Houston’s Management Issues

The Houston Astros are certainly in a down phase in their history. After winning 84+ games every year from 2001 to 2005, the Astros’ age and lack of talent caught up to them. From 2006 to 2009, the Astros have been outscored by 232 runs. The only hope has come in the form of late runs in 2006 and 2008, giving management the idea that a playoff roster was in place, when in fact the last time the Astros even put an average team on the field was 2006, and even their 74 win season last year was overachieving, based on third-order wins, Pythagorean record, and team WAR.

With little help waiting on the farm and little talent already on board, most teams would treat 2010 as a lost season, and attempt to rebuild through trades and freely available talent. The Astros did not go down that route this winter. They did only bring in five free agents, but they committed 25 million dollars between the five, and one of the contracts was over multiple years.

Between these five players (Pedro Feliz, Brandon Lyon, Jason Michaels, Brett Myers, and Cory Sullivan), the Astros brought in only a projected 4.5 wins over the course of this deal, according to CHONE, and that’s assuming that Lyon maintains his projected .7 WAR production over the entire course of his three-year contract. Yes, in a market where the dollar value for wins essentially bottomed out, Ed Wade and Drayton McLane spent approximately 5.5 million dollars per win.

That’s without even accounting for the fact that the Astros are at a very low point on the win curve. With Drayton McLane attempting to sell the team, the Astros low on the win curve and desperately needing some talented draft picks and international talent to infuse in the system, the Astros spent 25 million on a minimal upgrade. These are the kind of management gaffes that lead to extended periods of mediocrity. The Astros need change, and they need it fast.

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Jack Moore's work can be seen at VICE Sports and anywhere else you're willing to pay him to write. Buy his e-book.

19 Responses to “Houston’s Management Issues”

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  1. arsenal says:

    clear and concise writing, no fluffy crap and you dont embarrass yourself by trying too hard to be “entertaining”. keep doing what you’re doing, jack.

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    • LittlePanda says:

      Yeah, God forbid you’re entertaining.

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      • CircleChange11 says:

        I actually agree with arsenal about the “lack of entertainment”.

        Lack of entertainment in these articles is often cliche bad attempts at humor, as if there was any challenge making fun of Wade, Dayton, and Omar.

        Here’s how rare it is, when I read the article I thought, “Damn, he got right to the point”. That, to me, illustrates how far we tend to stray from just “getting right to it”.

        Sometimes it’s fun just to “get right to it” and skip the foreplay. Heh Heh, I said foreplay.

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  2. JR says:

    Re “win curve” I remember an article explaining the value of marginal wins to teams all across the win spectrum, but was there ever a graph plotting the point of increased and diminished returns? does peak value for a win come for a team projected to be somewhere in the 86-90 win range?

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  3. RonDom says:

    No circles no bullshit, just truth.

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  4. CJ says:

    I will give credit to the Astros management for making a concerted effort to improve the team defense. When two young pitchers are in the starting rotation (Paulino and Norris), I think it is important to improve the defense so that the young pitchers can gain some confidence and stay in games longer. The Astros believe Manzella is a plus-shortstop and will hand him the job. I don’t know if that will turn out (I have skepticism), but it’s worth a try, since there were few if any plus-defense shortstops available.. Feliz should be a considerable improvement on defense at 3d base.

    Wade made a mistake, probably, by making his free agent decisions too early. But at the time, the free agent payments were in line with last year’s win values. I’m not wild about some of the signings, but I don’t think any of them are terrible. I think the bullpen will be pretty good, because there is good depth in young pitching behind Lyon and Lindstrom, with several of them capable of late inning relief work (Arias, Fulchino, Sampson, Gervacio).

    Truthfully, there are limited moves that the Astros can make when they have three huge mulit-year contracts with no trade clauses and another final year contract with a limited no trade clause (Matsui). Shortstop, third base, and catcher were the only open positions on the field. And, with respect to catcher, the Astros don’t want to block Castro and are willing to give Towles another try (both reasonable ideas IMO). Given that it is essential to give Norris and Paulino more rotation experience this year, I am glad the Astros didn’t go after any mediocre starting pitcher signings, most of whom aren’t that diffferent from Brian Moehler. The Myers signing is a gamble, but as long as it doesn’t block Paulino from a rotation slot (sending Moehler to the bullpen), I’m OK with it. If Myers can come back from injury, he is capable of better performance than Moehler.

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  5. OremLK says:

    You’ve made several faulty assumptions, Jack.

    1) That the Astros will not improve in any ways except free agency in 2010. This is likely false. Believe it or not, Houston does have some young players who are just reaching the big leagues, and some of them are promising. Norris and Paulino, for instance, have shown up repeatedly in many of FanGraphs’ own articles about advanced metrics for determining strikeout rates, and both have a good chance to be average to above-average pitchers in 2010. J.R. Towles is projected to provide a substantial offensive improvement from the catcher position, and though the bullpen lacks a high-leverage performer, it has far more settled depth due to the emergence of several young pitchers and the addition of Matt Lindstrom by trade.

    2) PECOTA projects the Astros to win 76 games in 2010. This is an eight-win improvement over their 2009 projection, which the Astros outplayed by six wins.

