Monday, May 23, 2016

Jeff Luhnow: A Retrospective (Part 3)

This is the third part of an ongoing series where I do my best to recap and grade each of Jeff Luhnow's major decisions since taking over the Astros in December 2011. (part 1part 2)

December 3, 2013
Traded Brandon Barnes and Jordan Lyles to the Colorado Rockies. Received Dexter Fowler.

If players were measured by grit, Barnes would be an inner-circle Hall of Famer. The outfielder patrolled Tal’s Hill with reckless abandon during the 2013 season but hit just .240. He’s done essentially the same at Coors Field and is still with the Rockies though the speed that once made him exciting has receded at age 30.

Taken 38th overall in 2008 by the Astros, Lyles was called up to the majors at a really young age. Seriously, take a guess at how old he is. Doesn’t it seem like forever ago that he pitched with the Astros? He’s 25. That’s younger than Jose Altuve. Age aside, Lyles has never lived up to the potential of his draft spot. He’s had just one year (2014) with an ERA below 5. He is still with the Rockies.
Dexter Fowler is an on-base machine. Since his first full season at age 23, his OBP has never dipped below .350. In 2014 he hit .276/.375/.399 while playing center field for the Astros. But for all the value his bat provide, Fowler rated as one of the worst defenders in baseball. It was his second year of arbitration and the Astros paid $7.35 million.

Two replacement level players for a major league regular is a win in anyone’s book.

Grade: B+

December 6, 2013
Signed Scott Feldman as a free agent.

After coming up with the Rangers as a reliever, Feldman established himself as an innings eating starter by his fourth full season. In 2009, he won 17 games with a 114 ERA+. He signed a 3yr/$30MM contract with the Astros and has been exactly the back of the rotation starter they signed him to be.

Grade: B

December 18, 2013
Selected Collin McHugh off waivers from the Colorado Rockies.

McHugh had an ERA approaching 10 when the Astros scooped him up from the Rockies. Luhnow said that McHugh’s curveball had one of the best spin rates in baseball and hypothesized that it would play up if he would throw more high fastballs and escaped the thin air of Coors Field. All McHugh did in his first season with the Astros was post a 2.73 ERA, striking out a batter per inning and finishing fourth in the Rookie of the Year voting. In 2015, he finished eighth in the Cy Young voting due in large part to his 19 wins.

Grade: A+

March 22, 2014
Released J.D. Martinez.

There’s no beating around the bush here – this was a terrible move. A defendable move at the time, sure, but terrible none the less. Martinez was just 25 when the Astros gave up on him after three seasons in the majors. By now you know the story: he re-tooled his swing but the Astros didn’t give him a chance to showcase it in Spring Training. He was immediately scooped up by the Tigers (who had expressed interest in trading for him) and turned into a bona fide superstar. In 2014, while the Astros trotted out Robbie Grossman and L.J. Hoes in left field, Martinez hit .315/.358/.553 with 23 home runs. And it wasn’t a fluke. In 2015 he hit 30 home runs and received MVP votes. All told, he has had a 142 OPS+ in two-plus seasons with Detroit and has been worth almost 10 WAR.

Grade: F

May 1, 2014
Singed Tony Sipp as a free agent.

For reasons I still do not understand, Arizona granted Sipp free agency while he had a 0.90 ERA in Triple-A in early 2013. He then signed with the Padres and pitched in 14 innings at Triple-A before San Diego gave up on him. The Astros picked him up for the league minimum salary and he quickly became one of their more reliable relievers. A lefty capable of getting hitters on both sides of the plate out, Sipp had a career year in 2015 when he struck out over a batter per inning and had a 1.99 ERA.

Grade: A

June 7, 2014
Drafted Brady Aiken first overall. Welp. No need going into that here. Suffice to say this did not turn out how either party had hoped. Carlos Rodon, Kyle Schwarber, Aaron Nola, Michael Conorto were taken within the first ten picks and have already made their big league debuts.

