MMQB: Ramblings, thoughts, questions and more

Football — both college and pro — has had its moments in the sun over the past weeks. Now, no major events stand between us and the beginning of spring training, and only one is left (NCAA Final Four) remains before the beginning of the 2015 baseball season.

Houston pitchers and catchers — all of ’em — report on February 19 and the first full team workout is set for February 25. First spring game? That would be March 5 in Kissimmee versus the Phillies.

So, before we move forward, let’s take a look back at some snapshots in time.

About that 2012 draft?

  • With that one failed Seahawks’ goalline call in Sunday’s Super Bowl, it’s evident that one single decision can change a game, a season or even a reconstruction plan. Byron Buxton is still the #1 prospect in all of baseball and Kris Bryant will be in Chicago this season filling a role (third base) the Astros just can’t seem to plug. Of course, Carlos Correa is beginning to look like the difference-maker at another critical position (shortstop) and that could be more valuable than a strong hot corner. The Astros chose Correa ahead of Buxton, Mike Zunino and Kevin Gausman, the last two of which are already contributing in the majors. Appel was the #1 pick in 2013, butothersnow rank ahead of him as well. AretheAstros seeing things others are not or does this simply prove the draft is a crapshoot?
    • Looking at the 2012 and 2013 drafts, are there players you would have rather seen the Astros draft than Carlos Correa or Mark Appel?

Will Astros be last in 2015?

  • For all of us predicting great improvement for the Astros in 2015, it appears that the so-called experts don’t share the same optimism. Still, the interesting thing is that those same experts project somewhat of a balanced AL West where teams will likely beat up on each other. While the Mariners are getting most of the love, Fangraphs, for example, suggests the Astros will finish 77-85, just a game behind the Rangers (78-84). The A’s and the Angels (both 84-78), are projected to be only 7 games better than Houston, which — if this were a political matchup — would be close to the margin of error in a 162-game season.
    • Question: Is Fangraphs wrong? Remember, these guys predicted a 67-win season in 2014 and the Astros won 70.
    • Question 2: Even if Seattle wins the division, what record could squeeze the Astros into the playoffs as a Wild Card?

Astros not among most improved. But, are they improved?

  • While Jeff Luhnow obviously made major changes — even those that would be considered significant upgrades — many pundits yawned at the Astros’ moves in comparison to some of the movement of other teams like the Padres, Cubs and Mariners. Yes, it’s hard to compare the acquisitions of Evan Gattis and Luis Valbuena to those Jeff Samardzia, Jon Lester or Matt Kemp. Here’s one list of the top 5 most improved teams. While they may not be the most improved — or even in the top third of teams most improved — the Astros have clearly positioned them to possibly be a surprise team. And, while it may not be the most improved on paper, A.J. Hinch‘s club could still claim the real most improved team for back-to-back years with a winning record in 2015.
    • Question: The Astros will likely have new starters at third base, shortstop and possibly two outfield spots, not to mention a revamped bullpen. The levels of improvement have been debated, but what one addition between now and the beginning of the season (or even the trade deadline) would solidify and perhaps guarantee that improvement for 2015?

And, how ’bout that rotation?

20 comments on “MMQB: Ramblings, thoughts, questions and more

  1. About the 2012 draft. The Astros weren’t smarter than the other teams, they had different needs! The Astros have not had an all-star quality SS since when? Come on, Astros All-Star SS,
    So why Correa instead of Buxton? Gio Mier and George Springer! Comprende?
    Why Appel? A big bodied, four-pitch starter with an extra year of college and an easy delivery, who is from Houston and has been the top college pitcher two years in a row. He will probably be MLB ready in Sept 2015, or just in time for the Astros to start their 2016 upward swing, and not having to be the #1 or #2 in his first full year. That is good timing.
    Aiken. Instead of an 18 year old with an elbow nobody knew about, the Astros are going to end up with either the best pitching prospect in this year’s draft or the best position player in this years draft. They are going to be better off taking this year’s player over a HS pitcher with a suspect elbow.
    Nix. The Astros wouldn’t have drafted Nix, if they hadn’t drafted Aiken. He was a first round talent who told teams not to draft him unless they were going to give him first round money. The Astros were pretty sure they would have the money, so they took a chance on him, rather than a fifth round talent in the fifth round. What the Astros lost is a fifth round talent and a twentieth round talent(Marshall’s pick) and all that was because of Aiken’s elbow. They also lost $1.5 mil to Nix who comes out smelling like a rose in this deal. Nix will get two big signing bonuses eventually.
    The Astros’ drafts are going to work themselves out.


