Top 10 baseball movies of all time

Here at Chipalatta, we are doing our best to live through the lack of Astros baseball news heading into spring training. The thought process at this time is that nothing will cause the Astros’ Front Office to complete that Trevor Bauer, J.T. Realmuto, Mike Trout, fill in the blank, trade faster than a blog post that has nothing to do with the Astros.

One warning here…..this list only includes movies that this writer has actually watched all the way through. So, while Eight Men Out, 61*, Bang the Gong Slowly, Mr. Baseball, 42, maybe on your top 10 list they are not on this one. Which is fine as your turn will come. So without further ado….here is Dan P’s top 10 baseball movies of all time!

10) Moneyball (2011). Our fine readers may notice a trend of movies that are a little different or go at baseball from a different angle in this list. Like the book it was based on, this movie tackles a unique subject for the time….the clash between the pointy head statisticians and traditional scouting in the back rooms of baseball. Brad Pitt does a fine job playing the mercurial Billy Beane, a GM driven by his playing day failures, who is trying to find an edge for a team with budget constraints and Jonah Hill is very good as the nerd he steals from Cleveland to give Beane that edge. The late Philip Seymour Hoffman’s portrayal of Art Howe as an idiotic Neanderthal does not ring too true and hurts the film.

9) Rookie of the Year (1993). Yes, it is an impossibly absurd story of a young kid who goes from having a broken arm to having Aroldis Chapman‘s three-figure fastballs. But it is still a cute, fun story and any film with John Candy playing the best movie play-by-play man this side of Bob Uecker might make the list just on that fact alone. Daniel Stern (Home Alone, Breaking Away) directs and plays the comedy relief pitching coach. Thomas Ian Nicholas and Amy Morton do a nice job playing the unlikely 10-year-old superstar and his mom and Gary Busey is the unconvincing over the hill pitcher. Funniest point in the movie may be when the owner of the Cubs (Eddie Bracken) leaves his club suite to sit in the stands and is shocked by what hot dogs and Cokes cost down in the real world.

8) The Sandlot (1993). You’ve heard of James Earl Jones, Denis Leary and Karen Allen, but the real stars of the film are the unknown kids (and Jones’ dog) who spend the summer playing pickup ball and learning about life. Like many good movies, it is really about nothing more than life and how things used to be. So enjoy a good tale about Baby Ruthie, the Beast and a lost home run.

7) A League of Their Own (1992). OK, there is an Astro’s connection here as former Astro OF Casey Candaele‘s mother Helen was a 5-year member of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League portrayed in this movie. In fact, Casey’s brother made a documentary that inspired the late Penny Marshall to make this movie. It’s a fun film with humor, drama and some pretty good baseball action. Tom Hanks, Geena Davis, Madonna, Lori Petty and others bring some star power to this story of women’s baseball and sibling rivalry, but you are likely going to long remember the turn of Jon Lovitz as the brash, non-PC scout who discovers Davis and Petty.

6) Major League (1989). The baseball performances are a bit up and down here. Tom Berenger does not make a real convincing catcher, while Charlie Sheen looks like the pitcher he used to be and Dennis Haysbert looks like he can kill fastballs (and whiff on curves), but this movie is about great humor and a funny premise – an owner who wants to lose, drive down the attendance and move the team to warmer climes. Plenty of funny scenes from Wesley Snipes doing pushups at home plate every time he pops up to the guys using an outboard fishing boat motor when their Jacuzzi breaks down. But Bob Uecker steals the show and is pitch perfect as Harry Doyle, the cynical long-suffering hilarious Indians’ announcer.

5) Bad News Bears (1976 Original). Everyone has their own stories of playing Little League or coaching it or watching their kids playing it and this story takes a cynical and accurate look at the over-hyped, over-intense win at all costs world of kids playing baseball. Walter Matthau as the alcoholic washout forced to coach and Vic Morrow as the type of dad/coach who you and his wife and kid would like to kick to the curb are perfectly cast. Tatum O’Neal in a follow up to Paper Moon and Jackie Earle Haley play the “recruited” ringers for Matthau’s team. The ending is a perfect cynical send-up to “games” that are taken too seriously.

