MMQB: The good, bad and ugly of the first half

The Astros hit the official halfway point over the weekend. It’s been a winding road, to be sure, and some may argue it’s been the same ol’, same ol’. But even for the most cynical cynic, it’s difficult to argue the organization hasn’t taken a few steps forward.

After Sunday’s win, the league’s worst team three years’ running is now on pace for a 70-92 finish, a 19-game improvement over 2013.

The Astros have identified as many as a dozen players who could be part of the core for the next 4-6 years, something the team hasn’t been able to say for at least a half decade.

The first 83 games have provided some hope for fans, so let’s look at some of the best — and worst — of 2014 thus far.

Most Valuable Player.

  • This one’s easy. You could call him Most Improved Player or maybe even the team leader, but anyway you slice it, Jose Altuve is the Astros’ MVP. In fact, he may be the league MVP at the halfway point. Wherever Bo Porter plugs him in, the diminutive second baseman produces. He could set the Astros’ single season record for steals (he has 34 to lead the league) and he could join the All Time Top 10 in that category as soon as next season. Moreover, with 113 hits, he could break Craig Biggio‘s single season record for a season (210).  Too early to make comparisons to Biggio or even Joe Morgan? Maybe, but he’s obviously the Astros’ team leader. And he’s clearly — head and shoulders — the team’s MVP through the first half of 2014.
  • Honorable Mention: Dexter Fowler, Dallas Keuchel, George Springer.

Best Pitcher.

  • Dallas Keuchel. He began the season as the team’s fifth starter and few gave him a chance to last the season. He’s had an ERA below 4 since his first game and he’s been among the league leaders in wins and ERA for several weeks. Despite the past two games, which could be deemed his worst of the year. A left wrist injury could slow down his season and other pitchers have had their moments, but Keuchel is the best pitcher for the first 83 games.
  • Honorable Mention. Jarred Cosart, who may be on his way to the best pitcher in the second half. He’s 7-3, 2.70 in 76 2/3 IP over his last 12 starts.

Best In-Season Addition.

  • You got someone better than Springer? I didn’t think so. Despite missing the first 14 games of the season coupled with a slow start, the 2011 first round pick is on pace for 34 HRs and 93 RBI. Amazingly, it wouldn’t be hard to envision a 40/100 season with only minimal improvement, which might include a few less Ks, a few more BBs and a little more protection in the lineup.
  • Honorable Mention: Jon Singleton, Collin McHugh, Tony Sipp.

Worst Addition Since January 1.

  • Jerome Williams. Hands. Down. This was a head scratcher from the beginning. A $2.1 million deal for a guy who had never earned more than $2 million in a season. Interestingly, he’s without a start in 25 appearances this year after 25 starts in 2013 and 15 in 2012. Time to eat the contract, he’s blocking better pitchers.
  • Honorable Mention. Alex Presley, Kyle Farnsworth, Jesse Crain (actually acquired 12/31/13).

Worst Non-move of the season.

  • Reasonable minds could disagree, but hanging onto Williams, Jesus Guzman and Chris Carter head this list. Luhnow got it right with Lucas Harrell. Time to get it right with the others.
  • Honorable Mention.

And a few other highlights/lowlights in lightning round form.

  • Biggest surprise. Altuve and Keuchel.
  • Biggest disappointment. Jason Castro. Honorable mention. Robbie Grossman, Matt Dominguez.
  • Best Porter move. Hitting Fowler, Altuve, Springer 1-2-3.
  • Worse Porter move. There are many, but use of the pen ranks high on, if not at the top of, the list.
  • Most encouraging stat. 6 starters, all with sub 5 ERAs.
  • Most encouraging stat II. 11 quality starts for Keuchel and Cosart. Bud Norris led the team in 2013 (13).
  • Most discouraging stat. League-leading 725 Ks (8.7/game).
  • Most Interesting Stat. Astros are 13-6 when Fowler hits third.
  • Little known number. Astros are 31-9 when scoring 4+ runs.
  • The race for .500. With a win Monday, the Astros will finish 13-14 in June putting them at .500 since May 1.


45 comments on “MMQB: The good, bad and ugly of the first half

  1. Here is my take on the season so far. If Castro, Dominguez, Carter, Villar and Grossman had hit for the same batting avg this year as they did last year, the Astros would be close to .500 and in the wild card race. The starting pitching has improved a lot. The defense has improved a lot. The base stealing has improved a lot. The bullpen is still the worst in the league but it is still improved.
    In the article you point out the Astros are 31-9 when we score four runs or more. The five guys listed above are the reason we have not scored four runs in a lot of games. Think about the amount of times these five could have meant more runs if their hitting had not been much worse than last year.
    Altuve is one of the best players in the league. he has Cano at his position and even then, he is putting all kinds of pressure on AL voters.


