Astros’ numbers of futility: The story of the 21st century


Numbers and statistics can be misleading. Some tell better stories than others and some are absolutely meaningless. Still others can be manipulated or twisted to support most any story. That’s why there are varying interpretations and arbitrators, and that’s why reasonable people reach different conclusions.

When you look at the Astros over the past few years, the numbers aren’t great at all. When you look a little deeper, it becomes a bit unsettling, if not horrifying.

I’m a champion of establishing a long-term plan, sticking to the plan and making a commitment to personnel. Of course, part of the success of that philosophy is finding good personnel, investing in them, sticking with them and providing good support. In other words, give them all the tools to succeed and set them up for success. For example, I’d be quite happy if Gerry Hunsicker and Larry Dierker were still in charge. I’d be good with Bill Brown and Jim Deshaies calling TV and radio.

But since 2000, the Astros have not done a good job building that foundation and establishing long-term viability and stability. Instead, the organization has moved from crisis to crisis. And it started long before Jim Crane and Jeff Luhnow showed up on the scene. The plans, the maneuvers, the personnel decisions, the relationships, the goals and the philososphies have been all over the map. Thus, the horrid numbers, stats, timelines, releases, trades, firings, empty seats, lawsuits, restarts, steps back and, of course, on-field losses.

Here are some of the numbers, both startling and certainly eye-opening. These are the numbers since 2000:

  • 18: First round draft picks.
  • 10: Number of managers, including interim.
  • 9: Opening day shortstops, and none back-to-back since Miguel Tejada (2008-09).
  • 8: Opening day starting pitchers, with Roy Oswalt the only repeat (8) performer.
  • 7: .500+ win seasons.
  • 6: Top 10 draft picks.
  • 6: First round draft picks who have made it to the majors (out of 18).
  • 5: GMs since 2000.
  • 5: Times a manager has been fired mid-season.
  • 3: Radio teams.
  • 3: 100-loss seasons.
  • 3: Playoff seasons.
  • 2: 90-win seasons.
  • 2: Owners (3 if you count Drayton I and Drayton II).
  • 1: Division titles.

And the staggering numbers continue. Regardless of how the outfield settles in, it will likely be the fifth consecutive completely different opening day outfield. Fifth. Consecutive. Completely. Different. Think about that. That means that 12 different players have started in the opening day outfield since 2011. Not a one of them has stuck to start the next season.

  • 2011: Hunter Pence, Michael Bourn, Carlos Lee.
  • 2012: J.D. Martinez, Jordan Schafer, Brian Bogusevic.
  • 2013: Chris Carter, Justin Maxwell, Brandon Barnes.
  • 2014: Robbie Grossman, Dexter Fowler, L.J. Hoes.
  • 2015: Likely Evan Gattis, Colby Rasmus, George Springer.

Only Grossman and Hoes have a chance to break the string, but that’s slim.

Only Jason Castro (3), Jose Altuve (3) and Matt Dominguez (2) have consecutive opening day streaks alive. As for All Stars, the last time an Astros’ pitcher was named to the team was 2007. The last time more than the obligatory, required one player made the team was 2009 (Pence, Tejada).

Taking in all of these numbers, it’s a bit disconcerting to note that some of these trends may continue for another 2-3 years. The outfield will likely change again to start next season, though George Springer should be a back-to-back representative. There’s a good possibility that shortstop will see its eighth consecutive different opening day starter in 2016 if Carlos Correa reaches Houston.

Of course, there have been highlights. There was a World Series, Houston added a member to the Hall of Fame (Craig Biggio) and featured its first batting title winner (Altuve) last year.

Still, the Astros need to build stability and foster an atmosphere of growth and a trend upward. But spring-boarding off Dan’s weekend post on Luhnow’s risk factors, here are a few key areas where the Astros should focus to establish stability.

