Archive for July, 2009

Cubs Walk Off Doesn’t Worry Me. Really.

Posted in Houston Astros with tags , , , , , on July 28, 2009 by Astropolithecus

I was waiting to see when I felt like posting again.  I haven’t written with The Disastros for awhile, being either too tired or at a loss for what I wanted to say. 

    So , I’m surprised after Soriano’s walk off grand slam I’ve regained the calm itch to say something of value. At least of value to the long suffering Astros fans I know.  

  This is a three game skid. This sucks. And few things are worse than a showboat like Soriano grabbing the upper hand on your scrappy ballclub with a huge homer.

 But THIS doesn’t worry me. I’m no more worried than I was at any point in the season thus far.

 The Astros should have taken three from the Dodgers recently. They came right back.  They were losing series in embarrassing fashion all through the beginning of the season, yet here they are in the thick of things even with tonight’s loss.

They will always worry me with inexplicable hitting slumps and shaky starting pitching, but even if the Cubs sweep this series, the ‘Stros are in this thing until the end. 

 Our Disastros have fought momentum valiantly every game this season.  Just when you think they can’t take another bone crushing loss (the Nationals eating them alive at home, right?), they come right back and win with a relative ease that makes me scratch my head, and throw a spotlight on their resilience.

They can also beat freakin’ Johan and then look mystified by a guy from Triple- A , so momentum hasn’t been a key factor in their season so far. They are actually, for the first time ever, taking it one game at a time this season.  Slow, steady, mildly consistent winning, which may be enough to kick them over the top in this fun but floundery division.  

And yeah, this grand slam might start Soriano on a tear, and the Cubs might stay hot because of it.  But he’ll probably go right back to being the bravado guy with the hole in his swing and the inability to read a close play down the third base line.  The Cubs will live and die with this newfound “momentum” for the next few days, or even weeks.  There might even be something to it.  It might put them over the top. But we know what will probably keep happening in the playoffs, sad as that is to think of.

 And I know one more thing. The Astros of this team aren’t gonna pout their way through this series. They actually played a pretty great game tonight. They’re just experiencing a little late season dead bat phase right now, exacerbated by the absence of Berkman. 

 The Astros will keep plunking along, slow and steady until the real end of the season, when they’ll either fizzle or rocket hard to the end. 

And I have the strange feeling our plodding turtles (led by the speedy Bourn)might just catch these hyped up rabbits napping.

Astros Sweep Cardinals!

Posted in Houston Astros with tags , , , , , , , on July 23, 2009 by Cabeza De Vaca
Okay, so, I pretty much use this blog as a place to voice my frustration with the club.  My love for the Astros comes accross mostly as love-hate, with the latter half of that relationship predominating.  Mostly, though, I’ve been frustrated with the way this team has been run.  My rants on player performance are normally limited to the context of how it should affect Ed Wade’s decision-making and Drayton’s long-term strategy.

Today, though, I’m just freakin’ excited that the Astros swept the Cardinals.  I honestly did not expect to have this much fun at any time this season.  My only concern comes when I think about how much this series sweep helped the Cubs.  I hate the Cubs.  I like the Cardinals.  I like LaRussa, Pujols, and the remaining Duncan.  I like the moustaches. I like the St. Louis Post-Dispatch sportswriters, and I like knowledgeable baseball fans. If any team other than Houston has to win the NL Central, I want it to be the Cards.  As teams who have finished 1-2 in the standings so often in recent years, I hope they can continue to be each other’s well-respected adversary.

Still, there was something so satisfying about sweeping a first place St. Louis team.   Let me say it again: the Astros swept the Cardinals!!  It helped that the club’s three best starters lined up for the three game series, but I still can’t believe it.  The team couldn’t believe it either.  They were jumping around like they just made it to the World Series.  You take the excitement wherever you can get it, and to lots of us who have been underwhelmed so far this year, there was a playoff atmosphere to this series.

As an Astros fan, I have been conditioned to believe that come-from-behind victories simply do not go in our favor.  I have been conditioned to expect opposing teams to get out of late-inning, bases loaded, no-out jams.  Prior to one of the Geoff Blum walk-off singles against the Cubs, it had been months since the team had won a game it trailed after the sixth inning.  To come back in the bottom of the ninth against a closer who has looked fantastic this year is remarkable.  Miguel Tejada has been a spark plug that ignites this team’s confidence and enthusiasm night after night.

Keppinger gives Miggy the rare double-spotlight.

Keppinger gives Miggy the rare double-spotlight.

In all honesty, I still think this team’s pitching is too weak, and I’m worried that the injury bug will continue to strike the… uh… less-than-youthful members of the team.  But for now, who cares? While I’m not jumping aboard the bandwagon just yet, at times like these, even a website called “Disastros” can be downright gleeful.

Astros’ Best Hitter?