4) Pride of the Yankees (1942). A classic baseball biography about the greatest first baseman of all time, who only got out of the shadow of the greatest player of all time by dying young of a disease that is still incurable and still linked to the name of Lou Gehrig. Gary Cooper is probably too old for the part, but as an actor he is perfect for playing the stoic Iron Horse. Teresa Wright was terrific as she morphs from happy young bride to tragic, soon-to-be widow and Walter Brennan gives his normal great support as a sportswriter turned friend. Ironic that the man who cast a giant shadow on Gehrig, Babe Ruth,  “stars” in this bio flick.

3) Bull Durham (1988). A great love triangle where there is only love between two of the points of the triangle and lust between two. This is where Tim Robbins and Susan Sarandon met to start one of the great, long-lasting love affairs in Hollywood history, which died of course. This is where Kevin Costner calls strikeouts fascist. It is one of the more cerebral of baseball movies thanks to some of the Southern Gothic monologues from Sarandon.

2) The Natural (1984). As boyish looking as he was back then, Robert Redford was (like Cooper) too old for the part. But he plays it well.

Side note and spoiler alert. Lots of folks do not know that the early movie shooting incident echoed a real-life incident from 1949 when Phillie Eddie Waitkus was shot and nearly killed by a crazed fan.

The movie cruises through a tale of failure, corruption, and ultimate redemption with great turns by Robert Duvall, Glen Close, Kim Basinger, Wilford Brimley, Barbara Hershey and Richard Farnsworth. The climax of the film is what was destined to happen and is one of the most memorable in baseball film history.

1) Field of Dreams (1989). Maybe there is no crying in baseball, but a simple line in this movie, “Dad, wanna have a catch?” brings this writer to tears every time. This is a baseball film where the focus is on so much more than baseball. The movie is about perseverance and faith and hope and like the Natural, redemption.  Kevin Costner is the farmer who risks everything to answer the voice in his head that tells him to sacrifice a big chunk of his farm to build a baseball field. Top-flight performances by everyone from Amy Madigan to James Earl Jones to Burt Lancaster and a movie that catches in your throat.

Okay, a couple quick questions:

  1. What are your Top 10 baseball movies?
  2. What do you think of Dan P’s list?
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Astros’ front office facing a new phase this off-season

The Astros entered a brand new phase in this off-season, something this particular front office had not had to face since taking over in Houston.

Major Losses in the front office

After a few nips and tucks over the last few years (like David Stearns going to Milwaukee), this off-season brought a major overhaul as long time right and left-hand men to Jeff Luhnow, Sig Mejdal and Mike Elias, headed off to do a re-build in Baltimore as Assistant GM and GM respectively. A smart guy like Luhnow no doubt has had replacements lined up for Mejdal and Elias, but whoever takes their place will not have all the experience and the years of interface with Luhnow that these two men have. This will be a test whether “The Process” can work as efficiently without their presence.

Losing Valued Free Agents

Before this off-season, who was the best Free Agent that this particular Front Office let walk away since they took over. Mike Fiers? Jason Castro? Pat Neshek? Luke Gregerson? Colby Rasmus? Certainly, these players have had some value after they left, but it would be fairly truthful that up to this season, the team has not really lost any players it really wanted back badly. This season it could be argued that they have lost 3 players they really would have liked back, but thought they would be too expensive to bring back. We know they had tried to extend Dallas Keuchel previously and did extend a qualifying offer to him. Marwin Gonzalez brought a lot of flexibility and value to the team. Charlie Morton was one of their greatest reclamation projects (along with Collin McHugh) and they would have liked him back. But they did not win Morton back, have more or less replaced Marwin and are not likely in the lottery for DK.

This Front Office does not let its heartstrings distract it from its ultimate goal of global domination (in a baseball sense). They lost short term but probably win long term.

Big Arbitration Year

All teams have to face some kind of arbitration decisions each year, but rarely does a team have ten such players at one time. The Astros have come to terms with seven of the individuals, Will Harris, Jake Marisnick, Ryan Pressly, McHugh, Lance McCullers, Brad Peacock and Roberto Osuna. They will attempt to come to an agreement with Carlos Correa, Gerrit Cole and Chris Devenski before having to face them in arbitration.

Yesterday, a friend of the blog, Zanuda, wondered if that not agreeing with Cole, Correa and Devo signalled the team would probably lose them eventually to Free Agency. Possibly, because we know that Cole and Correa belong to Scott Boras, who will undoubtedly want to squeeze more juice out of the turnip than this F.O. may think they are worth.

