10 questions for Astros fans

Today is a simple post from your Astro blogger and counsellor. Please, answer the following and your loyal servant will give you the correct numbers below:

  1. What are you the most confident about the Astros heading into 2019?
  2. What doubt or worry rattles around in the back of your brain about your Astros?
  3. Which Astro prospect are you most looking forward to playing in the majors this year?
  4. What do you think happens the first time Angel Hernandez umpires an Astros’ game this season?
  5. The Astros just signed Ryan Pressly and Alex Bregman to an extension. Who should they chase next?
  6. Are you concerned about any other team unseating the Astros in the AL West? Which one and why?
  7. Of the major awards – Cy Young, MVP, Rookie of the Year, Manager of the Year – who has the best chance of bringing hardware home to the Astros?
  8. Outside Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole, who will be the Astros next best starting pitcher? Collin McHugh? Brad Peacock? Wade Miley? Framber Valdez? Forrest Whitley?
  9. Which team is the biggest threat to a World Series championship run for the Astros? Yanks? Red Sox? Indians? Twins? A’s? M’s? Dodgers? Phillies? Nats? Cards? Other?
  10. Which part of the Astros will perform best in 2019? The offense? The starting pitching? The bullpen?

Thanks for answering these ahead of time…

Dan P’s Answer Sheet

  1. Very confident that the Astros have the right leader (Justin Verlander) at the head of their pitching staff no matter which five are in the rotation.
  2. My biggest worry is that Carlos Correa will never quite stay injury free and put up the transcendent numbers he showed he was capable of in 2017.
  3. I can’t wait to see Mr. Forrest Whitley make his MLB debut, which I believe will be this season.
  4. Macho Angel tries to squeeze A.J. Hinch’s hand into sawdust when they meet before the game. During their game everyone will be on their best behavior. Oh and Hernandez will blow a few calls like he always does.
  5. They should try to extend Verlander next and after that George Springer.
  6. I’m not concerned about any specific team unseating the Astros in 2019 as long as they take care of their own business.
  7. I think Mr. Bregman will make a pitch for the MVP this year but lose to Mr. $430 MM, and Cole will bring home the CY.
  8. The next best pitcher for the Astros will be Peacock (unless he doesn’t make the rotation….). How’s that for copping out?
  9. The Yanks worry me the most this season. The Red Sox are worry 1A.
  10. The Astros offense will return to the top of the majors. The starting pitching and relievers will be Top 5 each.

OK – now it is your turn.

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Wow! The Astros extend Bregman and Pressly

The Astros’ front office — due to the team’s great success — has gone through a bunch of turnover in the last few years. This has included David Stearns becoming GM of the Brewers, and Mike Elias becoming GM of the Orioles and bringing along Sig Mejdal to be his top assistant.

But one thing that has not changed has been the ability of Jeff Luhnow to surprise the fans. Michael Brantley? Never a rumor they were interested in him before he was signed? Wade Miley? Aledmys Diaz? Out of the blue signings.

And Tuesday night brought two more surprises out of the blue.

Ryan Pressly, who was tremendous after his trade from the Twins in 2018, will be an Astro for two more seasons (2020 and 2021) at $17.5 million, which might be three seasons at $27.5 million. There was no peep about this before it happened.

But the cherry on the sundae was the extension of Alex Bregman – 6 years / $100 million through 2024. This came just eight days after Bregman showed disdain for the Astros renewing his contract at a bit over minimum MLB wage. This is big and could be a great deal for both parties.

So, how do you feel about these moves? Are you surprised? Happy? Worried?

Free Blog Weekend: Injuries and the Keuchel redux

Time again for a Chipalatta special — the Free Blog Weekend. Our loyal readers can go in any direction you want as long as it has to do with the Astros or baseball and as long as it is fit for our blog family.

And also following tradition we will throw out a couple of items to chew on if you so choose.

Injuries in retrospect.

Good friend of the blog, old pro, was writing about how he had just learned that Chris Devenski had played through an injury last season. Looking back to 2018 it is pretty easy to see where a number of players were playing through an injury or on the DL (IL this year) or coming back from the DL with injuries and performance tied to tumbling stats:

