Why Mike Fiers matters to Houston; why Singleton’s weight does not

So, I was reliving some glory from 2015 over the last few days, watching snippets from games. And I watched some of the post-game interviews after Mike Fiers‘ no-hitter.

You remember that, right? Aug. 21, Fiers walks a lone batter in each of the first three innings, then just takes over, leaving the Dodgers scratching their heads and wondering what the heck happened.

After the game, one of the reporters at the press conference asked A.J. Hinch if having a guy like Fiers throw a no-no was “improbable.”

Hinch, who is quickly becoming my favorite Astros manager ever, shot down that theory immediately. Maybe that’s just a manager having his player’s back (are you listening, Bo Porter?), but I think it’s a little more.

In fact, after that no-hitter, Fiers had six more starts in the regular season for Houston. Four of those six were quality starts. The other two: he pitched 5 innings, giving up 4 runs, the other he went 5.2 IP giving up 4 runs (3 ER). So it’s not like he wasn’t giving the team a bit of a chance to win. His record in these six outings, 1-1 with four no-decisions.

Looking back, Fiers seemingly figured it out in 2014 with a 2.13 ERA in 71 innings, Fiers regressed some in 2015 with a combined (Houston and Milwaukee) ERA of 3.69. But, as we all know, ERA is not the most reliable stat.

But I think there are a couple of things that will work in Fiers’ favor in 2016. First, his FIP tends to be a bit higher than his ERA. That means good fielding benefits Fiers more than other pitchers. This was especially true once he got to Houston.

Well, the Astros have an excellent defense. Gold Glove at second base. Former Gold Glover in center field. Fantastic fielders at all three outfield positions really. Plus Correa and Valbuena in the infield.

Listening to the post-game interviews from several of his games, it seems Hinch and Brett Strom are trying to develop a plan for Fiers that plays to his strengths much like what they did for Collin McHugh. In an interview with MLB Network, he mentioned how Strom had a game plan for him that differed from what he did with the Brewers.

In the end, this is a guy with 404 IP in the majors who owns a 3.61 ERA. His lifetime FIP is 3.73 and he brings a WHIP of 1.21. All this from a guy who will be fourth or fifth in the Astros rotation.

It’s this quality of depth — a guy who is probably third-best or even competing for that No. 2 spot in the rotation on some teams — that makes a guy like Fiers so important to Houston.

A Tale of Two Bellies
Not bellies, really, but weight.

So there were a couple of stories at Astros.com about first basemen reporting to camp, and how much each weighed. Take what you want from these reports.

The first was a story about everyone’s favorite million-dollar minor leaguer, Smokey Jon Singleton. Despite the fact he claimed to have chilled all winter, apparently Singleton spent the winter puffing — I mean pumping — up in the weight room.

OK ..?

I wasn’t aware that a lack of muscle was his big issue, but maybe some added strength will help with his bat speed or something? I’m not a biomechanical specialist. But if bulking up was his answer, then adding 15 pounds of muscle was the right choice.

I guess …

The second story concerned everyone’s favorite minor league player of the year, A.J. Reed. The formerly flabby first baseman showed up to camp in the best shape of his life. Well, certainly the best shape of his professional life.

Apparently — according to the article — he spent the winter working out and taking ground balls. OK, so on the surface that doesn’t seem too dissimilar to what Singleton did. After all, if Big Jon just took some ground balls now and then — and I’m willing to give him the benefit of that doubt — then it sounds pretty identical to what Reed did.

But then why do these two stories sound so dissimilar? The Singleton story seems like an apology about the guy who ate a whole cake in one sitting. The Reed story reads like something from Shape magazine.

I’m looking forward to watching some spring games just to see the difference in their physiques.

I won’t even discuss how one is a whiff machine while the other has all the power but also seems to have great bat-to-ball skills. Something that, you know, is probably enhanced more by being in shape than being bulky.

Of course, round is a shape. But there’s a reason I’m not a major leaguer.

