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.



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.


Meetings adjourned: Where Houston stands

Well, that was interesting.

I have a brother who lives in Phoenix and is a big D-Backs fan. All I heard all week was Tony La Russa this and Tony La Russa that. You’d think La Russa was his prom date.

Seeing the Winter Meetings through the eyes of fans from other teams is interesting. One Philly blog speculated that the fourth player in the deal to get Ken Giles was none other than John Singleton. (It was pitcher Thomas Eschelman.)

My D-Backs loving brother was all in on Zach Greinke. Hey, it’s only money (six years, $206 million). And he boasted of the trade that brought Shelby Miller to the desert. Any suggestion that giving up No. 1 pick Dansby Swanson plus Aaron Blair (D-Backs No. 3 prospect at the time) and outfielder Ender Inciarte would come back to haunt ‘Zona was blasphemy on my part … and met with ridicule when Houston sent four players to Philly for Giles. (“Houston did the same thing, only worse!”)

Well, we’ll see. No amount of me explaining the irrelevance of Brett Oberholtzer, the redundancy in our system of Derek Fisher (Hello Daz and the “other” Tucker!), or how Eschelman projects as a middle innings reliever helped make my case.

Oh well. That’s my brother.

So, how are we all feeling after everyone has boarded their flights out of Nashville international Airport?

Here’s what happened in Astros Land:

1. Luhnow sent Vincent Velasquez (the piece of the deal that hurt), Oberholtzer, Fisher and Eschelman to Philadelphia for five controllable years of closer Ken Giles.

2. Luhnow opened up Jim Crane’s wallet and paid (thank goodness!) Tony Sipp $16 million over three years.

3. And no Astros were harmed in the making of the 2015 Rule V draft.

So my question to you is this: How do you feel after the Winter meetings are done?

I read somewhere that Luhnow’s offseason list included a closer (check) a lefty reliever (check) and a starting pitcher (what?). Do the Astros need another starter? Right now, A.J. Hinch can trot out on successive days (I explained to my brother that Greinke and Miller still didn’t make the D-Backs’ rotation as good as Houston’s, but did he listen? No.) Dallas Keuchel, Collin McHugh, Lance McCullers, Mike Fiers and Scott Feldman.

I’ll ask again: Does Houston need another starter?

Before the meetings started, Houston gave away Hank Conger, waived goodbye to Chris Carter and traded Jed Lowrie for a AA reliever (albeit a good one). That pretty much sums up Jeff’s winter.

Is he done? Do we hope the messes at first and third base just sort themselves out with what Houston has on hand? Who would you start at the corners right now?

Anyway, now I’m just waiting on the Hall of Fame vote and praying Jeff Bagwell hits 75 percent.


What they said, what they meant: Award Season Edition

Well, at this point the Astros are just waiting on Jeff Bagwell’s Hall of Fame vote. But with Keuchel’s rounding out the Astros’ award season, it’s time for another edition of … “What they said, What they meant.”

But this time, there’s a twist ending. In addition to What they meant, we’ll also hear What they should say. Plus, I’ll be scouring the web for my quotes … mainly because I don’t subscribe to the Chron (spit!).

So, without any further adieu, WTS, WTM brings you quotes from the shelf bling season.

A.J. Hinch after finishing second to the Rangers’ Jeff Banister for AL Manager of the Year.
What he said: “I think it’s an honor to even be considered, given not just the success of the three teams that were represented, but plenty of other teams that had successful managers. I’m proud of the exposure for our team and our organization.”
What he meant: “I thought some people picked the Rangers to contend. So why should anyone be surprised when they make the playoffs? I took a team due for regression and add a dozen wins to its Steamer projection. That’s management, bitches!”
What he should say: “I can’t believe I finished second to that guy again. Believe me, it’s the last time.”


Jeff Luhnow on what the Astros will need this off season, Part 1.