  • Television. This must be Crane’s top — if not only — priority. If he has no other “wins” in 2015, this one should be it. If it is the only one, most fans would be thrilled. Spreading the TV “wealth” to all of Houston and other markets will appease fans and it will provide Luhnow with the cash to build the product.
  • Manager. Luhnow must work overtime to make A.J. Hinch successful. All things equal, Hinch should be the Astros manager into the next decade.
  • Build the nucleus and the image. As of today, there is no future nucleus, unless you count Altuve. At least a nucleus that is in place long-term. Within the next 2-3 years, Houston needs to create the image of the organization. Other than Altuve, who will the organization build around for the next decade? Remember the Killer Bs? Remember Mike Scott and that ’86 team? Determine the face and lock into it.
  • Share the plan. Fans and media aren’t bought in primarily because they don’t know what they’re buying into. Obviously, it’s not productive for Luhnow to show all the cards, but a general road map would start to build that needed relationship. This is actually an area where Luhnow has improved over the past 18 months.
  • Stay the course. Don’t get trigger happy. Don’t get scared. Crane has done this with Luhnow and he should continue to follow that course. Luhnow must build/repair his reputation as a trigger happy — sometimes gunshy (Brady Aiken, Ryan Vogelsong) — GM. Spend more time on building the relationships than running the numbers.

They say you can tell where a man or a team is going by looking to see where they have been. If you take the past 15 years, there’s a mixed bag of numbers, statistics and anecdotal narratives. The next five years will tell whether the downward spiral has been completely reversed or if the dark ages will continue for Houston baseball.

What say you?

  • Are you shocked by these numbers?
  • Which is the most shocking?
  • What’s your 3-or-5 step plan to reach stability?
  • Which players would you project as the nucleus (along with Altuve) for 2017 and beyond?
  • Which of these is more significant to creating stability: Crane, Luhnow or Hinch?
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24 comments on “Astros’ numbers of futility: The story of the 21st century

  1. Chip, during these past few seasons, I have remained an Astros’ fan but I have watched without a passion for the team. Now, after stating this, I find that I am shocked… SHOCKED by the numbers that you gave us. I had not accepted the fact that the team began its downhill spiral so drastically under McLane as much as I thought it occurred under Crane.

    The most shocking is five general managers since 2000. It is not a wonder that the team has been in the bottom of the standings because each GM brings in his own view of how a team is supposed to be built, how it is to perform, and how to draft or sign free agents to accomplish those views.

    How to reach stability?

    1. Fans. The fans are the lifeblood of the franchise. No fans, no revenue, no team. To begin with, the radio deals needs to be restructured. Clear Channel has four different am stations in Houston. Currently, the team games are carried on the second strongest station, in terms of signal strength, and that is 790. The signal is weak in the north. The team used to be carried on the sister station 740, a blowtorch of a signal station. Even now, the spring games are not carried live on the radio… a travesty! I cannot recall this happening at all in my life after discovering baseball in 1962. The late afternoon host on 740 stated that the team is so bad that revenue would be lost to the station and that live, local programming draws more revenue to the station. Makes sense except, IT ALSO HAPPENS ON THE WEEKENDS WHEN NATIONAL SHOWS ARE ON! Crane is shortchanging us true, hardcore fans. Get a contract with a real station that cares about the team. Next, get rid of the “dynamic” pricing of tickets! What a load of manure. I had been a season ticket holder and attended every opening day since 1997 but these higher prices for certain teams have totally turned me off. I am certain most fans feel the same. I have not renewed my seats since this went into effect and I refuse to pay a higher single game price. Third, get the television problems settled.

    2. Keep the front office and field staff consistent. People, who deserved it, have been fired and new people have been brought in. Steadiness is attractive to potential free agents and to players’ agents who must settle contracts for their clients. Of course, these new people must prove to be competent in their roles and if they are, keep them and reward them. No egomaniacs are needed but I am beginning to see that Luhnow could be one of these. We have already seen where this egotistical show has cost us players both in the draft and in free agency.

    3. On field players. Build a nucleus of players that can be the faces of the franchise for a good length of time. Make certain that they are good, major league caliber types that will win games, thus pull in fans, thus generating revenue, thus pull in good free agents, thus winning more games, etc. etc.

    Who would I like to see as the nucleus of the team in the near future? Of course Altuve as he has already shown up and is under a very team-friendly contract. Springer brings energy and promise of being a five-tool player for many seasons. Correa is a promising player who will bring steadiness at shortstop for many seasons to come. I cannot wait for him to be here. If Singleton can return to his prolific hitting of his minor league days I would be very happy to include him in the nucleus. Pitching… Keuchel, McHugh, Appel, McCullers, Hader, and Wojo would make a very good nucleus of a starting rotation that would make any Braves fan long for the days of Maddux and company.