I look at Fiers and see an unsung hero who might really be a key piece as the season goes along. Any other unsung heroes you looking at? Marwin Gonzalez? Will Harris? Tony Sipp? Jake Marisnick?

As the players trickle into camp, we’ll get some of these stories from Chron (spit!), MLB.com and even (this is the crazy part) the national media. What stories are you on the lookout for?

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What a difference a year — or two — makes for Astros

So, right now we’re all looking over the National League, trying to figure out who the Astros will play in the World Series and checking Trip Advisor to get an early look at hotel prices in San Francisco, New York and Chicago (just kidding) for late October.

Yeah, the times they are a changin’.

I remember last year saying the Astros would win 81-85 games, finish third in the division and miss the playoffs but give it a good run. Obviously, my predictions will aim a little higher in 2016.

So, what were we looking at this time last year … and the year before that?

Well, as we wait for breathless reports of pitchers and catchers unpacking their toiletries in their lockers, high fiving old teammates and making reservations at a steakhouse before hitting the field to stretch tomorrow, here’s a look back.

Feb. 18, 2015. Chip wrote a rather prescient piece on the depth of our minor leagues at each position.

* His top first baseman? A guy named A.J. Reed that most of us knew only as the Golden Spikes winner who could also pitch.

* Preston Tucker was the fourth-best outfielder. Two of the ones higher on the list are now with the Brewers. The best guys on this list are now younger — Kyle Tucker and Daz Cameron — but I’m pretty sure we all miss Brett Phillips.

  • Even with the graduation of Carlos Correa, Nolan Fontana is still the second-best shortstop in the Astros’ minor league system.
  • The list of pitchers has been decimated. So long Mark Appel and Vincent Velasquez. That said, with the emergence of Joe Musgrove and Frances Martes … plus the return of Michael Feliz, do we miss them that much?

The whole article has nary a mention of Tyler White or Matt Duffy. Or Chris Devenski for that matter.

Of course looking over the article from 2015 doesn’t seem all that out of place. A few names have changed, but we’re talking about many of the same guys. Preston Tucker, Lance McCullers and Carlos Correa are still hot topics. Many of the same minor leaguers would make a similar list this year.

A few days later, Chip again gave us a post about decisions facing Jeff Luhnow. First base was on the agenda, with Chip suggesting the ball was in John Singleton’s court.

Yeah …

Starter options looked like Roberto Hernandez, Dan Straily, Brad Peacock and Sam Deduno.

But looking back to Feb. 18, 2014, we have an interesting look at Carlos Correa coming out of his low A season at Quad Cities and how a big spring in 2014 just might catapult him past Jonathan Villar in 2015.

Interesting, yes. But for my money, I’ll go back an extra day to Dan’s tragic look at how a revamped bullpen can catapult a team to respectability.

Tragic? Well, the point he makes about the 2011 Diamondbacks bullpen (an improved unit from the 2010 version) and the 2008 Rays bullpen (vs. the bad version in 2007) and how those pens changed the complexion of their teams is spot on.

He then goes on to write about how Chad Qualls, Matt Albers and Jesse Crain (yikes!) will alter the landscape of the Astros’ fortunes. This was so bad, Crain was seen as the closer, and he never pitched again in the majors after that article was written. He did pitch in the AFL for the White Sox last year, but his Baseball Reference page still shows him in an Astros cap.

Like I said. Yikes.

Go a day later on Feb. 19, 2014, and you have a cringe-worthy piece by Chip (believe me, my “What The Heck Was He Thinking” stories are littered across the landscape a couple of years ago) that takes a look at potential diamonds in the rough.

Peter Moylan — the Aussie with the down-under motion — is now providing pitching depth in the Royals’ system. He actually logged 10.1 decent IP for Atlanta last year.

The other gem in hiding was Alex White, who looks to be out of baseball.

The point here isn’t to pick on Chip — or Alex White or Peter Moylan — but to look at how far we’ve come.