What he said: “The fewer spots you have where you can improve, the more pressure there is to improve on those spots. We’re obviously not looking for a shortstop; we’re not looking for a second baseman. We feel pretty good about the top of our rotation.”
What he meant: “Man this job looks a lot easier this year. I need a lefty bat — preferably at first base — and a back-of-the-bullpen guy so I can move Gregerson to the eighth inning. That’s pretty much it. Once Rasmus to the qualifying offer, I was about a quarter done. Now, has anyone seen Tony Sipp. I need to make sure he’s coming back.”
What he should say: “Last year, I barely had time to go to church on Christmas day. This year, I’m doing my own Christmas shopping. That’s what building a winner looks like.”

Jeff Luhnow on what the Astros will need this off season, Part 2 (first base).

What he said: “We won’t know until Spring Training is over and maybe not until the season is under way, but we do have a number of guys that we like that all play (first base). We’ll have to see if there’s an opportunity to bring someone in at that position. We’d have to think about it, but I’m not sure it makes sense given the depth we have there.”
What he meant: “Have you seen our depth at first base? I mean, crap, Jon Singleton is an afterthought at this point. A.J. Reed is a monster. Tyler White can play first. Matt Duffy owns a first baseman’s mitt. And we haven’t even tried teaching Preston Tucker how to play first. Sure, I could sign Jason Heyward, but we just got stuck with Colby Rasmus at basically $16 million, so I don’t think Heyward is in the cards.”
What he should say: “First, we’ve seen the last of Chris Carter. And Marwin Gonzalez is really just a stop-gap at first base, so get that out of your head. Truth be told, I’d rather break the bank on the bullpen, so Reed is looking like our first baseman unless he shows up stoned in February … so we’re keeping him away from Singleton over the winter.”

Jose Altuve on winning his first Gold Glove award.

What he said: … OK, so finding a quote from Altuve has been difficult. Apparently, he’s in Venezuela and there’s no interview with him. But here’s …

What he should have said: “First, it’s ‘Oh, he’s too short to be a professional baseball player.’ Then it’s, ‘Well, he’ll never be a major leaguer.’ Then I hear this crap about ‘He’s too short to be a good defender.’ Really? I’m playing second base, not trying to guard Yao Ming in the paint.”


Dallas Keuchel on winning his first (of many …) Cy Young awards.

What he said: “Just playing the game is good enough for me, and just to be in the same category as Sonny and David was special in its own right. There’s a number of pitchers I look up to and it’s something that hasn’t sunk in, and I don’t think it will for some time.”

What he meant: “Let’s face facts, I’m ultra competitive. You don’t make it to the major leagues without being ultra competitive. David, Sonny, nice guys. Good pitchers. But I’m the one with a big freakin’ trophy.”

What he should say: “I’m looking at a long-term contract, having my arbitration years bought out and … Bam! Money in the bank. I could buy a new beard trimmer every day.”


Jeff Bagwell on the importance of the Hall of Fame.

What he said: “We have five kids and three dogs and that puts everything in perspective to me. I would say a couple of things: One, playing baseball does not define who I am. Secondly, it’s crazy. I was in Albany, N.Y., when I got traded, and my dad had to come and get me, and now here I am talking to you about the Hall of Fame. It’s kind of ridiculous.”

What he meant: “It’d be nice. Make Biggio sit and wait on me and say nice things. But honestly, after getting in I’d probably never visit the place again.”

What he should say: “I wouldn’t give a rat’s backside, but it’s all about the damned PEDs. Hey, I used a precursor before anyone knew they should be banned. Then they banned them and I stopped. For that, I’m on the outside looking in. What a crock.”


A.J. Reed on the 2015 season and Arizona Fall League season.

What he said: “It was a great year. The thing for me was I was just really excited to help two teams, make the playoff run at Corpus and help the team at Lancaster while I was there.

What he meant: “Now that I’m done pitching, it’s just ‘See ball, hit ball.’ And I guess I’m working on ‘Catch ball’ because Chris Carter looks like a guy on his way out.”

