Saturday, July 21, 2018

Saturday Morning Hot Links

*Dallas Keuchel threw a gem and the Angels got Reddick'd as the Astros opened the "second-half" with a 3-1 win over Anaheim. The Astros are 65-35, five games up on Seattle. The Astros would need to go 35-27 (.565) over the stretch to win 100 games, far worse than their current .650 win%. They're on pace to go 105-57. Houston's best record after 100 games is 67-33, set in 2017. In each previous season in which the Astros won at least 65 of their first 100 games they went on to win the World Series.

*Dallas Keuchel took a no-hitter into the 7th inning, throwing 7.2IP, 2H/1ER, 5K:1BB. He needed just 102 pitches to get 23 outs, and he lowered his ERA to 3.60. Keuchel has won four decisions in a row, in those last four starts: 27.2IP, 19H/4ER, 18K:6BB, with opponents hitting .194/.236/.224. Keuchel now has back-to-back starts without allowing an extra-base hit.

*Keuchel's first hit allowed came on a line drive that bounced off of Marwin's glove. Marwin:
In my personal opinion, that should be an error. I don't know why they got a hit. That changed the game a little bit for (Keuchel)...I thought I caught it. It was moving, but I should have caught it. 

This was certainly a night where he was in total control of everything. I thought his fastball was exceptional. I thought his use of the changeup was great. He arguably never should have given up a run, maybe not even a hit. There was a lot of good in Dallas. 

That last sentence is the first time those words have ever collided in the same sentence.

More Keuchel:
This is what I planned out for myself before the season started. It's nice to get off to a fast start, but being injured for the middle months - seems like the last two years - I focused on trying to hit my stride in July and August and I couldn't feel better. 

*Josh Reddick went 2x4 with an RBI triple. It's his second multi-hit game in his last three, and his first triple since September 20, 2017.

*Max Stassi got his 10th multi-hit game of the season, going 2x4.

*Kyle Tucker was 0x4 with a GIDP. He's 0-for-his-last-13. Tucker has played in ten Major League games.

*Carlos Correa is stuck at Base Camp on Everest waiting on conditions to clear for a medivac to take him to Kathmandu. He is not expected to play this road trip. Hinch:
The update is much of the same, where he's continuing to report to Minute Maid and make some progress but not enough progress to be fully ramped up to be able to play. He's not going to be on this road trip. He's not going to be activated any time soon. 

Check Jake Kaplan for more details.

*ClintShane gives some advice on how to handle the next 62 games.

*Scroll all the way down to the end of this SI piece to find their pick for the Astros' defining moment of the 1st Half.

*From Hunter Atkins: Brad Lidge's advice to Ken Giles? Be patient.

*SI asked All-Stars who they hated to face. Alex Bregman is a national treasure.

*Check out this catch that Myles Straw made last night.

*Shout out to the Mexican Baseball League for actually holding umpires accountable.

*Are athletes playing too much Fortnite?

*Here's a great article from The Athletic's Lindsey Adler on Rob Friedman, the beloved Pitching Ninja.

*Lol the white supremacist in the Vice News documentary on Charlottesville has been banned from Virginia. Virginia, truly, is for lovers.

Friday, July 20, 2018


Hey! It's baseballing time again! The first half (techincally it was 61.11% of the season) is over and its time to start REALLY getting pissy about stuff that ultimately won't matter come October!

The good guys pick it up tonight against The The Angels Angels and, oh friend, it couldn't matter less. Does anyone remember last year? Not October and not even September. I'm talkin July and August. We kinda weren't that great for a good stretch. Sure the boys had a couple bright spots (Altuve batting .837 for a month, Fiers had three no hitters, Colin Moran tried to eat a baseball during an at bat), but all in all, they were kinda coasting. I remember the bitching, too. "They won't get out of the first round hitting like this!" "Keuchel may never pitch again!" "Luhnow is scared to trade guys like Cameron, Moran, Musgrove, Feliz, Perez, or Martin!" "Clint isn't ever going to get married!!" and yet what happend? That's right. I had TWO WEDDINGS in A SINGLE MONTH and the Astros won the World Cup of baseball! Suck it Frenchies!

"But ClintShane, if that's even your real name (its not)... we HAVE to sure up the bullpen! AND the bats! what about the bats?!?"

