Astros’ head scratchers: What happened? What to do?


Baseball can be one of the most non-linear of sports when individual performances are looked at month-to-month or season-to-season. With that in mind, here are a few head scratchers as the Astros wind down on a better, but not good, 2014.

Jason Castro

In 2014, Jason Castro was an All Star. Yes, he was not a good defensive catcher, but as catchers go, he was very good offensively and might have set some club records for HR and RBI by a catcher if not for the injury bug (again). This season he has been a disappointment: BA down from .276 to .230, OPS down from .835 to .678, HRs down from 18 to 14, extra base hits down from 54 to 35, all in basically the same amount of games. It seems almost weird that he will likely end up with more RBIs except for the fact that there are about 15% more people getting on base in front of him than last season.

  • What Happened? Does he really not care? Was last year a fluke? Is this the real Castro?
  • What to do? You tell me

Jonathan Singleton

Singleton, a long time 1B prospect in the Phillies’ organization who was blocked by similar high K, big power 1B Ryan Howard, finally made it to the majors this season.  His .181 BA and .659 OPS have made us wonder if he will pull a Chris Carter and turn things around or be the kind of hitter Luhnow’s computer would hate.

  • What happened? Singleton is young and has struggled at different levels in the minors before turning things around.
  • What to do? Beyond his youth there are two things that interest me about Singleton. Even while hitting .181 he is still on a pace for 25 HRs and 80 RBIs, projected over a full season. Also a lefty hitting .257 with a .828 OPS against other lefties while struggling terribly against righties (.154/.599) tells me he has the talent to stay in there against lefties and is swinging out of his shoes against righties. You have to give the kid more of a look.

Jonathan Villar

Tuesday night he got the big hit to win the game and made some glorious plays. Other times he makes errors that would embarass you at a Sunday softball game.

  • What happened? Not much has changed with him. He looks great at times and crummy others just like last year.
  • What to do? I think the Astros need to not think of Villar as the answer at SS for 2015.

Matt Dominguez

After hitting solidly in the second half of 2013, Dominguez has been a poor offensive 3B this season. His OPS has dropped from .690 to .608, and after 77 RBIs last year he will be lucky to reach 60 this season. He has no speed but a steady glove for a team that features a ground ball centric pitching staff.

  • What happened? After putting up a decent .714 OPS against right hand pitchers in 2013 he is wallowing down around a .562 OPS against rightys this year. That is what is killing him in 2014.
  • What to do? The Astros have to consider other options for 3rd from inside or outside the organization going into 2015.

So what do you think?

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74 comments on “Astros’ head scratchers: What happened? What to do?

  1. Becky – as promised – a review of Nick Tropeano’s first start.
    – It was nice that they announced this start ahead of time – his family members were there and rocked the place when he struck out the first batter.
    – He looked very calm and poised – I’m sure he was nervous inside, but it did not show.
    – He showed good control and kept most of his pitches out of the heart of the zone.
    – I was a little brain dead last night so I forgot to note the speed of his pitches – but his fastball probably was riding in the low 90’s and had a decent tail to it.
    – He has a little bit of an unusual delivery – kind of a 3/4 sling – not sure if this is a harbinger of later arm troubles.
    – His A pitch is his change up – I thought it was one of the best I’ve seen on this staff in a long time. He had the batters off balance – they would start up too early on it and could not put good wood on it.
    – After the Astros gave him a 3-0 lead in the 2nd – he immediately got into trouble – walking the leadoff hitter and then Villar air mailed a throw on an infield hit he should have swallowed. Tropeano then made one of the few bad pitches I saw from him – looked like a hanging slider and Zunino nailed it for a 2 run double. I thought he was going to fall apart – but the kid went back to work – got out of the inning and looked good the rest of the way.
    – They pulled him after he started the 6th with a walk after 80 pitches and with a 2 run lead. I thought they wanted him to have a shot at a win with no chance of a loss.
    – After I hit the sack – the much maligned bullpen gave up 1 hit and 1 walk in 4 innings to get him the win.
    – The M’s – like the A’s are glad to see the Astros leave town.
    – Stassi had the biggest hit of the game (have not written that too often about Castro). Very solid 2 run double in the gap and he scored the eventual winning run. Looked good behind the plate blocking a few errant pitches and he and Tropeano (who both came up from OKC) looked in sync.
    – Altuve had the 2 hits making it 200 and ripped another in the first that was right at the 2B. Victor Martinez went 0 fer last night so Jose is leading in BA .336 to .333.
    – I know it was the Astros and it was school nights – but the M’s are in a wild card fight and they averaged about 14,000 for the 3 game series. Not too impressive.