Today, our diamonds in the rough story would be about which excellent first base prospect we send out to the pillow at Yankees (spit!) Stadium on opening day. Our biggest worry in the rotation is which major leaguer with a proven track record will start the season in the Astros bullpen. Our biggest concern in the outfield is whether Preston Tucker — a guy with an OPS above .730 — will make the squad.

Rejoice Astros fans.

So, what did you worry about in 2014 or 2013 (or even this time last year) that doesn’t concern you anymore?

What do you think will be less worrisome in 2017? Is there anything that will keep you up nights this time next year? Contract extensions? How those World Series rings are messing with everyone’s grip on the bat?

Brian T: What will I be watching this spring?

So, we’re about three and a half weeks from Spring Training games. Welcome back to the Grapefruit League, folks! Well, in 24 days. But you get my point.

So, what will I be watching for this spring?

Honestly, this could be a boring spring in many ways. We don’t have six position battles and three rotation spots open. On the rotation side of things, the only question is which very solid, competent, experienced Major League starter will nail down the back-end of the rotation? Scott “When I’m Healthy, I’m Better Than Average And It’s A Free Agent Walk Year” Feldman, or Doug “Same Here” Fister?

Yawn.

I’m pretty sure we all know who’ll be manning the three outfield spots in the bottom of the first inning at Yankee Stadium on Opening Day. Barring any injuries (I’m looking at you, George Springer!) it’ll be Colby “Qualifying Offer” Rasmus, Carlos “Way Too Excited” Gomez and “Bounce Back” Springer.

Zzzzzz …

Oh, sure, we’ll all be looking to see who that fourth – and possibly fifth – outfielder might be. And maybe – MAYBE – Fister edges past Mike “No-No” Fiers for the fourth spot, moving Fiers to the fifth spot.

So, what are we waiting to see this spring? Well, here are the nine most intriguing story lines for this spring in ascending order. So, without any further delay, let’s have a look at what might keep your attention during the Grapefruit League games:

9. Signs of change
Looking at the players who impacted – negatively – the Astros’ offense the most, the ones coming back who might be up for a bounce back season, or at least an improvement over 2015, are Luis Valbuena and Evan Gattis. Both showed a lot of power (25 HRs and a .438 SLG for Valbuena, 27 HR and a .463 SLG for Gattis) but both also couldn’t get on base decently (.310 OBP and .285 respectively). Awful BABIPs were the main concern, though neither was bad at BABIP too far beyond their norms. Still, an upswing in BABIP this spring might be a good sign.

8. Backup catcher
Once Jason Castro is signed for $5 million (he’s not worth the extra $250,000), the focus will move toward his back up. Max Stassi or Tyler Heineman are the obvious choices, but watch to see if Gattis puts on the old backstop equipment this spring.

7. Upsetting the apple cart
The late cuts could lead to some roster crunches. In 2014 Spring Training, the Astros cut J.D. Martinez and added Alex Presley. Or maybe a Chris Devenski, Michael Feliz or Joe Musgrove puts up numbers that push for a roster spot. In that case, maybe some other team is willing to pick up a healthy Scott Feldman. Maybe (Lord forbid) Altuve strains a muscle or two and needs a few weeks R&R. You never know when a trade or an injury will upset the whole equation.

6. The bench
Let’s see: Nine offensive starters, five in the rotation, seven guys in the bullpen. That’s 21 players. You need that backup catcher, so if it’s not Gattis, there’s a spot. That leaves three places. Marwin Gonzalez is one. Jake Marisnick is one. Who gets that last spot?

5. That last bullpen spot
Is the bullpen set? You’ve got Ken Giles, Luke Gregerson, Pat Neshek, Tony Sipp, Will Harris and a long reliever (Scott Feldman?). Who gets that seventh spot? Is it Josh Fields? Michael Feliz? Someone from AA or AAA?