  • Devo – first 35 games – 1.32 ERA / 15 holds / 2 wins / 2 saves
  • In his next 15 games his ERA was 11.48 and included two appearances right before his DL stint where he gave up 8 runs without recording an out. He also had only 3 holds, no saves and no wins the rest of the season.
  • On June 30, Jose Altuve had a robust .342 BA / .407 OBP / .890 OPS with 55 runs scored and 41 RBIs.
  • Through the rest of the season, he and his injured knee put up a decent (for players not named Altuve) .273 / .351 / .749 line and only scored 29 runs and knocked in 20 runs.
  • On June 10 George Springer had played 65 games and was hitting  .294 BA/.368 OBP/.881 OPS slash with 14 HRs and 39 RBIs
  • The rest of the way (75 games) he put down (can’t say put up) a .236/.326/.679 slash with 8 HRs and 32 RBIs while struggling with thumb problems and a prolonged slump
  • Its not clear exactly when Carlos Correa‘s back went out, but when he finally went on the DL at the end of June he was hitting an OK .268 BA/.352 OBP/ .832 OPS in 73 games with 46 runs scored, 13 HRs and 49 RBIs.
  • After missing about 6 weeks of the season, Correa in his last 37 games had a pathetic .180 BA/.261 OBP/ .509 OPS with only 16 runs, 2 HRs and 16 RBIs.

The point being that injuries can derail performances and often can be seen in numbers leading up to and after DL stints. And sometimes it is only in retrospect that we spot these drop-offs.

Keuchel: the saga continues.

It is no hyperbole to say that when Patrick Corbin signed for 6 yrs / $140 million on December 7th of last year, Dallas Keuchel became the best unsigned pitcher on the planet. And now some 3 months and a week or so later, the statement is still true.

Keuchel ticks off lots of boxes on both sides of a yes or no list for teams:

  • Former Cy Young winner
  • Over 30
  • Lefty who knows how to pitch, not just throw
  • Needs a tailwind to reach 90 mph on the gun
  • Has won big games for the team in pennant races and in the playoffs
  • Would cost a draft pick if signed before the next draft
  • Threw more than 200 innings last season
  • Gave up the most hits around (more than 1 per inning)

We don’t know what numbers he went into the offseason chasing, though with his agent Scott Boras comparing him to Tommy Glavine and Jesus Christ (wait a minute that was me – because of his beard) we are sure they asked for too much for too long. What we don’t know is if they have even been fielding offers and from whom.

At this point are they just going to wait until a team with big expectations springs a leak due to injuries and has to at least give him big bucks even if it is not for as many years as he would like? The Yankees have been getting some bad news on Luis Severino and CC Sabathia so far this spring. Could the Yankee killer join forces with the pinstripers? Stay tuned.

10 reasons the Astros can win it all again in 2019

There is always a mix of over-optimism mixed with down in the dumps pessimism in the spring time for baseball teams. If your team won the last World Series, it is natural for some fans to feel that their team is bullet proof, while others think they can’t get that lucky again. If they are one of the other 29 teams it is natural for some to think this is the year, while others sing that Hee Haw tune “Doom, Despair, and Agony on Me”.

After the Astros spit the bit short of the World Series in 2018, there is the same mix of optimism and pessimism this Spring Training.

“This is almost the same team that won it all in 2017.”

“This is a team that had to replace three starters in the rotation.”

“This is a team that was just a couple bad breaks from going to the WS again in 2018.”

“This is a team that has said good bye to Marwin and McCann and Gattis and Keuchel (probably) and Morton and McCullers…”

You get the idea. Well today, the blog is going to take the high road and look at reasons why this team can win it again this year.

