Archive for Astros

George Springer and Maximizing Contact

Several weeks ago, there was some concern over Edwin Encarnacion. He was having a somewhat strikeout-prone April, and he was having an under-powered April, and Jays fans weren’t sure what to make of the guy going forward. He’s since hit 13 home runs in May, all in a span of 20 games, and now he basically seems like himself, and on a hot streak to boot. All concern has been erased.

Similarly, people were very worried about George Springer after an underwhelming first couple weeks. Of course, Springer didn’t have Encarnacion’s track record, and of course, Springer was a rookie getting exposed to the majors for the first time, but I’d field questions in my chats about whether or not Springer might get demoted since his power was totally absent. In April, Springer batted .182 without a single dinger. In May, he’s batted .325 with eight dingers, and he’s homered in four games in a row. Springer has been one of the best hitters in baseball lately, and the initial overreaction now seems silly and absurd. Give rookies time. Especially the really good ones.

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Dallas Keuchel, Who Can No Longer Be Ignored

On Monday night, I sat down to watch a presumed pitchers duel featuring successful AL West starters Garrett Richards and Dallas Keuchel, which I suppose says something about both the 2014 baseball season to this point and me as a person. Richards, who’d entered the game with a top-10 FIP in baseball, disappointed, needing 27 pitches to get through a three-run first inning. He managed to avoid a disaster and actually stuck around through seven innings, but allowed 12 base runners, five runs and a mere lone strikeout, if whiffing Chris Carter even counts. I’m sure there’s a good starter in there, but being as this was the first time I’d had the opportunity to really watch him this year, I haven’t seen it yet.

And Keuchel? Well, I’m fairly certain this is the first time we’ve ever written about Keuchel on the main page of FanGraphs. He shut down the Angels on two runs over 8.2 innings for what was very nearly his second career shutout, five days after shutting out the Rangers for his first career shutout. After entering the season with a 5.20 career ERA in 239 innings, he’s now got a 2.92 ERA over the first 61.2 innings of his 2014 — numbers emphatically backed up by a 2.81 FIP and 2.68 xFIP. That xFIP is No. 5 in baseball, tied with Zack Greinke, just ahead of Johnny Cueto and Jon Lester; his swinging-strike percentage is No. 13, right in between Madison Bumgarner and Corey Kluber.

You know what? I think we’re finally going to have to talk about Dallas Keuchel. Read the rest of this entry »

Prospect Watch: Power Arms

Each weekday during the minor-league season, FanGraphs is providing a status update on multiple rookie-eligible players. Note that Age denotes the relevant prospect’s baseball age (i.e. as of July 1st of the current year); Top-15, the prospect’s place on Marc Hulet’s preseason organizational list; and Top-100, that same prospect’s rank on Hulet’s overall top-100 list.

Frank Montas, RHP, Chicago White Sox (Profile)
Level: High-A  Age: 21   Top-15: N/A   Top-100: N/A
Line: 5.0 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 4/1 K/BB, 1.80 ERA, 2.20 FIP

Part of the Jake Peavy bounty, Montas combines premium arm speed with a few other developing skills.

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When Should You Be Allowed to Bunt?

Quick answer: whenever you feel like it. Longer answer: to follow.

You’ve already had the entire weekend to forget about last week, and over the weekend, there was an incident involving Carlos Gomez and Gerrit Cole that cleared the benches and that will lead to suspensions. So you’re forgiven if you don’t remember much from Friday, but from Friday, I’d like to present to you a sequence of events. Prior to the Gomez sportsmanship incident, there was a sportsmanship incident in a game between the A’s and the Astros with Jed Lowrie and Bo Porter right in the middle.

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Jason Castro and Making a Framer

The first step was identifying pitch-framing as a skill. I don’t mean to diminish all the work that was done — it was phenomenal work, and illuminating work. We can’t stop talking about it! But there are other steps, or if you prefer, follow-up questions. Three of them:

  1. How much does pitch-framing matter?
  2. Is there a pitch-framing aging curve?
  3. To what extent can better pitch-framing be taught?

As far as No. 1 is concerned, we’ve got a lot of educated guesses. As far as No. 2 is concerned, it doesn’t seem like there’s much of an aging curve at all. And as far as No. 3 is concerned, it’s interesting to look at certain case studies. It seemed like J.P. Arencibia improved a season ago after working pretty hard on his receiving technique. And now we’ve got the case of Jason Castro, which, given his team, probably isn’t a coincidence. Well, no, it definitely isn’t a coincidence. I’ll get to that!