4. Any kids pushing for a roster spot
Which brings me to the kids. Are either Musgrove or Feliz pushing for a roster spot? Feliz is already on the 40-man roster, so moving him to Houston is not a huge burden. Bringing up A.J. Reed before Super Two (and giving Singleton that chance to fail) seems more unlikely. But if he crushes it in the Grapefruit League, the clamoring will only intensify.

3. The final rotation spot
Fiers, Fister or Feldman? Or Feliz? Still, whoever brings up the last spot is important. They need to be healthy, effective – especially against another team’s No. 5 – and an innings eater.

2. Third base
This spot is essentially Luis Valbuena’s to lose. That said, Colin Moran, Tyler White and Matt Duffy will all make their case. Oh, and don’t forget J.D Davis.

1. First base
Speaking of Duffy, White and the aforementioned J.R. Reed will all be vying to unseat pseudo-incumbent John Singleton. There are 40-man and Super Two considerations to, well, consider. But do you care? I will be watching for any sign of weakness from Singleton.

So, what will pique your interest this spring?

The $250,000 message to Jason Castro

So, as readers here are aware, the Astros exchanged arbitration numbers with catcher Jason Castro recently. Castro and his agent, Relativity Baseball, have asked for $5,250,000. The Astros countered with an even $5 million.

In the grand scheme of baseball salaries, a lousy quarter million dollars is chump change. And in the end, it doesn’t matter. This is arbitration. If the two sides cannot decide on an amount, Castro will either play for $5 million or $5.25 million.

But when it comes to 2017, Castro’s first year in free agency, the fact that Luhnow is drawing such a strict line means Castro is probably on his way out, especially if he has a middling year like he did in 2015.

Defensively, Castro’s 1.2 dWAR. Not bad, but how did he compare to other catchers? Well, in the AL, his Rdrs/yr (defensive runs saved averaged over 1,200 innings or roughly 135 games) was 15, which ranked third in the AL among catchers who caught at least half of their team’s games. His RF/G (range factor/game) was fifth best among those catching half their games. And he caught a decent 36 percent of runners trying to steal.

The problem for Castro is that he did all this while putting up a .211/.283/.365 slash line with just 11 HRs and a K-rate at about 34 percent.

Good defense. Not great, but pretty good. But lousy offense.

Meanwhile, in small sample sizes, Max Stassi’s defensive numbers were way better than Castro’s numbers. And, honestly, can his offense be any worse?

Well, maybe. His slash line — in Fresno — was .211/.279/.384 with 13 HRs and a 32 percent K-rate.

The “other” two catchers at AAA in 2015 were Luis Flores and Trent Woodward. Flores seems like a place holder. Woodward, meanwhile, across four levels — he skipped Lancaster — .284/.361/.345 with just one homer but a K-rate below 25 percent. He certainly won’t be ready in 2016, but 2017 might be another matter.

Of course, there’s one other AA and AAA catcher we all need to look at, and that’s Tyler Heineman. Heineman put up a .285/.334/.379 slash with just three homers and a — get this! — a 7.6 percent K-rate.

No power, but good plate discipline. (Though his walk rate isn’t exceptional.)

And that’s it in the high minors. Roberto Pena had a .572 OPS in Corpus.

 

1. So Luhnow is definitely sending a message with that $250,000, but what are his options? Max Stassi? Tyler Heineman?

2. How much are we all regretting sending Jacob Nottingham to Oakland?

3. Is Luhnow making a mistake? Should Houston maybe try to lock up Castro for three or four years since there isn’t a huge prospect ready and waiting?

 

In defense of Evan Gattis (Brian ducks and covers)

I get fed up with Evan Gattis as much as the next guy (or gal). With runners on, he presses. He swings and misses at low-and-outside pitches Jose Altuve couldn’t handle. He is a defensive liability. His beard is more creepy than cool.

(There, I said what we’ve all been thinking about that beard.)

However …

I’m going to defend Evan Gattis. Burn me in effigy if you must. Pelt me with rocks and garbage. Wish me six more weeks of winter. Call me a homer with rainbow-colored glasses. But I believe we got more value out of Evan Gattis than most of us think. And I believe he’s primed for a pretty good (not great) 2016.

