Archive for Astros

Brady Aiken’s Medicals Are Out, Situation Is Still Cloudy

Last year’s first-overall draft pick, left-hander Brady Aiken, didn’t come to terms with the Astros because of a difference regarding what the physical showed about the condition of his elbow, despite being healthy at the time. Aiken went to IMG’s Post-Grad team this spring, but only threw a handful of pitches before he left his first game with an elbow injury, eventually leading to Tommy John surgery weeks later.

Since the failure of Aiken and Houston to reach an agreement, there’s been lots of buzz as to what the latter saw in that physical, since they’re the only team to have seen it. The most common rumors are unusual situations with the size of Aiken’s UCL, the blood flow to that area and the bone structure around the elbow.  His draft stock for next week’s draft ranges anywhere from the middle of the first round to the middle of the second round, depending on how much truth there is to these rumors.

A few days ago, the Aiken camp made his medical information available to teams, but with a very rare set of conditions about who can see it. Sources indicate the information is available only to GM-level personnel or higher (who can then distribute it to other decision-makers within the team) and the GM has to make a specific request with Aiken’s camp to see it, which the Aiken camp then has accept.

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JABO: Is the Astros Bullpen for Real?

The Houston Astros are 31-20 and on top of the AL West by four games. They’ve been winning in a signature way: by striking out a lot (the most in the league), hitting a lot of home runs (the most in the league), and recording a string of solid starts (10th-highest WAR among starting staffs). One way we didn’t expect the Astros to dominate this season, however: their bullpen. After two months, the Houston bullpen is ranked first among all major-league teams by strikeout and walk rate, and they also have the second-best ERA. Is this just a run of early-season success? Or, like the Royals, have the Astros built a relief corps that only a select few clubs have?

The bullpen was a major focus of the Astros’ offseason plans before the start of the 2015 season, as they added Pat Neshek, Luke Gregerson, Will Harris, and Joe Thatcher to a group that finished dead last in bullpen ERA in 2014. Neshek and Gregerson were brought in as high-pressure help, with Gregerson installed immediately into the closer role. Gregerson has struggled (relatively speaking) to the tune of a 3.74 ERA, but he’s really been the only one in the bullpen who hasn’t been lights out, and he’s chosen great times to be bad, blowing only one save.

What’s been the key to the success for the Astros bullpen? First of all, they’re striking out an incredible rate of opposing batters. Houston relievers have struck out 28.8% of the hitters they’ve faced — a figure which would be the most ever for a bullpen in history. They’ve also limited walks, only handing out free passes to 6.2% of opposition batters. That walk rate would be good for 25th-best in baseball history if the season ended today. Looking at these two figures, it’s not hard to see why the Houston bullpen has been great: success usually follows pitchers who strike out a high percentage of batters while keeping walks to an absolute minimum.

This mostly unexpected domination out of the Astros bullpen has come from a few unlikely places. First, there’s newcomer Will Harris, who’s struck out 29 batters in 24 innings of work while posting an elite ground-ball rate (58.3%). As the most-used pitcher out of the Houston pen, his two pitch, hard cutter/curveball combination has been very effective in two parts of the strike zone: 10 out of his 13 strikeouts with the cutter have been in the upper half of the strike zone and above, while all but one of his 11 strikeouts with his curveball have been in the lower half of the zone and below. This is what success in changing eye levels looks like:

Harris_Combined

 

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Astros Throw Lance McCullers into the Fire

Three years later, the Houston Astros’ 2012 draft is looking pretty good. Carlos Correa, their first overall pick in that year’s draft, absolutely annihilated Double-A pitching in the season’s first month. Unsurprisingly, his performance culminated in a promotion to Triple-A last week. Lance McCullers, Houston’s 41st overall pick that year, also earned a promotion with an outstanding start in Double-A. However, the Astros didn’t send McCullers to Triple-A, but straight to the majors. He’ll make his big-league debut tonight against the Oakland Athletics.

Heading into the season, McCullers looked like he was at least a year or two away from breaking into the majors. He was coming off of a rough 2014 campaign, where he pitched to a disappointing 5.47 ERA and an equally disappointing 5.73 FIP in High-A Lancaster. The biggest culprit for his struggles was his spotty command, which manifested itself in a 13% walk rate and 4% home-run rate (1.7 HR/9).

