Archive for Astros

Daily Prospect Notes: 6/28

Daily notes on prospects from lead prospect analyst Eric Longenhagen. Read previous installments here.

Adbert Alzolay, RHP, Chicago NL (Profile)
Level: Hi-A Age: 22   Org Rank: NR   Top 100: NR
Line: 5.2 IP, 3 H, 0 BB, 2 R, 7 K

His delivery is a bit rough (though it’s more efficient than it used to be), but Alzolay has good stuff, sitting in the mid-90s and topping out at 97 with arm-side run. He’ll flash an average changeup and can vary his breaking ball’s shape, at times exhibiting 12-6 movement and showing two-plane wipe at others. He has a chance for a plus-plus fastball an two solid-average secondaries, perhaps a tick above, to go with fringe command.

Read the rest of this entry »

The Astros’ Contact Dreams Have Come True

Maybe the Astros are the best team in baseball, and maybe they’re not. There are lots of good teams, and the differences are all fairly slim. At least, we can say the Astros have the best record out of anyone in baseball, and they deserve to stand where they’re standing. They’re easily clear of the rest of their own division, and while they’ve experienced a handful of significant or semi-significant injuries, they’ve chugged right along. The Astros were supposed to be good. So far, the Astros have been great. Projections can miss in one of two directions.

One of the things we knew was that the Astros were going to hit. During the winter, they were lauded for their offensive depth, and the Astros have an easy MLB lead in wRC+. But now I have a fun fact for you. It’s even more telling than that one. The Astros, as a team, lead baseball in home runs. They also have baseball’s lowest team strikeout rate. In the 19 full seasons since baseball moved to a 30-team landscape, no offense has led in both categories. The Astros are trying to be the first, which is downright impressive.

Read that again. Home runs? Sure. Everyone hits home runs. Marwin Gonzalez hits home runs. The Astros might as well be leading. But, strikeouts? Yeah. It’s not that there was zero warning. Reality is just following what could’ve reasonably been expected.

Read the rest of this entry »

The Astros’ Grand Fastball Experiment

No team’s batters have ever seen fewer four-seam fastballs than the Houston Astros this year. Few teams’ pitchers, meanwhile, have thrown fewer four-seam fastballs than the Houston Astros this year. This all has something to do with changes in baseball, yes, and also with the personnel on this current team. But there’s also a wrinkle to the thing that tells us a little more about why these trends are happening, and why the Astros are at the forefront in both cases.

Read the rest of this entry »

Brad Peacock Has Become a Strikeout God

There are two types of stories you might be growing tired of reading. This guy figured out how to hit home runs. Well, there are home runs everywhere. And, this guy figured out how to get more strikeouts. Well, there are also strikeouts everywhere. Home runs. Strikeouts. Home runs. Strikeouts. It can feel sometimes like the game is nothing but home runs and strikeouts. It’s not, but it is more than it’s ever been. I’m sure many of you are craving diversity.

But Brad Peacock is leading all starting pitchers in strikeout rate. Not Chris Sale. Not Max Scherzer or Clayton Kershaw or Corey Kluber. Brad Peacock. Yeah, I had to lower the innings minimum, because Peacock hasn’t been starting the whole time, but when he was a reliever earlier on, he got a whole bunch of strikeouts, too. Let me show you a table, including 2016 and 2017 contact rates allowed:

Contact Rate Improvements
Pitcher 2016 Contact% 2017 Contact% Change
Brad Peacock 80.8% 66.7% -14.1%
Corey Knebel 80.3% 66.7% -13.6%
George Kontos 77.8% 67.0% -10.8%
Craig Kimbrel 66.4% 56.3% -10.1%
Chris Devenski 72.7% 62.7% -10.0%
Mike Clevinger 78.6% 69.2% -9.4%
Jeff Hoffman 85.0% 75.9% -9.1%
Sean Manaea 77.3% 68.6% -8.7%
Bud Norris 80.1% 71.6% -8.5%
Zack Greinke 78.6% 70.1% -8.5%
Anthony Swarzak 79.6% 71.1% -8.5%
Danny Salazar 76.4% 67.9% -8.5%

Peacock has a long history of pretty average contact rates. Relatedly, he was essentially a replacement-level pitcher. Now a third of all swing attempts are missing. This can’t not be discussed. Strikeouts might be everywhere, sure, but this is the first time Peacock has managed to find them.