    3) Mid-70s is borderline contending in the muddy NL Central. You’re assuming that adding marginal wins is a bad idea for the Astros, but you’re failing to factor in the environment in which the team plays. In the AL East, sure, it would be terribly stupid to spend like the Astros did, because a team projected to win in the mid-70s would not stand a chance of contending. In the NL Central, though? With a little luck and/or a couple breakout seasons, the Astros could indeed at least stay competitive, which increases revenue and maintains the team’s relevance.

    4) The Brandon Lyon deal is what heavily inflates the cost per win. It was a stupid contract, but the whole market is stupid when it comes to valuing relief pitchers. We can credit Ed Wade and the Astros front office for being a little dumber than everyone else in regards to this deal, but it’s disingenuous to act like it’s unusual or unexpected to overvalue RP wins.

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    • Mark says:

      Point #2 – Just because the Astros overachieved last year despite being outscored by 127 runs doesn’t mean it’s likely to happen again. I haven’t followed the Astro’s that closely, but I find it hard to believe that they’ve improved to the point where their run differential is close to 0, which would make them a 500 team.

      Point #3 – The Cardinals won 90 games last year. The Cubs & Brew Crew won 90 games in 2008. Obviously it’s easier competing in the NL Central than the AL East as you said, but I think it’s going to take more than a few breakout seasons and a little luck. Realistically the Astros need to be close to a 90 win team and I don’t think even the most optimistic fan would agree they’re that good.

      Point #4 – Yeah, some teams over value RP. But I don’t buy that excuse, cause guys like Kiko Calero are still available in FA, while other relievers were signed to reasonable contracts (Darren Oliver – 3.5 M + an option). Brian Shouse, who was a dominant LOOGY signed a MLC. You don’t have to sign big name guys to build a quality bullpen.

      And if FA is too expensive, than trade for RP’s.

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      • OremLK says:

        I didn’t say the Astros were going to overachieve again, just pointed out the reasons why they have improved (besides free agency) this off-season.

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      • OremLK says:

        By the way, PECOTA projects 84 wins for the Cardinals, 82 for the Cubs, and everyone else below .500 in the NL Central. So I don’t think it’s that implausible that a team projected to win 76 could be in contention through most of the year.

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      • OremLK says:

        Sorry, 82 for the Reds, not the Cubs.

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      • snapper says:

        Sure, but someone is gonna get to 90. No one team is an odds on bet, but it will happen 90% of the time.

        The Astros probably need to be true-talent low 80’s Ws to have a reasonable shot at “lucking in” to a division.

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      • OremLK says:

        Maybe so, but the point I was trying to make is that they don’t necessarily need to win the division or make the postseason to get value out of adding marginal wins. When you stay in the race through more the season, you sell more tickets and add more revenue. So even though they probably won’t break .500 at the end of the season, let alone win the division, they may be competitive through, say, August, which increases revenues, which helps off-set the cost of the additional wins.

        The Astros don’t have much in the way of options for going into rebuilding mode. Their big contracts all have no-trade clauses, and the players aren’t valuable enough to bring back a good return. They could sell their younger players (Pence, Bourn) for prospects, but those players are cheap and productive and will remain inexpensive for years.

        As an organization, they have been drafting well these past couple years, and the farm system is gradually improving. Their only good option is to tread water and bide their time until the drafts start paying off, so that’s what they’re doing. I don’t agree with some of Ed Wade’s moves specifically, but I can’t fault his overall strategy.

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  6. Brian says:

    The Astros are among the worst run franchises in all of baseball. The Royals and Pirates and others of their ilk get all the negative publicity, but the Astros are definitely up there. Unlike those other teams which either don’t have the money or won’t spend it, the Astros have it but continue to, year in and year out, make horrific spending decisions.

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  7. Caradoc says:

    That $25mil would have been better spent on the farm system. More international scouting, overseas development leagues, top flight instructors. Nothing else really matters.

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    • OremLK says:

      Bolstering the farm system does not increase revenue this season, and does not help the team maintain long-term relevance. The Astros DID scale back the major league payroll for this year, by over $10 million, and they ARE spending money on international prospects. Just a couple weeks ago they signed one of the top ten international prospects, Edgar Ferreira, for a pretty sizable bonus, for example.

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      • OremLK says:

        “Bolstering the farm system does not increase revenue this season, and does not help the team maintain long-term relevance.”

        –To clarify, I meant this year with the fans. Obviously, bolstering the farm system does help in general and I’m a big proponent of it, but you have to do both.

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  8. recca says:

    did the Rays do both?

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  9. MG says:

    Houston has turned into “Philly South” as Wade continues to pick ex-players and recent Phils to add to the Houston roster. Sure he was disappointed he couldn’t sign Randy Wolf this offseason too.

    It is pretty clear now that Wade didn’t have much to do with the Phils turning around. It really was Arbuckle and the minor league guys who were able to really nail a series of high-round draft picks over several years from the late 1990 through early 2000s.

    Only thing Wade deserves a pass on is that he didn’t had out of all the foolish no-trade clauses this time around like he did with so many contracts in Philly including Burrell, Abreu, etc.

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