MMQB: Post road trip observations


Some random thoughts after an eight-day, four-city road trip. Mine, not the Astros.

Road trips aren’t everything they’re cracked up to be.

  • The so-called glamour of the MLB player is not necessarily all glamour. I crisscrossed the country last week, from northern California to Albuquerque, then Greensboro and Charlotte, NC. Eight days, multiple cities, hotels, good food. Functioning in various time zones, long flights, early mornings, late nights all take their toll. Obviously, these athletes are in top condition (well, most of them), but performing at top-level, staying healthy and living in hotels for long periods of time is as big of a challenge as any part of their contract requires. After six intense months, it takes its toll, especially on younger players used to riding buses within a specific region.

Next year’s payroll.

  • As we’ve discussed in recent entries, next year’s roster may be in for a shuffle due to the limited spots on the 40-man roster. The bigger issue will be improving the roster and lineup while separating the wheat from the chaff that is the Astros’ prospects, especially at Oklahoma City and Corpus Christi, and adding veteran help through free agents or trades. With 10 players arbitration eligible, payroll is guaranteed to increase. Somewhere between $65 million and $75 million should be a reasonable expectation. This year’s payroll: $50.5 million.
  • More on the roster and payroll coming soon. What range do you think the team payroll should be next season? What do you think it will be?

The AAA conundrum.

  • Don’t believe for a minute that the OKC-to-the-Dodgers minor league affiliate move caught the Astros by surprise. Simply because there has been no public acknowledgement by the Astros means only that there has been no public acknowledgement by the Astros. They knew the agreement was up for renewal and they also know they can make no public comments per the rules. What is public is the Astros’ desire to move a AAA team closer to Houston, so the OKC ownership also knew that. The PCL will be realigned next season, by the way, but don’t think the Astros aren’t closing in on their own deal for a new AAA affiliate. They aren’t scrambling because of last week’s “breaking news”.
  • Options: Doesn’t mean it can’t change, but New Orleans is signed with the Marlins through 2016 and Round Rock is signed with the Rangers through 2018. Corpus Christi is likely not an option given the smaller size of Whataburger Field. Albuquerque is available. So is Tucson. The Rockies are said to be exploring other options besides Colorado Springs as well. Stay tuned, but it’s likely that any affiliation for 2015-16 will be gap filler if and until the Astros can advance their preference for a AAA affiliate near Houston.

Time for long-term deals?

  • Call it a hunch, but don’t be surprised to hear the Astros have locked up a player or two soon. With the impending off-season and need to trim the 40-man roster, one of the first orders of business will be to determine the core of players you want in Houston next season. For example, if the Astros determine that Dexter Fowler doesn’t want to be in Houston long-term or they can’t get a deal done (unlikely), he’ll be outta here, perhaps sooner than later. Fowler, Chris Carter and Jason Castro would seem to fit into that category. Slightly below that class would be Matt Dominguez, Dallas Keuchel and Josh Fields, if only because they won’t be eligible for arbitration until after 2015.
  • Obviously, George Springer is a possibility, but Marwin Gonzalez and Alex White are also bubble candidates for extensions as both will be eligible for arbitration this winter. Given his versatility and three-year contribution, Gonzalez would likely be worth more in arbitration than the Astros would be willing to pay.

And a few odds and ends.

  • The Astros are now on pace for 68 wins.
  • Houston leads the league in runs scored since the All Star break.
  • Only Baltimore (161) and Toronto (143) have more HRs than Houston (141) this season.
  • Keuchel has 5 CGs this season, the most for an Astros’ lefty since 1997 (Mike Hampton).
  • Houston pitching has allowed 3 or fewer runs in 19 of 35 games since the All Star break.