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    • Dan—–THANKS for the report! Since all I can do is listen to the games, and because it’s not a clear channel, 790am is nearly IMPOSSIBLE to even hear the game.
      I wanted this kid to do well, and it appears he did just that!! Thanks again.

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    • It has been noted by several sites that Tropeano has one of the best change ups in baseball. The doubts have been if he had enough command of his fastball, with enough movement and velocity, to keep hitters off balance in the bigs. Time will tell – and opportunity should abound.

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      • That sounds about right Steven. No telling if they will catch up with him but just glad the young man had a good first experience.

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  2. In the first sentence, I think you mean 2013. If I had a nickel for every typo …

    You’re absolutely correct on Singleton. He just wasn’t ready for this level of play this year. That said, I think we see a guy with more power and a higher average in 2015. Maybe .230-.240 and an OPS just over .700. And he’ll be even better in 2016.

    Castro confounds me. That said, better catchers are hard to find. Everyone is clamoring to replace him. But with what? Here’s hoping for a bounce back next year.

    If we can’t sign or trade for a better third baseman, I think Matty D has to fight it out in spring training. We have Duffy and Moran in the minors. And I think the option of Marwin at third, Petit at short needs to be explored.

    I have given up on Villar. Go to OKC (or wherever) and put together a lapse-free season, and I’ll consider moving you up.

    This organization has a wealth of pitching. I just don’t see why we can’t make some decent trades during the offseason. Oh, we also have a wealth of outfielders. Alex Presley has value. Robbie Grossman has (a little) value. Dexter Fowler has (a lot of) value.

    But I want to point out something from this Seattle series. Their centerfielder stole a bunch of hits from Astros batters. We need that kind of outfield coverage. That means Marisnick in center, Springer in right and a good defender (Fowler? Grossman? The kid in AAA?) in left.

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    • Brian – we are winding down 2014 – right?

      I agree with your player evaluations.

      The Fowler situation – For an organization that prides itself in doing things sabermatically and making the players and coaches do what they are told – I don’t know why Fowler is in CF – did not understand it when Springer was playing before Marisnick got here. Tell him to pull on his big boy pants and move over. Let’s face it – whatever we do this outfield is superior to what we were throwing out there in 2013 – but it could certainly be even better.

      I meant to say something about Jackson (Seattle CF) yesterday – the whole series he has been amazing (though his 4 Ks last night dampen things a bit). He stole a double from Altuve Tuesday night and I could not believe he caught up to that ball.

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    • By the kid in AAA I hope you are talking about Aplin, because Santana is still two years away. Marisnick is like Dominguez no hit/good field. He offers speed, whereas Dominguez offers some power. But the thing about both of them right now is that they offer zero OBP. Neither one of them gets on base and Luhnow is OBP driven. Maybe you can put up with one of them in the lineup for now, for the sake of defense, but you can’t continue with both of them in the lineup as automatic outs. Since Matty can’t even score from second on a two out single, he needs to go. He won’t walk, can’t run, strikes out a ton, leads the league in GIDP and has not shown as much power this year. He’s a below replacement player. It’s sad.

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      • I think it’s a little soon to throw in the towel on Marisnick, who is so young Altuve is more than a year older than he is. (Spring training 2012, Altuve would have had to buy him beer.)

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      • I was actually thinking of Preston Tucker.

        And with his defense, if Marisnick can get an OBP over .300 and an OPS of .650, he’d be worth it. Anything above that would be gravy. Keep Fowler and we have two quality hitters in the OF plus a defender who makes Springer look like Carlos Lee.

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      • I’m not throwing in the towel on Jake. He needs to learn to get the barrel of the bat on the ball. Right now they are pitching him down the middle because he has not been able to show pitchers that he will hurt them, that’s why he never walks. And if he never walks, and never barrels the ball he won’t get that OBP to near .300. I’m satisfied with Springer, Marisnick and Fowler in the OF for 2015 opening day because that is the OF of a .500 ball club. But we need a hitter at 3B if we hope to be a .500 club next year.

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      • I would disagree with the notion that good defense in CF is worth dealing with a guy that will strike out 25% of the time, walk only 5% of the time, hit .240 with no power, just because he can get to 5-8 balls a year that Fowler or Springer won’t. He isn’t replacing fat old me out there, he is replacing what is pretty decent options in Fowler and Springer, not Carter.