What he should say: “Last year I helped two teams. God willing, I’ll only be helping one in 2016, and that’s the Astros. Damn it, I can pound the ball.”


Becky on hearing Jonathan Villar has been traded.

For Becky: What does it mean to be “Gold”?

First, congratulations to Dallas Keuchel and Jose Altuve for winning Gold Gloves.

Keuchel has long been recognized for his glove, but Altuve used to be seen as a defensive liability. Frankly, for both, it shows what hard work will do. Could not be more proud, and I’m betting Becky is just beaming this morning.

The last time two Astros won Gold Gloves in the same year was 1994 when Jeff Bagwell and Craig Biggio won. The most decorated defensive year for the Astros was 1973 when Roger Metzger, Cesar Cedeno and Doug Rader won Gold Gloves.

Yep, so this is a pretty special year, and the Astros. And the Rookie of the Year and Cy Young haven’t even been awarded yet. And the Astros just missed three Gold Gloves this year because Salvador Perez topped finalist Jason Castro at catcher. (The Royals won three GGs, so …)

It’s no coincidence that good defensive play (Jake Marisnick, Carlos Correa, George Springer, Colby Rasmus, heck, even Chris Carter wasn’t horrible at first base) and winning go hand-in-hand. Here’s a look at just what having two Gold Glovers do for you.

In 2014, as a team, the Astros totaled -13 Defensive Runs Saved Above Average, which is the number of runs above or below average the player was worth based on the number of plays made. That means on a whole, the Astros defense gave away 13 runs. In 2014, Marisnick lead the team with 17 Rdrs, Keuchel had 10. Meanwhile Altuve had -7 (as did Scott Feldman) and Dexter Fowler oops-ed his way to -20 Rdrs. Yeah, Fowler was that bad in the outfield.

Compare that to 2015. The Astros posted a positive 37 Rdrs. That’s a 50 run improvement.

How you like that, Becky?

Keuchel and, again, Marisnick led the team with 13 Rdrs apiece. Altuve totaled 3 positive Rdrs, a 10-run swing.

… And that’s my post. Defense matters. Gold Gloves mean something (when not won by a member of the New York Yankees … Derek Jeter, please).

1. Do you think Keuchel and Altuve were deserving?

2. Upset Castro didn’t win, or did you expect that?

3. Springer had 6 Rdrs, but was projected for 8 if he’d played the whole season. How important is it we keep him healthy for a danged change?

4. Of the five main outfielders — Marisnick, Rasmus, Springer, Carlos Gomez and Preston Tucker — all but Tucker were on the plus side. Can this team live with his -5 (projected -9 if he’s full-time) based on his bat?

5. Mike Fiers and Collin McHugh both had 3 Rdrs. All the more reason to keep them in the rotation, I expect.



For Astros, help is just a phone call away

With a bunch of free agents hitting the market over the last few days, there is probably no shortage of possible hole fillers out there to help the Astros improve for 2016.

But that’s not what I’m talking about.

Nope, the phone calls I’m talking about are ones Jeff Luhnow should have on speed dial: Fresno and Corpus Christi.

In case you hadn’t heard, the Astros have the top farm system in baseball. Two champions (Fresno and Greenville), a bunch more playoff teams, and the MiLB Player of the Year in A.J. Reed.

Yep, despite several promotions this year — Carlos Correa, Lance McCullers, Preston Tucker, Vincent Velasquez — the cupboard is far from bare. Here are the top prospects that you’ll likely see in Houston next summer.

1. Matt Duffy: Primarily a third baseman — but a guy who took quite a few reps at first base in 2015 — Duffy has been incredibly consistent in the minors, season after season. In 2015, Duffy’s .850 OPS came with 20 HRs, 104 RBIs and just 90 Ks (48 BBs) in 490 ABs. He earned a sip of coffee in Houston and seemed to be no worse at the next level.