But things have been much different for the 21-year-old this year. He was nearly unhittable in his 29 innings with Double-A Corpus Christi. He struck out 37% of the batters he faced, and allowed just one homer. The hard-throwing righty posted a laughable 0.62 ERA, and his 2.26 FIP suggests his performance wasn’t entirely a fluke.

Here’s a look at one of his many strikeouts. This clip features McCullers’ curveball, which received 55/65 present/future grades from Kiley McDaniel over the off-season. The victim is fellow top-200 prospect Renato Nunez of the Oakland system.

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Carlos Correa Is Coming

The Houston Astros grabbed all of our attentions a couple of weeks ago, when they rattled off 10 wins in a row and vaulted to the top of the American League West. They’ve cooled off quite a bit since, going 3-6 since that streak. Yet, despite their recent struggles, they had built up enough of a cushion to maintain a .618 winning percentage and a four-game lead over the second place Angels. Not bad for a team that lost 111 games just two seasons ago.

The Astros have a very good record, and a decent shot at making the playoffs (45% by our calculator), but their roster isn’t without holes. And perhaps none of these holes is bigger than the one at shortstop. Currently, the Astros are employing Marwin Gonzalez as their primary shortstop, with a little bit of Jonathan Villar on the side. To date, these two have wRC+s of 68 and 30, respectively, and have contributed a total of -0.5 WAR.

It wasn’t supposed to be this way. The Astros signed Jed Lowrie to a three-year contract back in December to play shortstop, but he lasted all of three weeks before landing on the shelf with a thumb injury. As of this writing, Lowrie’s on the 60-day DL and isn’t expected to return until sometime after the All-Star break.

Gonzalez and Vilar are unlikely to contribute much value for the Astros going forward. And, given the nature of Lowrie’s injury, it’s anyone’s guess whether he’ll be of much use in the season’s second half. The immediate future looks pretty bleak for the Astros at short, but help is on the way. The Astros promoted top prospect Carlos Correa to Triple-A on Tuesday, putting him just a step away from the big leagues.

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2015, Featuring the League-Leading Houston Astros

This would’ve been better-timed yesterday, before the Astros lost a game to the Rangers, thereby having their winning streak snapped. Good teams don’t want to make a habit of losing games to the Rangers. But the timing doesn’t matter, because the message still stands: even with the loss, the Astros currently have the best record in the American League. More than that, the Astros have put a full seven games between themselves and the next-closest team in their division. The other AL division leads: two games, and half of a game. As a reminder, the team we’re talking about right now is the Houston Astros.

You know how this works. All these posts nowadays have to contain this information. On Opening Day, we gave the Astros a 14% chance at the playoffs, with a 5% chance at the division. Now they’re at 51% and 36%, respectively. They’re the favorites to win the AL West, even though we have them projected to play the rest of the way slightly below .500. It’s the whole thing about every game mattering. The Astros’ advantage is in the books, and the season is about a sixth complete. Let’s say, before the year, you figured the Astros would be 10 games worse than their direct competition. Let’s say you still believe that! Over the remainder, with the season shortened, you’d put the difference a hair over eight games. And, as I write this, the Astros’ lead is seven games. It’s very simple math. Because of their start, and because of the starts of their various rivals, the 2015 Houston Astros are for real.

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JABO: George Springer, Fastballs, and Effort

It takes a lot of muscle to square up a big fastball. In the case of George Springer, it might also take some relaxation.

Heading into the series that had the Astros in town, I asked hitting consultant and FanGraphs author Dan Farnsworth about a few of the Astros hitters as part of my research process. About Springer, Farnsworth said “I like his swing a lot, perhaps except for the excessive effort he has sometimes.” I didn’t get to talk to Springer, but I did talk to his hitting coach Dave Hudgens, and that word came up again.

Apparently, though, excessive effort is not a problem in batting practice. Take a look at the swings he took that day in batting practice, and they do look free and easy.

In game, it’s tough to get the same side view. But here in this package of highlights about Springer’s five-RBI night against the Padres, you might see some more effort.