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George Springer, Archie Bradley & The Service-Time Dance

The Houston Astros added outfielder George Springer to their major league roster on Tuesday night and batted him second in the lineup in their game on Wednesday against the Kansas City Royals. Springer had an infield hit in five at-bats plus a walk in his debut.

Astros fans — indeed, fans of young baseball talent — have been pining for Springer’s call up since last season when he batted .301/.411/.600 in 589 plate appearances with 37 home runs and 45 stolen bases between Triple-A and Double-A. That followed his successful 2012 campaign in Double-A and high Single-A, when he posted a .302/.383/.526 line in 581 plate appearances. In February, Baseball America ranked Springer as the 18th best prospect. My colleague Marc Hulet put Springer at No. 14 on his Top 100 prospect list.

Yet Springer remained in the minors, without even a whiff of the big leagues last September, when the Astros expanded their roster. And he was sent back to Triple-A during spring training, with no place on Houston’s 40-man.

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Corey Kluber and Kluberization: Ditching the Four-Seam

If Corey Kluber‘s road to the big leagues was long and winding, the reason for his recent success might be short and simple. One day, some time in 2011, the pitcher finally gave up on his four-seam fastball and started throwing a two-seamer. And now you have the current Corey Kluber. A contrite pitcher talking about a simple change doesn’t make for a long interview, but the Corey Kluber Process might be applicable to some other young pitchers around the league.

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The Myth of Six Years of Team Control

Last week, Ken Rosenthal reported — and others have since confirmed — that the Astros offered top prospect George Springer a seven year, $23 million contract. He turned them down, and has since been optioned to Triple-A, where he will begin the season. Presumably, had he accepted the contract offer, he may very well have been named the Astros Opening Day right fielder, as the contract would have nullified the benefits of keeping him from accruing a full year of service time in 2014, and it’s not like the Astros have a better right fielder blocking his path at the moment. However, since Springer did not accept the contract, he’ll have to wait at least a few weeks to join the Astros, and potentially a few months if they decide to try and get him past the Super Two cutoff as well.

On the one hand, it’s easy to paint this as a picture of an organization acting in bad faith, using the carrot of a big league roster spot to try and coerce a young player into signing away his future earnings potential. The MLBPA is even considering filing a grievance on Springer’s behalf — even though he isn’t a member yet, since he is not on the Astros 40 man roster — over the issue, though it would be nearly impossible for them to prove intent given that Springer only has 266 plate appearances in Triple-A; optioning out a young player with Springer’s contact rate would be pretty easily defensible on merit alone. But the perception of impropriety still exists, due to the appearance that his demotion was directly tied to his decision to reject the Astros contract offer, whether that is actually true or not.

The Springer news has brought about another round of calls for reformation of the rules in order to remove the incentives for teams to keep their best young players in the minor leagues to begin the season, and I’m with the crowd who thinks that MLB is best served by allowing teams to make roster decisions based on talent and performance rather than worrying about accrued service time. I’d rather see George Springer play in April than whoever the Astros end up rolling out there on Opening Day. But for MLB and the MLBPA to come to any sort of consensus on this in the next CBA negotiations, everyone will first have to admit that the concept of six years of team control is basically a myth.

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The New Old Chad Qualls

I’ve been thinking about Chad Qualls this week, because… well, because no one can stand thinking about Ervin Santana any longer, probably, but also because when I wrote about the Astros a few days ago, I linked to an Eno Sarris post over at RotoGraphs about the Astros bullpen. Eno briefly touched on how Qualls, who had been reliably the butt of jokes for several years, had returned to his old mechanics, helping him have something of a quietly successful 2013.

Since Qualls signed with Houston during that insane first week of December when there were approximately 40 new signings each day, we never really wrote him up, instead touching on him here and there. While that’s partially because middling relievers don’t always deserve their own posts, mechanical changes are always a bit fascinating when it comes to changes in performance — just check out the difference in where Jayson Werth held his hands during his monster second half last year. That being the case, I thought it’d be interesting to track down the source there and check this out.

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Did Houston Spend Wisely This Winter?

How you view the near-unprecedented teardown of the Houston Astros depends largely on how you view the sport of baseball as a whole. If you’re in it for the long haul, for the joy of seeing teams attempting to build dynasties from within and using their resources effectively, you probably appreciate the commitment to the vision. If you’re a fan who doesn’t enjoy spending your hard-earned dollars to go watch a bunch of players you’ve never heard of (“Look, kids, Marwin Gonzalez!”) lose over 100 games for the third season in a row, then you probably find it to be an abomination.