2. A.J. Reed: Not to be outdone, Reed led the minors with 34 homers, drove in 127 runs and tallied a 1.044 OPS between Lancaster and Corpus. His 122 Ks (86 BBs) are a bit troubling, since it’s about 25 percent. That said, that much power and a .432 OPS are worth a look.

3. Colin Moran: If Duffy doesn’t work out — or becomes a DH — there’s a better defensive option in Colin Moran. His range is not huge, but he’s got good hands and a good arm. Plus, his .840 OPS with 9 HRs, 67 RBIs in just 366 ABs (injuries have slowed him) from Corpus are fairly impressive, especially since he started slowly due to getting beaned.

4. Joe Musgrove: A mid-90s fastball from this big right hander, Musgrove flew through three levels, topping out in Corpus in 2015. Overall, in 100 innings he posted a 1.88 ERA and 0.92 WHIP. Oh, and 99 Ks with only 8 — EIGHT — walks. Yeah, I’m impressed.

5. Michael Feliz: Yes, he had a cup o’ Joe in Houston, but he’s still a prospect. Feliz approaches 100 on his fastball. His 103 Ks in 111 innings pitched with 32 Ks was pretty good with a 1.02 WHIP and 2.83 ERA. Most of that ERA came from Lancaster, where ERAs tend to rise.

6. Mark Appel: Hey, you remember him, right? His combined 2015 ERA (Corpus and Fresno) was 4.37. His BAA was 2.66, and he had a 1.41 WHIP. But he shows moments of brilliance.

Honorable Mentions: Frances Martes, Derek Fisher, Tony Kemp, Tyler White, Chris Devenski.


So, which farmhand do you most want to see?

The Astros will need to bring in a veteran or two. But should that keep them from promoting these kids?

Houston has some talent about ready to burst onto the scene at first and third base. Should they trust those kids — and maybe Jon Singleton gets another short-leash chance — and concentrate on relievers, a starter and maybe an outfielder on the free agent market?

Looking at 2016 … striking out the strikeouts

There will be changes. This time last year, few of us had heard of Evan Gattis. Colby Rasmus was on few Chipalatta fans’ radar. Carlos Correa was still mending from a broken leg. Lance McCullers Jr. was coming off a so-so year at Lancaster — at best.

So I’d expect some big changes for 2016.

Will all the changes be home runs? Doubtful. I’m sure Luhnow will swing and miss a few times. But learning to avoid the swings and misses is really what the changes for 2016 needs to be about.

The people who did the most swinging and missing were Colby Rasmus (154Ks/432ABs), Chris Carter (151/391), Evan Gattis (119/566), Jason Castro (115/337), George Springer (109/388), Luis Valbuena (106/434) and Jake Marisnick (105/339). A dishonorable mention goes to Hank Conger (63/201) who whiffed nearly a third of the time.

In all honesty, Gattis’ K numbers don’t look too bad. Frankly, he struck out less than 20 percent of the time, which is good considering his power numbers. Valbuena was under 25 percent as well, though his batting average doesn’t make up for not being the worst whiff offender. Of course he walked a lot more than Gattis, and both had idential .748 OPSs. Speaking of which, Springer, who whiffed 28 percent of the time, ended up with an OPS of .826. So Ks aren’t always a barometer of production.

Still, if cutting the useless Ks is the goal, it starts at first base. I am sure even Luhnow agrees with that. But where else? Do we replace Evan Gattis? He might not have been the worst whiffer, but his production wasn’t stellar for a guy who spent the middle of the lineup all season.

Between Rasmus and Marisnick, there’s a lot of whiffs even if there was also a lot of ground covered in the outfield. Rasmus is probably gone as a free agent, so does that mean Preston Tucker gets Rasmus’ end of the job?

Oh, and catcher, though a Gold Glove would go a long way to fixing that problem. Well, that and fixing the other spots.