And then there’s the problem that most videos are highlight videos, when the player is acting optimally. But here’s a side-view of a Springer at-bat in minor league camp, and in a swing before the home run, you can see what might be called effort issues. (And another, here, from the majors, with some slow mo.)

Of course, we’re talking bout batting practice, which is a two-fold problem.

For one, hitters are often working on parts of their swing that aren’t their best features. Farnsworth pointed out that Ian Kinsler‘s batting practices are full of squibbers to first base, and then come game time, Kinsler is hitting frozen ropes to left field, his pull field. Despite the fact that scouts take a lot of knowledge away from batting practice, you wouldn’t want to assume Kinsler was a light-hitting opposite-field guy after watching him in BP.

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JABO: Jose Altuve Was Always Good, But a Few Tweaks Helped

Sure, he’s the shortest regular of this century, but Jose Altuve has managed big things. Last year, he put up the second-best batting average of a second baseman in the free agency era, broke the Astros’ single-season record for hits, and showed the best pop of his career. A few changes to his game helped him be even better.

“Oh he’s always been this good, I remember when I first saw him in the Venezuelan Summer League and was amazed,” laughed his current hitting coach, Dave Hudgens. But he agreed that a small change to his batting stance over the last few years may have made a difference.

Here’s Altuve in 2013. Watch his front leg.

Here’s Altuve this year. Watch his front leg again.

See it? Altuve added a little bit of a more dramatic step with his front leg in early 2014. “Not too much, just a little,” Altuve said of the change. “I wanted to do an early step, not a big leg kick.”

The change has helped him in a couple different ways. “I recognize pitches earlier now that I’m doing that,” Altuve said. Hudgens agreed that the step has helped him start his entire swing and thinking process earlier. Altuve has always made a lot of contact — he’s in the top ten in contact rate this year — but his ability to make contact took a leap forward with the step.

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Getting the Astros to 90 Wins

When MLB added a second Wild Card in each league for the 2012 season, making a version of the postseason got easier. More teams were invited into the season’s final month, even if you want to make conditioned arguments about how adding the extra teams changed the nature of in-season roster decisions. Over three seasons, we’ve had six second Wild Cards who averaged just under 90 wins per team per season. It’s a small sample as far as trends go, but the values have been lower in the National League and have generally decreased each year.

As a result, we can essentially say that the average second Wild Card will win about 90 games this year. It might be more or less, but it’s a fairly safe starting assumption. It’s an assumption you take into account when thinking about your team’s chances of making the playoffs. We’ve seen teams make the postseason with fewer wins, and in an age of increasing parity, 88 might do the trick as well. In general, a 90 win team has performed well enough that they will very likely make the playoffs under the current regime.

Which brings us to the 14-7 Houston Astros who currently lead the AL West by four games on April 30. The Astros, if you haven’t noticed, have been bad for quite a few years, and there was an expectation entering the 2015 season that they would remain relatively unimportant to the AL playoff picture. They averaged 58 wins over the previous four seasons, and while they built a team that our Playoff Odds machine projected for 78 wins in 2015, that’s a far cry from the amount needed to make the postseason, as we just learned.

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Collin McHugh Continues to Trust His Slider

On Wednesday, Collin McHugh pitched well against the Ben Zobrist-less Oakland A’s. Zobrist’s absence made the A’s a weaker version of themselves, but they were still a tougher opponent than the hapless Rangers he saw five days earlier. While McHugh only tossed 5.2 innings and faced just 23 batters, he tied Trevor Bauer for the single-game strikeout lead for 2015 with 11. Although unlike Bauer, McHugh walked zero A’s instead of five Astros.

This is largely noteworthy because Collin McHugh was one of the most prominent breakout players from a year ago, and we’re dying to know how much of that breakout we should take to heart. In 2014, McHugh was a 3-4 win player, who could have been a solid number two starter on almost any team in the league and he posted those numbers in under 160 innings. If McHugh is actually that able, the Astros have five more seasons of a very good pitcher who can help anchor their next playoff rotation.