  2. Oh, and the best thing I saw tonight coming out of our minor leagues was Preston Tucker hitting four singles and knocking in 3 runs. I wonder if he has ever had four singles in one game.


    • See what I mean? Tucker covered Nitro’s three runs allowed by himself.
      okwhatever! Pitcher of the night: Nitro!
      Hitter of the night: Presto!
      Rock and Roll, OKC

      Liked by 1 person

    • 87 innings for Tropeano at this point. He might hit his limit before a September call up. Seems that his best shot sooner will be if Feldman gets traded away. I wouldn’t mind. Certainly don’t want to hope for someone to go on the DL.


      • I dunno daveb. What if he gets another 40-45 IP at OKC, then gets his feet wet the rest of the season in the Astros’ bullpen? The main thing working against that scenario, however, is the 40-man roster and the fact that his name isn’t on it yet.


  3. You have done a solid job here Chip. No quibbling on my side.
    – Man what would the bullpen look like without the signing of Qualls and the free pickup of Sipp?
    – old pro – along with better performance out of those 5 – I wish we had some performance out of Crain and a lot more out of Albers and Fields.
    – Fowler is not an MVP but he certainly has been a bright spot for us and made a huge difference at the top of the lineup.
    – Keuchel and Cosart both look like they belong


    • Not only that, we have two of our top prospects now filling in the voids we had in RF and 1B.
      Gosh, I wish Appel could be real good in his next start. My little Astroworld might be back in it’s normal Orbit.


      • Not sure if Singleton can be considered to being filling the void at first yet. Swinging at things he’s never seen before. 42 BB/52 K in AAA, 9 BB/36 K with the big club. He won’t see strikes until he starts laying off. He had a pretty good first couple of weeks!


      • daveb, I’m definitely willing to give him more time. Heck, it too Springer a few weeks to get his feet under him, right? And Singleton at first — even in his current state — is a heap better than the Guzman/Carter combination. Which is sort of how I feel about asking for Santana now over the Hoes/Grossman/Presley combo in left.


  4. Interesting turn of events, in that tonight the Astros face the Mariners top prospect Taijuan Walker, who pitched a full-nine-inning, 4 hit shutout against the OKC Redhawks last week. He is 21 years old and is being called up to pitch for a team that is in the playoff hunt against a team that is not.


  5. I just read a good snipit on Santana from the Astro’s Leadership perspective. They love the growth he has made this year, he has a hug upside, but they want him to work on not being another feast or famine Hitter, cut back on The K’s. I have to agree, the last thing we need right now is another K machine, we have enough, He will be here in 15.


  6. Dominguez isn’t to blame. Despite his recent slump, he’s got an OPS on par with what he had last year. To me, Castro, Carter and Villar are what’s dragging this offense down.


    • Agree that Dominguez isn’t the main issue. But here’s another way to look at it. Carter and Villar aren’t likely to be part of the long-term solution. The jury is still out on Castro, at least as it involves whether the Astros will extend him.

      As others have pointed out, Corporan is not doing horribly at the plate, at least as it compares to some others. Why not catch him more and slide Castro into the DH role more often. That would get Carter and Guzman out of the lineup!


      • Yes, I was thinking about getting both Corporan and Castro in the game against right handers. Castro has always eaten up righties. He’s got to that back at some point. I would not mind a bit if we lost Carter altogehter. But I do think Guzman will hit lefties better as we move forward.

        Seems like we’ve got to hold on to Castro at this point, with Stassi regressing at the plate. His low OBP in AAA will only look much worse at the ML level.


  7. All this Astros Wikileaks stuff sounds like me and my buddies trading baseball cards in Chris Anderson’s basement circa 1977. I think it’s a process.

    “How about him and him for him and him?”


    “What about him, then, instead of him?”

    “OK, deal, but you have to throw in the cardboard-esque gum.”


    … and that’s how I got my Joe Zdeb card.

    Liked by 1 person

    • BrianT, I think the stakes are a bit higher, specifically based on a couple of things:

      1. How did the data get released. Is it a “rogue” Astros’ employee as the info suggests. Or is it a data glitch somewhere. Either way, doesn’t look good on the Astros.
      2. Based on the results of #1, how will other GMs handle future conversations with the Astros? Will they play it more close to the vest or will it be moot?

