Archive for Astros

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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2013 Disabled List Team Data

The 2013 season was a banner season for players going on the disabled list. The DL was utilized 2,538 times, which was 17 more than the previous 2008 high. In all, players spent 29,504 days on the DL which is 363 days more than in 2007. Today, I take a quick look at the 2013 DL data and how it compares to previous seasons.

To get the DL data, I used MLB’s Transaction data. After wasting too many hours going through the data by hand, I have the completed dataset available for public consumption.  Enjoy it, along with the DL data from previous seasons. Finally, please let me know of any discrepancies so I can make any corrections.

With the data, it is time to create some graphs. As stated previously, the 2013 season set all-time marks in days lost and stints. Graphically, here is how the data has trended since 2002:

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What Can Houston Buy This Winter?

You don’t need me to tell you that the Houston Astros are a terrible baseball team (162-324 over the last three seasons), and you probably already know why. GM Jeff Luhnow and his growing collection of former internet baseball writers have committed to a full-scale, ground-up rebuilding of the talent-sparse organization he found himself with when he was hired in December 2011. That meant trading everything he possibly could for young talent, and it meant going with a young, inexperienced, and inexpensive — down to around $13 million total late in the year — roster as they sacrifice a watchable major league product in service of an increasingly bright future.

That strategy, one that I imagine a majority of FanGraphs readers understand and embrace, has been a source of some controversy in the larger sports world, with semi-regular stories popping up here and there accusing the team of not respecting their fans while they skimp on players and pocket the savings.

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Accomplishments of 2013

Sure, Game 163 is looming, and it counts as part of the regular season, but aside from some tweaks, the numbers are pretty much in for the 2013 season. We are close enough for at least some simple retrospectives on certain numerical accomplishments from the almost finished season. Some of the metrics involved are more meaningful or useful than others, but this post will not focus on analysis. As long as one does not confuse the listing of some metric below with an endorsement — or a criticism, for that matter — of its value, it is fine to simply take pleasure these accomplishments..

Some of these achievements have more historical resonance than others (and to a certain extent that is in the eye of the beholder). This is not presented as an exhaustive list, either. To begin, though, we do have two all-time marks set by relief pitchers this season.

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Jose Altuve’s Strike Zone

When I was in middle school, my favorite joke was: “Three guys walk into a bar. The fourth one ducks.” It scored well with my friends. I enjoyed the twist, the simplicity and the imagery. Unlike most of the other things I liked when I was in middle school, I’m not ashamed of this one today. My tastes, though, have changed. If I had to pick my favorite joke now, for example, I’d say it is one of two things. It’s either any joke told by John Mulaney, or it’s the fact that my Firefox spellcheck suggests replacing “Altuve” with “altitude.” It’s funny because it’s true.

Jose Altuve is remarkable simply because he’s a major leaguer. There aren’t a whole lot of those, and there are fewer still with Altuve’s promise. But among major leaguers, Altuve isn’t outstanding. He’s fine — and he’s very young — but people figure he’s better than he is because of the team he plays for. He looks better in context. If Altuve is widely known, it’s only in part because of his talent; more, it’s because he’s so little. The most notable thing about Altuve is the whole major-league thing. The second-most notable part about Altuve is that, for a major leaguer, he’s short. For a non-major-leaguer adult, he’s short.

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Andy Pettitte’s Curious Qualifications for the Hall

Andy Pettitte is going to announce his (second) retirement this afternoon. Much will be written (again) about Pettitte’s career and, of course, his Hall of Fame prospects. Others are better at the history and biography stuff, and, well, at pretty much all of the other stuff, too. Personally, I am not interested in predicting whether a player will get into the Hall of Fame. Analyzing players is one thing. Sociological and psychological evaluations of the Hall of Fame’s voters is another (that is not a commentary on the voters, just on my interests). When it comes to stuff like this, I prefer to focus on a player’s worthiness, that is, whether he should get into the Hall of Fame.

Much will be written regarding Pettitte’s Hall of Fame contributions now and in the off-season, just as much was written about his post-2010 retirement. I am not going to cover every angle or offer a final verdict. Rather, I want to to discuss two or three tough angles for the sabermetric evaluation of Pettitte’s case that make it an intriguing topic.