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Reviewing Jon Singleton’s Contract One Year Later

One year ago, Jon Singleton was a consensus Top-100 prospect. Eleven months ago, he was making around $8,000 per month in Triple-A. Ten months ago, he was was promoted to the majors where the Major League Baseball minimum salary would have paid him a little over $300,000 for the rest of the season. Just yesterday, he was sent back down to the minors where he again would have been making around $40,000 for the season. He is not making $40,000, however, because Singleton signed a controversial contract last year guaranteeing him $10 million before he reached the majors. He’ll make $2 million this season, and every month he spends in the minors he will make 50 times as much money as he would have without his contract.

Nothing is going to change the fact that the Astros likely got a bargain when they signed Singleton. They lowered his potential arbitration salaries and received an option for a free agent year while only guaranteeing $10 million. Even if Singleton does not become a successful major league player, guaranteeing him less than what the team is paying Scott Feldman this year was an easy choice. For Singleton, the choice was not likely so easy.

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Division Preview: AL West

Yesterday, we kicked off our look at each division by going through the NL West. Today, we’ll do the AL version from the land of pitcher’s parks.

The Projected Standings

Team Wins Losses Division Wild Card World Series
Mariners 88 74 45% 25% 9%
Angels 87 75 36% 27% 8%
Athletics 83 79 14% 21% 3%
Astros 78 84 5% 9% 1%
Rangers 73 89 1% 2% 0%

There are two pretty strong contenders at the top, two somewhat interesting teams hanging around the middle, and a likely also-ran. The top of the AL West is unlikely to be as strong this year as it was a year ago, but the low-end of the division should be somewhat better, and the race is open enough to remain interesting all year long. Let’s take a look at the teams.

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On Brady Aiken, the Astros, and Our Lack of Knowledge

Yesterday, 2014’s top overall draft pick Brady Aiken announced that he had undergone Tommy John Surgery, leaving him as a bit of a lottery ticket for this upcoming draft. Aiken, however, made sure to emphasize that he doesn’t regret walking away from the Astros final $5 million offer on the day of the signing deadline.

Since last summer, a lot of people have wondered how I could have turned down a multi-million-dollar signing bonus after being picked first in the draft. Now, I know they’ll probably be wondering about it again. I can honestly say I don’t regret not signing. It was a very difficult decision, but it also was an informed decision based on circumstances only a few people know the truth about. My family and I planned for all the possible outcomes. We weighed the pros and cons, talked with friends and mentors and doctors whose opinions we value and discussed it over a number of family dinners. This wasn’t a decision we made lightly.

The money wasn’t the only factor to consider. I wanted to play somewhere I felt comfortable, with a support system I felt would lay the groundwork for a successful and long career. Making sure I had that in place was worth the frustration of not being able to get on with my career sooner.

My family was smart, and we accounted for all of the possible risks. Having gone through this process, I really encourage other players to take the time to be fully educated about what they are getting into and to plan for the unexpected. Having a solid plan helped me through the ups and downs. Even now, I know I made the decision that made the most sense for my future.

The second paragraph is the latest in a long list of complaints Aiken and his representatives — primarily Casey Close — have lobbed at the Astros. It is not news that the negotiations between the Astros and Aiken’s camp were contentious, and as Mike Petriello wrote after it all fell apart, both sides came out of it looking poorly. And while yesterday’s news certainly seems to validate the Astros medical concerns about the risk potential of Aiken’s elbow, I have to mostly agree with Evan Drellich that using this news to proclaim that the Astros were right and Aiken’s camp were wrong is drawing a conclusion without sufficient evidence to support it. Let’s just quote Drellich’s piece:

What did the Astros believe?

There appears to be a public assumption that the Astros’ stance was that Aiken would fall apart, that they wanted nothing to do with him.

The situation wasn’t nearly that black and white. In simple terms, the team had to weigh the value of signing Aiken vs. the value of receiving the second overall pick in 2015. (Baseball Prospectus had an in-depth piece on the negotiation logic.)

The fact that the Astros offered Aiken $5 million on the final day of negotiations, above the minimum $3.1 million they had to offer him to be compensated with the second overall draft pick this year, is important. If the team were so sure Aiken’s health would fail, why would they raise the offer?

(An interesting but impossible to prove counter argument would be that the Astros reacted to public opinion in raising the offer, against their better judgment.)

