Free Blog Weekend: Best part of being worst, Springer and All Stars


It’s a Free Blog Weekend, and playing the part of Chipalatta is his understudy, Brian Todd. I know, I’m disappointed too. But Chip’s travelling for work, so you get me. Quit bellyaching.

Anyway, here are a bunch of random thoughts and topics that should keep you busy asking questions, spouting opinions and calling for Luhnow’s head for a couple of days.

Enjoy!

ALL-STARS: About this time last year, I remember trying to make the case that Houston deserved two all stars. At the time, I thought it was Jose Altuve and Jason Castro. Altuve was still batting somewhere in the .290s, and Castro was about the same. Put ’em both in, I said.

Altuve, of course, tanked before the All Star break, and Castro came on, well, not exactly strong but …

And then there was Bud Norris. If you ignored the fact he couldn’t win a game (wins are an overrated stat anyway), he was pitching sort of good.

Yeah, I know. It was a stretch. Altuve did not deserve to be an All Star, and neither did Norris. Castro did, but he was not exactly a slam dunk at the break, other than the fact Houston gets one … minimum.

Obviously, 2014 is a different year. Altuve has the second-highest AL batting average among second basemen, and the guy ahead of him has a lower OPS. Most steals, most hits, and just one over-the-shoulder, running-flat-out, sun-in-his-eyes error.

George Springer‘s .882 OPS ranks sixth among AL outfielders with at least 50 at-bats. He’s currently a little short of being a stats qualifier, but that’s likely to change soon. I know he’s not going to remain last-week-hot, but if he just keeps up the .850-plus OPS until the break, he probably deserves some consideration.

And then there’s Dallas Keuchel. You know, our fifth starter? He’s currently sixth in ERA in the AL at 2.55 and second in WHIP at … drum roll please … 0.98. All Star!

In fact, all three deserve serious consideration.

Heck, I’d even add Tony Sipp to the list. In 9.2 innings, he’s allowed no runs, one hit, one walk and whiffed 13.

Which leads me to my next point: Luhnow is building quite a team. But it probably gets harder next year if we’re not the worst team in baseball, and I think we all know why.

WAIVER WIRE PICKUPS: You see, being the worst team has its advantages. You pick first in the drafts, and that’s nice. But it means every player who hits waivers, you get first crack at him. Every one.

You like Tony Sipp? Well, in 2015 we probably don’t get a crack at the next Tony Sipp. Did you know Alex Presley currently has the sixth highest batting average on the team? Yeah, someone else grabs him as their fourth outfielder next year. Collin McHugh probably doesn’t get past two or three other teams to the Astros if we’re not the worst or next to it.

This is also true of the Rule 5 draft, where Josh Fields — as unpredictable as he is — goes to another team if the Astros aren’t so bad.

The system in baseball is designed to help the losers get better. And for three years Houston has reaped that benefit in more than just the Rule 4 (first-year players) draft. Rule 5, international and the waiver wire have all been Worst Picks First.

GORGEOUS GEORGE: But it looks like those days are behind us. And a big part of it is George Springer. I bet his jerseies are flying off the racks at the souvenir shops at Minute Maid Park. And why not?

As I write this, he’s had seven homers in his past seven games. Other than a two-hitter by Jered Weaver when Springer hurt his hip flexor, each of those games has been an Astros win.

That includes the one game among them where he didn’t homer (he homered twice against Seattle on his return from the hip thing) but a gem by McHugh, Sipp and Chad Qualls made up for Springer ONLY getting a single and a walk.

Yep, this team is getting better, and as we (hopefully soon) exchange Jesus Guzman for Jonathan Singleton, bring up Austin Wates and let him DH or play left field, and get more bullpen pieces back, the Houston Astros might look like a real team.

BULLPEN CHAOS TIME: According to some media reports, we’ll soon have our first look at Jesse Crain in an Astros uniform. Matt Albers will follow not long after that. And Anthony Bass should be ready before long as well. Who do you boot from the bullpen to bring them in?