Other Astros draftees – Derek Fisher, A.J. Reed, J.D. Davis and Daniel Mengden. All legitimate prospects. It’s probably way too soon to put a grade on a draft so recent, but hey, that’s what they pay me the big bucks for. (On an unrelated note, if anyone would like to pay me The Big Bucks, it would be greatly appreciated.)

Grade: C

July 31, 2014
Traded Austin Wates, Jarred Cosart and Enrique Hernandez to the Miami Marlins. Received Francis Martes, Colin Moran, Jake Marisnick and a 2015 compensation draft pick.




Wates never made it above Triple-A and was released following the 2015 season.

Cosart, when he wasn’t busy complaining about rookies throwing bullpen sessions at the major league park, barely struck out more batters than he walked despite a 95 MPH cutter. He finished the 2014 season on a tear with the Marlins, posting a 2.39 ERA in 10 starts but was sent to Triple-A in 2015 after a terrible start to the season. He is still bouncing between the big leagues and the minors for Miami.

A super-utility player and a super-fun dude, Hernandez played in all of 18 games for the Marlins before they trade him to the Dodgers where he comes off the bench and jumps around in banana suits. 
Francis Martes had a 5.18 ERA in rookie ball when he was traded, but the Astros are said to have seen something they really wanted in him. All he’s done since then is become a top 100 prospect and a potential frontline starter. He is still just 20 years old and is currently in Double-A after posting a 2.04 ERA across three levels of competition in 2015.

The Astros considered drafting Moran No. 1 overall in 2013, but they chose Mark Appel instead. Pay no attention to that other third baseman who went to the Cubs at No. 2. None of the tools stand out when you watch Moran play, but there is no doubting hit ability to put bat to ball. He sports a .299/.356/.426 career line in the minors.

Jake Marisnick immediately took over as the everyday center fielder when the Astros acquired him. Lighting fast with great instincts, Marisnick is a fantastic defender – the only question was whether he could hit. In 51 games with Houston in 2014, he hit .272 but his production dropped off significantly in his first full season, hitting .236 over 133 games. He made the Opening Day roster in 2016 but is currently at Houston’s Triple-A affiliate.

The Astros used the pick they got in this trade to select Daz Cameron 37th overall in 2015. The toolsy 19-year-old has a long way to go to reach the big leagues, but many had him pegged as a top 10 talent in the draft that fell only due to signability concerns. Only the Astros were able to match his asking price and his career could take this trade from excellent to excellent-er.

Grade: A++

November 3, 2014
Selected Will Harris off waivers from the Arizona Diamondbacks.

The Diamondbacks apparently couldn’t find room on their 40-man roster for a man who has a 1.62 ERA with a 248 ERA+ in 88.2 innings with the Astros. Harris has been one of, if not the, best relievers in the Astros bullpen. As of now, he has locked down the 8th inning role for A.J. Hinch.
If you’re keeping track at home, two of the Astros top relievers (Sipp* and Harris) have essentially been given to the club by Arizona. It’s like they’re snakebitten or something.

(*Sipp was granted free agency and signed a minor league deal with the Padres who granted him free agency to sign with the Astros)

Grade: A+

November 5, 2014
Traded Carlos Perez and Nick Tropeano to the Los Angeles Angles of Anaheim. Received Hank Conger.

If you will remember, Perez was part of the mega-trade with the Blue Jays in 2012. He played in 86 games with the Angels in 2015, hitting .250/.299/.346 while throwing out 38% of baserunners. He has taken over as their everyday catcher in 2016.

While he will never be confused as a top of the rotation talent, Tropeano has been a solid rotation piece for the Angles. In 15 games since being traded, he has struck out 77 batters in 74.1 innings with a 3.75 – good for a 101 ERA+.

Conger, meanwhile, hit .229/.311/.448 in 73 games as the Astros backup catcher in 2015. 42 people tried to steal a base on him. 41 succeeded. That is insane. He managed to scrape together 0.4 WAR thanks in large part to his excellent framing skills. Arguably his largest contribution to the club was his dancing robot in the dugout.

The Astros needed a backup catcher, but they traded away a better one than they got – not to mention the perfectly serviceable pitcher they gave up as well.

Grade: D