        Offense should always trump defense unless you are going to cross an incredibly bad spot. You don’t put Carter in CF, and you don’t bat Mar-Go cleanup, got it, but if I have to choose between a gold glove caliber guy that cant hit big league pitching or just a good defensive CF’er like Springer that might compete for MVP’s, yea, its not a hard choice. I’ll deal with Grossman in LF and his poor defense, as long as its just LF – not that demanding – and assuming he gets on base at a .360+ clip. As soon as he can’t, he should be gone, but as long as he is, I’ll take that batting 2nd in front of big bats next year, Springer and Carter – defense be damned.

        Marisnick has a spot – as the 4th guy, that can play all 3, and can also pinch run, replace Grossman in a close game in the 6th or 7th, etc. Batting 4-5 times a game, though, I don’t care if he makes 20 plays next year that noone else could, no thanks.

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      • And Pro – Marisnick stopped walking YEARS ago in the minors, this isn’t a matter of just needing to adjust like Singleton or Grossman – its a flaw.

        That’s not to say he CAN’T get better – Dunn went from being a guy that didn’t walk much in the minors to a 100+ walks a year guy in his prime – but the number of people that don’t walk in the minors and then do it in the majors – not a very big list at all. My guess is Jake from State Farm is a passer through – he will be here a year, maybe 2, and eventually play himself him out of Houston. He will be a journeyman outfielder.

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      • I agree with OP, big surprise, that we need a different 3B if we are going with the OF mentioned. JM has speed and is such a good defensive CFer I want to see him out there. However, we can’t go with him, Matty D and no upgrade at SS. We need more offense.

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  3. Jason Castro is easy to explain. Last year his BABIP was an unsustainable .351. The league average BABIP is .307 and Castro’s career BABIP is .310 in over 1400 plate appearances. Castro’s BABIP this year is .300, slightly below his career and slightly below league avg. So Castro has returned to what he really is: an average hitter, having a slightly below avg year for him.
    Singleton is what he is: a power hitter who is facing good pitching for the first time at too young an age. What you can do is keep working him and hope he catches on soon.
    Jonathan Villar is an immature player playing against very mature competition. Again, he is still too green for this level but we pushed him up here and this is what we have because we are unwilling to pay for a SS to fill the position until Correa arrives. And when Correa arrives, he may not be ready either, because we push him along too young. When your plan calls for being a loser for 5-6 years and then drafting 17 year olds and trying to get them playing before they are ready, you end up with them in the majors too young.
    Dominguez’s ceiling turned out to be what we thought was his floor. He’s a poor hitter- good fielder who has hit his wall. His only hope is that his BABIP has been .254 for the last two years. The question is: is he even capable of an average major league BABIP. He even has 0 WAR defensively this year. We need a third baseman.

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    • Nice job old pro. I would point out that even the bad Castro is producing decent numbers compared to the black hole that is Astros catchers offense historically.

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  4. – It’s amazing only Altuve and Biggio have reached 200 hits in a season for Houston. Derek Jeter has done that 8 times in his career.
    – Because of the reliance on shifts, Dominguez is playing a lot at what is actually the SS position. Obviously we are not going to move him to SS, but a lot of teams put the 3B on the other side of the bag instead of the SS when they shift. I suspect Luhnow’s band of merry number crunchers have some data that would truly say whether his defense is offsetting the poor offense.
    – I’m still a Singleton fan. Steven can probably give us some stats on what he is chasing, but it seems to me he just needs to make a couple adjustments to have better selectivity. His high BB rate lead me to believe this will happen. Also, Springer + Carter in the lineup together will impact him positively.
    – Last night, Bo Porter pitched Altuve as an MVP candidate because of how he makes everyone around him better (& also because of his stats). They showed at bats for Springer and Carter with Altuve on first base. Pitchers paid a lot of attention to him and fed the sluggers more fastballs than if the base was unoccupied. Porter basically said two things of interest. 1. Altuve could have 70-80 SB right now, but they were intentionally giving him a red light to get fastballs for the hitters behind him. 2. He told hitters when Altuve is on first base, he was not sending them to the plate to take fastballs.

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  5. Have always liked and followed Tropeano since we drafted him , I hope his arm holds up, strange delivery.

    Villiar what a shame such a great athlete, I think he will always be that classic underachiever. There have been many.

    Matty D Um i think you all covered that enough SEE U

    Castro – he is what we thought he was Average

    Singleton I hope you all are right I just don’t see it, all or nothing dude

    Marisnick– like the kid a lot, hope in thr off season he can improve his stick. I think we can afford him in the OF, if we improve at least 3B and look at 1B

    Altuve man I hope he wins the Batting Title, Has any Astro done that?

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  6. I’m going to go out on a limb here, which I rarely do. I think Villar will be the Astros starting shortstop next April and I think by age 27 he will be a real good starting shortstop for a major league team. I think he will be a multiple All-Star in his career.