 

 

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68 comments on “MMQB: Post road trip observations

  1. Hey Chip
    Yeah my “road” trip to Australia was amazing – but just about killed me. Being on the road has its draw backs.
    Just some thoughts:
    – The offense seems to be as big a keay as the bullpen these days to their winning. The starting pitching has been very solid as you point out – but when they get in one of these hitting funks like they’ve suffered this weekend they tend to lose more often than win.
    – The Astros are doing the pre-playoff roster dance by reportedly putting Feldman and Qualls on waivers. I don’t think anyone would put in a claim on Feldman so they would be free to try to put together a trade. I think somebody might try and claim Qualls – so they would have to pull him back off to keep him.
    – Singleton has started to hit some the other way – this is very key to his long term health as a hitter.
    – Not that I’m complaining – but two of Keuchel’s complete games were 8 inning jobbers – I know it is technically a CG but something about only going 8 is not as impressive. I know I’m getting to be an old grump.
    – Thought it was strange that with the Astros trailing by 2 in the ninth inning that Porter pinch hit Carter as a leadoff rather than holding him until someone got on base. In the end they loaded the bases and were just one single from tying it – just thought it was odd strategy.

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  2. Not suggesting that Keuchel is a “Hampton” yet, but those ’97 Astros were a tad better, and Hampton had much more support. For example, in his 7 CGs, the team scored 10, 6, 8, 7, 6, 3, 9 runs. For Keuchel, well, in 5 games, it’s 4, 8, 8, 2, 0. Still, Hampton clearly had a better season. All 7 CGs were also quality starts (he allowed 7 total runs in those 7 games). Hampy was a good one y’all.

    Yeah, there has been some odd strategy from time to time, agreed. I was a little curious why Jake from State Farm was pitching in the bottom of the 9th in a tie game recently when you had Qualls and Folty available.

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  3. I’ve been thinking about how to improve the roster for a couple nights since someone advocated Marwin for fulltime at the six in 2015. I don’t think there is any legit reason to move him off the team. His arbitration raise is probably only going to take him from $500kish to $1m in 2015. Even if that doubles to $2m, the payroll is low enough to eat that for a bench guy who can be used in so many situations. The conundrum, to me, is Dominguez. He still makes a lot of Villaresque errors – routine plays that just get botched. If those two could tighten it up on the routine you have the potential for the strongest left side defense in the league…especially if Machado misses time and Hardy leaves BAL. FWIW, I don’t think Villar/Dominguez fully turn the corner, and offensive limitations make it even more likely they are targets for replacement. Unfortunately, we are needing 2015 to be a bridge the gap year under normal expectations. Remember that Moran and Correa are both younger than their peers.

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  4. Yes, Devin, and 6 of those 7 Hampton CGs were, indeed, in the Dome. But the Astros were scoring a ton of runs there too. Another case in point. Hampton played for Dierker, who tended to let his pitchers go as long as they could go, possibly allowing more CG opportunities. One other note: Even though Hampton pitched in the Dome, his ERA that year was 3.83. Keuchel is significantly lower (3.12).

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    • Yeah – I think the steroid era was affecting the ERAs then….but one of my favorite things about Dierker was getting his pitchers to stretch things out.

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  5. My observations about the road trip are that it is a reflection of the team as a whole. The bullpen blew a game in Boston. That is what our bullpen does.
    Peacock blew us out of a game in Boston. That is what he does most of the time.
    Last inning Home Runs saved us in two wins. Home runs is what we do best.
    Strikeouts and bad situational hitting killed us in the loss to the Yanks and the two losses to the Indians and that is what we will always be if we field a lineup full of .225 or below hitters.
    Matty D’s defense is not elite. His Range Factor is fourth highest in the majors and that is good but the top 2 are elite. His 10 errors at 3B are league average, so that is certainly not elite. If his defense were elite that might balance his lousy performance at the plate, but it doesn’t. He is a huge liability on the bases and you can’t pinch run for him because you don’t have another 3B. Dominguez has topped out and he doesn’t cut the mustard. It’s time to do something else. You cannot field a winning team with five below average hitters in the lineup, unless you spend $500 million for 3 Cy Young Award Winners on your staff.

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  6. Regardless of who plays third and short, the goal should be to get more combined offense out of those two positions. Dominguez, with his .583 OPS against righty pitching, has no business keeping the everyday job. Not sure what the solutions are, but Marwin has made a bit of progress offensively, so I assume he keeps the job at short until our future is ready.

    Based on what I’ve seen this year, I would not sign Dominguez to an extension. I say that after sticking up for the guy most of the season. I really thought we’d see the player we saw in the second half of 2013. If I’m Keuchel or Springer, I don’t sign an extension. There remains too much uncertainty with this organization. The AAA issue just adds to the list of things that make the club a dysfunctional operation. Is any ML operation so screwed up?