It’s safe to say that the majority of FanGraphs readers fall under the first category, though there’s a certain validity to both sides. But all that really matters is how ownership feels about it, because while Jim Crane’s commitment to letting Jeff Luhnow blow things up and start from scratch has been admirable so far, there’s only so many 0.0 television ratings a businessman can suffer. That’s especially true as attendance has continued to shrink — down from just over three million in 2007 to half that in 2013, ahead of only three other clubs — and as reports surfaced in December that MLBPA head Tony Clark was “monitoring” the Houston situation, given that the club’s $549,603 average per player was the lowest the sport had seen since the 1999 Royals, who paid out $534,460 per player while losing 97 games. (Luhnow disputes the accuracy of that report, but the fact that Houston’s payroll was particularly low is unavoidable.) Read the rest of this entry »

Patience Is a Vice

The emotions that surround a player’s promotion to the big leagues are intense. Dealing with the realization of a lifelong dream coming true, sharing the moment with friends, family and loved ones, and putting on that uniform for the first time in a 24-hour span takes a special mindset to separate the emotions from the moment. Even veterans still talk about having butterflies on opening day, or the start of a postseason series.

When a prospect gets to the major leagues, they want to do everything they can do to stay there. Sometimes, they know up front they are only up for a specific assignment and will be sent back down at a later date, but everyone gets one chance to make a first impression. Often, that impression is made with the bat and players will try to force that issue.

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Preparing for the George Springer Experiment

The Houston Astros have done some unspeakable things to their fans. The primary defense for watching bad baseball is that bad baseball is better than no baseball, but at times the Astros have caused people to question whether what they’re watching is even baseball at all, or some kind of deliberately unwatchable performance art. The good news is that there’s good news. Psychologically, this experience has made Astros fans stronger, more tolerant of adversity and less prone to hysterics. And on the field, the Astros as a ballclub are making forward progress. They’re still not good, but they’re getting closer to good, and they shouldn’t be as dreadful as they have been for a long long time. With a wave of young talent on the way, Astros fans can begin to envision a most majestic, formidable crest.

Among the brightest of potential stars is 24-year-old George Springer. The former first-round pick ought to debut somewhere in 2014, and Springer is nearly the perfect prospect. He has plenty of power, as evidenced by last year’s 37 home runs. He has plenty of discipline, as evidenced by last year’s 83 walks. He has plenty of speed, as evidenced by last year’s 45 stolen bases. Defensively, he’s a center fielder who could stick there. He has range and he has an arm, and though he’s not unusually young for his level, he’s right on track to be a core asset. There’s just one thing that Springer is missing, and he’s missing it in spades.

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Remembering Lance Berkman’s Biggest Hits

Lance Berkman announced his retirement last week. While a week may seem like an eternity in the world of baseball blogs (especially during the seemingly endless off-season), a player of Berkman’s stature cannot be allowed to slip quietly into the night. If for no other reason, Berkman would deserve recognition on the basis of not one, but two of the best nicknames (judged on originality and appropriateness to the subject) in contemporary baseball in “Big Puma” and “Fat Elvis.” But he was also, as one would hope FanGraphs readers know, a tremendous player. As we so often do, let’s look back on some of Lance Berkman’s biggest hits from the perspective on their impact on individual games.

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2014 ZiPS Projections – Houston Astros

After having typically appeared in the entirely venerable pages of Baseball Think Factory, Dan Szymborski’s ZiPS projections were released at FanGraphs last year. The exercise continues this offseason. Below are the projections for the Houson Astros. Szymborski can be found at ESPN and on Twitter at @DSzymborski.

Other Projections: Arizona / Atlanta / Baltimore / Boston / Chicago AL / Chicago NL / Cincinnati / Cleveland / Colorado / Detroit / Kansas City / Los Angeles AL / Los Angeles NL / Miami / Milwaukee / Minnesota / New York AL / New York NL / Philadelphia / Pittsburgh / San Diego / Seattle / St. Louis / Tampa Bay / Toronto.

Unlike the blouse of an Olympic-level figure skater, the Houston Astros’ roster is not studded with bright and/or shining stars. That said, relative to the amount, in dollars, which that same roster is likely to be compensated in 2014 — the field-playing part, at least — they’ll actually provide some value, as none are projected to be worse than replacement-level, either.