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    • The kid has tools – unfortunately right now – sometimes he is like a master chef perfectly using a precision knife to dice his veggies – other times he is more like a serial killer using a chain saw to cut a birthday cake.

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      • You’re right, but look at his minor league fielding stats since he has been in our org. They have improved every year and this year in OKC was his best fielding year by far. So I am saying that Villar is a minor league player who is forced into playing in the majors before he has major league skills but has improved his fielding every year. At his age he is going to continue that until those skills are at their peak and I think that ceiling will be reached in a few years with whoever he gets traded to, because Correa will probably make the jump in 2016 and, since Villar has never played one game at any position other than SS and DH since he became an Astro, he will eventually be traded to a team that needs a SS. Villar showed signs of growth last night when he did not make the stupid throw late in the game, that he made early in the game. This young man is going to grow up eventually and will perform.

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    • I think its possible Villar could turn into a good SS. He strikes out a ton though, and has at every level. Shortstop isn’t a position that has traditionally great hitters, but he will have to make contact better. Decent power for the position, and of course his legs are what got him here.

      Certainly in Houston it’s hard to imagine any of the in house options currently on any roster at any level pressuring him in April. You could argue that if anyone else is starting at SS for Houston on opening day it will be because Villar let them.

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  7. Castro- Not to sound like a broken record, but I’ve said time and time again that last year was a fluke.
    What to do: Play Stassi a lot the rest of the way to see what we have. Go with Stassi/Corporan next year or upgrade. Trade Castro away for anything and let him put no effort in elsewhere

    Singleton- This year’s Carter. Give him another season.

    Villar- Upgrade next year.

    Dominguez- Was a fan, but no way can we go next year with him unless he makes massive improvements. His defense is not as good this year as in the past, which is scary when you see his post-ASB #s.

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  8. Good points made by all! Now we need to start the conversation on who needs to go play winter ball. My early candidates are:
    Singelton
    Villar
    Marisnick
    Grossman?
    Stassi
    Let me know if you think I’m off base with these guys. Thanks!

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    • I would probably pass on Grossman, but they all need more at bats, if 2 of the 5 improve nice. Is there winter ball in Poland? I was thinking Castro and Matty D

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    • Becky, I like your list. I like the ? after Grossman. He may not be in the future?? But I think Stassi may need some rest. I know he basically caught every other game at OKC, but maybe a short Winter Season.

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  9. I think Castro and Singleton survive to start next year, one because he plays a position in which better offensive options are not readily available, and the other because he has shown some power, has a track record of struggling to adjust at every level, and has a world of potential.

    Villar will probably be on the roster to compete for the job next year – but I don’t think he will get it.

    Dominguez is an enigma. You would think a guy that doesn’t strike out a lot would hit for a better average, but given his inability to walk maybe he gets forced into hitting the pitchers pitch too much. The thing that sticks out to me is this BABIP problem he has, its perennial. I’m not sure he is ever going to be a guy that at bat after at bat can be counted on to work pitchers and get his pitch.

    Still to replace Dominguez you are going to need to find another cheap, under team control guy that can play good defense and better offense – there will be none of those on the market – Aramis Ramirez would be an upgrade but is expensive. That means you pretty much have to scour other teams unknowns and try and find that hidden gem.

    My guess, he hobbles into ST with his primary competition starting in the minors and pressuring him by July.

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  10. Castro the catcher is tied for 11th in MLB with a 2.3 WAR. He’s be the guy in 2015 as there really are not other options in house or out. He’s better than most guys in the game. That’s reality. Maybe a new manager can assist him in looking more interested out there. That would be helpful. And I think Stassi takes over for Corporan. I’m okay Stassi/Castro in 2015.

    There is no choice but to stay with Singleton. Luhnow went out on a limb and paid the guy. He’ll get every opportunity to learn the ML game while playing it. There’s no sense in sending him to AAA ball in 2015.

    oldpro, you’re not the only one who sees what we see in Villar. He teases the crap out of us when he makes plays that maybe a handful of major leaguers can pull off. He goes back on balls as well as anyone. Unfortunately, as you note, he’ll turn into a heck of a ballplayer after leaving Houston. I’m tempted to give the opening day job to Marwin in 2015. His .709 OPS is 14th best in both leagues at short. Just not as many hitters at short in MLB these days. But I think Villar hangs around a bit longer.

    I don’t know what to do about Dominguez unless Luhnow shocks the world by luring a widening Sandoval here for 5 years and way too much money. He could always take over first if Moran ever shows he wants the job bad enough at third.