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The Astros Effect on the AL Playoff Races

There were a variety of reactions when news broke that the Houston Astros would be moving from the National League Central to the American League West in time for the 2013 regular season. Most generally, a lot of people were pleased Major League Baseball would finally achieve league and divisional balance after years of being weird. Many other people worried about the potential consequences of regular interleague play. Astros fans were annoyed, since their team would have to make a big change from decades of franchise history. Fans of other teams in the AL West licked their chops, since — at least in the short-term — the Astros were supposed to be terrible. And fans of other American League teams in the were annoyed, like Astros fans, since the league shift and unbalanced schedule would give the West an advantage. The presence of the Astros in the West stood to give that division a leg up in the race for wild cards.

Sometimes, the projections are way off. This year’s Washington Nationals were supposed to be a potential juggernaut, and right now they’re fighting to remain a .500 team. But sometimes the projections are right on. This year’s Astros have been dreadful, even more so as they’ve trimmed salary and reduced payroll. By FIP, Astros pitchers have collectively been a little below replacement-level. As a team, the team has a lower WAR than Marlon Byrd. The Astros have been more or less as bad as people thought, so, to what extent have they actually influenced the American League playoff race? Have they played a meaningful part?

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Brett Oberholtzer: Two Pitches, One Grip

Brett Oberholtzer‘s best pitch is his changeup. Well, that’s the one that gets the Astros’ starter his whiffs and has been his signature pitch. But it might be the curveball that best describes his approach on the mound. Because the curveball is two pitches. Brett Oberholtzer has a slider.

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Orioles Acquire Bud Norris and his Platoon Problems

Bud Norris is heading to Baltimore, it looks like. Ken Rosenthal is reporting that the Orioles will send the Astros the much-traveled LJ Hoes along with a second prospect and a draft selection to Houston in exchange for Norris, who is under team control through 2015. At first, it may seem like a flawed prospect isn’t much to pay for a proven, cost-controlled starter who has struck out over 21% of the batters he’s faced so far in his career, but on the other hand, Norris has deep flaws that make his acquisition less of a steal and more of a gamble.

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Tigers Acquire Jose Veras

While the Tigers had been pegged by the media as buyers of expensive proven closers, Dave Dombrowski just ignored the high profile end of the relief market and found a much better value in Jose Veras, who they acquired from the Astros today for outfield prospect Danry Vasquez and a player to be named later.

While he isn’t a big name, Veras has quietly turned into a very effective reliever. In 43 innings this year, opposing batters have a .265 wOBA against him. For comparison, hitters have a .266 wOBA against Yu Darvish, a .269 wOBA against Stephen Strasburg, a .270 wOBA against Adam Wainwright, and a .274 wOBA against Felix Hernandez. Sure, it’s easier to pitch in relief, so this isn’t exactly apples to apples, but it at least gives you an idea of the level that Veras has pitched at.

If you want a reliever-to-reliever comparison, well, how about this one?

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Mariners Do That Which Has Never Been Done Before

Early on, every team and every game in baseball is interesting. For the first few weeks of the season, things feel so fresh, and things are so unpredictable, that you’re thirsty for any kind of action. As things progress, teams fall off the radar of interest. Fans start to focus more on the teams that might make the playoffs, and teams in basements continue to play largely un-discussed, save for the event of trade rumors. Few, then, would’ve been paying attention to the Mariners and Astros over the weekend, given their respective identities, but what the teams managed to accomplish on Saturday was unprecedented. And for all the talk about trades and the playoffs, it’s important to recognize that any kind of baseball can be interesting, and we shouldn’t forget it. You never know which games you might find remarkable.

A big part of the appeal of perfect games, or, I don’t know, cycles, is rarity. People love seeing things in baseball they don’t see very often. But rarity isn’t enough alone to make something worth talking about. Never before, in the recorded history of baseball, has a starting pitcher gone 4.2 innings, with four walks, two hits, and a strikeout. Not once. So many thousands of games. But if that happened tomorrow, no one would care, just like no one cares about a weird leaf on the ground. That leaf is unique, but really, it’s just another leaf. There needs to be some blend of rarity + achievement, and I think the Mariners/Astros game qualifies.

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Getting Strikes on the Edge

The last time I wrote about Edge% it was in the context of the Tampa Bay Rays using it to get their pitchers into more favorable counts on 1-1. But now I want to take that topic and drill a little deeper to understand how often edge pitches are taken for called strikes.

Overall, pitches taken on the edge are called strikes 69% of the time. But that aggregate measure hides some pretty substantial differences. Going further on that idea, I wanted to see how the count impacts the likelihood of a pitch on the edge being called a strike.

