The “Why” behind the Astros off-season moves


In previous posts the subject of the Astros closing their runs allowed vs. runs scored gap has been discussed. In their three 100-loss seasons the Astros gave up between 1.11 (2011) and 1.47 (2013) runs more per game than their opponents. Last season, they improved that to only a 0.58 run/game deficit mostly on the back of the improved starting rotation on the pitching side (a 0.77 run/game improvement) while having a very modest o.11 run/game improvement on the hitting side.

In 2014 the Astros scored only 3.88 runs/game (14th in the AL), while giving up 4.46 runs/game (12th in the AL). They needed to flip those numbers to have a chance at a record over .500. GM Jeff Luhnow went after low hanging fruit on the pitching side (the bullpen had a league worst 4.80 ERA in 2014), investing fairly strongly on that side of the ledger with the signings of Luke Gregerson and Pat Neshek. For what it’s worth, during this spring training the Astros’ bullpen has been fifth best in the AL with a 3.94 ERA.

On the other side of the ledger, the Astros needed to find some offense in an era of failing offenses.

Year Run / Game Ks / Season BBs/ Season HR / Season BA OBP SLG OPS
2009 AL Avg 4.82 1094 550 183 .267 .336 .428 .764
2014 AL Avg 4.18 1216 473 144 .253 .316 .360 .706
2014 Astros 3.88 1442 495 163 .242 .309 .383 .694

This chart shows how the league average changed in basic hitting stats for an average AL team between 2009 and 2014 and where the Astros stood last season. The huge drop in runs scored/game catches one’s eye. In addition, it is interesting that the Ks increased so much league-wide while the walks fell. Pitchers are catching up with the concept that batters are looking to see more pitches and are getting ahead in the count by throwing strikes on early counts.

What the chart does not show is that the top five teams in OPS in 2009 were also the top five in runs scored in the league and in 2014 the top five in OPS were in the top six in runs scored. Another fact is that just because a team tends to strike out a lot does not keep it from scoring runs. The Twins were in the top five in runs scored and Ks and the Angels were sixth in Ks while leading the league in walks.

It appears that Luhnow was chasing better OPS in the offseason and did not care if more strikeouts might be part of the equation.

In 2014 the Astros gave 1624 ABs to players with what would be considered inferior OPS numbers: L.J. Hoes (.517 OPS), Jesus Guzman (.520),  Matt Dominguez (.586), Marc Krauss (.601), Jonathan Villar (.620) and Jon Singleton (.620).

Armed with that info, Luhnow went and got the following people:

  • Evan Gattis – .771 and .810 OPS in his first two seasons.
  • Luis Valbuena – .708 and .776 OPS in his last two seasons.
  • Colby Rasmus – .840 and .735 OPS his last two seasons (.751 career)
  • Jed Lowrie – .741 OPS for his career.

Now Luhnow did trade off  Dexter Fowler (.774 OPS) but it was to shore up the worst OPS position on the ball club at third base. It is pretty obvious that he is hoping for a significant improvement in OPS, maybe to .720 and a boost up in runs scored to 4.20 per game or more.

For what it’s worth, again, in 2015 spring training the Astros are third in the AL in runs scored/game (5.38) and second in OPS (.801).

So does the mad professor know what he is doing?

 

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78 comments on “The “Why” behind the Astros off-season moves

  1. Reasons why he made the moves:
    1. More money to work with
    2, Worst Left handed batting stats in baseball.
    3. More money to work with
    4. Luhnow learned that older players are undependable statistically.
    5. More money to work with.

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  2. I sense a pattern here….and by the way – great minds think alike. I wrote this with the spring training stats in there and then saw where you had written about the #2 OPS on Chip’s previous post.

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    • Dan, since the post is about Luhnow and his offseason performance, the Forbes article detailing the financial strengths of the MLB teams is so telling in judging Luhnow’s performance.
      The worth jump of all the teams is astounding. but the Astros value went from $530mil last march to $800mil this March and yet the Astros are starving compared to the rest of the league.
      Believe it or not, Luhnow’s first 3 years are going to prove to be his easiest years because he had no pressure. Once he fields a .500 club and has to find players in the middle of each round, rather than the beginning and doesn’t have the first choice in waiver wire pickups, he will have to show his genius. When he succeeds on the field and needs to start paying premium money to our guys, it is going to be really hard to keep the players on a $90-100 mil budget when other teams have twice as much money per year.
      The hard part of his job will come when players the Astros drafted and helped the team get respectable start to get close to free agency and the Astros can’t afford to pay them. That’s when we will find out if Luhnow is a genius. Being the GM of the 2020 Astros could be one of the hardest jobs in the majors, and that will be when a rich club comes in and lures Luhnow away, like the Dodgers did with Friedman.