I don’t know what Luhnow will find on the trade or free agent markets, but just like 2015, there will be options from the farm for 2016. But are those farmhands the answer when it comes to strikeouts?

A.J. Reed spent 2015 in Lancaster and Corpus. Between the two stops he racked up 122 Ks in 523 ABs. If he finds his way to Houston at some point in 2016, I’d guess his whiff rate goes up instead of down in the early going.

Tyler White, meanwhile, spent his year in Corpus and Fresno where he whiffed just 73 times in 403 ABs. Along the way he collected 99 RBIs and a .939 OPS.

Matt Duffy spent the year in Fresno earning an .850 OPS with just 90 Ks in 490 ABs.

Between those three — plus Colin Moran collected just 79 Ks in 366 ABs with an .840 OPS — the Astros seem to have some options at first and third.

As for the outfield, maybe John Kemmer is an option. He had 89 Ks in 364 ABs and a .988 OPS.

So, what farm options interest you. Reed and Duffy and White? Moran or Kemmer? Andrew Aplin? There are a few catchers in Fresno, but none look like the a real replacement for Castro. But one might be the replacement for Conger.

Should Houston focus on the farm?

Should Luhnow look for rentals again?

Which whiffer needs to be replaced the most? OK, which one after Carter?


Astroholics: A taste of the good stuff gets you hooked

As I drove up the winding lane toward the fortress-like manor, the cries of the inmates slowly rose from a murmur to a crescendo of wails and lamentations.

Part of me wanted to check myself in. After all, I suffered too. Suffered from the false hope. Suffered from missed moments. Suffered from the taste of success. A taste that now felt bitter upon my tongue.

I grabbed my overnight bag from the back of the car. Surely, this stay wouldn’t be long. After all, I just needed to get my head right. With so much positive energy during the season, a quick night, a few sessions, that’s all I would need.


I rang the bell at the front desk, and was greeted by the caretaker. “Welcome to the Bill Spiers Wing of the Home for Astroholics,” he said. “Checking in?”

He looked familiar, a friendly face from the halcyon days of playoff wins and World Series appearances. “Hey, aren’t you ..?”

“I’m not a slick-fielding shortstop any more,” he said. “Just a guy here to coach you through your, um, minor issues.”

He took my bag, handed it off to a Jason Lane lookalike — surely that wasn’t the real Jason Lane — and guided me to a room in the back. “Why don’t we get you started,” he said. “This has been a busy week for us, so we’d like to start your therapy right away.”

A circle of chairs filled the room, and all the chairs save one was occupied by a crazy-eyed individual wearing an Astros jersey from days gone by. One older lady with an Mike Hampton jersey and a twitch in her eye was talking as I grabbed the last chair.

“… if Sipp just would have missed the ball, the spin wouldn’t have … well, wouldn’t have made him miss.”

“Missed like Villerror going after a routine ball,” another patient taunted.

“Bite your tongue,” the lady screamed, pulling out an Evan Gattis bobblehead and shaking it furiously at the man. “Sipp made the ball spin. That’s why Carlos missed it. That’s why!”

A bespectacled man in a “Moneyball” T-shirt with a slide rule hanging out of his pants pocket held up his hand before the other patient could speak. “The spin of the ball could have led to the error,” he said. “We can’t place all the blame on Correa.”

“See?” the woman implored. “See!”

But the man in the horn-rimmed glasses — obviously the leader of the group — raised his hand again. “But maybe Correa should have picked up the change in the spin.”

“Lies!” she screamed. “Lies!”

The man in the “Moneyball” shirt raised his hand again. “Stay calm, lady. We can’t get better unless we face some truths.” Then he turned to me. “Everyone, we have a new guest. And what do we say to new guests?”

And older gentleman jumped from his seat and yelled, “Great Lima’s Ghost! We were six stinking outs from the next round. Six stinking outs, and they start parading station to station on us.”