Read the rest of this entry »

Projecting Astros Outfielder Derek Fisher

With Josh Reddick sidelined by a concussion, the Astros summoned 23-year-old center fielder Derek Fisher to the big leagues yesterday. The early returns are good: in his debut, Fisher went 2-for-3 with a homer and two walks.

Fisher had more than earned this opportunity, slashing .335/.401/.608 at Triple-A this year. A power-speed threat, Fisher eclipsed 20 homers and 20 steals in both 2015 and 2016, and Eric Longenhagen gave him raw power and speed grades of 60 and 70, respectively. Fisher had a bit of a strikeout problem in the past, but has managed to slice his strikeout rate from 27% last year to 19% this year without sacrificing any of his power.

KATOH loves Fisher, which shouldn’t come as much of a surprise given his excellent performance this year. I have him projected for 8.1 WAR over his first six seasons by stats-only KATOH and 6.3 WAR by KATOH+, which incorporates Eric Longenhagen’s relatively modest 45 FV grade. Those projections make him the 18th- and 48th-best prospect in baseball, respectively.

To put some faces to Fisher’s statistical profile, let’s generate some statistical comps for the toolsy center fielder. I calculated a Mahalanobis distance between Fisher’s Double-A and Triple-A performance and every season since 1991. In the table below, you’ll find the 10 most similar seasons, ranked from most to least similar. The WAR totals refer to each player’s first six seasons in the major leagues. A lower “Mah Dist” reading indicates a closer comp.

Please note that the Mahalanobis analysis is separate from KATOH. KATOH relies on macro-level trends, rather than comps. The fates of a few statistically similar players shouldn’t be used to draw sweeping conclusions about a prospect’s future. For this reason, I recommend using a player’s KATOH forecast to assess his future potential. The comps give us some interesting names that sometimes feel spot-on, but they’re mostly just there for fun.

Derek Fisher Mahalanobis Comps
Player Mah Dist KATOH+ Proj. WAR Actual WAR
Jayson Werth 2.9 5.4 12.0
Steve Hosey 3.8 8.6 0.1
Ozzie Timmons 4.6 4.6 0.9
Ray McDavid 4.6 3.8 0.0
Jack Cust 4.7 5.5 5.1
Franklin Gutierrez 5.2 4.0 13.1
TJ Staton 5.4 3.5 0.0
Wladimir Balentien 5.4 5.0 1.0
Trot Nixon 5.5 6.8 17.9
Ryan Ludwick 5.5 3.4 8.8

It’s not immediately clear how, or how often, Houston will work Fisher into their lineup once Reddick is healthy. But Houston would perhaps benefit from shifting some of Nori Aoki‘s at-bats to Fisher, giving them an outfield of Fisher, Reddick and George Springer. Regardless, Fisher’s rare combination of power, speed, and contact ability makes his future look incredibly bright. And he made it clear with his 2017 performance that he has nothing left to prove in the minor leagues.

Daily Prospect Notes: 6/8

Daily notes on prospects from lead prospect analyst Eric Longenhagen. Read previous installments here.

Yordan Alvarez, DH/1B, Houston (Profile)
Level: Low-A   Age: 19   Org Rank: HM   Top 100: NR
Line: 2-for-5, 2 HR

Alvarez is hitting a preposterous .413/.500/.693 as a 19-year-old in full-season ball. Even once you acknowledge that better hitters at lower levels are going to have especially high BABIPs because they’re hitting balls harder than the baseline player at that level, Alvarez’s current .553 mark is unsustainable. Nevertheless, reports on the ease of his power and picturesque swing are very strong. There’s some swing-and-miss risk here but also a potential middle-of-the-order bat.

Read the rest of this entry »

The Astros Have Been Completely Unstoppable

I think every article about this year’s Astros is supposed to begin in the same way, so, who am I to defy convention? Let’s just embed this and move on:

We don’t need to review the feature. We don’t need to review the things it got right and the things it got wrong. It’s unlikely to be remembered for more than the headline, because that’s the way the reading public works, and here we are, three years later, and the Astros have baseball’s best record. The best record by a decent margin, at that, and the Astros also happen to have our second-highest odds of winning the World Series. No team has improved its World Series odds more since the start of the year. I just got an email an hour ago from some gambling business that currently has the Astros as its World Series favorites. This could become a reality. Chances are, it won’t, yet the Astros’ odds have never looked better. The Astros are good. That doesn’t sound as weird as it used to, but the process is complete. Winning is all that’s left.