  2. Second subject-is Fangraphs wrong when guessing the records and order of finish in the AL West? Of course they are because it’s Baseball and nobody gets it right. They didn’t figure Texas’s catastrophic injuries last year, helping out the Astros. If the Rangers aren’t crippled last year, the Astros probably would have had a losing record against them, wouldn’t have finished fourth in the division, would probably have the top two draft picks and would have a larger margin for improvement this coming year.
    If the Astros finish 77-85 this coming year it will appear to be a 7 game improvement, when, in reality, it’s probably more like a 10-12 game improvement because we should have lost more games last year to the Rangers. If Fangraphs is correct with that 77-85 prediction, the Astros will have improved their record, will still have a protected first round pick in 2016 and Jeff will be in trouble.


  3. So much fodder here –
    In 2012, instead of drafting Carlos Correa – they should have taken Mark Appel who was drafted 8th.
    In 2013, instead of Mark Appel, they should have taken Colin Moran who was picked 6th.
    Just trying to show how you can drive yourself crazy with some of these thoughts.
    I would more likely challenge the 2014 mess of taking Akins instead of Rodon. For the others I think you have to revisit it in about 10 seasons, because just looking at who gets to the top 1st does not indicate ultimate worth for these players.

    Astros – Last in Division
    I’m saying no – they won’t be last in their division. Fangraphs could be right, but I think a better lineup tied to a better bullpen will give them more than a 7 game nudge from 2014. Maybe not a lot more – but more.

    Hey, a lot can happen between now and Spring training, much less between now and the beginning of the season or the end of the season, but I think they are an improved team talent-wise and they are a team that affords the manager a lot more opportunities to mix and match the lineups.

    Top 3 of the rotation – Looking at the Astros vs. their division rivals I don’t feel bad at all. They are not the best, but I don’t think they are totally out classed in the comparison. The kids are alright.


    • Another way of looking at the division’s rotations is that last year the other four rotations were facing this 18-19 games a season:
      Kraus/Guzman/Rookie Singleton
      Grossman/Fowler/Hoes/ Marisnick/Presley
      Jason Castro’s shadow
      -This coming season they will be facing:
      Second year Singleton/Gattis
      The staffs of the other four teams will have a harder task this year when facing Houston. Four will also have a tougher time facing the Mariner’s lineup.


  4. Concerning the 2012 draft – it is over. Concerning “Last Place” – we have a better chance of finishing there than we do in finishing in first place. Concerning Improved – this roster has more talent “on paper” than anything on the field in 2014. Unfortunately the games are played on turf. Concerning the rotation – it is serviceable and capable of allowing the Astros to win .500 + of the games. One would expect the pitching to have improved, especially in the bullpen. But just ask the Ranger of 2014 – injuries can wreck any team at any time. So that is why everyone attempts to stack some possible replacements in the high minors. It appears we may be lacking in any improvements there. But you just need one or two pitchers to break through. Not 5 or 7 or 10. As to supplant – lets hope that a couple of them make it most difficult to keep them in the minors all year. It is always great for a team when the fans are upset that “X” is still in the minors – like the Springer episode. The draft always was and is a crap shoot. One can look at 2005 and say “What was Seattle thinking taking Jeff Clement over Troy Tulowitzki. Or 2004 – Matt Bush. Or 2014 – Brady Aiken. You choose based upon what you know at the time. There were a lot of smart people that sold their Apple stock in 2003 at $14.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I attempted a lengthy reply to yesterday’s blog twice, only to lose the data as I was writing it. I guess the book length was too long. Anyways…

    Looking at the 2012 and 2013 drafts, are there players you would have rather seen the Astros draft than Carlos Correa or Mark Appel?

    I am fine with the choice of Correa in the 2012 draft. His maturity from the start allowed the Astros to reach further into the draft and choose other players that would not have been financially available had they chosen Appel first. In the 2013 draft, I was looking for Jonathan Gray to be the first choice and was disappointed that they chose Appel. Gray has shown to be a better pitcher than Appel to this point. It is what it is…

    Question: Is Fangraphs wrong? Remember, these guys predicted a 67-win season in 2014 and the Astros won 70.

    I have never, EVER looked at the Fangraphs website until just a moment ago. Not impressed. I did some research into how it is rated against others only to find this spot: “ is one of the top 50,000 sites in the world.” Top FIFTY THOUSAND in the WORLD?? Gosh, my nonexistent pet could start its own website and realize those results. I trust those strategic websites that employ real BASEBALL people who research the teams and players with their own eyes on them.