    I think Tropeano is a mature for his age kind of guy that will get the most out of his talent. He’s still young, and his four pitches are all bound to get better, along with his command. I think he’ll stick.

    On the flipside, Cosart was hitting 95 on the MLB/TV gun last night and while he did not have great location, he still went 6, with six K’s and two walks, giving up one earned run in a loss. The sun of a gun looks more and more like a young Oswalt out there, mannerisms and all.

    I don’t quite understand the discussion about Marisnick playing center next year. Springer should be out there. That’s his position. Let’s not forget Springer the excellent outfielder. He’ll get to balls in the gaps. And if Marisnick reinvents himself and becomes a hitter, then put him in right. Isn’t that where your strongest outfield arm is supposed to be anyway?

    Although I didn’t see it until this morning when I woke up, Altuve getting his 200th hit is the best thing that’s happened all year. What a great kid, obviously well liked by everyone….his teammates and guys he plays against too. And there’s so much more to come from the guy. He is indeed the kind of player you build a team around. I did not see it coming so fast.

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    • Daveb – good reasoning throughout – we will see if the Astris think the same.
      Altuve – it is almost a shock when he doesn’t square up on the ball. He had a tiny struggle getting hits the last few games but he was getting good wood on a lot of them just right at folks.

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    • Daveb – only comment is if Stassi is on the club then mostly DH for Castro. If Castro is catching most games – then leave Stassi at OKC. I hate to see him come up and ride the bench.

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    • Jason Castro’s WAR is listed by Fangraphs as #106 at 1.6 and he is two positions behind Jed Lowrie. That’s not near as good as a lot of guys.
      By the way, his offensive war is listed as terrible and his defensive war is listed as great. So if we continue with lots of offensively challenged players, we will continue to be offensively challenged.

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      • I was looking at catchers specifically, on the ESPN MLB stats page. My point is that there are not many productive catchers in MLB. So where do we get someone else, without giving up a whole lot of young talent? Castro remains a better option than most. And I’m not happy with the guy either.

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      • yep dan, i see him as another with great physical tools, but with a lacking mental approach and/or maturity. good coaching and alittle more time to develop that side of his game and we may see something we like. now thats not to say i like him over correa. too bad one of them couldnt take the 3b slot.

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  11. Villar may have all the “tools” you mentioned, but that still doesn’t keep me from wanting to strangle his scrawny little neck. HOW many times does a manager have to talk to this kid???? Seems like that’s ALL they do, is talk, talk, talk. Time to tell him his job is on the line, and if he keeps making erros he’s gone. PERIOD.
    Maybe THAT will get his attention. Little snott………….

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  12. Steven –
    I did a little googling about curveballs as cause of arm injuries. It’s not a slam dunk like I’d hoped, but I found a few links:
    Regarding youths: http://www.littleleague.org/Page58534.aspx

    Covering youths and professionals: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/07/26/sports/baseball/26score.html?_r=0

    Talking kinetics and stresses:
    http://ajs.sagepub.com/content/34/3/423.abstract
    http://www.asmi.org/research.php?page=research&section=TJpositionstatement

    Finally, the study most often cited (from UNC) centered on youths:
    http://college.unc.edu/2011/10/22/curveballs-sliders-and-pitch-counts-surviving-life-as-a-pitcher-with-your-arm-intact/

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  13. Read an article by Russel Carleton @ Fox sports, and the headline was
    “Does perpetual losing actually affect player development”. My short answer to this is a resounding YES. That might be happening to Castro, and Matt Dominguez.
    Just a thought………..

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    • Could be, but that wouldn’t explain why they started playing worse when the rest of the team started playing better. The rest of the league exploited the holes in Matt D’s offense, and i think that;s affecting his defense. Castro? He just sucks, plain and simple. He had a career year last year, and came back to earth, and the worst part is, he looks like he couldn’t care less.

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  14. Agree Becky. Castro looks like a man who is sick and tired. All the barking with umps after called third strikes. Didn’t see that in previous years. Losing and playing meaningless games have to suck during the grind of a season.

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  15. I think we also over analyze attitude when a player is not performing. Some of these guys are just low key. Carter looked like he did not care when he was faltering now he is just a quiet unassuming guy pounding the ball.

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  16. The plus side to the outfield discussion that even having Fowler in CF – a Marisnick, Fowler, Springer is far superior to what we did last year where we had OFs at the end of the season with Carter, Barnes and Crowe. (No wonder we lost 15 in a row).

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    • But Astro 45 – wouldn’t you think that wanting to get the big contract would drive you to play harder and better? Not many mopers get big contracts.

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