Read the rest of this entry »

Baseball’s Toughest (and Easiest) Schedules So Far

When you look up and see that the Athletics are in the midst of a two-game mid-week series against the Marlins in late May, you might suspect that the major-league baseball schedule is simply an exercise in randomness. At this point in the campaign, that’s actually sort of the case. The combination of interleague play and the random vagaries of an early-season schedule conspire to mean that your favorite team hasn’t had the same schedule as your least favorite team. Let’s try to put a number on that disparity.

Read the rest of this entry »

Which Team Has MLB’s Best Double-Play Combo?

These days, we’re blessed with a number of amazing young shortstops. Carlos Correa, Francisco Lindor, and Corey Seager, for example, are already among baseball’s top players. Manny Machado is a shortstop who just accidentally plays third base. All of them are younger than 25.

Second base isn’t as notable for its youth. Last year, however, second basemen recorded one of the top collective offensive lines at the position in the history of the game. Good job, second basemen.

So both positions are experiencing a bit of a renaissance at the moment. This led me to wonder which teams might be benefiting most from that renaissance. It’s rare that teams can keep a second baseman and shortstop together long enough to form a lasting and effective double-play combo. Right now, MLB has some pretty great ones. But which is the greatest — particularly, on the defensive side of thing? Let’s explore.

First, we want to know who has played together for awhile. Since the start of the 2015 season, 21 players have played at least 200 games as a shortstop, and 23 have done the same at second base. Cross-referencing them and weeding out the players who have played for multiple teams, we get the following list:

Teams with 2B & SS with 200+ G, 2015-2017
Team Second Baseman G Shortstop G
BAL Jonathan Schoop 281 J.J. Hardy 264
BOS Dustin Pedroia 279 Xander Bogaerts 346
CLE Jason Kipnis 297 Francisco Lindor 290
DET Ian Kinsler 335 Jose Iglesias 279
HOU Jose Altuve 338 Carlos Correa 288
MIA Dee Gordon 257 Adeiny Hechavarria 288
PHI Cesar Hernandez 270 Freddy Galvis 339
SF Joe Panik 257 Brandon Crawford 315
TEX Rougned Odor 300 Elvis Andrus 347

That’s a pretty good list. There are some tough omissions here. The most notable is the Angels, as Andrelton Simmons hasn’t been with them long enough to meet our bar here. Given Johnny Giavotella‘s defensive contributions, however, we can guess that the combo here would be quite one-sided. Also excluded are teams with new double-play combos, like the Dodgers and Mariners. Not only are the Logan Forsythe-Corey Seager and Robinson CanoJean Segura combos new this season, but thanks to injuries they haven’t even played together much this season. Cano-Segura has only happened 22 times this season, and Forsythe-Seager only 10 times.

Read the rest of this entry »

Dallas Keuchel’s High-Wire Act

Just after sunrise on August 6, 1974, Philippe Petit began his walk across a 200-foot stretch of wire spanning New York’s Twin Towers. He and his assistants had prepared the wire overnight, using a crossbow to connect the one-inch-wide walk way from rooftop to rooftop, 1,350 feet above Lower Manhattan. Petit completed eight walks that morning before being ordered down, and arrested, by New York City police. The Telegraph (U.K.) recounted the daring feat.

[Petit] felt so confident that he took to showboating… The Frenchman is shown [via photograph] lying down on the wire while balancing his bar across his chest with his arms well away. At one point the 24-year-old hung by his heels….

He later said: “To me, it’s really so simple: life should be lived on the edge. You have to exercise rebellion, to refuse to tape yourself to the rules, to refuse your own success, to refuse to repeat yourself, to see every day, every year, every idea as a true challenge. Then you will live your life on the tightrope.”

Petit’s chosen line of work is not for everyone. That said, there might be some wisdom in his view on how to live regardless of your profession.

Nearer ground level this year — in fact, on a pitching mound for the Astros — Dallas Keuchel is conducting his own tightrope walk. A former seventh-round draft pick with just an 89-mph fastball, Keuchel has always been compelled to find ways to adapt and push boundaries. Last month, FanGraphs’ Jeff Sullivan noted Keuchel’s latest makeover — namely, that the left-hander is going “Full Ziegler” on us.