    Question 2: Even if Seattle wins the division, what record could squeeze the Astros into the playoffs as a Wild Card?

    The American League wildcards teams must reach 88 wins just to be in the playoffs. My South Houston High School and Masters degree math calculate the record to reflect 88 – 74.

    Question: The Astros will likely have new starters at third base, shortstop and possibly two outfield spots, not to mention a revamped bullpen. The levels of improvement have been debated, but what one addition between now and the beginning of the season (or even the trade deadline) would solidify and perhaps guarantee that improvement for 2015?

    I would trade Castro, Singleton, and Dominguez to the Angels for Mike Trout. How about that for an improvement? Seriously though, James Shields would be a horse for the starters at the front end of the rotation. Add Rudy Jaramillo as the hitting coach and I think we could comfortably print those playoff tickets.

    Question: Is it possible that one of the other pitchers (e.g. Mark Appel, Brett Oberholtzer, others) will supplant one of Houston’s top three by mid-season?

    Feldman might be the one to be replaced by someone else if he were to have an unfortunate physical mishap to occur. I cannot see Oberholtzer or Appel being the one to move up though. I feel that person is not on the team as of now.

    Well I got through this one with no mishaps. I am excited about the upcoming season and draft. I look at the mock drafts daily and make my own wish list for our club. I believe the Astros should choose three college pitchers with the first three choices but we will see when it happens!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Fangraphs has its place. I am not huge on statistically driven sites, having played the game for years I do enjoy baseball at its simplicity, but there are certain stats of value I find more than intriguing, and actually work well as a predicator of what you can expect from a player.

      It is one of the few places you can find swing and contact rates, and say what you will, the stat is important. When it comes down to its simplest form it would be easy to say that Jake Marisnick and Robbie Grossman have a similar opportunity, and might perform similarily in at bat with runners on 2nd and 3rd and one out. Given if it was one at bat, I might be inclined to agree. When you track stats out for long terms you start to see trends, i.e. Marisnick swings at pitches outside the strike zone 37% of the time, while Grossman just 20% of the time. In one at bat, that might not make a difference, its probably one swing at one bad pitch. In the terms of which guy you want to have see 2500 pitches over the course of a season, well, it becomes very significant.

      It does similar things with walk rates, line drive percentages, etc. It’s a wealth of data tha helps you identify trends and potential. It’s not an exact science by any means, and is wrong probably 20-25% of the time, and often makes the bad assumption that player A never does anything to improve (or deflate) but thats a much better track record than water cooler guessing.

      Not many places have that kind of data that you can use to try and get an idea of where a guy is going. I am a “fan” of fangraphs.


  6. – Would anyone here be shocked if Byron Buxton hit the wall in AA? I am happy in retrospect for the 2012 draft playing out as it did because we needed quantity as much as quantity, but it would be hard to argue after three years that Correa was not worthy based on current performance. The next two drafts will be clearer this time next season.
    – I’m not thrilled with our rotation. If Keuchel and McHugh remain at the levels they pitched in 2014 we will be thrilled. If they fall off, we may not feel it much as the offense could put up some early, crooked numbers this year. Feldman, Peacock, Straily…I don’t know. I like Feldman the same way I liked Brett Myers…go out there and eat up innings, and keep your team in it. Peacock gives you some efforts that are puzzling. Can Hank Conger’s lauded receiving skills lower his BB rate (& HR rate)? Straily is a wildcard. I like that he cost us less than Brett Anderson would have, but not sure the same upside is there. Luhnow likes him a lot, but Luhnow is also predicting 40 HR from Gattis…
    – I think we just pass .500 this year.
    – I haven’t read up on which pitchers will be on the block this July. Buchholtz? Cahill? Cueto? Leake? I’m not sure a lot of teams will be willing to move guys when they are in the race. Can the Tigers afford to move Price?


    • I would not be shocked. I am not sure what the hype is about Buxton. Youtubed at bats, not that impressed. Statistically not that impressed. A little light at 6-2.

      He could grow into a fantastic player as he ages and gains a little weight. His K rates are a little higher than I would like to see them at low levels, that will only worsen as he faces better pitching. The guy is good, but not a great prospect to me.

      Give me Carlos any day.