    Jim Crane is the key creating stability in the organization. The buck stops with him… sometimes literally. I feel that after he breaks even and pays off his loans that he had to get to buy the team, he will then begin to spend more and become a better owner. We all know he played baseball himself but, in today’s reality, the money talks and he has to reduce his debt before he can become the team’s number one fan.

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  2. Chip – I think this tells a huge story.

    – I looked up some other numbers – since 2000.
    – 8 Pitching Coaches
    – 9 Hitting Coaches
    – 15 (15!!!) Bench coaches including 3 I would call interim.

    How the heck can you get any kind of traction with players if the teaching philosophy is changing every 15 minutes.

    – The problem I see is that when there are problems – they automatically fire a coach or coaches and then the next year fire the manager and the coaches. And most of this is to show the fans that they are doing something about the team, while doing very little about the players.
    – Firing Hunsicker and Dierker were bad moves and done for the wrong reasons (for what we understand

    Questions
    – I am not shocked as much as appalled by the numbers – it shows an organization in constant flux
    – I think the 5 GMs is shocking (I know Tal Smith was just an interim, but still. GMs should be the corner stone of the organization and should not be changed every 3 seasons or so. Ridiculous.
    – 3 -5 year plan

    -You need to stay the course with the GM, manager and the hitting and pitching coaches (unless they are totally incompetent) for 5 years. Just suck it up.
    – You need to get some of these top draft choices (Correa, Appel, others) up here quickly
    – You need the 2015 draft to give you (from your first 3 picks) at least two college kids who are not that far away from the biggies and you need to sign them.
    – You need to mix and match trades so that you have some trades bringing you prospects while others are bringing you guys that can play now.
    – You need Jim Crane to frigging decide he wants to joing the fraternitiy of super rich guys owning teams and get that payroll up to the middle (at least) of mlb teams. If he has to sell a golf course or his helicopter I don’t care.

    – The nucleus for 2017 onward – Gotta be Altuve, Correa, Appel, McHugh, Keuchel – not sure which of the other minor leaguers are going to be the real deal between Kemp, Reed, Velasquez, Cruz, Hernandez, Moran, Hader, others – but two or three of them have to be in the conversation too.

    – Crane is the key to stability, Luhnow to a lesser extent.

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    • Dan, stability and traction are the key words. One doesn’t happen without the other. There is a balance, a happy medium, between trigger happy and gun shy, but it’s difficult to get traction with constant change, which is the antithesis of stability.

      Yes, I believe these numbers are only the proverbial tip of the iceberg. If we were to dig deeper, it would likely be astonishing. But these staggering numbers do tell the story of an organization in disarray over the past 15 years.

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  3. Not shocked. The “New Plan” has to be (A) Television and (B) Money. So “Crane” is the last answer. If one uses $75 Million as he budget – everyone over $3 Million has to go. So Altuve is on the trade block by 2017. OR you have to have four (4) near rookies to have Feldman. Another four (4) for Neshek and Gregerson and so on. I did not write the rules for MLB – but it is a very expensive toy.

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  4. The sheer awesomeness of the numbers is damning. But when you stop and think about the circumstances, the numbers make sense.
    Drayton McLane was an owner from Hadies in his time from 2000-2011. He was too involved in running the team without knowing anything about it. He was just so bad at being an owner. His own desires clouded every move the team made and his obsession with the World Series wiped out all the common sense it takes to run a team on a long term basis. His emotions ruled his moves and as he wasted money time after time you could watch his patience wane and his temperament start to show in the way he ran the club. But the bottom line is that he should not have been running the club! He should have given that authority to someone who knew how to do it. But he hired guys to do things the way he wanted, not to make the organization well again.
    Jim Crane is an owner taken right out of the script of The Good Wife. Everything he touches, everything he says, everyplace he goes smells like your house does when you go on vacation for two weeks without remembering to take a full bag of garbage out of the kitchen. His team is like his marriage, like his businesses, like his charity, like his friends. It is like his Spring Training facilities, his AAA franchise, his helicopter and his clothes. They stink. The thought of shaking hands with this guy makes me crave Lava Soap. Crane is ethanol, he is a used car lot, weevils in the rice, a metal clothes hanger, someone else’s dog on my chair, a DPS driver’s license building, a grocery store with narrow aisles, a shower with no hot water, a boyfriend my daughter doesn’t want me to know, the woman who saves tigers on her ranch. the guy who brags how many deer he killed hunting year round again this year.
    It is going to be interesting to see if winning can bring back the fans and be the Lysol that gets out the stench or if it all ends up being Pine Sol, and smelling worse after it is used to try to cover up what smells so bad.
    Did you know that Jim Crane played baseball in college? Let me guess, he told himself.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Post of the year op. Nothing for me to add, except for that old adage provided to me by one of my bosses many year ago: “The fish stinks from the head down”. I keep hoping the minority owners will finally revolt and we’ll have coup.