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      • op – you have to wonder how this is going to go, you can compete with a smaller payroll done smartly, but if we are stuck at a huge disadvanatge forever – that is not a sure thing. If they have big success between now and 2020 will they be able to turn that into money some other way?

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  3. Today we are told it is down to Wojo and Hernandez for the #5 spot in the rotation. Wojo is on the 40-man and Hernandez is not. Wojo is cheap and Hernandez is not. Wojo has out-pitched Hernandez this spring in all statistics except one, but that is a big stat as far as the Astros are concerned. Wojo has options, Hernandez does not.
    This is a big decision for the Astros because going with Wojo frees up a starter spot in Fresno, opens a roster spot on the Astros, and saves the Astros about $2 million dollars.
    If Hernandez gets the spot, it will be because of GO/AO. Hernandez gets a ton of grounders, and Wojo gets a ton of fly balls.
    Another, much smaller reason will be that if they keep Hernandez, they also can keep Wojo, whereas the opposite is probably not true. If Hernandez stays, that $2 million difference indicates to me that money is no longer the single most important factor in determining the roster.

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    • I hit on this yesterday. WHY would you pay Hernandez $2 million+ and HOPE the guy can still stay healthy, and pitch like he did in 2010, when you have a talented young guy like Wojo who has out pitched him in spring training? If either one of them went down, you still have Strailey in Fresno, who could come up at any time.
      It appears to me that Hernandez has Luhnow by the neck, in telling him it’s now or never to make up his mind…….and you and I *know* where Luhnow is headed with this…. Wojo WILL start the season in Fresno.

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      • Becky, the fact that Wojo gives up almost two flyballs to every groundball is not a small deal, especially in MMP.
        But I think there is something else here that makes a difference. Do you remember all of the yo-yoing the Astros had to do last year with their starting pitchers from OKC to Houston and back? Having Wojo, Hernandez, Straily, and Peacock all available in May may mean more to the Astros than letting Hernandez go to save $2million. And that tells me that the Astros have turned a corner in their thinking about just saving money and sacrificing wins.
        Two years ago, they would have never signed a Hernandez to that kind of deal. They would have thrown a pitcher like Straily into the #5 slot when he wasn’t good enough just to save $2million and gotten him pummeled. Remember Humber?
        If Wojo gets the slot, I’m even happier, because it means they have enough confidence in him to let Hernandez walk, especially with Peacock in Fresno for insurance.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Hopefully nobody will repeat the 2013 start of Humber (0-8 7.90 ERA) or to a lesser extent 2014 with Lucas Harrell (0-3 9.49 ERA). Whoever they choose should be able to show they belong even if it is only the 4th or 5th spot in the rotation.

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    • I would really rather have the younger guy with upside myself, but can understand it if they go with Hernandez. The good thing is that they actually have some viable choices for making this decision not giving a guy the job by default.

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  4. Hernandez wasn’t bad in 2014. It was a high upside invite to spring training that will cost less than the league average if they keep him. I’ll be surprised if they let him go – it’s not like there is much of a safety net right now. You can cite Straily, Peacock, and Wojo, but one of those pitched himself to Fresno this Spring, one isn’t recovered from his injury enough to be in the mix, and the other is not the type of pitcher Luhnow favors. Also, Keuchel and mcHugh hit career highs in 2014 for IP, Feldman is a year older, and Olberholtzer (did he win the fourth spot without even throwing?) has already been hurt.

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    • Devin – you almost convinced me to re-open the Jarred (Mr. Hustle II) Cosart discussion about why we need to hold onto our pitching… haha
      But I think both you and op are right that holding on to Hernandez gives you the most coverage and the most flexibility.

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    • Do they have to decide on Hernandez before Wojo’s next start? I know he is supposed to be told a certain amount of days before opening day….