Don’t forget that Houston won’t stick with the six-man rotation forever. That means either Brad Peacock or Brett Oberholtzer becomes the long man in place of jerome Williams. What does our bullpen look like on July 1 if our choices are Crain, Albers, Qualls, Sipp, Kyle Farnsworth, Darin Downs, Williams, Fields and Bass? Oh, and either Obie or Peacock? That’s 11 guys for seven spots.

THROW THE BUMS OUT: Austin Wates is hitting .352 in Oklahoma City. His OPS is .938. Domingo Santana is hitting .295 with an .867 OPS. And, here’s some food for thought, Ronald Torreyes at shortstop is hitting .297 with a .724 OPS. Oh, and the “slumping” Jonathan Singleton is batting only .266 but still sports a .933 OPS.

Meanwhile Guzman is hitting .206 with a .586 OPS. Chris Carter may be surging, but his average is below the Mendoza line, and his OPS is a paltry .706. Personally, I expect more from a guy whose only job is hitting the ball. And Jonathan Villar just dropped below the Mendoza line and has a .614 OPS.

That’s four options to replace three of Houston’s biggest offensive offenders. Add Robbie Grossman to the list, and we could swap nearly half our lineup in one fell swoop. Would you do it? Maybe just Singleton? Singleton and Santana (bye bye Carter and Guzman)?

ONE FINAL THOUGHT: Walks. Thursday night no Orioles got a free pass. Wednesday afternoon, Jarred Cosart walked two in five innings, but seemed to be laboring with 3-2 counts all day. Tuesday, no walks from McHugh & Co. One walk on Monday in Feldman’s start. Sunday, and Keuchel ain’t giving nothing for free (other than his throwing error). Saturday and there’s one walk in Obie’s first win.

And that’s the winning streak thus far. Six wins, a total of six walks given up. You can talk about ground ball rates and people getting new pitches like candy canes at Christmas from the new pitching coach, but if you throw the ball over the plate, good things happen.

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53 comments on “Free Blog Weekend: Best part of being worst, Springer and All Stars

  1. Thanks for stepping in and stepping up Brian! Good thoughts here. I realize several people scoffed recently when I suggested the Astros were on a “May run”. That’s all subjective, but with a .500 month in reach (one win away over the next two days), it’s clear the team has turned a corner. It doesn’t seem as urgent to get Singleton into Houston now. Would Luhnow be hesitant to “mess” with it right now?

    And, yes, I’ve noticed the low walk totals. And, yes, it’s HUGE in the success story in this “run”. In fact, in May, only two AL teams have walked FEWER hitters! And, that has translated into the 4th best WHIP and 5th best OBP in the league this month.

    Good point on the waiver wire and Rule 5 picks. Indeed, Luhnow will have to evolve as a GM over the next couple of years. In some respects, he’s had some gimmes with those easy pickups. It won’t be as easy as there will also be fewer scrubs (and hopefully injuries) even later this year.

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  2. Interesting rumor On MLB Rumors today. Has Astros looking at Dee Gordons younger brother, a High School shortstop, saving some cash for later picks HMMM??

    Anyway not much to add 6 games in a row never saw that coming. Great pitching and Springer/ Altuve show. I’m just enjoying all the smiles and great vibes coming out of the dugout, It’s been a long time since iIve seen fun on an Astro team.

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    • kevin, I wonder if the Gordon “rumor” isn’t a negotiating ploy. Hard to pass on a HS pitcher who already throws 100 mph and a top tier lefty with lots of upside. Yes, both come with risks and may not profile a la Stephen Strasburg, but there aren’t any Bryce Harpers out there either this year. Of course, Rodon has Scott Boras, so there may be plenty of “games” going on between now and the draft.

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      • Could very well be some shenanigans going on , fun stuff. Any one or way to screw Boros I’m in ! On another note hoping Domingo and Villar can find a new bat.

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  3. -Last year Castro was clearly the 3rd best C at the break. Given expanded rosters he definitely deserved the spot IMO.
    -Limiting walks surrendered is huge. When pitchers are able to do so it generally causes hitters to be more aggressive and umps to expand their zones.
    -Let’s not get all googly eyed at Luhnow just yet. Of the guys you listed in section 1, all were Ed Wade aquistions except McHugh and Sipp…who we hope can maintain a high level. Where I will give him credit is using the chips in the system to his advantage instead of bringing in more Cardinals castoffs this year.