Future Losses

The big elephant in the room that bloggers and fans are talking about, but that the team has not mentioned publicly is potential future losses for the team. They could easily lose 3/5 of their rotation at the end of the season, McHugh, Cole and Justin Verlander. George Springer is under control for two years as is Brad Peacock. Could they try to extend a Correa beyond his three seasons, or attempt to extend (probably unsuccessfully) anyone who is coming off in the next couple years?  It would not surprise anyone if the Astros fill in the 2 spots behind the top three with youth to know what they will have after this season.

Big Payroll

After having a rock bottom payroll between 2012 and 2015 and not getting above league average (according to Spotrac.com) until 2018, the team is facing a season where there have been murmurings about teasing the $206 million threshold for the luxury tax as a team. Unless the Astros unexpectedly sign a Bryce Harper in the off-season, they won’t get there, but the much bigger payrolls they have been seeing lately also lead to more expectations and possibly more pressure on the front office.

However, this is a front office that has shown ice water in their veins when it comes to player value. The only real extended contract they have handed out was to their very best player, Jose Altuve. Now would they have given him that same contract if he was 32 years old? Probably not.

Bottom line, the Astros front office tore down a rotting structure down to its foundation when they took over in the off-season of 2011. They built a team that has been one of the best in the majors the last two seasons. The challenge at this point is sustainability, something that Luhnow’s former team the Cardinals has been adept at providing. Can he do the same here with the Astros? It would be foolish to vote against him.

Correa and Altuve and what went wrong in 2018

It may seem almost sinful to lump Carlos Correa‘s below average 2018 with Jose Altuve‘s 2018, which is really only below average for Mr. Altuve. But here’s the point. The Astros’ offense was down in 2018 from a universe leading 2017, down almost 100 runs (896 to 797 runs). And you don’t have to squint too hard to see that a big chunk of that could be attributed to Correa’s and Altuve’s off/injured years.

Let’s take a quick look at the drop off across some major stats…..

Stat Altuve 2017 Altuve 2018 Correa 2017 Correa 2018
GAMES 153 137 109 110
BA .346 .316 .315 .239
OBP .410 .386 .391 .323
OPS .957 .837 .941 .728
RUNS 112 R 84 R 82 R 60 R
DOUBLES 39 2BS 29   2BS 25   2BS 20   2BS
HRS 24 HRS 13 HRS 24 HRS 15 HRS
RBIS 81 RBIS 61 RBIS 84 RBIS 65 RBIS
WAR 8.3 5.2 6.3 1.7
XBH% 10.1% 7.4% 10.4% 7.7%
BB% 8.8% 9.2% 11% 11.3%
K% 12.7% 13.2% 19.1% 23.7%
DP% 12.6% 12.1% 11.7% 16.5%
RC 133 93 90 53

Correa batted almost the same amount of times in 2018 as 2017, but accomplished a lot less. Altuve lost only 10% ABs between the two years, but his production dropped more than that. Along with dropping in all the “traditional” stats, it is interesting to see that the two of them dropped about 77 in Runs Created (RC) for a team that dropped 99 runs.

The two players suffered injuries (back for Carlos / knee for Jose) that could easily have caused their lack of production, especially in the power area. It is very likely that neither player was healthy from the times they returned from their injuries to the end of the season. Both players saw big drops in WAR. It is almost insane that Correa ended up tied in WAR with the offensively anemic Jake Marisnick on the year.

Both Correa and Altuve hit extra base hits about 30% less often on the season. Correa had a big jump in K% and his 16.5% DP rate meant that for every 6 times he came up to bat with a runner on 1st he would hit into one double play.

Looking even deeper, here are some other telling stats.

For Altuve:

  • Altuve murdered both right-handed and left-handed pitching (over .344 BA and .950 OPS against both) in 2017. But he dropped off to a pedestrian .282 BA/.264 OBP/.766 OPS slash against lefties in 2018.
  • In late and close situations he was an amazing .441/.529/1.190 in 2018 and a much lower .300/.354/.724 in 2018.
  • Against power pitchers, his slash was an all world .384 BA/ .469 OBP/ 1.067 OPS in 2017 and a mere mortal .273/ .333/ .715 in 2018.