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    • Dave, I couldn’t believe how bad Matty D’s hitting was until I looked it up. Out of the 24 major league 3B who have enough at bats to qualify, Dominguez is last in BA, OBP, SLG, OPS and Walks. So he is actually the worst hitting full time 3B in baseball.

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      • Castro is Un-believable! Of the top 50 catchers in the league his BA is #50, His OPS is #41 and his plate appearances are #5. What that means is we are sending one of the worst hitting catchers in the league up to the plate more than most teams are sending their better hitting catchers. Ever wonder why Castro doesn’t show any enthusiasm? He doesn’t have to. He gets to play no matter how lousy he is.
        Oh, he is #3 in SOs, four behind Flowers of the White Sox and three behind Zunino.
        Defensively he is second in passed balls allowed, 17th in Fielding %, 24th in range factor behind the plate and #43 in percentage of throwing out baserunners. So he’s no jewel back there either.

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      • Yes, and he’s been given the entire season to correct that .583 OPS. I hate to say this about Dominguez, but he just seems unconcerned out there. Maybe he’s not. Regardless, we need to find a better solution at third base against right handed pitching.

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      • Stats are tricky. Carter was probably, on 1 July, rated in last or near last for the DH position. Since 1 July he has been one of the best offensive players in baseball.

        If you watch slow motion tif’s of his swing prior to 1 July, he looks confused on the front part of his swing and his back foot. He almost finishes the swing on his tippy toe. His weight transference is awful, his thighs were coming up to fast, and he wasn’t staying down on the ball. His full arm extension was at the start of the swing.

        Look at it now, you see one minor adjustment – he is keeping more of his back foot on the ground. This is allowing a full, seemless transfer of weight, keeps the thighs down, and the full extension is coming at the same time the bat head is in the center of the plate. It also allows him to keep his head down. One minor adjustment = big results, knocked his strike out rate down into the 20’s, and helped what was an awful BABIP to that point.

        I say all this because Dominguez needs to make some sort of similar adjustment. I know I throw stats around as much, or maybe more, than anyone else, but sometimes we forget stats are resultive and not always predictive. We know the guy is capable of better – well maybe we don’t know but we think he can be – but in the long run, I think he can make the adjustments and be better.

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  7. For me again trade Castro and Matty D get a above average catcher, hope Moran wins the job at 3B in the spring, Marwin is decent enough for another year till Correa. Fine Singleton 1k a game if he doesn’t go to left or center in a game at least once

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    • castro rated as #7 and #8 on two different rating sites. (not fantasy sites) he is an above average catcher. singleton is young, he needs the same kind of patience and maturing as carter. carter has turned into a 30+ home run guy, singleton will make strides as well, may not show it much till next year.

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      • daveb i was going by the sites i was at. the stats that oldpro stated cant be argued with if accurate. maybe i was looking at past years ratings, like a couple of years ago when he actually was hitting.

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      • i agree dave, he usually is right on. however there may have been a procedural error here. ie one of the guys above him in ops has one at bat. cant compare one at bat or 30 or 50 or 100 to 400 abs.

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      • I think he’s looking at ALL catchers vs. ones with a qualifying amount of at-bats. Castros BA is 54th among ALL catchers, but ninth (and last) among qualified catchers.

        All that said, Castro’s .666 OPS is evilly bad.

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      • Kevin, I think we’d have to give up our best arm at AA to trade up for a catcher. Tough call that I would not want to make. As a regular cynic, maybe I’m being too optimistic, but I think the real Castro is somewhere between 2013 and 2014. I’d hate to give up a best AA arm for what might not end up being much if any an upgrade. But with Dominguez, the guy has worn me out. I really don’t care what happens with him, except for the fact that we don’t even have a replacement for the guy at this point.