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  4. No need to worry about losing a guy like Presley, even if he does have the sixth best average on the club. He’s also got a .278 OBP and a .626 OPS. He should be gone before the season is out. We’ve got at least one guy in the system that can replace him tomorrow.

    But indeed, at some point soon we’ll have a whole new discussion thread here, arguing which guys were let go and which were not, and which guys got protected and who didn’t. And inevitably, we’ll lose guys that go on to have some measure of success elsewhere. But then we’ll finally get to see some of our home grown talent have an impact. Couldn’t happen too soon for me.

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  5. Brian: there will be some trades. Teams like Detroit, NYY, Toronto and the Angels may be looking at the trade deadline. Teams in contention who get injuries are going to be looking. The Astros have some young middle infielders, a couple of backup catchers and a few arms that they may get a chance to offer for a 3B or 1B prospect high in the minors.
    In the meantime we get to see Appel and guys like Duffy, Meyer, Buchanan, Wates and Torreyes for the rest of the year and see who is a mirage and who is the oasis. Wates has only 100 PA’s this year, so we don’t really know if he is a 300 hitter or not at AAA. That could be a mirage. I think Carter is here for the year unless he gets hot and someone comes looking with nice trade goods in hand. The two homers Wednesday and the two K’s last night really is him, but we may see more homers in the next couple of months for him to have value.

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  6. oldpro, I feel pretty good about Wates in that he’s hit .300 at every level and has had good OBP’s. I have to figure we’ll get a chance to see at some point this year, unless Grossman takes ownership of the left field job. Speaking of trades, although I’d not like to see it happen, I would not be floored if Fowler got dealt, even this year.

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    • I would trade Fowler at the right price in a heartbeat. Move Wates to left and Santana to right with Springer in his natural position.

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      • I am curious, BrianT – what would you be looking for in a trade for Fowler? 3B? interim SS? Pitching? Catching? Manager? [Okay, the last one was tongue in cheek!].

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      • I wouldn’t. Fowler is a young member of this team right now and I don’t think they signed him to trade this year. We are terrible at DH, LF, and 1B, SS. We are not terrible in CF. Please, lets fix the holes instead of making another.
        We are strong in MILB middle infield and young starting pitchers and young defensive catchers. Let’s use our excess to fill our holes. We don’t actually have a hole at 1B, we just have a GM who is not ready to fill that spot with Singleton.

        Liked by 1 person

  7. Good discussion points Mr. B
    – With a better team at the major league level and better players at the high minors – we hopefully won’t have as much need to pick players off the Waiver wire and from Rule 5.
    – Tough choices on the future bullpen. I would think that whoever drops out of the rotation Peacock or Obie goes back to the minors. Williams has not performed well. Bass and/or Farnsworth may be extraneous. I sure smell a trade or two coming – or there could be more injuries….
    – Villar is hitting only slightly better than a corpse in May – .147 BA / .200 OBP / .453 OPS. And after only 2 errors in 26 April games – he has 5 in 21 May games. He has to be worried.

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    • DFowl is the team leader in OBP and is second behind Altuve in runs scored. He’s drawn almost twice as many walks as anybody else on the team. He’s on base a lot for the clean-up guy [especially since the #2 hitter has started driving in the #1 hitter]. To trade Fowler we would need a proven on base machine who is also an excellent base runner and who could also hit for power. Those kind of guys are worth their weight in gold.

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      • Mr. Bill,

        Exactly, which is why I’d take his weight in gold in prospects and MLB-ready players. I think I’d like a top AAA outfielder and maybe a AA pitcher with some velocity who can be converted to a closer or set-up man.

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  8. The Astros will finish May above .500 for sure now. Who would have thought it

    The best part about tonight’s game was that even when things were going badly, with Obie keeping us in it, I did not have that impending feeling of doom that I normally do when we’re down by a run and not getting hits.

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  9. For the record, here’s my opinions on the Bums and Bullpen questions.