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      • hernandez start on sat is his last before his opt out deadline. i think they probably go with hernandez because it allows for more depth in the system and you can pretty much expect some injuries and/or ineffective starts along the way this season that will cause you to need it. i like wojo and hope he gets his chance, but i think the smart move is to keep as many as possible, that means woo to AAA to get stretched out and ready for the inevitable call up.

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      • That makes the most sense rj. I guess the assumption is that Obie (who pitched a couple innings with the minor league team the other day) will be fully ready too.

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    • dave i think if the club gets off to a decent start and attendance improves (along with the TV deal) you’ll see the team get less cheap. they have increased the budget and will increase again when they have additional revenue.

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      • And if they get in a tough financial situation, Crane can sell some cufflinks or a helicopter or a country club or two

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      • As much as I want to see Wojo get the nod, it is probably wiser to pay Hernandez to start the season in the rotation. Guys will continue to get injured and Wojo will get a shot at some point regardless. That said, I think they go the cheap route and let Hernandez go. And I think we’ll also see Presley rather than a guy like Grossman, simply because we’ve already guaranteed him a million. Just the cynic in me coming out again.

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      • daveb – I hope that they are beyond that – that they are making decisions for non-money reasons. Heck they have swallowed a few million here and there before like when they released Pena. They are not Jack Benny. Not quite.

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  5. Like I said………I think we ALL know what’s going to happen here.
    Fausto Carmona will get the 5th. spot, and a very talented, well deserving Wojo
    will be in Fresno, California. It is what it is.

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    • You would think if any one would be changing his name it would be the guy named Wojciechowski, not the guy named Carmona.
      Fausto Carmona sounds like:
      – A Saint in the Catholic church
      – A good merlot
      – A small town in southern Italy
      – A nice pasta dish with chicken and parmesan

      Looking at the last 3 – I must be hungry.

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  6. If I had to pick one it would be Matsui, because he would never get to play with Altuve here and he could spend all of his time on that hard bench in the dugout, in pain!

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  7. I’ve been rather testy in the two days……..this whole taking an airplane with 150 people into the mountains. I just can’t wrap my brain around it. But…..I think you got the message that I want Wojo to break camp with the big club.

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    • Yup! Guessing Luhnow won’t be commenting, but incredible vindication!! Credibility with agents, players, GMs, et al just shot thru the roof. Amazing the kid may never get back that $5 million!

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      • Wow amazing everyone and I mean everyone through Luhnow and the Astros under the bus for months . I mean some ugly stuff. I’m with you Old Pro, keep the Change. Who was his agent I forget?

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  8. Brady Aiken had TJ Surgery yesterday. And like the little pimple he is, wouldn’t even man up and mention the Astros or the fact that he and his agent tried to paint the Astros as the bad guys when in reality he and his people are the jerks.
    I don’t wish him bad luck physically but I’d love to order a double meat cheese Whopper and fries from him someday. Keep the change!

    Liked by 2 people

    • I have to figure that between his parents, agent, medical experts and others, the kid did not have a whole bunch of control over his own destiny. And I doubt he had much of a say in “his” statement. Throw the Cosart controversy in there and it’s been a banner week for Luhnow!

      Liked by 3 people

    • And then throw in Folty robbing a bank, Tropeano stealing cookies from a Girl Scout and Jordan Lyles clipping the tag off his mattress – it can’t get any better than tnis.

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    • Before everyone gets too excited, I watched Carlos Rodon stroke out 9 Royals (that team that won the AL in 2014) in 4 innings yesterday and Kris Bryant is hitting .406 with 9 HR and a lot of K’s for the Spring.

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  9. I’m sorry people, but to be gloating because a high school kid had TJ surgery strikes me as a little sick. Everyone seems to forget that JL offered that bad arm $5 Million or at least attempted to do so.

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      • I believe he needed to offer $3.1M to get the comp pick. Which was the offer right after the physical. Later, it is unclear if he offered $5 M or at least tried to call and offer that amount. What was reported was that was the final offer. (I was not there and have no inside info). And I want to be clear, the physical showed a possible problem. I think JL was well within his rights and business sense to lower the offer to the level that allowed him this year’s pick. The kid was damaged goods in the Astros eyes. It was the subsequent upping to $5 M and the dumping of Nix that caused people – not in Houston – to think it was bad faith negotiating. And all of this happened after the kids were flown to Houston for the “signings.”

