if my perspective had changed with six hours of sleep. (Any more than that and I lose my #edge which hurts my #brand). It didn't.

So let's start with What We Know.

*We know Mark Appel has struggled this season.
*We know that on July 24, Mark Appel threw 6IP, 5H/2ER, 7K:0BB at Stockton in the longest start of his career and the best start of his season.
*We know that, following that July 24 start, Mark Appel was promoted to Double-A Corpus.
*We know that, on his way to Corpus, the Astros had Mark Appel come to Minute Maid for a bullpen session yesterday (Sunday) morning to throw for Houston pitching coach Brent Strom, before the players arrived for the third game of a series with the Marlins.

This is where the plot begins to wobble, because I interpreted yesterday morning's events (and I don't feel as though I was alone) as such: Seeing as how Houston is kind of on the way from Lancaster to Corpus, it made sense for the Astros to bring him in to pitch for possible future pitching coach Brent Strom, you know, to looks at his mechanics, offer some advice, you know, generally take a little bit of extra time with your 2013 1-1 pick in light of this month's events with the 2014 1-1 pick. It made perfect sense to me, a guy who has never pitched on any level beyond BP to his 7-year old nephew.

The Astros, however, did not like the fact that Appel threw a bullpen at Minute Maid Park, just hours before the Marlins finished off a sweep in which the Astros scored five runs.

It then turned into A Thing. "It's (expletive) unbelievable," said one anonymous Astro. Another Astro voiced his concern to Jose de Jesus Ortiz, and dropped even more expletives.

The Chronicle, smelling blood in the water and yet another chance to rip the front office, went full-on Hard Nipples on the Apparatus:
And hey here comes Texans beat writer Brian Smith!
And there it is. By getting last year's 1-1 pick in for a bullpen session with a pitching coach before the players arrived for the game, before said pick's final leg of his promotion to Double-A, the Astros have violated an unwritten rule.

Randy Harvey piggy-backed on the hoopla to write a column (which is apparently on the FRONT PAGE OF THE HOUSTON CHRONICLE TODAY):
The players don't believe Appel should have been working out in the Astros' home park until he has earned the right to call it home...the Appel incident makes it appear as if management is either tone deaf when it comes to players' feelings or, even worse, doesn't care.

This is absolutely preposterous. Do the Astros value Mark Appel more than, say, Josh Hader, who had his own thoughts in a since-deleted tweet. Of course they do. They spent $6.35m on Mark Appel, and traded Bud Norris for Josh Hader. That doesn't take anything away from Hader, he's a good young pitcher having an excellent season in a challenging environment. Mark Appel is an older pitcher struggling in the same environment, and the Astros wanted to get him out of there as quickly as possible to see if a change of scenery improves his career. You can swing and miss on trades. You don't swing and miss on your 1-1 pick.

You could say the Astros were trying to sneak Appel in, or you could say that there are only two non-stop flights from Houston to Corpus on Sunday mornings, and they really wanted him to make it to Whataburger Field in time for the Hooks' game vs. Midland.

You could even say that the two anonymous Astros players need to focus more on not getting swept by the Marlins. You could say that the two anonymous players should be more concerned with their own jobs than with what Mark Appel is doing before their game.

And let's be clear: this was a manufactured story. Ortiz tweeted two anonymous players who had problems.  Brian Smith felt as though it was his job to spend a significant amount of time commenting on an unwritten rule of which no one has ever heard. Randy Harvey wrote a column about it. The Chronicle went ESPN on this story, manufacturing outrage (I fell victim) and perpetuating it all day. 

Perhaps you remember a few years ago when the Houston Press wrote about how the Chronicle killed a story examining PEDs and Roger Clemens, among others ( It feels as though the Chronicle's pendulum is now swinging the other way, where there has been an editorial directive to be the Tough Voice On The Astros, consistency and logic be damned.

It's not as though the Astros don't deserve criticism. From CSN Houston to Brady Aiken there have been plenty of well-founded opportunities to emote a shrug of the shoulders in print. But this is different. I saw literally zero people taking the players, or the Chronicle's, side on this. "Don't let a minor-leaguer use your bullpen before a game" is not an unwritten rule, it's a nitpicky way to act like a tough guy, to whip the dead horse of the Front Office's perceived indifference to basic human emotion and social skills. 

But if the Astros players don't feel as though the front office shows a commitment to winning, what does that say about them? "The front office doesn't want to win - and I'm Exhibit A in this, because if they cared, I would be on some other team's Triple-A roster!" That's ridiculous.

It's a farce, and I'm mad at myself for having wasted this much time on it. A lot of growing up needs to happen - the Astros players themselves, and the people who cover them for a living.


Anonymous said...

After the few weeks Houston GM's have had, this seems more than silly. The kid has talent and needs help.

John Yarbrough said...

Brian Smith's opinion that the only people qualified to comment on this story are those that have covered MLB or MiLB teams by being in the clubhouse is one of the most ludicrous things I've ever read.