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    • Holy guacamole batman – that is just one heckuva post old pro. I don’t watch the Good Wife, but I started watching House of Cards and so I think I know where this is going in your mind.

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  5. Old Pro, if you wrote a baseball book, I’d buy it. I’ve always been baffled with Drayton’s firing of Larry D. and his lack of appreciation for Hunsicker. I probably have better hopes for Crane than you do just because of this building through the draft approach. Of Course this depends on Luhnow not wasting the opportunity.

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    • Thanks Larry. I do have high hopes for Crane, also, but they are not printable.
      But my greatest hope for Jim Crane is that a HOF rancher with a lot of Angus cattle might buy Crane’s team and sit in Crane’s office, after a good cleansing, of course.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. This made me think, and I now must admit I’ve been a bit harsh about Luhnow cutting ties too quickly. I think I am craving consistency and the cupboard has been so bare that the players bringing excitement or promised improvement in the future get a higher perceived value in my mind.
    1. Not shocked
    2. 1st round picks. If you consistently miss, maybe it is time to pick guys you know can contribute…even with less ceiling. Trying to pick and turn a JUCO catcher into a pitcher is ludicrous.
    3. I don’t have a three step. We are following the course I would propose, but only if certain prospects pan out. We need for Appel, Wojo, Velasquez, or someone else to develop into a guy that can start October games.
    4. Springer and Keuchel. I have trouble projecting consistent success from the rest of the cast. I expect Carter to be gone and doubt Gattis can deliver during a stretch run. I want Singleton to succeed, but doubt leadership is in his future.
    5. Crane. Unless he is going to sell the team, he gets to decide what to pay and to whom.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. What is my 3-5 step plan to reach stability?
    1. Don’t worry about being overloaded or who is going to get enough AB’s or innings pitched. Injuries have a way of evening things out, so put your 25 best players on the 25-man roster and depend on your Fresno team for emergencies. Try to put your best team on the field.
    2. Don’t try to cheat the draft. You tried it once and it worked. You tried it twice and got burned as bad as a team can be burned. Play it straight. If you really are the genius at baseball that you think you are, you will come out ahead because of how great you are.
    3. Try the method suggested by the guys on this blog. Graduate 2-3 prospects a year to the team. As long as we’ve been rebuilding, there’s a chance we won’t have a rookie on the team when we break camp, and that doesn’t seem like we have done a very good job developing our own guys.
    4. Be smart. If Tony Kemp hits .300 w/ a high OBP and wins a Gold Glove, why are you moving him to CF. You have Springer, Marisnick, Aplin, Hernandez, Phillips, Derek Fisher, and Jason Martin in CF. Just because you have Altuve now, doesn’t mean you couldn’t use a terrific 2B in a couple of years, or that somebody won’t trade you someone you might really need for Kemp a year or two from now, because they need a great little 2B. Constantly moving players around might mean you end up with a DDJ, worth little.
    5. Hire a financial wizard to make enough money with “your” money to be able to afford a great baseball team once you get it. If you plan to run a $100million club , hire a genius who know how to generate that income from your billion dollar assets. If you are going to plan on multiple championships, you have got to plan on paying players who win championships. over a period of years.

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    • Real good point here – if you think Chris Carter or Evan Gattis can learn to play outfield over a single March at a high enough level, you should already understand a guy like Kemp can probably become competent over a couple days’ time and become great through on the job training. Keep your assets where they have their highest value.