“Basically, we tried to engage the other side, Casey Close three times today,” general manager Jeff Luhnow said July 18, right after an afternoon deadline passed. “Made three increasing offers and never received a counter, really they just never engaged, for whatever reason there was no interest. There just didn’t appear interest to sign on their side.

“Very disappointed. I think this is a player we wanted obviously we took him 1-1. You know we would have liked to have signed him and (Jacob) Nix and (Mac) Marshall, all three of ‘em. But you can’t do that without the other side wanting to be a part of it, so we move on.

“We made that offer a while back, the 40 percent offer. But we came up from that three times without ever receiving a counter.”

The fact that the Astros made multiple offers to Aiken is a point in favor of the fact that Aiken had some value even with the medical concerns, but we also have to remember that the Aiken negotiations weren’t being held in a vacuum; the Astros needed Aiken to sign in order to have enough money to sign Jacob Nix and Mac Marshall. They weren’t just making offers based on Aiken’s own personal risk/reward, but on the total value of being able to sign Aiken, Nix, and Marshall while staying within their bonus pool allotment. If they put a high enough value on Nix and Marshall, it could have been a net positive to pay Aiken even if they were 100% convinced that he was going to need Tommy John surgery and wouldn’t have been worth his own bonus, so long as it left them enough money to sign two other players who they thought they were getting value on.

Of course, we can’t know if the Astros were actually 100% certain that he would need this surgery. It’s almost impossible to be sure of anything in life, and while Aiken’s ligament did tear last week, the fact that something happens does not prove that it was an inevitability. We can add this data point to the list of things we know and say it’s now more likely that the Astros correctly analyzed his risk profile than it was before he blew out his arm, but this doesn’t prove that they got it right. It suggests it, to some slightly larger degree than previously known, but just as you don’t want to judge a decision by its outcome on the baseball field, so too should we not assume that the Astros definitely had this figured out just because Aiken’s elbow did eventually give out.

And that’s the problem with drawing conclusions from our perspective; there are just too many things we can’t know about this entire situation. Something clearly happened between Jeff Luhnow (or one of his employees) and Casey Close that rubbed both of them the wrong way, but what it was and who was to blame is something that we have no real evidence of. We could build a speculative case against the Astros based on the fact that this isn’t the only time they’ve had some issues with negotiating contracts with players, but even if the Astros somehow screwed up the Ryan Vogelsong deal, that doesn’t prove they were definitively to blame in the Brady Aiken situation.

We can guess at things. We can attempt to decide which side’s version of self-serving comments we put more credibility into, and maybe even be comfortable with our speculation about which side was more likely at fault in all of this.

But the reality is that it’s all just uneducated guessing. The real evidence, the kind of stuff that would allow us to form opinions that are worth anything, is not public and almost certainly never will be. So we’re just left with just enough information to be dangerous. There is enough out there to give us a false sense of certainty that we can have a real opinion on what probably happened, but not enough to really support a strong opinion either way. The amount of information we have about this situation is the equivalent of knowing a batter’s batting average with runners on base in Wednesday afternoon games.

While it’s tempting to say that this news proves the Astros were in the right all along, I don’t think we can actually say that with any confidence. We just don’t know enough. All we can really say is that something went down, we don’t know who is to blame, and the whole situation sucked for everyone involved.


A Preview of 2015 Team Defenses

It’s gettin’ to that time of year when folks tend to preview stuff ’round baseball. Our annual Positional Power Rankings will be coming to the site over the next couple weeks, you’ll surely see all sorts of divisional preview pieces pop up between now and Opening Day, and this right here is going to be a preview of team defenses.

We saw last year where a good defense can take a team. The Kansas City Royals were more than just a great defense, but it was evident, especially during the playoffs, how much an elite defense can mean to a ballclub. The same was true, but on the other end of the spectrum, for the Cleveland Indians. Our two advanced defensive metrics — Defensive Runs Saved and Ultimate Zone Rating — agreed that the defense in Cleveland was worth around -70 runs last season. In Kansas City, it was something like +50. That’s a 120-run difference! That’s about 12 wins! Those teams play in the same division! Move 12 wins around and the result is an entirely different season! Defense isn’t the biggest thing, but it’s a big thing. Let’s look ahead.