As was the mostly the case for the 2013 edition of the Astros, this next season will be dedicated, it appears, to evaluating which of the players on the current roster are worthy of retaining as the club looks ahead to contending in the future. Here’s a summary of ZiPS’ opinion on the matter: Jose Altuve and Dexter Fowler — and probably also Matt Dominguez and Max Stassi — are about average. Jason Castro and George Springer are probably better than that, despite the fact that the latter has recorded zero major-league plate appearances. Everyone else? Not so much.

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Steamer Projects: Houston Astros Prospects

Earlier this week, polite and Canadian and polite Marc Hulet published his 2014 organizational prospect list for the Houston Astros.

It goes without saying that, in composing such a list, Hulet has considered the overall future value those prospects might be expected to provide either to the Astros or whatever other organizations to which they might someday belong.

What this brief post concerns isn’t overall future value, at all, but rather such value as the prospects from Hulet’s list might provide were they to play, more or less, a full major-league season in 2014.

Other prospect projections: Arizona / Chicago AL / Miami / Minnesota / New York NL / San Diego / San Francisco / Seattle / Toronto.

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Who is the Next Joaquin Benoit?

Joaquin Benoit got a two-year, $15.5 mmillion deal to pitch for the Padres this week. The signing didn’t make many waves — after all, Benoit has been a very good reliever the last three years. But three years ago, Benoit’s three-year deal seemed like a head-scratcher. Are there any multi-year reliever signings going on right now that we might look back on as favorably as Benoit’s with the Tigers? Are there any past relievers, future closers still on the market? Who’s the next Joaquin Benoit?

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A Case for the Astros Signing Shin-Soo Choo

The 2013 Winter Meetings came and went without a team reaching an agreement with Shin-Soo Choo, the best free agent outfielder available, at least after the signing of Jacoby Ellsbury. During the meetings, reports were coming in from various sources who report on such things that the Rangers, the Reds, and perhaps the Mariners were all kicking Choo’s tires. All of this makes sense. Those were three reasonable destinations for Choo at the time. But the rumors were just that, and nothing was doing on that front as the Winter Meetings came to a close. Then, as the meetings were winding down and people were boarding planes home, USA Today’s Bob Nigtengale tweeted this:

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The Astros Begin the Long Climb

Between free agent signings, trades, and the non-tender deadline, this past week was ridiculously busy for major league clubs. Surprisingly, the Houston Astros joined the fun by trading for Dexter Fowler and signing Scott Feldman. Jeff Sullivan already discussed the Fowler trade, so we’ll focus on the Feldman signing and what the pair of moves mean for the Astros.

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How To Shop In the Non-Tender Market… Successfully

I imagine that, for a front office exec, there’s nothing quite like the buzz you get from picking up another team’s non-tender and getting value from that player. Maybe it’s just ‘one man’s ceiling is another man’s floor,’ but in a business where one sector of the market has to continually work to find value in surprising places, it’s an important moment.

But is there much success to be found in the bargain bin? These are players that their own team has given up on — and we have some evidence that teams know more about their own players than the rest of the league, and that players that are re-signed are more successful. What can we learn from the successes and failures that we’ve seen in the past?

To answer that question, I loaded all the non-tendered players since 2007 into a database and looked at their pre- and post-non-tender numbers.

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Astros, Rockies Bet on Different Kinds of Potential

When you’re a bad team, you might want to sign good free agents to try to get better. A tricky part is getting those good free agents to want to play for your bad team. Teams don’t get much worse than the current Houston Astros, and according to recent reports, they’ve tried with no success to lure quality players from the market. Thankfully for bad teams, free agency isn’t the only way to improve by addition. Players have to play for you if you trade for them, and later on Tuesday, the Astros picked up Dexter Fowler from the Rockies, at the cost of Jordan Lyles and Brandon Barnes. The Rockies will also send a player to be named later, but I doubt that that will be the interesting part.

Immediately, it seems a bit backwards. Some things we know: at present, the Astros are dreadful, far more dreadful than the Rockies are. Fowler is already getting expensive, and he has two remaining years of team control. Lyles is 23, and he has four. Barnes is 27, and he has five. You’d think it would be the Astros trying to acquire longer-term security, but I think this actually makes more sense for Houston than it does for Colorado. Even if the Astros still aren’t close to contending, it’s never a bad idea to add what you think might be undervalued.

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