Let’s start with the basics. Last season Gattis slashed .246/.285/.463 (that’s a .748 OPS) with 27 HRs and 88 RBIs. I know, he also had the second-most ABs.  But still, that’s a lot of value from a guy.

While his counting stats — HRs, RBIs — were at career highs, his rate stats were a mixed bag. But in a good and promising way.

Over his career, his 162-game average slash line is .250/.296/.476 for an OPS of .772. But every season before that was better. 2015, rate-wise, was really a low-water mark for Gattis.

Contributing to his low OBP in 2015 was his low walk rate of 4.96 percent. The good news, though, was his K-rate. Gattis whiffed at “just” a 21.02 percent clip. And that’s the bad news. Because …

What we’re really looking at is the Tale of Two Gattises. (Gattisi? Gatti? How do you pluralize “Gattis”?) Looking at pre-All Star Break Gattis, we had a slash of .241/.268/.444 for an OPS of .712 with 15 HRs and 54 RBIs in 86 games. His BB-rate was 3.55 percent and his K-rate was 23.46 percent.

Post ASB, (67 games) his slash was .252/.307/.488 for an OPS of .794 with 12 HRs, 34 RBIs, a respectable 6.90 percent walk rate and a very respectable 14.05 percent whiff rate.

The slash numbers for the second half were much more in line with his career numbers. In his first two seasons, his walk rate was more like 5.5 percent, K-rates were even higher than his first half.

One thing to remember about Gattis is his circuitous route to the majors. He’ll be 30 this August. But this is only this 4th year in the majors. He was out of baseball for a few years then had an abbreviated Division II experience in college. Very likely, it’s only just beginning to come together for El Oso Blanco.

I don’t expect him to repeat a 14 percent K-rate all 2016, but a sub-20 percent rate is very possible. And I don’t expect him to become an eagle eye at the plate, but a walk rate above 6.0 is quite possible. Combine that with his power and (despite chasing some low curveballs) an improved contact rate (look it up, it’s what’s all behind that second half), and Gattis may be looking pretty good in 2016. Which shouldn’t be surprising. Because …

In 2015, he was fairly AL Average for a DH. His OPS was right in the middle, tying the No. 8 team OPS of .748. His 88 RBIs were seventh. His 119 Ks were eighth. Of course, his 27 HRs made Houston’s total the fourth best in the AL. And, of course, Houston’s DHs (it’s all Gattis) led the league in triples.

So, here are the questions I have.

1. Am I crazy?

2. If Gattis performs a lot closer to post ASB Gattis, will you join my bandwagon?

3. Against righties, Preston Tucker posted an OPS of .808 with just 52 Ks and all 13 HRs in 235 ABs. Against righties, Gattis posted a .775 OPS (91 Ks, 20 HRs, 368 AB) and a .698 OPS (28 Ks, 7 HRs in 198 ABs) vs. lefties. I won’t mention Tucker against lefties.

Do you want a DH platoon with Tucker and Gatti? Even if that meant Tucker is the fourth OF, and Jake Marisnick is sent to Fresno?

4. Tyler White, Matt Duffy, John Singleton: All and more are potential DH candidates who basically lack MLB experience, meaning they could be breakout stars or, despite AA and AAA success, they could be Brett Wallace. Are you willing to roll those dice?

I just can’t talk about it, so here’s some trivia

Fifteen votes.

And just 23 for Tim Raines, who belongs in the Hall as well.

I don’t care that Trevor Hoffman needs to wait a whole year. (Second-best closer ever? Wait a year. Second-best lead-off hitter, wait 10. Sheesh!)

One of the top four or five first basemen ever? Wait at least seven years.

I don’t want to talk about it. So, here’s a baker’s dozen (or so) of Astros trivia questions to entertain you.