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  8. Chip, about your odds and ends
    * Astros on a 68 win pace. That’s real bad!
    * Astros score most runs since All Star Break. They are 15-20 since the break.
    * Astros third most homers this season. And tied for the third worst record in baseball.
    * Keuchel is 3-2 in his complete games this year.
    * Of the 19 games the Astros have allowed 3 runs or less since the All Star Break, they have lost 7 of them

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    • I was going to post another smart aleck comment like “Here are two words for you complaining guys – Pedro Feliz.” Then I looked up Pedro’s stats are 2010 – OMG – they are almost identical. So per Roseanne Roseannadanna, “Never Mind.”

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  9. ok i did alittle looking. the previously stated stats were for all players. when you narrow it to qualifiers, he is 9th in ops, 9th in slugging, 7th in obp, 9th in avg, 18 in fielding %.

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    • I looked them up, too and there were only 9 catchers qualified. So, when he is ninth among nine qualifiers, that is actually last place. When I say he is 50th among all catchers in the major leagues in Batting Average that’s bad. When you say he’s ninth amongst all catchers with enough at-bats to qualify for the batting title, yeah, he’s #9, the worst.
      Nine horses ran the Belmont. The horse that finished ninth was the ninth best horse in all of racing that day. That sounds so much better. That’s Castro! You can pour honey on a turnip. It’s a turnip.

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      • oldpro you cant hardly compare someone with 400 AB’s to someone who has 40 AB’s. thats why they used qualifiers. yes he is last out of the 9 qualifiers but better than the 41 who couldnt qualify.

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  10. Castro has a good enough track record to survive an off year. He was a (legitimate) all star and is having a bad year. Altuve was worse last year in wRC+ than Castro is this year, 85/90. So I’d at least see if he rebounds next year. I’m kinda with the crowd on Matty. I really wanted to see him build on last year. I’m ready to see Duffy or, even better, Pablo Sandoval on a three year deal.

    I am fine with 68 wins. This is a process.

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    • Flash, if Sandoval somehow got signed, I’d take this club much more seriously than I do now. His .838 OPS against righties would be a pretty nice improvement over Dominguez’ .583. I think it’s a pipe dream though.

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    • Castro bought a season. His average and OBP are both down 50 points, the same as his BABIP. He was a 4 WAR guy last year that will likely finish below 2 this year.

      Not sure where his consistency went, but he needs to get back to that double digit walk rate. I am guessing that pitchers have adjusted to him and he has not adjusted in return, since he is on the 4th straight season of declining frequency of seeing fastballs (55% this year versus 65% in 2010 – and declined every season consistently). He is going to have to make adjustments on offspeed pitches or he will continue to slide as a hitter. That 55% also constitutes the lowest percentage of fastballs seen of any of our regulars except Springer, which is to be expected on Springer given the book on rookie power hitters. He is also the only hitter that struggles consistently against all 3 offspeed pitches commonly used by pitchers – curve, slider and change. If he doesn’t fix whatever he is doing that is causing him to struggle so much against those pitches, he won’t be long as a starter in the bigs.

      The adjustment may be difficult though – he is the only starter that is seeing double digit percentages of pitches in all 3 offspeed categories, though Dominguez is close. It may be no surprise that both are struggling after better 2013’s – pitchers have adjusted to them, and they have not responded. My guess is that Castro is a good enough hitter to adjust, though he may never be an all star – but Dominguez is simply not.

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    • Kevin, those aren’t turnips. Those are apples that are just having a bad year underground. Pass the honey, please.
      Did you hear the one about the pilot who ejected from his first three flights before they crashed. When asked about it, he said “they pay me to take off and land. I got it done. It’s a process and I’m happy with it so far.”. His admirers agreed saying “They all took off and they all landed, this guy is an All-Star. Besides, they had another guy who crashed four last year and he’s doing good now. Things are going according to plan.”