    In the bullpen, I’d drop Williams, Farnsworth (he’s a fill-in until the rest of our guys are healthy). Obie or Peacock would also have a ticket to OKC, though I like how well they pitch knowing each start could be their last.

    That means I’d keep Qualls, Crain, Albers, Downs, Sipp, Fields and Bass. If Bass or Fields faltered, I’d bring Peacock or Obie up as a long reliever/spot starter.

    Despite their hits tonight, I am not sure how long I’ll have patience for Grossman and Villar. That said, a team of nothing but youngsters is a recipe for disaster. Guzman just has to go. The Super Two deadline can’t come quickly enough to get Singleton up here. I’d also boot Carter. I just don’t like the kind of hitter he is, so I’d replace him with Santana, since Domingo is on the 40-man roster and Austin Wates isn’t.

    I’d give Villar a slightly longer leash, but if he really is returning to his error-filled ways, he’s got no real value, and Torreyes becomes the next placeholder at short until Correa is ready middle of 2015.

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  10. Obie tonight: Zero walks.

    Astros win.

    Coincidence? I don’t think so.

    Farnsworth gave up a walk, and Sipp gave up a hit (seeing-eye single past Villar’s glove, so I’m still firmly on the Sipp bandwagon), but Qualls came in and slammed the door, really EARNING that four-out save.

    Great night. Great win. Seven in a row. Arizona is losing again, the Cubs lost, and pretty soon I won’t be looking at the standings to see if we’re in last place anymore. Won’t that be a monumental shift in attitude.

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    • We have now passed up the Rays in the AL standings. Also, dare I say it, we are only 5.5 games out of the wildcard. Man, this is as much fun as I have had being a fan since the 2006 season when they went on that ridiculous run near the end of the season to almost pass up the Cardinals.

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  11. I was thinking for a while, that these guys were going to get no hit……but the little guy who plays second base broke that up! WHEW……..terrible base running tonight.
    Just when we all thought the guys had something cooking…….stupid plays like Presley, and Villar get picked off. I’ve been very vocal about Villar, and he continues
    to make *stupid* base running mistakes. It’s really getting to the point, that nearly every game Villar plays, he pulls the first baseman off the bag, by not making a sure throw. Porter needs to sit him, until he get’s the message. That last pitch was not a strike, and Qualls needs to by the Ump a steak dinner! The bullpen was AWESOME
    tonight, and everyone in the park had “that” feeling, when Qualls came in.

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  12. I forgot to add that Obie was lights out! You gotta pull for the guy…….left the game giving up one run! Who do you send to OKC???? Tough decision, because this whole rotation is pitching so well.

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  13. So Brian, you’d trade Fowler for a top AAA outfielder ( when we already have Wates and Santana) and an AA pitcher with some velocity, who might be able to close, ( when we already have about a half dozen guys in the AA and AAA system that fit that bill ) for Fowler? You also said something about MLB ready players, but at 2:23 AM Atlantic Standard Time, I’m a bit slow. Isn’t Fowler already an MLB ready ball player? How many guys can we trade him for that will approach the same OBP? At a time when this club is just starting to jell? Come on. Fix left. Fix first. Fix DH. But we’ve finally got two very solid outfielders. Why change that now? Your opinion sounds like a salary dump to me. I sure hope this club is moving beyond that affliction.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m with you. Fowler is expensive, compared to most of the roster, but actually performs at the MLB level. He is young enough to be in the plans for at least this year and next. I can’t see the return value being high enough to force a move.

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    • Dave,

      I just think he’s replaceable with the talent we have. I wouldn’t see it as a salary dump (though I see your point) but an upgrade of organizational talent.

      That said, I’ll concede that on this topic you have made a much better case than I have.