 

1. If Dallas Keuchel heads out to the hill (not Tal’s) for the bottom of the first inning on April 4 in Yankee Stadium, he will have started two consecutive Opening Days for the Astros. Who — besides Roy Oswalt, who I think we all would know — was the last Astros starter to get two consecutive Opening Day assignments?

2. Since Miguel Tejada opened at SS in 2008-2009, the Astros have had a revolving door of shortstops on Opening Day. This year will likely be the same as Carlos Correa should get his first Opening Day start. Who was the first of that revolving door of shortstops after Tejada took two straight Opening Day starts?

3. One position had the most consistency ever. What player (bonus points for position and years) had the most consecutive Opening Day starts at the same position?

4. With 830 hits to his name, Jose Altuve now ranks No. 20 on the Astros all-time hit list. If he again collects 200 hits, where will Altuve stand on that list, and who will he be nipping at the heels of? (BTW, Altuve has hit this point on the list in far fewer games than the others near or even remotely above him. Yes, we’re seeing someone special every day in Jose Altuve, folks.)

5. Last year, Evan Gattis led the Astros with 11 triples. Who has the most triples in a season for Houston?

6. Craig Biggio is obviously the hit-by-pitch leader both for career and individual seasons for the Astros. (Yeah, he was always taking one for the team. That’s why he’s a Hall of Famer, folks.) But who had the next highest single season of getting plunked?

7. Last year it seemed like Altuve got caught stealing a bunch. In fact, he got caught 13 times (same as in 2013). Think that’s bad? Not even close. Who racked up the most times being caught stealing in a season in Astros history?

8. In 2014, Altuve was caught stealing just 11 times, and was successful stealing bases 86.15 percent of the time. Who had the best stolen base percentage in Astros history? (Hint: He was 24 for 24 in stolen bases.)

9. So, Dallas Keuchel’s 2.48 ERA was among the tops in the AL last season (second behind David Price’s 2.45). What was the best single-season ERA for an Astros starter?

10. Keuchel also won 20 games. Mike Hampton’s 22 wins in 1999 is the team mark. But Keuchel was joined by Collin McHugh who won 19. that’s 29 wins. Is that the top spot for a pair of teammates? If not, what pair won more games combined in a single season than Keuchel and McHugh?

11. Another 20 wins, and Dallas Keuchel will move into a tie for 14th place on the Astros win list. Who would he tie, and how many Astros wins would the pair have?

12. While wins might not be the most important stat in the world, if you keep doing it consistently, that’s a pretty good sign. Roger Clemens owns the team’s top winning percentage at .679 in his three seasons with Houston. Who is second on that list of career Astros winning percentage? (Hint: He also has the highest single-season winning percentage among current Astros starters.)

13. And, finally, last year Dallas Keuchel led the team with 232 inning pitched. That effort (and not his 200 from 2014) is the only one among the top 50 in Astros history. Who had the most innings pitched in a single season for Houston, and how many was it?

Hope you enjoy my little quiz. Now here are a few questions?

1. What records — single season most likely, because career records are hard to come by for such a young team — might fall in 2016?

2. Altuve is practically racing up the hits chart. He already owns three of the top 32 hits seasons in Astros history. What Astro — not named Craig Biggio, who has six appearances on that list — has the most appearances on the top 50 single season hit total list? Will Altuve eventually just own that chart?

3. I didn’t look this up — too lazy — but the Astros have had four players earn Rookie of the Year votes over the past two seasons. McHugh and Springer in 2014, and Correa and McCullers in 2015. First, do you see any Astros getting into the ROY discussion in 2016? (They have to actually make the team …) And can anyone recall a team getting so much ROY love over two seasons previously?

 

Bagwell and the HOF: Once more into the breach

So, here’s what I wrote last year about Jeff Bagwell and his Hall of Fame candidacy. The stats are the same — Bagwell hasn’t reached 500 homers since last December — and he’s still languishing in the mid-50s when it comes to percentage of Hall voters who have a clue.