Wrote Sullivan:

Nearly everything has been at the knees or below, just like how Ziegler works, and at least to this point, it’s been working. As usual, I’ve made some use of Baseball Savant. Using the filter options, I selected the five lowest pitch-zone areas. There are 220 pitchers who’ve thrown at least 100 pitches in both 2016 and 2017. Among them, last year, Keuchel had the No. 31 low-pitch rate. This year, he has the No. 2 low-pitch rate, slightly behind only teammate Luke Gregerson. Keuchel’s low-pitch-rate increase of 17 percentage points is the fourth-greatest, and he already worked mostly down. Now it’s like he doesn’t even pay attention to the other spots.

Keuchel is off to an excellent start this season with the Ziegler approach, producing a 5-0 record and 1.21 ERA. But I wonder how much longer this success can last.

Read the rest of this entry »

Finding and Building a Devenski

CLEVELAND – Like so many others, Chris Devenski watched in fascination last October. He observed, on the flat-screen television of his offseason home in San Diego, as Cleveland continuously elected not to save their best arm, Andrew Miller, for the ninth inning, but rather to utilize him in high-leverage situations earlier in the game.

Unlike the many other major-league pitchers watching, however, Devenski recognized the part Miller was playing: he himself had already assumed a similar new-age bullpen role in the second half of the season with Houston. He had, in fact, become accustomed to entering games at unlikely spots much earlier than that, from his experience as a piggy-back tandem starter in the Astros’ farm system. As Cleveland advanced through the playoffs, Devenski watched as the movement to rethink bullpen usage and role — a movement of which he’s a part — advanced. The revolution was televised.

“I saw my role, man,” Devenski told FanGraphs last week. “I saw what they were doing with Miller here [in Cleveland] and [Aroldis] Chapman with the Cubs, it seems like that is what is coming about now in the game. It’s changing a little bit. I saw [in Miller] what I do. It was pretty cool. It’s big-time situations there. It’s important.”

But Devenski is arguably more of a revolutionary, more of disruptive figure than Miller. Since joining the Indians, Miller has pitched in high-leverage situations often, but he’s only recorded two or more innings in an outing three times in the regular season. He’s never recorded more than six outs in an appearance. Devenski had 18 such outings last season alone, including nine in August and September when the then-rookie was thrust into more high-leverage situations.

Devenski has recorded six or more outs in seven of his nine appearances this season and has an absurd 49.2-point strikeout- and walk-rate differential (K-BB%) and 22% swinging-strike rate. He has become a unique weapon in an unusual role.

Devenski said his wide range of experiences — from starting to relieving to tandem-starting — made the job a natural fit. While most pitchers would rather start or rack up saves, Devenski seems to have embraced his work in a hybrid capacity.

Read the rest of this entry »

The Astros Have an Outfield Shift

CLEVELAND — We know the Astros are one of the most forward-thinking, analytically minded organizations in baseball. They’ve led baseball in infield shift usage in recent seasons. They’ve experimented with piggy-back rotations in the minor leagues, they’ve been creative in maximizing draft pools, and have given us a revolutionary bullpen figure, the gift that is Chris Devenski.

They’ve also been as aggressive as any team I’ve observed with regard to outfield alignment.

Outfield alignment doesn’t receive as much attention as infield shifts. There are few, if any, outfield alignment measures publicly available, and we don’t often see outfield alignments in full scope on television broadcasts prior to a batted ball. Average depth is recorded by Statcast, but we’re still working on understanding optimum outfield positioning.

But the Astros are up to something — something which I first noticed last season at PNC Park.

Since air balls are more evenly distributed than ground balls, there are typically fewer radical defensive alignments in the outfield. Since there are only three fielders tasked with covering a much larger area of ground than in the infield, outfielders are generally kept in equidistant positions, spreading risk. But the above alignment against the left-handed-hitting Gregory Polanco represented an extreme swing to the left. It appeared counterintuitive, too, with the Astros playing Polanco as if he were an extreme right-handed pull hitter. In this case, the left fielder was near the left-field line, the center fielder shading toward left center, and the right fielder nearly in right center.