Chill out, imaginary #AstrosTwitter caricature that makes me tweet stupid things. In the playoffs, you only need about six good pitchers. And if three of those guys are shutdown and sitdown types, you're cooking with some gosh darn coconut oil, buddy. (keto, guys! it works!!) So let's say you have three starters, one guy who can start and relieve, and two guys that can come out of the pen. You're getting out of the first round in no more than four games. If the three aces are on decent rest to start the LCS, you're looking at six. And if we're being honest, does anyone in the NL scare you? Cubs have aging pitching (not to mention the master suite sized space the Stros have rented in Yu's head) and the Dodgers haven't added anything to the pitching staff that lost them the Series last year. Breweres? Braves? Phillies? Nationals? (rolling eyes emoji).

Yes, the AL is a different beast, but I'm not worried about the Red Sox or Yankees as much as the Indians. The East boys will almost definitely be down to one come the LCS due to the Wild Card and one of them likely having the best record. (prepare youselves for talk of 'MAYBE WE SHOULD RETOOL HOW WE SEED THE MLB PLAYOFFS if one of them gets knocked out by the Mariners, bee tee dubs) Of course, it doesn't matter. You have to beat good teams to win it all. The Indians have a ton of pitching, HOWWEVVUHHH we did kinda literally win multiple games off three of (if not THE three) best closers in baseball last year. Pitching beats hitting, but huge balls beat your stupid pitching.

Which brings me to my biggest take away from the 2017 playoffs. If we learned anything (and immediately forgot because of the alcohols) last year, its that playoff baseball is a sassy little minx who will leave you in the middle of the night even though you thought you brought her around from her jaded past as a stripper and online cam girl. I mean sure she wants to do right by you, but sometimes you just are who you are, ya know? Which metric would've told you that Marwin would pee pee all over Jansen in the 9th inning of Game 2? Where can I find the odds on us hitting THREE (F&$ING THREEEE) game tying home runs in Game 5? How do you even attempt to rationalize Springer's last six games of 2017? You can't. Baseball is like that. You can quantify every physical action and reaction over 162, but trying to apply those same equations to a pressure packed series, taking place over a schedule the players aren't accustomed to, you're gonna get your heart poked.

I told you all that to tell you this. The team in its current incarnation is bad ass and totally capable of winning this whole damn thing again. Adding a piece won't hurt, but they aren't screwed if it doesn't happen. Let's all go home, grab our favorite weed pen, throw on some Explosions in the Sky (Friday Night Lights soundtrack is swell) or Lucero (Tennessee has some neat tracks!), and enjoy the next 63 before we have to drink ourselves to sleep after every game in October.

Friday Morning Hot Links

Big thanks to Flick for taking over on some Hot Links while I took a little break in order to sacrifice ten bulls to Base Ba'al and gear up for the 2nd Half (if by "half" you mean "the remaining 38.9% of the season").

Remember the Astros? They haven't played since April. Tonight they start the final push for the playoffs. They're 64-35 with a 5.0-game lead on Seattle. Before we get into it, here's your Playoff Odds check:

FanGraphs (103-59): 98.5% to win division, 100% to make playoffs, 23.1% to win World Series
FiveThirtyEight (103-59): 92% to win division, 99% to make playoffs, 22% to win World Series
Baseball Prospectus (102-60): 96.9% to win division, 99.6% to make playoffs, 17.5% to win World Series.

It's worth mentioning that the Astros' World Series percentages for all three of the major projections are the highest in baseball.

FanGraphs projects the Mariners to win 90 games, which is a .494 win% for the rest of the season, but with a 64.7% chance of playing the Yankees in the Wild Card Game. Oakland is projected to win three fewer games than Seattle. WE WILL SEE ABOUT THAT.

*Brian McTaggart writes that, while the Astros could look to get greedy at the Deadline, the Astros aren't willing to part with their top prospects or dig into their minor-league depth.

*Jake Kaplan wrote in The Athletic about how the upcoming schedule will allow the Astros to manage the rotation's workload. Hinch:
I think the schedule's been very kind to us. Every team has this new schedule of five or six days off in one month. Ours happens to come in August, which is pretty much where I would draw it up if I had to choose myself. You don't really want that kind of rest in April and May. July, we get the natural off days with the All-Star break. August is a picture-perfect time for our players. 