All the numbers used in this piece will come from UZR and DRS. For the team projections, I simply utilized our depth charts and did a little math. We’re going to take a look at the three best, the worst, the teams that got better, the teams that got worse, and then all the rest down at the bottom. For the upgrades/downgrades, I used the difference of standard deviations above or below the mean between last year’s results and this year’s projections.
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The FanGraphs Top 200 Prospect List

Yesterday, we gave you a little bit of a tease, giving you a glimpse into the making of FanGraphs Top 200 Prospect List. This morning, however, we present the list in its entirety, including scouting grades and reports for every prospect rated as a 50 Future Value player currently in the minor leagues. As discussed in the linked introduction, some notable international players were not included on the list, but their respective statuses were discussed in yesterday’s post. If you haven’t read any of the prior prospect pieces here on the site, I’d highly encourage you to read the introduction, which explains all of the terms and grades used below.

Additionally, I’d be remiss if I didn’t point you towards our YouTube channel, which currently holds over 600 prospect videos, including all of the names near the top of this list. Players’ individual videos are linked in the profiles below as well.

And lastly, before we get to the list, one final reminder that a player’s placement in a specific order is less important than his placement within a Future Value tier. Numerical rankings can give a false impression of separation between players who are actually quite similar, and you shouldn’t get too worked up over the precise placement of players within each tier. The ranking provides some additional information, but players in each grouping should be seen as more or less equivalent prospects.

If you have any questions about the list, I’ll be chatting today at noon here on the site (EDIT: here’s the chat transcript), and you can find me on Twitter at @kileymcd.

Alright, that’s enough stalling. Let’s get to this.

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The Fans, The Metrics, and Dexter Fowler

Dexter Fowler played 959 innings in center field for the Astros in 2014, which is noteworthy mostly because he was traded to the Cubs on Monday, but also because of how poorly the defensive metrics rated him for those 959 innings. By Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) he was 20 runs below average and by Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR) he was slightly worse.

Both metrics dinged Fowler for a poor arm, something that’s followed him for his entire career, but for the third time in his career, UZR gave his range horrible marks relative to other center fielders. DRS had previously been friendlier, but didn’t hold back in 2014 with respect to his range.

Fowler’s defense rates poorly by the leading defensive metrics with his career DRS and UZR per 1,000 innings sitting somewhere between -7 runs and -11 runs. Now this is almost exclusively in center field so Fowler gets a few of those runs back on the positional adjustment, but we’re basically talking about a bad center fielder who might be an average guy in a corner. This is all according to the metrics which, as plenty of people will remind you, are imperfect.

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Colby Rasmus, the Astros, and Strikeouts

I don’t think one should require much convincing that the Houston Astros are taking a worthwhile shot in signing Colby Rasmus. Most simply, it’s a one-year contract for a 28-year-old, and it’s worth just $8 million. Rasmus has had a volatile career — last year he finished with a .287 OBP — but he was still overall an average hitter. The season before, he was a lot better than that. The Astros had a role for Rasmus, after dealing Dexter Fowler. If he’s good, he’ll help. If he’s really good, he’ll be worth a qualifying offer. If he’s bad, well, lots of Astros have been bad, and Rasmus alone won’t stop the Astros from getting where they’re trying to go. At the end of the day, 2015 is just a season the Astros have to play out before the seasons they want to play out.

So I don’t think the contract is necessarily that interesting. Rasmus is talented, and he’s trying to bounce back. The Astros, as a team, aren’t as good as the Mariners, Angels or A’s, so it seems like they’ll be fighting the Rangers for fourth in the American League West. A year from now, I doubt we’ll be thinking much about this. But there is one interesting note we can discuss in more detail: Rasmus strikes out a lot. Several Astros strike out a lot. It seems like the Astros are going to strike out a lot.

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Astros and Cubs Complete Swap To Fill Current Needs

Both the Astros and the Cubs are in the process of a long-term build, yes. And in third baseman Luis Valbuena, starting pitcher Dan Straily, and outfielder Dexter Fowler, they’re moving three players that average close to 28 years old. Not everything these teams do needs to be focused on the far-term, though. With the second wild card, this year can be as important as any other.