  1. The Twin Towers. At the top of their rotation the Astros have something that most teams would kill for- a two-headed Cy Young worthy monster named Justit Colelander. Gerrit Cole (15-5, 2.88 ERA, 12.6 K/ 9 IP) and Justin Verlander (16-9, 2.52 ERA, 12.4 K/9 IP) were just a scosh short of CY winner Blake Snell and that gives the Astros a tremendous base to their rotation.
  2. The Best 5′-6″ Player in the World. He’s not the best baseball player in the world while Mike Trout is breathing, but Jose Altuve is on a very short list behind the Angel superstar. He was a step down in 2018 (.316 BA/ .837 OPS/ 84 runs/ 61 RBIs) from his 2017 MVP year (.346 BA/ .957 OPS/ 112 runs/ 81 RBIs), but proved he was certainly the best one-legged player in the world.
  3. The “Back” is Back. Carlos Correa has a lot to prove in 2019 after his back problems helped lead to a poor injury riddled 2018 (.239 BA/ .728 OPS/ 60 runs/ 65 RBIs). A return to 2017 (.315 BA/ .941 OPS/ 82 runs/ 84 RBIs) for Carlos would really help supercharge this offense.
  4. Stare-way to Heaven. Alex Bregman was disappointed in the pre-arb contract he received from the Astros. Of course he had no real leverage this time around. It is a good bet that as he heads towards arbitration next off-season he will put up numbers that will give him a lever that Archimedes would take pride in, especially if his great 2018 (105 runs, 51 doubles, 31 HRs, 103 RBIs) is any indication.
  5. Burn On Big Brantley. Back in the old days (pre-2015?) the signing of an All Star OF with the credentials of Cleveland’s Michael Brantley would have been cause for celebration. This pickup has almost been under the radar in an off-season of $300+ million contracts. Brantley is a consistent, professional hitter (.309 BA/ .364 OBP/ .832 OPS in 2018), who gives the team some left handed balance and  should thrive wherever he is placed in a lineup with the big four of the Houston Astros.
  6. Late Inning Duos. The Astros headed towards the trade deadline last year needing to make some kind of move with their bullpen. Ken Giles had melted down, both emotionally and in his ability to perform and it seemed that the Astros and Giles needed a change of scenery. The Astros unloaded Giles and picked up closer Roberto Osuna from Toronto and separately picked up a super gem in reliever Ryan Pressly from Minnesota. After the trades, Osuna (12 saves, 1.99 ERA) and Pressly (2 saves, 0.77 ERA/ 0.600 WHIP) made the late innings a happy place for Astro fans.
  7. Any Portsider in a Strom. Pitching coach Brent Strom continues his reputation as a bit of a horse whisperer to pitchers as he has helped most of his staff to reach heights they had never reached before, be it those with little success before coming here (Charlie Morton, Collin McHugh) or some of the best in the business (Verlander and Cole). After leading the best staff in the majors in 2018, Strom will face a big challenge with a revamped starting staff in 2019, but he is a reason that fans can be hopeful.
  8. Time Change – Springer Forward. When somebody like George Springer is your 4th or 5th best hitter, you have a heck of a lineup. Like Correa and Altuve, injury helped lower his strong 2017 (.283 BA/ .889 OPS/ 34 HRs/ 85 RBIs) to an average 2018 (.265 BA/. 780 OPS/ 22 HRs/ 71 RBIs). Springer is the type player who can carry a team for a month at a time or for a World Series. Again, he is a big part of the Astros’ lineup riches.
  9. Life is a Hinch. A.J. Hinch enters his 5th season as the Astros’ managerial leader with a 57.7% winning percentage (not counting interim managers) and sometime during 2019 he will add to his 374-274 record and vault into 2nd place in wins over Art Howe (392 wins in 5 seasons) and Larry Dierker (435 wins in 5 seasons). He will only be trailing Bill Virdon who put up 544 wins in 8 seasons. With any luck A.J. will pass Virdon in season six. Hinch is a good mix of calm and caring and has got the most out of his team since he joined them before the 2015 season.
  10. Luhnow Has the Know How – Obviously winning the World Series gives any GM a lot of slack, but Luhnow has done his best to put together a team that can win today and tomorrow. Will they hit bumps along the way? Sure. But would you rather have Jeff Luhnow steering through next off-season and the free agency of four starting pitchers or Ed Wade?

There are other good reasons to trust in this team, whether it is the clutch hitting of Yuli Gurriel, the hustle and glove of Josh Reddick, the solid stick of Robinson Chirinos, the team-first attitude of Collin McHugh and Brad Peacock or the young arms of Josh James, Framber Valdez, Forrest Whitley, Corbin Martin and J.B. Bukauskas. This team is built to contend and they are built to win it all again in 2019.

2019 Astros: The most indispensable player

In a full disclosure statement from this blog – the idea for this post came from elsewhere.

Throughout the off-season, mlb.com likes to throw out these blurbs. Most indispensable player on every team, most critical spring training position battle on every team, top prospect for every team, best off-season pickup for every team, etc, ad nauseam. But hey, it is tough to fill the vacuum of waiting for the season to begin.

In this case, we would like to examine a little more closely the statement in this article that the most indispensable player in 2019 for the Astros is Justin Verlander.

The argument for JV

Since the trade from the Tigers at the waiver deadline in 2017, Verlander has been the Astros best starting pitcher. In the regular season, he has been 21-9 with a pristine 2.32 ERA / 0.867 WHIP / 12.1 K per 9 IP / 1.5 Walks per 9 IP. He has been 6-2 in the postseason and of course, helped lead the Astros to their first World Championship. He has been an extremely talented bulldog throughout and no one will forget him climbing out of the clubhouse in the classic Game 2 win in the WS and extolling his teammates to not give up even though they had just given up the lead in that crazy see-saw game.