Having played 41 games in the 45 days leading up to the All-Star Break, the Astros are due for some rest, and since 24% of the active roster was a part of the All-Star festivities, they may enjoy some more. In fact, the Astros are off for four of the next 21 days.

*Chandler Rome: Alex Bregman's obsession with baseball perfection.

*Apparently J.D. Davis is on his way up.

*Heard from a #source that Carlos Correa is in traction in Ibiza.

Minor-League Snapshot

*Fresno scored six of the final seven runs of the game in an 8-7 win over Sacramento last night. Derek Fisher was 2x5 with a grand slam. Antonio Nunez was 1x3 with a home run and 3RBI. Ken Giles threw a perfect inning, striking out two in a 12-pitch inning.

Every website is conspiring against me to get the PCL standings. Screw 'em.

Corpus is 18-9 since winning the 1st Half division title, two games up on Frisco. They're 61-35 overall and have already guaranteed a playoff spot.

Buies Creek is 17-11 since their All-Star Break, a half-game behind Winston-Salem. They're 54-43 overall.

Quad Cities is 13-13 since their All-Star Break, 5.5 games back. They're 53-43 overall.

Tri-City is 19-14, tied for the Stedler Division lead with Lowell.

The GCL Astros are 14-13, 5.5 games back of the GCL Cardinals.

*ESPN's wonderfully-named Bradford Doolittle writes about the most common mistake teams make at the Trade Deadline. Doolittle:
When you are acquiring a player at or near the trade deadline, you are acquiring his baseline performance, not his season-to-date performance. To make a decision on a potential deal based on the current season's numbers is borderline malpractice. 

*FiveThirtyEight's Neil Paine asks if the Mariners can end their 17-year long playoff drought this year.

*The Ringer: The Last Days of Blockbuster Video. Maybe I don't have to feel so bad about moving out-of-state with a copy of the Ethan Hawke/Angelina Jolie classic "Taking Lives."

It's after 10am. I'm calling it a day.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Thursday Morning Hot Links

Flick's Hot Links. Day 2.

I understand why our fearless leader decided to take these few days off. There were very very very very VERY little sports that happened yesterday, thus potentially making new Hot Links hard on the poor intern. I have no idea how this is going to go but nevertheless, it is 1:22 a.m, I have my bottled water and a bag of freshly popped microwave popcorn in hand. Let's see what we can conjure up.

Well, the ESPYs were last night. I didn't watch..or vote..or know what I should be upset about. Sure it was our "sports fix", but I think I made the right decision in unwinding with some video games instead. I do know we won Best Team. That's cool. Dallas Keuchel delivered our speech. Altuve and Bregman were being the goofballs we know them to be. You can watch the 73 second speech here.

I heard that the U.S. Women's National Hockey Team took home Best Game over Game 5 of the World Series. Remember, you don't need ESPN to tell you Game 5 was the best game of the year. We know the truth. (In case you forgot everything that happened, I happen to have a 15 minute Youtube video to jog your memory...or if you have some time on your hands, the full four and a half hour broadcast). I know there were other Astros nominees but honestly I have no idea who they were and I have talked way more about the ESPYs than what I wanted to so lets move on.  

Somebody spend a lot of money to make this jersey. I checked around and the cheapest place to make a custom jersey from a site that doesn't sound like they are trying to steal your credit card info is Fanatics and it cost $105. Somebody likely spent AT LEAST $105 to make this jersey. Mad respect. 

Kyle Tucker is up. Could Forest Whitley be next

CBSSports gave us a roundup on the trade rumors, which includes the Brewers targeting Dozier, the Dodgers not being done yet, and the official shooting down the Ramos-to-Houston thought that crossed all of our minds.

Greg Rajan gave us some things to watch for the second half of the season here.

Fox Sports is just as excited as we are to get this 2nd half rolling, so our weekend preview can be found here.

I have one of those popcorn kernels stuck in my throat now. This was a bad idea. 

Here are some Hot Links of some Hot Lynx. Wow, you just don't see kind of humor anymore! Please don't stop reading yet.

FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb finally answers the age old question of if almonds lactate. “An almond doesn’t lactate.”

Some of your earliest memories aren't real, but your later memories are are, but some other ones may also not be real, and it is your job to figure out which are real and which are not real. Confused? Don't play Kingdom Hearts.