 

Old News

So, I’ve been spending a little time at BBTF watching the vote totals change as more and more ballots have been published by the BBWAA voters. And the 800-plus comments — most of which breaks down in to categories like anger over The Big Unit not getting 100 percent, marveling at Pedro’s career, discussion of how Smoltz compares to other starters who spent time as a closer, and a whole lot of talk about steroids — are a rambling mess that have one stat that seems to run through them all like a thread: WAR.

Wins Above Replacement, whether you like the Baseball Reference version or the Fangraphs incarnation, it’s a stat that basically compares players’ over time, whether it’s a short WAR period like a single season or a long one, like a player’s peak.

If you read BR’s explanation of WAR, you’d need either a degree in advanced math or some good 80s style hallucinogens. But basically, WAR for position players is calculated through six categories: Batting Runs, Baserunning Runs, Runs added or lost due to Grounding into Double Plays in DP situations, Fielding Runs, Positional Adjustment Runs, and Replacement level Runs (based on playing time). You can read the equation at Wikipedia, but I only had two years of college calculus, so I don’t know if I can explain it further.

That said, WAR is the go-to stat for the conversation on the Hall. After all, different players at different positions will have different expectations of home runs, batting average, etc., but WAR is WAR. And there’s some pretty basic levels that scream Hall of Fame.

For example, Bagwell has a 79.6 career WAR on BR. That ranks 63rd overall and ahead of players such as Pete Rose, Joe DiMaggio, Reggie Jackson and Frank Thomas (cough, cough). The only players with higher career WARs than Bags that are NOT in the Hall of Fame are people not yet on the ballot or ‘Roid suspects such as Bonds and Clemens.

Biggio, as a catcher and second baseman, is not expected to have quite as high a WAR because of the positions he played, but his 65.1 WAR is right there with Ryne Sandberg (67.5) and Roberto Alomar (66.8). And Biggio ranks higher than Hall of Famers such as Yogi Berra (59.3) and Harmon Killebrew (60.3)

 

New News

Yes, Bagwell is worthy. And that brings me to a piece of news I unearthed today. The guy behind Baseball Think Factory’s Ballot Collecting Gizmo, Ryan Thibs, has been collecting those published ballots again. It’s still early, but here’s what he’s got so far.

Everyone loves Ken Griffey Jr. Literally everyone. He’s got 100 percent of the 78 ballots published thus far. Mike Piazza has 71 of those votes, and close behind in third place is good ol’ No. 5, Jeffrey Robert Bagwell with 65 votes: 83.3 percent.

Yes, that’s nice and all. And it’s also a small (and early) sample size. But the interesting thing is that 12 of those from voters who left Bagwell off their ballots last time around. Without those 12 ballots, Bagwell gets 53 votes or just 67.9 percent.

So, we’re looking at a 15 percent jump in new votes, putting Bagwell at the 70 percent level if the trend holds.

One other factor for this year is the BBWAA is dropping some old voters off the rolls (apparently the BBWAA is not based in Chicago). Considering so many geezer voters who hadn’t actually covered a game since the leagues went to three divisions were not Bagwell fans, that could reduce some dead weight from the denominator.

 

Questions:

So, what do you think Bagwell’s chances are?

Is Griffey the closest thing to a lock this side of The Big Unit?

Does Mike Piazza get that last push needed?

Will someone please recognize that Tim Raines is the second-best lead off hitter in history, and that’s Hall-worthy?

Does Billy Wagner deserve more than one trip to the Hall ballot?

Who’s on first? I don’t know, third base!

Abbott and Costello could not have been more prophetic when it comes to the Astros’ corner infield dilemma for 2016. With the departure of Chris Carter, the Astros have 111 games to fill at first, and there are plenty of options. Some are good, some bad. Some remain to be seen … or re-seen.