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  8. Excellent post Chip. I think you have isolated an important question, and you have done so from perspectives that I had not considered.

    Overall, Luhnow has to be responsible for restoring stability and success to the franchise. He has to make sure Hinch has whatever he needs, and he needs to manage his relationship with Crane so that Crane knows what the plan is.

    Recently, there has been some press that Crane has been pushing for more success this year or thinking that it should have occurred sooner. To the degree that this may be true, it shows that Luhnow hasn’t managed several relationships properly. Evan Drellich is the source for the comment about Crane, and about many other issues for the organization. The Feliz Rule 5 issue, the Vogelsong issue, and to some degree the Appel bullpen issue, all seem to be relatively minor stories that are given more emphasis than they seem to deserve. As for Crane himself, he has payed an average of $46 million in salary though his first three
    years, and I do not understand why he would think that would be enough money to be a winner. Luhnow needs to make sure Crane knows where the team and has realistic objectives. My other point would be that Luhnow and the press do not have a good relationship, although, as I think you noted, Luhnow is getting better. It is still a problem and to me it undermines stability and obscures some of the positive progress that has been made.

    On to the questions:

    Are you shocked by these numbers?
    No.Drayton II was very bad for this organization.

    Which is the most shocking?
    7: .500+ win seasons. I would have said under.

    \What’s your 3-or-5 step plan to reach stability?
    1. Keep looking at numbers and communicate with them. This is meant to describe internal communications and to stay the course on the ‘system’.
    2. Develop succession plans. I saw over the off season that a friend of Strom was appointed to be pitching coach at AAA. I only remember that his nickname was ‘Ace’. This is probably a step to ensure continuity on the pitching side. On the offensive side, I don’t recall hearing if the assistant hitting coach is still with the team or not, but having people lined up will help maintain consistency.
    3. Make it about the game. – No more stories about the front office. Make it about the team and the game.

    Which players would you project as the nucleus (along with Altuve) for 2017 and beyond?
    Correia
    Whoever signs the right deal. I see a Cardinals type stategy here. If they are successful, there will be money, but only to a certain point.

    Which of these is more significant to creating stability: Crane, Luhnow or Hinch?
    Has to be Luhnow.

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    • Interesting answers gcp. Whether Crane or Luhnow is more significant to creating stability might be considered a toss-up. Luhnow has a lot of responsibility to keep Crane’s expectations reasonable as you say and he can keep changing coaches and managers on an annual merry-go-round. Crane however can completely change the “Plan” by tossing out Luhnow and hiring somebody completely new (who would also end up with his manager and his coaches, etc). So they both have big tie-ins to stability.

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      • I would argue that Crane can destroy stability in the manner you suggest, but that he cannot create it by doing so. Certainly the owner is going to have a tie-in to stability, but if Luhnow goes, it is difficult to see stability being created as a result.

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  9. The challenge for Luhnow with Crane is something that Hunsicker could not accomplish with McLane. Luhnow must manage Crane’s expectations and constantly re-sell The Plan and keep it on course. If Crane gets antsy or anxious and ratchets up his expectations and they aren’t in line with The Plan, things get a bit out of kilter.

    Since Luhnow obviously got an extension last fall and Crane agreed that Porter needed to go, it soiunds as though Luhnow and Crane are pretty much on the same page. It’s in Luhnow’s best interest that he “manage” that relationship — and the one with Hinch — extremely well in the coming year or so…

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    • So I wonder how receptive Crane would be to “Well if you want more success right now – we can drop the plan and you can double the payroll.” I’m guessing not too receptive.

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  10. Which players would I project as a nucleus for 2017 and beyond?
    Singleton, Altuve, Correa, Moran, Springer, Keuchel, Appel, Feliz.
    This was a very tough question for me because of Reed and Singleton. I can see both of them at 1B, but I honestly think that Singleton has a chance to be very good if he gets his personal life in order. With the DH there may be room for both.
    But the single most valuable player of them all could be a Stassi who hits .250 at the major league level. He is slotted perfectly in time to be ready at the right moment. I think he is a very important player in our system.
    I see Phillips added to the list by 2018.

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