When the Astros today sent Fowler to the Cubs for Valbuena and Straily, both teams traded from current surpluses to fill current needs.

The Cubs have infielders. With Starlin Castro, Javier Baez, Arismendy Alcantara, Luis Valbuena, Kris Bryant, and Addison Russell, they had an infield twice over. Once you factor in bust rates, that’s probably a good way to go about things. Since some in the community think the six-foot-five Kris Bryant is headed to the corner outfield, and Alcantara was already playing in the outfield, they might be have been able to fill both the infield and outfield eventually.

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The Multiple Plans the Astros Might Have Involving Evan Gattis

It’s important to note this trade isn’t official yet. So it’s a little uncomfortable writing up an analysis, given that, who knows, something could go wrong in the physical. But, usually, those go fine, and even when they don’t, like in the case of the Matt Kemp deal, the trade might still go through anyway. So here’s what looks to be happening, in a Wednesday exchange between the Astros and the Braves:

Astros get:

Braves get:

From the Braves’ side, it’s easy enough to understand. Despite the puzzling Nick Markakis deal, the Braves aren’t thinking about 2015, and they know Gattis doesn’t profile great as a corner outfielder, so they’re giving up a piece of value now for a trio of prospects. One of the prospects is very exciting. Another has people who think very highly of him. Even the third guy might have a future. The haul’s good enough to at least temporarily distract Braves fans from the current makeup of the big-league product.

It’s the other side that’s more interesting. Not that the Braves’ side isn’t interesting, but this is the Houston Astros turning prospects into a shorter-term asset. It’s not the first time they’ve done that; last offseason, they gave up a couple pieces for Dexter Fowler. And the Astros have lately made some shorter-term decisions, so perhaps we’re observing an accelerating shift in front-office mindset. But there are a few different ways this could go. It’s not immediately clear where the Astros think they might be in eight or ten months.

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2015 ZiPS Projections – Houston Astros

After having typically appeared in the very hallowed pages of Baseball Think Factory, Dan Szymborski’s ZiPS projections have been released at FanGraphs the past couple years. The exercise continues this offseason. Below are the projections for the Houston Astros. Szymborski can be found at ESPN and on Twitter at @DSzymborski.

Other Projections: Atlanta / Chicago AL / Colorado / Detroit / Los Angeles AL / Los Angeles NL / Miami / Milwaukee / Oakland / San Francisco / St. Louis / Tampa Bay / Washington.

Batters
Speaking on the topic of happiness, Greek philosopher Epicurus endorsed not the unadulterated pursuit of greater and ever more lavish pleasures, as is frequently believed. Almost the opposite, in fact. By only occasionally indulging in a “pot of cheese,” for example, Epicurus effectively lowered his threshold for pleasure, such that easy attainable goods or experiences could provide it in sufficient quantity.

Compared to other major-league teams, the Astros do not appear particularly strong. Only three of their hitters, for example — or seven fewer than on the Dodgers — are projected to reach the two-win threshold this year. Compared to the 2014 edition of the club, however, this would represent a 200% improvement. A strong collection of young talent in the minors serves as further grounds for optimism.

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Stock Report: November Prospect Updates

I’ve said it before but could stand to say it again: prospect rankings don’t have a long shelf life.  Usually, players ranked in the offseason don’t change much over that offseason, or at least we don’t have a chance to see any changes since they normally aren’t playing organized ball.  Every now and then a player with limited information (like a Cuban defector that signed late in the season) will go to a winter league and we’ll learn more, but most times, players look mostly the same in the fall/winter leagues, or more often a tired version of themselves.

This means that updating prospect rankings before we have a nice sample of regular season games to judge by (say, late April), seems pretty foolish.  The two mitigating factors in the case of my rankings is that I started ranking players before instructional league and the Arizona Fall League started and I also did draft rankings, which are constantly in flux.

I was on the road 17 of the last 18 days, seeing July 2nd prospects (recap here), draft prospects and minor league prospects.  I’ll take this chance to provide some updates to my draft rankings from September and below that, some players that looked to have improved at the AFL, particularly those from clubs whose prospects I’ve already ranked.

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