In 2019 he would seem to be a critical cog as the Astros will be headed to war after losing starter Lance McCullers to injury, starter Charlie Morton to a team near his family and likely losing starter Dallas Keuchel, if anyone meets his price and years. As the Astros try to head back to the WS with different parts in the rotation and with youngsters as the first line of defense in case of injury, having the senior leader at the front of the starting five would seem extremely critical.

The argument against JV

This is a tough thing to argue, like trying to win an arbitration case against Gerrit Cole. Justin is a terrific talent, who looks like he is ready to emulate his idol Nolan Ryan and pitch past 40 years old without blinking. But the base question is this. Can a guy who plays in 20% of the games (at most) be the most indispensable player on the team? Won-loss is not the best measure of a pitcher, but just for comparison, Verlander was 16-9 (64% win percentage) and the team was 21-13 (61.8%) in his starts. That is compared to the team being 82-46 (64%) in games started by other pitchers. No doubt if they had to replace him for those 34 games, they would have had to either used a younger, inexperienced pitcher or pulled Collin McHugh or Brad Peacock out of the bullpen. They probably would have won fewer games, but would it have undone the whole season? Well, it might have dropped them behind the A’s, but it also might not have.

And of course the other side of this argument ties to the other candidates for the most indispensable player. Jose Altuve was the MVP of the AL in 2017 and his fall-off with injury helped hamstring the team in 2018. This was even truer relative to Carlos Correa and his bad back in 2018. Alex Bregman absolutely carried the team on his back in 2018 and George Springer has long been the straw that stirred the offensive drink of this team.

And these four players can affect up to 162 games in a season.

So, the questions for you…..

  • With the pitching rotation going through a big transition and with not as much major league experienced depth, is Justin Verlander the most indispensable player on the team?
  • Is one of the everyday players, Altuve, Correa, Bregman or Springer the most indispensable player? If so who?
  • What about Gerrit Cole, who might pass JV as the ace this season?
  • If the Astros re-sign Dallas Keuchel does that make JV less indispensable?

A few Astro questions on a dreary Saturday

It is another dreary Saturday in Houston as it feels like we can’t string more than one sunny day in a row into our weather forecast. Perhaps the beginning of the baseball season, still about three weeks away will bring a cure to the weather blahs as well as the baseball blahs.

Here are a few questions to chew on today….

Would the Astros be better off with Dallas Keuchel or not in 2019?

The knee jerk answer is that you can never have too much good pitching and while he may not be great again, he certainly should be good.

Pros. Sliding DK into the rotation would allow the team to better solidify the bullpen by moving Brad Peacock (current likely 5th starter) back there. It would give the team a pitcher who put up more than 200 innings last season (200 is the new 300 for us oldsters) and who has been excellent in 2015 and 2017 and good in 2018. Don’t ask about the injured 2016 season.

Cons. The money used to sign Keuchel might handcuff the team for future moves during the season as it would have them approaching the luxury tax limit. It might discourage the good soldier Peacock or the good young potential starters like Josh James or Framber Valdez. Peacock or James or Valdez might pitch better than Keuchel…they have done that in small samples before. Oh, and if Keuchel signed today, he would be behind in getting ready for opening day.

What is going to happen to the bench type (AAAA type) players the Astros have around?

Is there any future here for an A.J. Reed? Derek Fisher? Has time passed them by?

Are Jake Marisnick and/or Tony Kemp just place holding until Kyle Tucker and Myles Straw climb the ladder?

The injuries the last few years have told us that depth is good and some of the trades the Astros have made tell us that depth is good when you are trying to chase a Justin Verlander or a Gerrit Cole. Of course position depth is not always as important as pitching depth.

Do the Astros need to prepare for Arm-ageddon in 2020?

After the 2019 season the Astros will have the following “Arms” heading to Free Agency – Verlander, Cole, Collin McHugh and Wade Miley. They have a lot of good, young arms in the system – but they are lacking experience. Do they give up some wins in 2019 to get some of the youngsters experience in 2020?

Well, a normal amount of injuries for the starting five will certainly give some of the youngsters experience in 2019. But what might the Astros’ rotation look like in 2020 any way?

They will certainly try to extend Verlander and/or Cole. Verlander feels like the more likely of the two to sign for 2 or 3 seasons and even at his advancing age, he sure feels like a larger reincarnation of Nolan Ryan. So let’s speculate here.

2020 rotation

1) Justin Verlander

2) Lance McCullers Jr

3) Brad Peacock

4) Josh James

5) A free agent pickup or Framber Valdez or Francis Martes or Corbin Martin or J.B. Bukauskas or ??

What do you think?