But the approach appears to be rooted in logic, too. While most ground balls are pulled, air balls are more evenly distributed, with batters often slightly favoring the opposite field.

Read the rest of this entry »

Why We Still Don’t Have a Great Command Metric

To start, we might as well revisit the difference between command and control, or at least the accepted version of that difference: control is the ability to throw the ball into the strike zone, while command is the ability to throw the ball to a particular location. While we can easily measure the first by looking at strike-zone percentage, it’s also immediately apparent that the second skill is more interesting. A pitcher often wants to throw the ball outside of the zone, after all.

We’ve tried to put a number on command many different ways. I’m not sure we’ve succeeded, despite significant and interesting advances.

You could consider strikeout minus walk rate (K-BB%) an attempt, but it also captures way too much “stuff” to be a reliable command metric — a dominant pitch, thrown into the strike zone with no command, could still earn a lot of strikeouts and limit walks.

COMMANDf/x represented a valiant attempt towards solving this problem by tracking how far the catcher’s glove moved from the original target to the actual location at which it acquired the ball. But there were problems with that method of analysis. For one, the stat was never made public. Even if it were, however, catchers don’t all show the target the same way. Chris Iannetta, for example, told me once that his relaxation moment, between showing a target and then trying to frame the ball, was something he had to monitor to become a better framer. Watch him receive this low pitch: does it seem like we could reliably affix the word “target” to one of these moments, and then judge the pitch by how far the glove traveled after that moment?

How about all those times when the catcher is basically just indicating inside vs. outside, and it’s up to the pitcher to determine degree? What happens when the catcher pats the ground to tell him to throw it low, or exaggerates his high target? There are more than a few questions about an approach affixed to a piece of equipment, sometimes haphazardly used.

Read the rest of this entry »

Dallas Keuchel Is Going Full Ziegler

The Houston rotation is more than one man, but no one man is more important for the rotation than Dallas Keuchel. Peripherals aside, Keuchel didn’t have the year he wanted to have in 2016, having to fight most of the way through shoulder discomfort. Related to that, Keuchel saw his ERA jump from 2.48 to 4.55. There were downs, and there were ups, but Keuchel and the Astros came in this season looking for a far greater performance. Give the Astros a 2015 version of Keuchel and the rotation would feel plenty more stable.

Three starts in, Keuchel’s allowed a total of two runs. He’s gotten some of his grounders back, and he’s seeing positive results again off of his sinker. It’s fair to wonder, then, whether Keuchel has re-discovered his old form. The reality of it? Not exactly. There’s a similar-looking pitcher here, sure, but Keuchel hasn’t succeeded through the 2015 approach. Rather, he’s gone the full Brad Ziegler.

Read the rest of this entry »

George Springer: More Valuable Than Ever

When we think about how parks affect players, we generally think of it in the context of hitting and pitching. Bring the fences in and batters will hit more homers. Build a taller wall or a whole new park with bigger dimensions, and pitchers are going to have an easier time preventing the long ball.

For the Houston Astros and George Springer, however, the removal of Tal’s Hill has added significance. While it might add a homer or two to Springer’s home-run ledger, the greater impact is likely to be a defensive one. This represents Springer’s first season as Houston’s starting center fielder. With four homers already to his name this year, Springer is making a big impact with the bat. His ability to play the more demanding outfield position — one now free of deadly obstacles — also deepens the Astros’ excellent lineup.

In the minors, Springer primarily played center field, getting 244 of his 267 starts at the position as he ascended through Houston’s minor-league system. Once he got to the majors, though, he was moved to a corner while a combination of Dexter Fowler, Carlos Gomez, Jake Marisnick, Colby Rasmus, and even Alex Presley all got time there. Of those players, the only real plus defender — accounting for Gomez’s hip problems — was Marisnick. Fowler, meanwhile, provided the only decent bat Houston has featured in center field, and that was back in 2014. Springer ended up starting just 16 games in center field from 2014 to 2016 — and 10 of those were on the road. The removal of Tal’s Hill helps to facilitate Springer’s transition to a full-time role in center field. The team sacrifices a little on defense in favor of Springer’s offensive ability over Jake Marisnick’s.