Posted in Houston Astros with tags , on July 22, 2009 by beckeesh

In a post game interview after last night’s 11-6 win over the Cardinals, Miguel Tejada (2 for 3 with 3 RBIs) was asked about the importance of winning while the team’s best hitter, Lance Berkman, is out with a strained calf.  Miggy answered as expected, that it’s very important, that Lance is our best hitter and to win without him is big.

But I wonder, is Lance our best hitter this season?

His stats say, yes.  He leads the team in home runs, OBP and SLG. 

Did you have to look them up? you may be wondering.  He’s Lance Berkman!  He plays in 100 percent of ESPN fantasy leagues.  Everyone knows he’s the Astros’ best hitter.  Once upon a time there was Biggio and Bagwell, and now there’s Berkman.  Duh.

So, OK, he’s our best hitter… but still, this scene in the locker room, it rubbed me the wrong way.  And if you peek at Miguel Tejada’s stats, you’ll see why. 

Tejada’s .326 avg leads the team, as do his 30 doubles.  He has 53 RBIs (only 2 fewer than Berkman).  In July, Berkman and Tejada have almost identical stats in doubles, HR, and RBIs.  This season, Tejada’s avg with RISP is .319.  Berkman’s has been .260.  There is negligible difference between the two players on the Bill James’s runs created formula (Berkman sits at 63 in 2009, Tejada at 61).

Berkman may be our best hitter, but this season, he’s not “best” by so much.  He has more power than Tejada, undoubtedly.  And he walks a ton.  (Tejada has walked only 12 times all season!)  But if you asked me who I’d rather have on the bench for a few days, Berkman or Tejada, I’d toss a coin. 

Wait, Tejada on the bench with an injury?  Haha!  That never happens!

Is there a stat for hits while injured?  If there were, Tejada’s numbers might improve even more.

44 wins 44 losses. Now what?

Posted in Houston Astros on July 16, 2009 by Cabeza De Vaca

88 games into the season, the Astros have 44 wins. Perfect, another season in limbo. Does Ed Wade buy or sell? It appears most likely he’ll do neither and stand pat, but there are decisions to be made soon enough. What about free-agents-to-be Geoff Blum, Mike Hampton, LaTroy Hawkins, Brian Moehler, Russ Ortiz, Ivan Rodriguez, Miguel Tejada, and Jose Valverde? I’d rather get something, anything for these guys now than chicken out on offering arbitration and get nothing.  I honestly can’t see Drayton giving the green light on moving these guys, as that would look like we’re giving up on being champions this year. He wouldn’t want to disappoint the fans. Wait…does any Astros fan out there think this is a championship caliber team?

Obviously, whether a player becomes a free agent depends on whether the team offers arbitration, and if so, whether the player accepts. If either of those events does not occur, the player becomes a free agent. If the team offered arbitration and the player declined, the team gets draft pick compensation only if the player was classified as a Type A or Type B free agent. For Type A players, the former team gets the new team’s first pick (as long as it is not one of the first 15 picks — in that case, they get the second round pick), as well as a “sandwich pick” between the first and second rounds. For Type B, the former team only gets a sandwich pick, and the signing team does not have to give up their first draft slot.

In baseball arbitration, each side brings a proposed salary figure. The arbitrator has to pick one number or the other and cannot split the baby. I like form of arbitration because it forces each side to come to the table with a reasonable offer, using an honest assessment of the situation.

If the team did not offer arbitration, they do not get draft picks. In recent years, the Astros have not offered arbitration on a lot of players out of fear they would accept. Ty Wigginton is the most recent example. Because salaries tend not to go down in arbitration, this is all you can do when you’re overpaying for a player to start with.

Whether a player is a Type A, Type B, or non-compensation free agent depends on a variety of statistical categories for each position grouping used. Stats for the past two years are used. The Elias Sports Bureau methods for calculating who ranks as Type A, Type B, or neither has been reverse engineered by someone who is a lot better at math than I am. Below are the categories used and the statistics used in each:

Catcher: PA, AVG, OBP, HR, RBI, Fielding %, Assists

1B/OF/DH: PA, AVG, OBP, HR, RBI

2B/3B/SS: PA, AVG, OBP, HR, RBI, Fielding %, Total fielding chances

SP: Total games, IP, Wins, W-L, ERA, Strikeouts

RP: Total games, IP, Wins + Saves, IP/H ratio, K/BB, ERA

So, it’s possible to see where the numbers fall through the first half of the season. Let’s take a look at how the Astros players are looking so far, and whether the organization should offer arbitration.

TYPE A: Jose Valverde, Miguel Tejada.

No surprises here. The smart money is on Miggy’s numbers plummeting over the rest of the season. He has, after all, aged very rapidly lately, on paper at least. Tejada’s obviously not normal, though. That guy has all kinds of energy, and with the trouble the players have had with Cecil Cooper, his presence has been invaluable. Reading what he and Hunter Pence say about each other — how hard they play the game and how hard they work — has made me especially glad he’s been around. If only we had more young players for him to influence.