Let's break it down here:
1) Smith is a Texans beat writer since August 2013 and presumably hasn't been at MMP all year.
2) Smith did an admirable job as the Astros beat writer previously...for all of ONE season.
3) Smith claims that allowing Appel to throw a bullpen session at MMP on his way to Corpus Christi after receiving an admittedly dubious promotion broke one of baseball's "unwritten rules." This suggests Smith has access to and is an authority on this invisible work of baseball literature. Show us the book, Brian.
4) Smith and Ortiz claim this latest outburst from the clubhouse is indicative of "mutiny" among the players. Congrats, Jose and Brian. You've officially become paid shills for disgruntled, privileged 20-somethings. You've finally made it.

Will said...

Excellent post, AC. Well stated. This whole ridiculous affair is typical of that hack Joey Jeezus, always injecting himself into his coverage. This doofus doesn't have the journalistic professionalism to be roaming the Astros clubhouse. Go back to covering MLS soccer, you weasel Ortiz.

Bill Crider said...

This sounds so much lik high school, USA.

Anonymous said...

I bet one of those two quotes were from Jared Cosart. Also what did Hader say before deleting the tweet??

Anonymous said...

I wish there was a WRITTEN rule somewhere that kept ortiz, davis, and the chron from sucking.

will said...

In an earlier era this would have been met with skepticism and maybe a passing, " Slow news day?". Now with Twitter is becomes and instant national outrage for 24 hours. Give me a break, this is and should be an absolute non-story. Yet somehow, I was sucked in like the rest of us...damn

Anonymous said...

I agree that the content of the complaint seems petty, and that the zeal of the Chronicle seems out of proportion, but I think a lot of commenters and bloggers just skim over the idea that there could be real problems below the surface in the clubhouse. Sure, people can act like those problems aren't legit and shouldn't exist. They can then blame Porter, but that really just amounts to denial of a real problem moving forward.

JoeinAlaska said...

Dellich, Ortiz, Smith and the Chronicle have an agenda. Sell more papers. How? Bash the home town team every chance you get!

Anonymous said...

I am 1oldpro.
I have been as critical of the Astros FO as anybody. But the one thing this current administration has done consistently is promote high collegiate draftees as they saw fit. Springer, Tucker, Kemp, Gregor, Reed, Davis and Appel.
One other thing they have done consistently is move young high school drafted top prospects along a year at a time. Correa, Ruiz, Teoscar, Phillips, DDJ, Hader, Vasquez, have gotten moved up one year at a time.
Appel is 23, Hader is 20. They both have great futures, but, because of their different paths they are going to arrive at different times.
Just because a couple of people bitch about something, doesn't mean those people are right. What it does mean is that someone with a mic was standing there listening to them and thought it was a good way to make the Astros look bad.
If I had exclusive use of MMP and I wanted to have my $6.5 mil guy looked at by my pitching guru before he gets to CC, by God, I'd do it.
After all my years in the business world, I wish I had a dollar for every time I heard an employee who was not worth a crap complain about how some manager was treating others differently than them. Most of the time it was said when they were supposed to be concentrating on their own work.

JEXAS said...

Well said. Sick of the Chronicle.

TSEknows said...

I don't think it happened. The fact that the Chron writer is not willing to reveal the "anonymous" whiners, makes me think he made it up to satisfy his own frustration over the team's poor performance. If it is true, then maybe that is part of the problem. With petty, selfish players who aren't happy ,infecting the others, it's only going to spread like a cancer and affect the morale of the team as a whole, which needs to be nipped in the bud, if true!

Chris said...

It was absolutely, 100% Jarred Cosart who said it. That guy has been very critical of our FO & the promotion of players (including himself) since he got here. No doubt in my mind.

The other is likely that troll Bud Norris just hanging out in our clubhouse & bashing our FO any chance he gets.

wwschields said...

What was evident yesterday (at least on Twitter) is that Astros Nation was unified. We have been patient, encouraging, understanding, and passionate about the worst team in baseball three years running. To have a current player do this is a slap in the face to us. This also points to a severe lack of leadership within the clubhouse. The players know who said it (if it wasn't made up). One of the veterans needs to step up and assume the leadership position. Altuve, Keuchel, even Carter or Qualls, should step up and re-direct this team.

Terence said...

One discussion I haven't heard in any of this: Isn't it likely that the Astros have the advanced Pitch F/X tracking tools in their dugout bullpen? Isn't it likely that Stockton (and most of the CAL League) doesn't?

I'm not Jeff Luhnow's best friend, but I imagine he is far more worried about the velocity and movement on Appel's pitches than any other data he can collect. If this is the first chance he has had to collect that data since Appel left Florida, I'm sure he'd move hell and high water to do it.

Jason M. Kates said...

Brian McTaggert actually got players on record, and you'll never guess what they said...

Anonymous said...

Well written article and perspective. As someone removed who heard the story nationally (I'm a Cubs fan in Chicago), I honestly didn't understand the issue at all. I seem to recall a lot teams have let their recently selected top hitters come in and take BP in the pro ballpark before heading off to the minors. I just chalked it up to the writer making more than it was. We get that here too, and it makes it hard to find good, unbiased views. Looks like you have a good option here, Astros fans.

Hope we are exchanging messages about a Cubs / Astros World Series soon!

Astros County said...

This is easily the nicest Anonymous comment anyone has ever left