Questions to chew on with the first place Astros

There is a lot less than usual to complain about with the Astros right now, so here are just some random questions to chew on and/or ponder.

1) Did Justin Verlander have a shot at a 25 win season except for his team’s non-support?

Growing up, the Great White Whale for pitcher’s wins in a season was 30 wins, which Denny McLain caught with his 31 win season in 1968 for the Tigers. These days with 5 man rotations and pitchers maxing out at 35 starts in a season, 25 wins seems to be a very difficult goal and 30 wins as archaic as ball parks without lights. There has not been a pitcher with 25 or more wins since Bob Welch reeled in 27 wins for the A’s back in 1990. And I thought he was too busy cranking out pop hits after leaving Fleetwood Mac. Before that it was Steve Stone (yes that Steve Stone WGN fans) with 25 wins in 1980. Since 1990, the most wins in a season has been 24 by John Smoltz (1996), Randy Johnson (2002) and….. Justin Verlander (2011).

JV has 9 wins with one more start left in the first half of the season, but it is not difficult to squint at the 2 losses and the 5 no decisions he has suffered and see a few more wins with just a little support. His 2 losses were both 6 innings with one earned run allowed. His no decisions include an eight inning – no runs allowed start, eight innings – one run allowed, 6.2 innings – one run allowed, and 6 innings – 2 runs allowed. And before you start talking about how his offense saved his bad pitching bacon in some of his wins, his “worst” start in a win was 6 innings – 3 runs.

It is not far fetched to say he could easily be 12-0 or 13-0 at this point in the season. Of course, all of this points to how pointless it is to value wins in looking at pitchers. How many wins do you think JV will finish with this season? Did his teammates cost him a huge win total in 2018?

2) Would you give up Kyle Tucker to bring in J.T. Realmuto?

In a recent mlbtraderumors live Q&A – one of the posters asked the host if he would deal Tucker for Realmuto (the Marlins fine catcher) straight up. The host liked the trade. How about you?

Realmuto is a 27-year-old catcher who is just entering his prime and is one of the best out there. He is throwing out 42% of runners and currently is hitting .297/. 355/.879 with 9 HRs and 27 RBIs. He would cost about $2 million for the rest of this season, but would only have two arbitration years to go, which would undoubtedly be tied to fairly large raises and free agency heading into 2021.

Tucker is a 21 y.o. who is tearing up AAA (.303/.375/.881 with 10 HR and 56 RBIs with 12 SBs) and is considered a top 10 prospect in all of baseball. He obviously plays at an easier position in the OF vs. a catcher. Depending on when he gets called up – Tucker would be under team control including arbitration for between 6 or 7 years.

While Realmuto is at the more “skilled” position, the years of control have to weigh heavily in Tucker’s favor especially with Max Stassi‘s solid season. Any chance you would go for this? Or any chance the team would?

3) If the Astros do not hit the 3 million mark in attendance is that a disappointment?

Coming off their first World Series win in history, the idea of an immediate jump to the 3 million mark was considered a reasonable goal – something the team last reached in 2006 and 2007 after their previous WS appearance in 2005.

But note the following:

  • The Astros were already at 2.8 million attendance when they increased 9% to 3 million back in ’06.
  • The Astros drew 2.4 million last season and are on a pace for a little under 2.9 million currently. That is a 20% increase in attendance.
  • They are swimming upstream – baseball attendance on a whole has been on a decline and is down approximately 6% this season
  • They are currently 3rd in AL attendance after finishing 6th in 2017. The Astros are drawing about 35,600 per game as opposed to the Angels (36,900 per game) and the Yankees (42,150).
  • Note that the Astros are drawing to approx. 86% of stadium capacity, while the Angels are at 82% and the Yanks at 77%.

It would be nice if the Astros bumped that attendance up over the course of a contending summer, but they might not quite get to 3 million this season. Is that a disappointment?

4) Who has meant more to the recent Astros surge: Tony Kemp or Evan Gattis?

One of the keys to the Astros huge offense in 2017 was the ability to flip the lineup. With a tail end of the lineup manned by Jake Marisnick and Derek Fisher in early 2018, the only thing that was flipped was a wall that flipped up and put an end to all rallies.

Since Kemp came up on May 15th and added his .313 BA / .383 OBP / .805 OPS to the back end of the lineup the Astros offense has gone from 4.9 runs per game to 5.59 runs per game. But much more importantly they have done a much better job of consistently scoring. Before Tony came up in the first 44 games of the season, the Astros were shut out 4 times and were held to one run a shocking 9 times! In the 32 games since his call-up, they have not been shut out and have been held to one run only two times. The Astros are 21-8 in games Kemp plays in and 21-6 in games he starts.

Since around the same time that Kemp came up, Gattis has been on fire. In the 29 games, he has played in since May 15th he has 11 HRs and 35 RBIs. In that time, the Astros are 12-2 in games Gattis plays in and has an RBI and 8-7 in games he plays in and has no RBI. Gattis’ RBIs have been critical in those 12 wins – often the difference in the game or the RBIs that kick-started the offense.