Here are the results:

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Your Team’s New Trade Asset

For fans of Carlos Marmol, it’s been a confusing few days, even beyond the usual confusion baseline. On Tuesday, Marmol was shipped from the Cubs to the Dodgers. On Wednesday, there were initial reports the Dodgers were cutting ties, but now it’s clear they simply intend to send him to the minor leagues for a little while, in theory to get him “straightened out.” Marmol, at some point, should pitch for the Dodgers, and they have more interest in him than they had in the now-departed Matt Guerrier. Cynics will note that the solution to an inconsistent Brandon League isn’t adding another one, but if the odds are X% that League turns it around, the odds are greater that one of League and Marmol turns it around.

Of course, Marmol was just designated for assignment. There’s not a lot there, beyond the strikeouts, the frequency of which is plummeting. Since 2011, among pitchers with at least 150 innings, Marmol ranks 14th-worst in OBP allowed, at .355. He’s hanging around the likes of Dallas Keuchel and Derek Lowe and Edinson Volquez, and though Marmol generally limits batting and slugging, his career isn’t on the way up. Marmol, probably, can be useful, but since 2011 he has a 105 FIP-. Guerrier has a 109 FIP-. Lots of relievers can be useful and Marmol isn’t going to pitch the Dodgers into first place.

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The Astros’ Best Position Player

Quick, non-Astros’ fans: who has been Houston’s best position player so far this year? No looking. It is Jose Altuve, right? It has to be Altuve. He had such a good year last year. You think. And he’s small and fun! And, uh, also, you can’t think of the names of any other Astros position players. It’s got to be either Altuve or Morgan Ensberg. Oh, right.

Wrong. It is not Altuve, Ensberg, or even Craig Biggio. The Astros’ best position player so far this year has been their starting catcher, Jason Castro. Altuve has taken a step back from his 2012 performance (.290/.340/.399, 104 wRC+; .295/.328/.379, 92 wRC+ in 2013), but it is not all about Altuve’s problematic plate discipline and lack of power. After having his first seasons in the majors marred by poor hitting, fielding, and injuries, Castro is having a legitimately good year at the plate so far in 2013.

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Strikeouts and Leagues and a Historical First

You know who sucks at hitting? Pitchers. Boy, they just really suck. Pretty much always have, probably always will. Sure, every so often, a random pitcher will run into one and blast a dinger out of nowhere. But the same could be said of Munenori Kawasaki (now), and while pitchers aren’t automatic outs, they’re as close as you’re going to get to automatic outs in a regular major-league baseball game. Maybe this calls for a reminder that pitchers only suck relative to big-league position players. They’re better at hitting than us. But their numbers are always deplorable, and we don’t always have to be all fair-like. When a pitcher bats in a rally, you assume that the rally is over.

The designated hitter became a thing in 1973, following various proposals. From that point on, pitchers stopped hitting in the American League, while they continued hitting in the National League. In the previous sentence I have explained the most basic of rules. Thus, NL pitchers faced a lot of pitchers, while AL pitchers didn’t, even after the advent of interleague play. Unsurprisingly, then, since the DH came into existence, NL pitchers have posted a higher strikeout rate than AL pitchers. They’ve posted a higher strikeout rate every single season.

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Adiós, El Caballo

Last Thursday, on his 37th birthday, Carlos Lee announced his retirement. Reportedly, Mariano Rivera and Bruce Chen‘s fellow Panamanian wanted to keep playing if he could get a two-year deal, but no such contract was forthcoming. That was hardly surprising given Lee’s recent offensive production; .261/.321/.410 (99 wRC+) was just not all that exciting for a first baseman, especially one in his late 30s.

While in recent years Lee may have stood out as a prime example of a bad contract for a team that should have been more serious about rebuilding at the time, Lee was a good player. I doubt anyone is going to be nominating him for the Hall of Very Good, and his defense, especially in his later years, was, shall we say, not great. But Lee was a productive hitter for most of the 2000s. He was a three-time All-Star, and, as Aaron Gleeman pointed out, despite being an consistently good power hitter in his prime, he never struck out all that much, and in the first half of his career stole a surprising number of bases. Lee also stood out from among most of his contemporaries by having a legitimately cool nickname.

Lee’s career numbers are easy enough to look up, so as we often do, let’s remember him by taking a look at his three biggest hits according to Win Probability Added (WPA).

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