“Sit down, Opie,” Moneyball chides. “That’s not what we say.”

The old man takes his seat, but mumbles, “It’s not ‘Opie’ you math nerd.”

But a stern look quiets him. He looks around the rest of the crowd, and in unison they say, “It’s a process. Hashtag, In Luhnow We Trust.”

Opie whispered to another woman in the group. “What in the name of Bobby Heck is a hash tag?”

“What’s your name?” Moneyball asked me.

I told them all my name, and that I was a frequent contributor at Chipalatta. Nods around the circle told me I was among friends. “And I guess I just need to get a little closure, you know,” I said. “Make a little sense of what happened. I mean …”

“Six outs,” Opie said.

“Six outs,” the crowd murmured.

A fidgety fellow in a Roger Clemens shirt cleared his throat. “Just missed. And after we did so well all season.”

“Here we go,” the older lady said.

The Clemens fan continued, “Yep, we rose all the way from the ashes of the last few seasons only to be smashed back down,” he said. “In Luhnow we trust. What a crock. This team was built to strike out, and strike out they did. This team was built to live and die on the long ball, and when push came to shove, they didn’t have the pop.”

Moneyball said, “I’m pretty sure Jeff will make some changes for next year. Fix some of those holes.”

“And who will pull off these genius trades,” Clemens fan asked. “Mr. ‘I Like Pitch Framers?'”

“Look,” Moneyball said, “I’m not saying mistakes weren’t made, but sometimes our numbers do get things right. Collin McHugh’s curveball. Keuchel’s ground balls. Altuve’s aggressiveness.”

Another patient chimed in. “Ten years,” he said. “Ten years of floundering and falling flat on our faces.”

“But that ended this year,” I said. “We weren’t even supposed to be in the playoffs and we win in Yankee Stadium. We push the Royals to the brink. Maybe next year we take that next step.”

“And maybe,” a gentleman with a raggedy old rainbow jersey said, “this is the start of long run of near misses and seasons of regret. We may not be the Cubs …”

Half the group made signs to ward off the evil spirits, others hissed at the mere mention of that hexed team.

“We may not be the Cubs,” he said again, “but we’ve got more than fifty seasons of not winning it all. So it’s hard to have that faith in our future. It’s hard not to go a little crazy.”

“Yeah,” I said. “At least when the team was losing, we knew there was nowhere to go but up. But after this year, the team could go up. It could go down. We just don’t know.”

We all fell silent. That was the problem with winning a little but not all the way. You just never knew what was coming next.

“Well, I know,” said Opie. “Our minor leagues are stocked. Nothing but winners, and a champion each year since Luhnow took over. Eventually that talent, that winning attitude will rise to Houston.”

Suddenly everyone was speaking at once.

“Not if he trades it all away for magic pitch framing beans.”

“Or if he never promotes the kids that can help.”

“But he’s got a real skill for finding those gems like Sipp and Harris.”

“What we need is a flamethrower in the bullpen.”

“Lidge threw flames, and Pujols knocked them out of the park.”

Moneyball leaned over to me, “It’s going to be a long winter,” he said. “So I hope you’re planning to stay awhile.”

“Maybe a day isn’t long enough,” I said. “I mean, we’ve got to talk it out. Who do we keep? Who do we fast-track for next spring? Is Appel going to be ready? What will our rotation look like? If Rasmus bolts, do we just stick with Tucker and Marisnick beside CarGo and Springer? Or do we look for another one-year rental?”

“And do you really want to trust third and first to farmhands? I mean, those guys played well, but not everyone will be a Correa when they come up,” Moneyball said. “The odds are against it. But we just don’t know.”

I looked at Moneyball and asked, “Wait, aren’t you the facilitator here? You know, like our therapist?”

He gave a maniacal laugh. “Just because I’m running the asylum doesn’t mean I don’t live here too.”

“We’re all Astros fans,” Opie said. “We all need a little help.”