Springer has been a positive out in right field for the Astros since joining the team three years ago, posting positive numbers in both UZR (+2.5) and DRS(+10) over nearly 3,000 innings. While certainly solid, such numbers don’t cry out for a great defensive challenge for Springer. Prior to this season, they likely discouraged time in center field, especially in Houston. With a center-field fence extending out to 440 feet and a gigantic hill to make everything more difficult, Springer’s range likely would have been exposed. For one of the team’s best hitters, it might have put him at increased injury risk given his penchant for running into walls.

Read the rest of this entry »

The Astros Might Need a First Baseman

For most of the winter and a good chunk of spring training, the Astros have been speculated as a potential landing spot for Jose Quintana. Reports are that they’ve made offers to the White Sox to add the left-hander to their rotation, and now that Collin McHugh has been shut down for six weeks during his rehab stint, the fit seems even better than it did over the off-season.

But while Jose Quintana would help any team, I still look at Houston’s rotation and see a pretty decent group there. Dallas Keuchel and a healthy (for now, at least) Lance McCullers are a quality pair at the front of the rotation, and while a back-end of Charlie Morton, Joe Musgrove, and Mike Fiers isn’t the strongest group #3-#5 in the game, all three project as roughly league average hurlers, and McHugh is better than that if he gets healthy. Toss in the possibility of stretching out Chris Devenski — who has looked amazing in his two long relief stints this year — or promoting one of their promising arms from the minors, and there’s depth here beyond a strong top two.

So instead of talking about their starting pitching, perhaps the Astros should start thinking about using their surplus of quality prospects to land a first baseman. Because while it’s still early, the evidence is mounting that they may have a real problem there.

Read the rest of this entry »

Top 21 Prospects: Houston Astros

Below is an analysis of the prospects in the Houston Astros farm system. Scouting reports are compiled with information provided by industry sources as well as from my own observations. The KATOH statistical projections, probable-outcome graphs, and (further down) Mahalanobis comps have been provided by Chris Mitchell. For more information on the 20-80 scouting scale by which all of my prospect content is governed you can click here. For further explanation of the merits and drawbacks of Future Value, read this. -Eric Longenhagen

The KATOH projection system uses minor-league data and Baseball America prospect rankings to forecast future performance in the major leagues. For each player, KATOH produces a WAR forecast for his first six years in the major leagues. There are drawbacks to scouting the stat line, so take these projections with a grain of salt. Due to their purely objective nature, the projections here can be useful in identifying prospects who might be overlooked or overrated. Due to sample-size concerns, only players with at least 200 minor-league plate appearances or batters faced last season have received projections. -Chris Mitchell

Other Lists
AL Central (CHW, CLE, DET, KC, MIN)
NL Central (CHC, CIN, PIT, MIL, StL)
NL West (LAA)

Astros Top Prospects
Rk Name Age Highest Level Position ETA FV
1 Francis Martes 21 AA RHP 2018 60
2 Kyle Tucker 20 A+ OF 2019 55
3 Franklin Perez 19 A RHP 2020 50
4 Forrest Whitley 19 R RHP 2019 50
5 Ramon Laureano 22 AA OF 2017 50
6 David Paulino 23 MLB RHP 2017 50
7 Derek Fisher 23 AAA OF 2017 45
8 Teoscar Hernandez 24 MLB OF 2017 45
9 Gilberto Celestino 18 R OF 2020 45
10 Daz Cameron 20 A OF 2020 45
11 Miguelangel Sierra 19 A- SS 2020 45
12 Cionel Perez 20 R LHP 2019 40
13 Garrett Stubbs 23 AA C 2018 40
14 Jandel Gustave 24 MLB RHP 2017 40
15 JD Davis 23 AA 3B 2017 40
16 Ronnie Dawson 21 A- OF 2020 40
17 Framber Valdez 23 A+ LHP 2017 40
18 Hector Perez 20 A RHP 2020 40
19 Freud Nova 17 R SS 2021 40
20 Jake Rogers 21 A C 2019 40
21 Lupe Chavez 19 R RHP 2020 40

60 FV Prospects

Signed: July 2nd Period, 2012 from Dominican Republic
Age 21 Height 6’0 Weight 170 Bat/Throw R/R
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Fastball Curveball Changeup Command
60/60 60/70 45/55 40/55

Relevant/Interesting Metrics
Recorded strikeout and walk rates of 25% and 9%, respectively, at Double-A.