Well, this is all I could muster up for this edition of Hot Links. I hope you enjoyed this read and if I don't post Hot Links for Friday, I hope to think of something creative that I can share of this website sometime in the near future. Thanks for reading!

The popcorn kernel is still there. ugh

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Wednesday Morning Hot Links

Hey guys. Flick Nickem speaking. You may remember me from my last post on this website 2018 Astros as Birds (LOOK MY FIRST EVER HOT LINK IS A SHAMELESS PLUG) or if you follow my antics on my Twitter @FlickNickem (OOPS I DID IT AGAIN).

Your normal provider for Hot Links, Mr. Astros County, is taking a few days off to rest and recharge so instead of going without Hot Links completely, I decided to throw some together myself so we don't have to suffer without them. I am going to try and make them pretty similar to the format that we all know and love, but this is also a completely new author and I am known to be quite the little goofball so expect a little bit of a different personality in the next couple of daily posts. 

Lets start with the All-Star Game. How'd our Astros do?
-Altuve 1-3 with a strikeout, but that one hit was his first hit in the All-Star game in his sixth showing.
-Bregman also went 1-3 with a strikeout, difference being he hit the go-ahead HR to win the whole dang thing and then later was named the Ted Williams All-Star Game Most Valuable Player Award and given a car for doing so, giving it to his mom. You can peep his postgame interview here.
-Springer batted 1.000, going 2-2 and also hit a HR a couple minutes after Bregman did. So that was fun.
-Morton did not have a great showing, giving up 2 earned runs on 2 hits in 2 innings (HRs by Trevor Story and Christian Yelich). He also struck out 2 and walked 1.
-Verlander and Cole did not pitch, but they made the team and thats all that matters! *happy emoji*

Other notable All-Star game-y things:
-The AL won again, because duh.
-It did not rain, but every team still needs a retractable roof.
-Rich Dauer got to participate in his first All-Star Game, months after recovering from an emergency brain surgery following a collapse at the championship parade last November
-There were a combined 10 home runs hit last night, and the pitching staffs combined to strike out 25 batters.
-We found out about the lifestyle of 17 year old Josh Hader in between innings. It's..uh...not that awesome. But hey good news! Turns out the Astros won the trade!

In Other News:
-The Astros are doing a 4th World Series giveaway. I don't have one yet and I live in the Midwest, so if you want to get another one to send one my way, you'd be my favorite! <3
-Charlie Morton does not want to use injuries as an excuse for not being an all-star until age 34, because he is a sweetheart who is impossible to hate I love him I have his jersey okay next
-Here is our hitting coach talking about being a hitting coach, why AJ Hinch is one of the smartest people he's ever met, and talking about how to assess Kyle Tucker and George Springer's first halves.
-A New Astros Prospect Stock Report is up on the Crawford Boxes, for your viewing pleasure.
-Brent Strom thinks Keuchel might be back and here to stay.
-Buy Astroball.
-The Astros are not happy with Papa John, but they are still subjecting the fans to Papa Johns. I'm sorry.
-But Venus owned the moon the other day and folks let me tell you, THIS is the Moon news I am here for!

Well, I hope you enjoyed Hot Links Flick Edition Vol. 1. I'll be back tomorrow (I think) with more piping hot hot links! (I get paid every time I say hot links) ((This is not true but it is probably the best excuse I can use that you guys would actually wait.......shoot.....))

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Astroball Review: Book Cuts Against Conventional Wisdom About Astros Rise

The 2014 season was the low point of the Astros rebuild. While the on-field play of the team improved--the Astros won 70 games for the first time since 2010, and Jose Altuve won the franchise's first batting title. But a series of off-the-field stories raised real doubts about whether or not the team would ever get back to the playoffs. The Astros internal database Ground Control was leaked, and with it, a year's worth of internal trade notes. Bo Porter was fired with a month left of the season. And a bad MRI result for Brady Aiken meant that the Astros did not sign the top pick in the draft. 

But possibly the worst off-the-field story that season was a May 23 article in the Houston Chronicle by Even Drellich that described and derided the "Jeff Luhnow's radical...dehumanizing, analytics-based approach."  