For Correa:

  • In 2017 with 2 outs and RISP he put up .305 BA/ .414 OBP/ .991 OPS and a slash that many pitchers might beat in 2018 – .137 BA/ .228 OBP/ .463 OPS.
  • In 2018, Correa was good on the road (.282 BA/ .348 OBP/ .818 OPS) and pitiful at home (.195/ .298/ .638).
  • After hitting .310 BA/ .383 OBP/ .871 OPS against power pitchers in 2017, he was a 90 lb weakling in 2018 (.167/ .237/ .546).
  • Something that points to his injury, Correa only hit .180 BA/ .261 OBP/ .517 OPS/ 2 HRs and 16 RBIs after the All Star Break.

It is pretty obvious that if Carlos Correa and Jose Altuve can come back healthy and can raise their games anywhere near 2017 standards this alone could supercharge the Astros’ offense. It is not just their numbers, but how they might lift all the players in front of and behind them in the lineup. Throw in All Star Michael Brantley and up and flying Alex Bregman, the heart of the team George Springer, WWE lover Josh Reddick, Cuban Yuli Gurriel, utility man Aledmys Diaz, DH Tyler White and whichever catcer they choose (Robinson Chirinos or Max Stassi) and this team could be back up on top offensively in 2019.

Designated hitter: A sad Astros’ history

All the talk about bringing in a designated hitter like Nelson Cruz (oops, gone), Edwin Encarnacion or Jose Martinez to Houston has triggered thoughts of the not very long, but not very good history of the Astros’ designated hitters. The Astros have had only to fill the DH spot full time since their move to the AL in 2013.

Truth to tell, just remember that the vast majority of teams do not have the equivalent of “Big Papi” David Ortiz sitting around waiting for his chance to hit. One of the best in the AL these days is……former Astro J.D. Martinez. So, if the Astros get so-so production from the DH spot they will be pretty much in the middle of teams in the AL. The problem has been that they have spent most of the 6 seasons of DH’ing in the bottom third or worst of the AL.

Here is a quick look at the Astros DH production as a team year-by-year with a quick look at what Tyler White did as a DH last season.

Year BA OBP OPS Runs HRs RBIs Main DHs
2013 .199 .276 .615 52 16 59 C. Carter/J.Castro /M. Krauss/JD Martinez
2014 .246 .317 .817 76 38 92 Carter/Castro
2015 .244 .291 .743 72 27 92 Gattis / Carter
2016 .223 .304 .696 62 19 62 Gattis / P. Tucker
2017 .226 .284 .671 77 19 71 Beltran/Gattis
2018 .242 .300 .751 72 28 104 Gattis/White
2018 Tyler White as DH .299 .365 .977 13 4 18 Only 77 ABs

The best DH year of the last six seasons may well be Chris Carter‘s 2014 season. Yikes! The last time the Astros went out and got what they thought was a solid veteran DH was 2017 when they picked up Carlos Beltran one year too late.

Evan Gattis was good when he was good, but Antarctica cold when he wasn’t. And he has been allowed to move along and find his worth on the FA market. Which has not happened yet.

Tyler White was very good in limited DH at bats in 2018. Can he do that over a whole season?

Choices Going Forward

  1. Give Tyler White the main spot at DH at minimum MLB wage. Let Michael Brantley help out and give Jose Altuve, Yuli Gurriel, Carlos Correa, Alex Bregman, et al a day off here and there at the DH spot.
  2. Trade for Edwin Encarnacion and perhaps not sending too much to the Indians depending on how much of his $21+ million salary the team wants to pick up. Oh, and he is about to turn 36. Oh, and though last season was a “down” year for him he did drive in 107 runs.
  3. Trade for Jose Martinez and let him be the DH, because he apparently is a butcher in the field. Even though he is already 30, he is available for 4 years of team control and will still be paid minimum in 2019. He has had a very strong slash of .309 BA/ .370 OBP/ .850 OPS in two seasons in the majors.
  4. Wait out the market and see if you can pick up an Evan Gattis or similar type at a discount since there is a glut of guys who can hit and are not very flexible in the field.
  5. Try number 1. above and if it does not work – chase a bat at the trade deadline which might include Cruz, Encarnacion and/or Martinez.

#5 sounds good to this writer. What do you think?