As much as I love Miggy shining the spotlight, if the price is right, this team needs to restock. Keeping him around for draft pick compensation would be great, but it’s no sure thing that he would decline an arbitration offer.  Teams aren’t paying a lot these days, especially if it means giving up their first pick.

Valverde is probably the only player who would be wise to decline arbitration, and as a result, the Astros will likely offer it. Other teams know that Type A draft pick compensation comes with Valverde, so they might be more willing to offer more.

TYPE B: Ivan Rodriguez, LaTroy Hawkins.

Sturdy as always behind the plate, Rodriquez sure has been frustrating beside the plate. Catching is a very thin position, though, and Pudge’s amount of action so far is enough to get the Stros something in return if he were to reject an arbitration offer. The problem is, there appears to be zero chance he wouldn’t want to go to arbitration. Pudge wasn’t even signed until he lit it up in the World Baseball Classic this spring, and if the Astros hadn’t signed him, who would have? He and Scott Boras have to be looking at that, and considering the fact that he stands to get another million or so in arbitration. That’s a lot better than getting squeezed out of the game — “Wait, hey guys, I can still play, I swear.”

In a move I liked, but still cant figure out, the Astros signed Chris Coste off waivers last week. Now they have 3 catchers on the big league club. They also have J.R. Towles in Round Rock, leading the Express in hitting, with a .296 average, and golden boy Jason Castro in Corpus Christi hitting .279 and he’s still figuring things out.

A certainty that he’ll accept arbitration and a sudden depth at the catcher position makes Pudge the likeliest to be shopped. Don’t expect to fetch much.

As of now, it seems plausible that LaTroy would turn down arbitration and see what he can get on the free market. However the economy is tough, and maybe those saves he racked up while Valverde had a swollen calf could make for a strong case. Hawkins makes $3.5 Million this year, and he’s not likely to make less in arbitration. Rumor has it that the Minnesota Twins have interest in Hawkins. Pitching depth is a problem for the Astros, so if anyone else is dealt, Hawkins stays.

None of the Above: Geoff Blum, Mike Hampton, Brian Moehler, Russ Ortiz

I’ve really been pleasantly surprised by every one of these guys this year.  Not that they’ve been that great, but I had really low expectations for each of them.  Heck, Blum has three walk off singles this year.  I couldn’t be happier with him.  Hampton has been healthier than I expected.  Ortiz looks shaky each time out there, but he was picked up off the scrap heap.  While he never dominates, he also never has one of those occasional 11 run, two-inning outings like Moehler has against the Cubs.

Of these guys, I can only see Ortiz being a guy the club would want to trade.  He probably won’t generate any interest, but he’s unhappy with the current situation, and the Astros don’t like people who complain about management.  This is too bad, because I agree with Ortiz.  Cooper handled him poorly, and Ortiz is a classy guy who deserved to have his manager treat him with more respect.

Again, though, pitching depth is a problem, particularly in light of Paolino’s most recent outing, so as much as I’d like to see Hampton, Ortiz and Moehler fetch some warm bodies to fill up the farm system, it’s not likely.

So, here we are again.  Stuck with the oldest team in baseball and not a lot of options to get younger.  Let’s just hope we don’t go out and get Jamie Moyer for Bud Norris.

One Game Under

Posted in Houston Astros with tags , , , , , on July 9, 2009 by Cabeza De Vaca

Here we are again. One game from returning to .500. Not since being 1-1 on April 7th, have the Astros been winners, err… I mean, non-losers. Actually, with an extra game to be finished up, the Stros have a chance to be winners tonight for the first time all season. First, the Astros and Nationals will pick up where they left off, albeit 1,500 miles southwest. With an extra-inning win to start the night off, the Astros can either go on to be winners, or quickly follow a step forward with another step back.

During Spring training, my brother and I talked about how we thought the season would play out. I predicted that it would look pretty ugly throughout, but that somehow the old never-say-die attitude would land the team at (an over-performing) 80-82 – with scattered winning streaks to justify management’s claims that we’re still in it. My brother predicted that through the course of the season, the Stros would have great runs to get them to 2 games below .500, slipping back down each time. It appears he was one game off. Here we are again with a third chance in a week. Each time they approach the plateau, they roll back down like a car in neutral that couldn’t build up quite enough momentum along the way.

Who’s gonna stumble this time? In San Francisco, the offense was characteristically baffled by their first view of a rookie, Ryan Sadowski (who?), and against Pittsburgh, the defense faltered. Odds are, this time it’s the pitching. Lately you have no idea what’s gonna happen with Russ Ortiz, so it’s anyone’s guess. Hopefully, though, Lance and Hunter finally teach the rest of the boys that in Texas we take two steps forward before taking another step back.