This article is most well known for its quote from former Astro Bud Norris describing the Astros as "the outcast of major league baseball." That quote is featured in the third paragraph of the article and is included as part of the headline chosen by Chronicle editors ("Radical methods pain Astros as 'outcast')  

But the quotes inside the article are more pointed in their criticism of the Astros analytical approach. Jed Lowrie, then of the Oakland As describe the Astros approach as "purely statistical analysis. I think you can't that have approach and expect to have good personal relations." An anonymous player agent said "the Astros view them purely as property that can be evaluated through a computer program or a rigid set of criteria...They plug players into it to see what makes sense."

Drellich also asked the rhetorical question "If a young Astros player or his agent feels mistreated today or is just turned off by the organization's actions, why would he stick around...if comparable opportunities exist elsewhere?"

The thesis of Ben Reiter's new book Astroball: The New Way to Win It All argues that the conventional wisdom described in the article was not all it was cracked up to be. The key to the Astros victory in the 2017 World Series--and to building a team that leads the league in run differential in 2018 and is on its way to another post-season appearance--is the ability of Astros management to understand the psychology of players. In short, Jeff Luhnow and his management team understand the human side of their players, and that gives them an advantage over their rivals.

Of course, the Astros do not lack for analytical firepower, devotion to sabremetric principles, or the ability to run complicated predictive algorithms. Reiter's book highlights each of these elements of the Astros front office and their decision making. The book spends a great deal of time focusing on Sig Mejdal, who worked with Luhnow with the Cardinals and them came to the Astros as the Director of Decision Sciences. Mejdal, who has been promoted to Special Assistant to the GM, Process Improvement, has developed a large set of models and algorithms that the Astros can use to not only predict the future baseball performance of each player, but also to understand his value relative to the rest of baseball.

Yet, Reiter argues, the Astros algorithms, with all of its complicated math calculations and formulae, take into account factors well beyond just "numbers."  These models take into account a wide variety of "soft" factors that focus on the psychological makeup of players and their ability to put aside personal needs for the betterment of the team.

Reiter discusses how the Astros look for a "growth mindset" among their prospects, their willingness to train, eat, make baseball decisions, etc. In short, it's the willingness of a player to improve. The Astros look for this trait in drafting players, and were drawn to Carlos Correa not because he dreamed as a young boy of playing in the majors, but because he put in countless hours of work to become one--rousing his father who had worked two jobs to go out to his local baseball field every night. Reiter identifies Kevin Gausman, Mark Appel, Mike Zunino, and Byron Buxton as the other candidates for the top selection of the 2012 MLB draft. The Astros obviously chose wisely.

Alex Bregman impressed the Astros by being "the right kind of confident; not performatively cocky, a quality that could evaporate during snowballing slumps, but genuinely so, a quality that didn't."  Reiter then concludes this assessment of Bregman by writing something that as an LSU baseball fan, I've known for a long time and as Astros fan, we definitely learned when he threw home in Game 7 of last year's ALCS to retire Greg Bird--"He didn't give a shit about anything but playing."

Reiter devotes a later chapter of the book about the positive influence of Carlos Beltran in the Astros clubhouse in 2017. Using psychological research that examines find that the ability to overcome and transcend clubhouse divides around nationality, language, position, and temperament can add up to six wins of a baseball team, Reiter's reporting highlights the importance of Beltran to creating a focused and together clubhouse in the 2017 season, through a combination of informal friendships and more detailed set-pieces, such as the belts the players handed out to the batter and pitcher of the game.

This book is an update on Moneyball, which of course traced the decision making of the 2002 Oakland As and its General Manager Billy Beane. And while it is unlikely that Astroball will turn into a movie (but hey, if Brad Pitt is willing to trim his hair a little bit, he could make a very good Jeff Luhnow), it does show how baseball management has advanced over the past 16 years. The models and the math are much more complicated, but it is also much more manageable, as teams have beefed up their analytical staffs; the Astros analytics staff works in the "Nerd Cave" in the offices at Minute Maid Park. All 30 teams have amped up their understanding of the numbers part of the game, reducing the advantage that teams like the As through statistical understanding and innovation.

Yet, for the analytical firepower Jeff Luhnow and his band of sabrmetric warriors have brought to the table, Astroball argues that their greatest advantage over other their competitors is their understanding of the human factors that make up the game. In making this argument, Reiter's book provides a valuable contribution. It extends upon the conventional wisdom about the Astros to more successfully describe the methods that allowed the team to put the best team in baseball on the field. In focusing on the so-called "soft factors," Astroball also details where the Astros developed an information advantage over their opponents.