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.