Depending on how you look at it, our biggest offender at first base in 2015 was …

Jon Singleton. Puff Daddy underperformed to the tune of .694 in the OPS department. His 40 plate appearances (small sample size) brought a .350 OBP and just a .344 SLG. Overall, Big Jon was brought up for another tryout and didn’t really workout. Of course, Jon would never have gotten a look if it wasn’t for …

Chris Carter. The big fella has, for all intents and purposes, been sent packing. And none too soon. His marginal (I’m being generous here) OPS of .713 was dragged down by a .196 BA. You could blame his low BAbip of .244, but I spent the season watching Carter hit. He wasn’t unlucky. He just stunk. It’s just too bad he spent so much tie at first base because …

Marwin Gonzalez. MarGo, in 29 games at first, earned an OPS of .799 in those games with the mitt. Apparently, first base agrees with MarGo. His OBP was better than Carter’s (.357) and his SLG was better than Carter’s (.442). Best of all, his .299 BA at first wasn’t terribly dissimilar from his overall BA of .279. Comparing them defensively with stats is like comparing an apple to an orchard; the numbers just are at a different scale. That said, I’m guessing someone could teach MarGo to be a better fielder anywhere than Carter. For those uninitiated, I am an unabashed MarGo fan. Still, the best first baseman Houston had was …

Luis Valbuena. For a guy who stunk at third base, Valbuena was a machine at first base offensively. (It’s the mitt, folks!) His OPS came in at .820. (.820!) Those are nearly All-Star numbers, or would be if he hadn’t played just 28 games at first. Ah, well. Overall, he slashed .263/.360/.461. I’d also guess he can field better than Carter. Of course, if Valbuena could hit that slash line while playing a full season at third, we’d all be pretty happy.

So, who’s on first? (I’ll probe the third base question in a later post.) Well, here are the options. I’m going to give some overall stats (and the levels where those stats were achieved), then we can discuss it.

Jon Singleton: The slash — .254/.359/.505 and an OPS of .865. Now that OPS looks nice, but two trips to Houston have left Single-Puff with a very sub-.700 OPS, and I think we can see why. Between his .254 BA in Fresno and AAA pitching struck him out 99 times in 378 ABs with just 64 BBs means mediocre pitching keeps him from making good contact. Well, other than his 22 HRs in Fresno.

Luis Valbuena: The slash — .224/.310/.438 with a total OPS of .748. So, not the worst OPS, and his unbelievably low BAbip of .236 says a lot about how much better Valbuena can be. Eventually, we’re talking about a guy who crushed 25 HRs, walked 50 times and struck out 106 times. If he can make a little better contact — and previous years’ stats suggest he can — then here’s a guy destined for a bit of a rebound.

Marwin Gonzalez: The slash — .279/.317/.442 for an OPS of .759. Did I mention I’m a MarGo fan? He added 12 HRs, 74 Ks and (my one knock on MarGo) walked only 16 times. Honestly, he’s so valuable in that Super Utility role that pining him down to first base has me torn. But considering Houston won’t need that SU as much as in past years, I wouldn’t mind seeing MarGo’s mitt get a little dirty.

Tyler White: The slash — .325/.442/.496 for a combined OPS across two levels (AA and AAA) of .939. And White really split his time, practically evenly, between Corpus and Fresno. But his best stats came at AAA. Oh, and he only had 73 Ks (403 ABs) and took a stroll with 84 BBs. His 14 total HRs are not huge, but he still drove in 99 runs, which means he’s raking.

Matt Duffy: The slash — .294/.366/.484 with an OPS of .850. For the record, in his cup of coffee in Houston, his OPS was .944. His 90 Ks were less than 20%, his 48 BBs were nice, and he hit 20 HRs. This is a guy who is ready for the major leagues.

A.J. Reed: The slash — .340/.432/.612 for a whopping OPS of 1.044 combined in Lancaster and Corpus. And lest you think this is all a result of playing at The Hanger, his AA OPS was .976 over 238 plate appearances. He led the minors with 34 HR, struck out 122 times (less than 20%) and walked 86 times. And unlike some guys on this list, he’s really a first baseman.

So, let the “Who’s on first?” jokes begin.