Scouting Report
The story of Martes’s acquisition is well told. The effects of the deal are obviously still resonating atop Houston’s prospect list, but perhaps more significant is the way that deal changed the way complex-level ball is scouted. Since Martes was unearthed in the GCL, more and more scouts are being assigned to rookie ball in Florida and Arizona. Some clubs have scout(s) here every year, others tailor their coverage based on where they are on the competitive spectrum, with rebuilding clubs more likely to have scouts here than ones who, if they make a trade, are hunting big leaguers instead of teenage lottery tickets. So while Martes has a chance to make a significant impact on an Astros club poised to compete for their division and, maybe, a World Series, the ripples through the industry created by his acquisition are arguably more significant. Okay, on to Martes as a prospect…

Read the rest of this entry »

Four Reasons Why Houston’s Pitching Is in Excellent Shape

It’s not a question of whether the Astros are good. There’s near-unanimous agreement that the Astros are good, and the only people who disagree haven’t been paying attention. It’s more a question of how good the Astros really are. Are they as good as a wild-card contender? Are they as good as a runaway division favorite? I don’t know! Nobody does. But like any team, the Astros could be improved. And over the past several months, rumors circled around a similar theme: The Astros could use an ace.

Reports linked them to Chris Archer. Reports linked them — and continue to link them! — to Jose Quintana. Reports linked them to Chris Sale. And so on, and so on. A great starting pitcher could improve any team, but the idea implied has been that the Astros pitching staff could be some kind of vulnerability. The offensive depth is there. The group of pitchers? More question marks.

The Astros haven’t pulled the trigger on a pitching trade. They still could, and any number of things could go wrong. But the team has steadfastly believed its pitching is just fine. In the early going, there have been four positive signs in particular. Or, if not that, four positive reminders. Let’s run through some big reasons why the Astros probably count as one of the best teams around.

Read the rest of this entry »

Dallas Keuchel Is Trying to Recreate the Magic

After winning the Cy Young award in 2015, Dallas Keuchel had a follow-up campaign that really can only be described as disappointing. His ERA ballooned from 2.48 – good for second in the AL that year – to 4.55, 32nd in the AL out of 39 qualified pitchers.

A glance at Keuchel’s peripherals indicates that his fall may not have been as dramatic as it seemed, as his xFIP was a solid 3.53 — the second-best mark of his career, actually, after adjusting for league and park. But a pitcher who sees his ERA rise by over two runs certainly isn’t content to rely on things to right themselves. So Keuchel took matters into his own hands.

Read the rest of this entry »

Presenting Your 2017 AL Cy Young Winner: Lance McCullers

This morning, Paul Swydan posted our Staff Predictions for the 2017 season. Because most of the people who write for FanGraphs, RotoGraphs, or The Hardball Times are at least a little bit data-oriented, the picks end up being pretty similar to what our projections say. The Cubs have the best team in the NL Central, and statistically, they have the best chance of winning the division, so they’re the logical choice for everyone to predict as the NL Central winner. Mike Trout is the logical pick for AL MVP, now that voters have shown they’ll give him the award even if his team doesn’t win, because he’s the best player in the league. And so on and so on.

But as we’ve noted before, projections are not predictions. Projections are the mean outcome in a probability distribution, and aim to identify the area in the middle of a bell curve. But the most likely outcome in of a series of possible outcomes may itself still be quite unlikely. A curve with probabilities of 10%, 15%, 25%, 25%, 15%, and 10% would result in a projection around the 25% probability marks, but you wouldn’t want to confidently predict that the 25% outcome is likely to occur, because 75% of the time, your prediction would be “wrong”.

So, if you look at the staff predictions table, you’ll notice that I made a few non-traditional picks. I went with the Yankees in the AL East, for instance, and I picked Lance McCullers to win the AL Cy Young. I don’t think the Yankees are the best team in their division, nor do I think McCullers is the best pitcher in the American League, but the fun thing about baseball is that, in one season, the results aren’t governed by the bell curves. Weird things happen, and since our predictions are just meaningless guesses, we might as well have fun with them and try to give ourselves a chance to say “I told you so!” in six months.

But I didn’t pick Lance McCullers to win the Cy Young just to be contrarian. While it’s pretty likely that a Chris Sale or a Corey Kluber has higher odds of winning right now, a healthy McCullers might have better odds than his reputation would suggest.

Read the rest of this entry »