  7. Kind of interesting looking back on the last decade in the AL and looking at the Wild Card. The two team wild card is 3 years old and in those 3 seasons a team had to win 88, 92 and 93 games respectively to be the 2nd WC team. Now if you go back to the previous 7 seasons when there was only 1 WC team – it was pretty daunting. 6 of those seasons a team had to win 94 or 95 games to get in and the other season 91. If there had been a second WC in those seasons they would have had to win 90, 89, 87, 89, 88, 90, 93 to get in.
    So I’m saying you need to get about 90 wins to get in and pray that is enough.


  8. Does anyone have a link that shows Fangraphs or ZIPS win projections for 2014? I did a Google search, but it keeps defaulting to 2015 projections. I am curious to see how close they were on other teams.


  9. Hindsight being 20/20, it’s easy to say we shouldn’t have picked Aiken. The reality is the Astros should have negotiated better.

    I’m more than happy with Correa, and I think Appel will turn out to be a solid pick no matter what Bryant does.

    I think the Astros’ improvement is hard to judge based on last season. Singleton will be a different player this year. His history shows he takes a season to adjust. A full season of Springer will be a big plus. Losing Matty D will be a big plus.

    I think .500, baring injuries, is a given. This isn’t a playoff team, but it’s not far from it.


    • What’s really interesting is that this team has two players on it who are almost identical. They both are RH batters with big power. They both play LF but not well. They both can play 1B but not well. They both DH but are way better against LH pitching. They both strike out a lot and their career lines are very similar. They are both in their late 20’s. Both of their best years was last year.
      But one can catch, though not being terrific at it, and the other doesn’t. Plus, the one who can catch, makes half a million this year and probably just over a million next year, while the other will make over $4mil this year and a lot more next year in arbitration. What do you guys see happening here, and when.


      • OP, yes, that’s why I’ve suggested before that Carter may be gone sooner than later. But…I also believe that the determining factor may well be the guy named Singleton. Gattis/Carter are the fallback plan for 1B in my estimation. Carter or Singleton may not be in a Houston uniform for long. Why? Think about Luhnow’s comment regarding Gattis, whom he says won’t be in LF much this year.

        That’s odd, unless you have another game plan (moving Carter?) or concern (Singleton not cutting it and spending most of the year in Fresno?). Doubtful that he would be behind the plate, don’t you think?

        The one thing that Gattis and Carter do provide is options. Maybe not always the best options, as you point out, but they do have options.


      • I expect we’ll see the non-catching player dangled at the deadline this year. I doubt he makes it onto the 2016 roster based on cost. Then again, maybe Luhnow will acquire Mike Napoli, Michael Morse, and Jonny Gomes to compete for playing time.

        Seriously, though, the big question is development and retention of Domingo Santana, Teoscar Hernandez, Brett Phillips, and Preston Tucker. There are only so many spots to go around…


      • The other part is one can’t stay healthy, while the other has.

        I almost want to say I suspect that Luhnow expects there to be somewhat of a merry go round, and for all these guys to get an opportunity, and created depth to prepare for injury.


  10. I think its very possible that Appel doesn’t become a quality major league pitcher. He wouldn’t be the first number 1 pick to not be a superstar.

    As far as fangraphs, I love the site to help me get an understanding, and form an opinion, of an individual player. I would be suspect of the science of using a bunch of individual projections, of which 20-25% will be wrong, to guess how that lineup builds an overall record and place finish. It was great for telling me that Chris Johnson was a waste of time, same for Dominguez, but rating entire organizations, IDK, I’m a skeptic.

    Rotation wise, we don’t have the ace of LAA or SEA, but we seem, on the surface, to have as much depth in the top 3. I do expect some regression from both Keuchel and McHugh, in that it is very difficult for even HOF’ers to repeat those kinds of seasons – but they should be good. Feldman is my prediction for the injury bug this year, though he has proven a solid pitcher when he is in there.


  11. Third question? What change could be made that might solidify the improvement.
    A closer.
    A certifide, genuine, real, major league, undeniable, cold blooded, heart healthy, strike throwin’ closer, that makes all these other relievers matter. After they show up and do their jobs, you hand him the ball for the ninth and he sends the other team to the showers shakin’ their heads and talkin’ about next time.
    That is the guy who turns your runs into wins and makes you the most improved team in the league.
    We’ve found some runs, we got some relievers, we’ll find a #5 starter, but we need a closer.


  12. For a treasure trove of analysis possibilities, has ranked all major league players 1-827 for fantasy league value:

    I believe Astros fans will find the rankings encouraging:

    o The Astros have several really good players
    o The Astros have their share of well above average players
    o The fancied prospects will have a cup of coffee in 2015
    o Astros alumni are not particularly fancied
    o #827 is no longer an Astro



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