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      • the original offer was 6.5 million (1.5 below slot value). after the physical astros offered 3.1 million (40% of slot value) which insured a compensatory (#2 overall) pick if there was no signing. the astros made three more offers the last of which was the 5 million. aiken and camp refused to sign. so astros get #2 pick and an enormous amount of slot money (combined with the other picks) to use. very good article about this at si.com

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    • The rest of the baseball world now looks at the Aiken incident through a whole new set of eyes. Luhnow is proven to be correct. Nobody is gloating over a high school kid’s arm.They are looking at a family and an agent who tried to screw the Astros and are now caught. That arm was bad and he and his folk and the Astros knew it and he’s the one who lied to the rest of the world. The gig is up.
      Face it. Aiken and Cosart are not the victims anymore.

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      • My disagree with you 1OP. How does a high school kid throwing a baseball 97 MPH know that he has an unusual arm. He was not trying to sell damaged goods, or at least there is no record of that.

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      • ac45, Aiken knew he had a bad arm because the Astros and their doctors told him so. After that happened he knew they couldn’t reveal it and defend their position for fear of a lawsuit, and so he and his agent and his family trashed the Astros position publicly, subjected them to media scorn and ruined Nix and Marshalls’s chance to get paid and put it out there that he had doctors who said he was fine.
        Thirteen pitches later he’s under the knife.
        Now everything is out in the open for all to see and still some people can’t see it.

        Liked by 1 person

      • I think the point is that we are not ecstatic that the young man is hurt we are just glad that the judgment of the FO was proven correct. It gives us more confidence in their decision process going forward.

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    • I don’t anyone is gloating. We just feel the media treated Luhnow unfairly and, it appears, Luhnow has been vindicated. Regarding the raising of the offer to $5M I think Luhnow felt that it was still worth the risk to get Aiken and Nix at roughly $6.2M. When you are negotiating you don’t come back with your best offer right away. Luhnow offered the minimum to protect the #2 pick and made one last effort to sign both Aiken and Nix. I don’t fault him for that.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. OP, you think the kid knew he had a bad wing? I think he may well have had an inclination, but I’m suggesting that he never really had a say in his own development, that those adults charged with protecting his best interests were instead looking at him as a commodity rather than as than as a growing boy.

    Just another reason why it is so much more risky to take a 17 or 18 year old high school kid high in the draft. Those guardian angels and agents are driving a payday rather than parenting.

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    • You wonder where there is more success for high school pitchers – those who go pro too young or those who go to college where some of them are forced to throw 150+ pitches….A lot of college coaches go to the Dusty Baker school of pitch count.

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      • That’s a complex question, Dan. Most high school kids can’t break 80mph on their fastball. Those who can top 85 get a lot of interest from schools. Those who can touch 90 get a lot of pro interest. Add in that the ages for seniors in hs ranges from 17-19 and you have trouble forecasting how much growth a prospect will be able to attain.

        If we consider just one pitcher who looks to be equally successful in college or low-A ball, my vote for better development would be at the college level. 120 pitches every seven days isn’t that big a deal and may be less stress than 100 every five. The key is yanking a pitcher when fatigue takes its toll, in my opinion, increasing the chance of minor injuries and strains. However, I would also interview former players to get an idea about a coach before letting my son sign with a school. Some are a bit too old school.

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      • Another thing to consider. When did dear old dad have his son start throwing breaking balls? That could have started the arm on a course that would having it break down at the age of 18.

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    • I’m only saying he knew it when the Astros told him about it. Whether anyone knew it before that, we’ll probably never know.

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  11. Jandel Gustave got picked up by the Padres off waivers – they have to keep him on the mlb roster or DL or offer him back to the Astros.

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    • Unfortunately, Gustave would have to go through waivers again, before he gets offered back to the Astros.
      For a young pitcher who would be in Astros’ minor league camp, this is not a bad thing. He instead got to be in the Royals’ MLB camp and now in the Padres’ camp. I’d say he had a pretty good spring for a young prospect who was targeted to be in Lancaster.

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      • I think there is a high chance that a kid that has never been above A Ball may end up passing through waivers to us sometime during the season.

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