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  14. Last week I wrote that bad teams have so little margin for error that every little mistake is magnified. The obverse of that is that good teams have enough margin for error that a few mistakes can be overcome. I don’t think the Astros are a good team yet but the last two nights they have blown opportunities and made bonehead baserunning mistakes and won anyway. The margin for error is surely increased dramatically by good/great starting pitching. I kind of scratch my head at the thought of scrapping this six man rotation when all six are pitching really well. In fact Cosart and Feldman are the weak links right now. If you get 6-7 innings from your starters you don’t need a big bullpen. Why give a spot on the roster to a guy who may pitch 2 or 3 innings over a six game span vs a starter who gives you 6 or 7 or even 8 or 9? And if a starter has five days rest he ought to be able to give you more pitches per start and potentially go even deeper.

    I finally figured out Carter last night. When my boys were growing up two of them had the natural hand eye coordination that would allow them to become really good players. The third one did not but he was strong and when he hit the ball it often went a long way. He did fine in tee ball but when we got to dad’s pitch he started having trouble. I quickly figured out that he swung the bat at the same place regardless of where the pitch was. I became adept at hitting his bat with the ball and he did OK but he could never adjust on his own. He went on to become a pretty good basketball player. Last night I saw Dominguez make a real nice adjustment on a pitch and hit a sweet double into the right field corner. The night before Springer makes a nice adjustment on a slider and pops a line drive into the Crawford boxes. I have NEVER seen Carter do anything remotely like that. If pitchers stay away from his grooved swing plane he is toast. His two home runs on Wednesday were classic Carter-long bombs at a time in the game where the outcome was already determined. Those inconsequential homers earned him two games at first base and kept Krauss out of the lineup (which is probably not such a big deal) Last night when it mattered he couldn’t even conceive of hitting a ground ball to the right side to advance the tying run to third. I’ve often heard Porter say that they stick with Carter because with one swing he can change the game but I cannot remember a game where one of his homers really made a difference.

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  15. I’m not too bummed out about Keuchel’s start today………you take away the walks and he is only tagged with one run. BUT…….the walks had me screaming at the computer! Luhnow is still in Japan……you think we have to wait until he get’s back to Houston to call up Singelton? This club needs his bat ASAP!

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  16. Mark Appel first game back:
    1.1 IP
    10 hits
    10ER
    3Hr’s
    Look for the Chron writers to come down on Luhnow BIG time, on how Appel has been managed so far this year.
    P.S. Jon Singelton hit his *14*th. HR tonight………PLEASE BRING HIM UP!!

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  17. Appel will probably get his feet underneath him at some point, but first round draft picks are far from automatic. I sure would like to know what the kid is thinking right now. I guess he’s not allowed to talk to Evan Drellich though!

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  18. I know it’s optimistic but I really care about how and where Appel is pitching at the end of August, not yesterday.
    Don’t look now but last night Preston Tucker had four hits (2 home runs) and moved from RF to 1B late in the game. He leads the league in HRs, RBIs, and is second in 2B and SLG. I’m just saying! The guy is only 23, is a lefty/lefty and isn’t even a top 20 prospect.
    The Astros have league leaders in RBI’s in Lancaster(Correa), CC(Tucker) and OKC(Singleton). Ummm, yeah!

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    • I apologize. Singleton has dropped out of the league lead in RBI’s He has only 43.
      Interestingly, Nate Friemann now leads the PCL with 50 RBIs.
      But I still like the high RBI totals for those three Astros prospects.

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  19. Got to be tough on Nate, having spent all of 2013 in the bigs, putting up pretty good numbers, and now at 27, back down in AAA waiting for an opening on one of the deepest teams in MLB. Heck, if any team could have figured out a way to hold on to him for the 2013, it should have been the crew that ended up losing 111 games. Oh well, old news.

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  20. What do you bet that Luhnow DL’s Feldman after the game, and calls Obie, or Folty
    up. This is the second start Feldman has had a tough go of it. Tough to see the other team hit a grand slam off your pitcher.

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  21. Baseball is an amazing game. Thomas Lindauer, SS for Quad Cities, hit his third home run in just over 100 ABs today. All three of them are Grand Slams. The guy has 16 RBIs and 12 of them are from those three dingers. QC wins 7-0 over the team with the best record in the Midwest League, Lane County.

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  22. Four batters in the starting lineup today are below .200 for the season. Guzman finished the day at .208…meaning they were pretty close to five.

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