      Moreover, it also shows intent, how GMs rank their players and what they’re willing to give up. Clearly — CLEARLY — Luhnow overplayed his hand on Harrell. He obviously didn’t want to trade him away and have him “mature” into a main starter and success starter for another organization!

      Probably thinking the same way on Carter, though most of us consider that ship to have sailed.

      No, in this instance, I’d disagree. At least until we hear more, the stakes are — at least potentially — very high! IMO.


      • Oh, I don’t think there are zero ramifications to this. I just think it’s what I expect to hear from a front office.

        The fun thing here is even the pros occasionally propose crazy Fantasy League trades.


    • I have strong evidence Jerome Williams and Chris Carter are behind the leaks of the Astros data. I have forwarded my findings to Jeff Luhnow and recommended these 2 be punished hard and removed from the Astros organization.


  8. Wow! First Appel’s meltdown, then Correa’s injury, then Aiken not signing, then Thurman and Emanuel both drowning in WHIP , then Ortiz’s tweets, the release of the SI article, then ASTROLEAKS, and now Rosenthal’s suggestion of a Brady Aiken injury!
    This stuff makes Jerome Williams look good at his job!
    The amazing thing is this leak deal makes other GM’s poop in their soup, too.

    Liked by 1 person

    • LOL at your litany of happenings! “…then Ortiz’s tweets”… Sorry, just hit me funny!

      As for Aiken, look at it this way. If they’re unable to sign him for whatever reason, they’ll get the #2 pick in next year’s draft. Haven’t heard *anyone* anywhere mention that little tidbit! Two top ten picks would be killer next year! I might just take that!


      • Got the Ortiz and Rosenthal stuff from TCB “Monday’s 3 Things” Read it yourself I haven’t made any of it up, except for the Jerome thing. Not much can increase his stature at this point in time.


  9. Hmmmmm…………this cain’t be good for the front office, and Jeff Luhnow. LOT’S
    of talk about Bud Norris last summer, and thank The LORD he didn’t trade away Correa, and Singelton, who by the way every single team wanted. The stuff on that site about Castro, and Cozart can’t make either one of them feel all warm and fuzzy with this organization………


    • I am not sure if the Fish would have done it, but I would have gladly traded Springer and one of our young pitchers (Cosart, Folty, McCullers, Appel) for Stanton. Fans tend to fall in love with their team’s prospects, but Stanton is actually younger than Springer and is the best power hitter in the game now. Springer will be a very nice player, but Stanton, in my opinion is a much better hitter than Springer will ever be (in my humble opinion). Stanton is a once in a generation type player.


  10. On the lighter side, I want everyone’s guess as to what the Astros’ passwird was protecting all this data.

    My guess: juliasshoes

    Second guess: $44million

    Liked by 1 person

  11. The old saying that “give him enough rope, and he’ll hang himself” applies to Jerome Williams performance tonight. McHugh was inside out on nearly every pitch, but managed to pile up the strike outs. The opposing teams must be licking their lips, when Williams comes into the ball game…….what a waste of time that guy is.
    Bo Porter sits Villar after having a mental mistake game, and Marwin come in and actually HITS. Maybe Villar should sit more often, like every….single…day.


  12. Marwin Gonzalez has stayed on the bench, and every single time he was asked to play he did, and was grateful for the chance. I have no idea who will come up to replace Villar, but can bet your bottom dollar Marwin will get every chance to fail,
    or survive. My hope???? I hope Villar will go to OKC and *LEARN* to pay attention to the game, and what he CAN do, and what he CAN’T do. We are not in any big time race for a play off berth, so let’s see who, and what we can expect at short stop.
    Williams was well respected, but respect does not win ball games. He has enough money owed to him, that he can take some time and try to catch on with another team. I wish him well………really I do. I don’t wish ill will for any guy who loses his job. I’ll get off my soap box now.


  13. Petit was hurt and had to leave the game on June 28, but he is not on the disabled list so I would bet on him. He spent some time with Oakland in ’08&’09 but has not been back up since then. Enrique Hernandez is a possibility but he is only 22 years old. He is really in a zone with the bat right now.
    Astros to announce the move tomorrow.


    • Obviously since neither is on the 40-man, the Williams DFA was the key. If you’re correct oldpro, they will simply replace Williams on the 40 and 25. And Bass will replace Villar on the 25. Or did I just make it too confusing?


  14. Thank goodness. Almost makes this loss worth it. Hope Petit does well backing up Marwin… or is there another move in the works?


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