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  11. Luhnow is gonna keep Castro until one of our OWN guys in OKC is ready to make the jump. I’m sure Luhnow could trade him now, if he wanted to……….look at the Rangers who just traded Soto to the A’s. AND………Soto is not having the best of years. The problem at third, is more pressing. I don’t know if Matty D. is bored,
    or just as frustrated as we are with his hitting (or lack there of). There are at least three guys, who “could” make the jump, but while we wait on one of those guys to show up……….we need a REAL bat at third base. PERIOD. There SHOULD be more money for Luhnow to add to this club in the off season. *IF* Crane doesn’t
    give Luhnow the green light, we are screwed. The only regular bull pen guys I want to see back next year are Qualls, Fields, Sipp (give this guy a raise) Downs, and
    Albers. Folty is a starting pitcher as of now, so I didn’t include him. Jose Veras makes me REAL nervous when he comes in, so I think the ship might have sailed
    on him…….maybe. Like I said the other day, there a LOT of guys who *need* to go play winter ball. Among them are Singelton, Hoes, Grossman, and Villar. My hunch is that Marwin G. will stay with the club, he can play multiple bases. AND…..don’t get me started on the CSN cr*p.
    Chip I was a flight attendant for 33 years……….I lived that crazy life, and I was able to retire in 2001. BEST decision I ever made!! Welcome back to your “normal” life!!!

    Listening to Steve Sparks call a game is pure torture.((((((((sigh)))))))

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  12. Oldpro – I am in agreement with most of what you say as usual. However, I don’t belittle the 68 wins however. I don’t believe it is a good record or even an average record, but after being a 51 win team last season – 17 more wins (33% more wins) would be a good solid improvement.
    If you want to say that they should never have been a 51 win team last season – they should not have bottomed out that far – I can buy that. But the 68 wins is right around what I thought they would get to this season. If they don’t have a solid improvement next season – then I will call for Luhnow’s head.
    Their hitters average 25.7 years old – almost 2 years younger than the next youngest team in the AL.You can’t coach experience and it often shows.

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  13. I think Luhnow or Porter are creating negative value according to the defensive metrics by utilizing their shifts and extreme positioning. We all like to make fun of Lucas Harrell’s complaints, but if Dominguez is positioned straight up in the ninth we may get out of the four walks by Sipp with only allowing two runs. Also, Fowler has been significantly better, according to my eyes, than he is getting credit for in the blogosphere. What are the shortcomings you all see, and how does Jake from State Farm compare?

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    • The shifts always look bad when they don’t work. But until I see some stats telling me they don’t work more than they do, this is one issue I won’t hold against the geek guys who provide the book to our manager, basically telling him what to do. And I normally am not a supporter of our manager, but I think he’s pretty much doing what more and more teams in the league are doing too.

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      • That’s a fair comment. I’d like to see the success / failure numbers. We do know, per Luhnow, that they employed the shift more during Sept 13 than any other month, and that April 13 was second. They utilized it much less during other months, mainly due to push back from players / coaches / and instructors within the organization.

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  14. The Detroit Tigers claimed Chad Qualls. Could be a repeat of last year when they traded for Jose Veras at the trade deadline. Trade needs to happen by tomorrow or Qualls can’t be traded until after the season. Trade makes sense to me – Tigers are desperate for bullpen assistance, and Qualls will not be a part of the 2017 Houston Astros World Championship Team.

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    • earlier in the year statistics were released that showed the shifts were working, havent seen any data lately. i think its worth a longer look.
      i agree and hope qualls is traded this week. as you said i think we have seen his best, he is 36yrs old which makes him an injury risk. we need to get something pretty decent if we do trade him, the tigers are hurting for relief pitchers and are in the heart of a pennant race, so maybe its the perfect storm to get a good deal.

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  15. Was just reading on chron.com (spit!!) that Appel, Velasquez, Sclafani, Aplin, Ruiz, Lambson, Heineman and Tyson Perez (who has snuck up to AA and pitched great since his promotion) are playing in the Arizona Fall league. But since they called Velasquez a 3B – I’m not sure if I should believe them.

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  16. Something stats on the shift will never show is the benefit of putting more fielders where a hitter is most likely to HIT THE BALL HARD. If the shift induces a right handed power hitter to go the other way in an attempt to beat the shift he might indeed get a hit to the right side but it will almost certainly not go for extra bases. What if a lefty power guy bunts to the left side? Even though he does get on base he has forfeited his biggest weapon. In both scenarios the shift may not have produced an out but it has rendered the hitter less dangerous.

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  17. Keuchel pitched great but looked like he was going to be the hard luck loser.
    Then Carter hit a gorgeous moonshot to flip a 2-1 deficit to a 4-2 win.
    Nice win tonight they could have easily lost.

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