The Astros were really struggling in the first month and a half with only the catcher spot hitting towards the end of the lineup. Gattis and Kemp have really solidified the back end and with Marwin Gonzalez getting hot in June, the team looks a lot more like 2017 lately.

Who has been more important to the Astros resurgence the last 5 weeks…Gattis or Kemp?

Are there any questions you want to add to the pool here today?

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Top 30 Astro moves under GM Jeff Luhnow

This week the Astros locked up GM Jeff Luhnow through the year 2023 and gave him a promotion and title of President of Baseball Operations. In the mystery world of GM and manager salaries, we don’t know if he is a volunteer candy striper or pulling down Justin Verlander green, but it would be a good guess that he’s making somewhere between $5 and 10 million a year. While much of the world thinks he simply had his team tank for a few years and then won based on obtaining better draft picks, those who have watched closely know there were a lot of steps that led to last year’s championship and this year’s highly competitive team.

Here is one wag’s rankings of the top 30 moves of the Luhnow era and note – there is a better ranking for help in the WS year…..

  1. Justin Verlander trade – Really one of the most significant trades to occur after the “normal” July 31 trade deadline ever, this trade energized the team, the fan base and helped drive the team to their first WS championship….and did not cause them to lose their very top prospects.
  2. Carlos Correa draft and signing – Mark Appel, Byron Buxton, Mike Zunino and Kevin Gausman were all thrown around as being more worthy than Correa for the overall 1-1 pick in 2012. But the Astros grabbed the player who has been the most accomplished to date from that class and signed him under slot (see #5 below).
  3. Charlie Morton signing – After 9 years in the NL, Morton had a 46-71 career record and a 4.54 ERA. Oh, and he had pitched only 17.1 IP in 2016 due to a non-arm injury. The Phillies bought out his contract for $1 million and the pointy heads in the Astros front office looked at the increased velocity he had shown and super spin rate in those 17.1 innings and said give this guy $14 million for the next two seasons. The result – a 22-8 record and a 3.38 ERA, plus he was the winning pitcher in two 7th game playoff matchups.
  4. Bo Porter firing – A.J. Hinch signing – Luhnow sat through one season of incumbent manager Brad Mills before firing him and hiring “his” guy, Bo Porter. By the end of the 2nd season under Porter, Luhnow had to admit that this was not working. Porter was likely not going to be the guy to nurture the rebuild or to be 100% behind the statistics-driven front office. So he fired Porter and before the start of the 2015 season hired Hinch, who had won only 42% of his games with the D’Backs. But that was then and the more mature, Hinch took the better players he was given and has won 57% of his regular season games and the whole enchilada.
  5. Signing Lance McCullers Jr. and Rio Ruiz with the excess of Correa cash – Both McCullers and Ruiz were first-round talents that seemed college-bound headed into the draft. Luhnow and friends grabbed McCullers with a compensatory pick and Ruiz as a 4th rounder and then signed them with the extra cash saved in the Correa signing. The 24 y.o. LMJ has been a bit up and down and injury prone, but he has an overall MLB record of 27-19 with a 3.63 ERA and is a critical part of the Astros present and future. Ruiz was used to bring in Evan Gattis.
  6. Rule 5 “trade” for Marwin Gonzalez – The Red Sox took Marwin from the Cubs in the Rule 5 draft and immediately traded him to the Astros. He has been the most flexible Astro since 2012 playing all over the IF and in left field and culminating in his 2017 career year leading the team in RBIs on the way to the championship.
  7. Collin McHugh waiver pick-up –  To get any kind of asset and not give up another player or a draft pick is a bargain. To pick up a pitcher who has a 50-28 record and a 3.57 ERA for nothing is unbelievable. And now Collin has slid into the bullpen without a complaint and has been a great weapon this season with a 2-0 record and a 1.13 ERA.
  8. Combine / Integrate traditional and sabermetric methods – The Astros have moved from a lost team to the cutting edge of applying technology to the traditional methods available to evaluate and develop players.
  9. Trade for Brian McCann – He’s showing his age a bit and his batting average is often lagging, but straight out without the trade for McCann the Astros would not be world champs. The consummate tough guy catcher and team leader.
  10. Back Away from Brady Aiken – It was embarrassing at the time and made the fandom question whether the front office knew what they were doing and whether they were going to be a team that would have trouble signing players going forward. But bottom line would you trade Aiken for #11?
  11. Drafting Alex Bregman – It feels like a slam dunk now, but the Astros drafted a top college middle infielder as the second player in the 2015 draft when they already had one of the best young 2B and SS combo in the majors in Correa and Jose Altuve. And if you were thinking of moving him to 3B….the team had just committed $47.5 million through 2020 for Cuban 3B Yuli Gurriel. Three years down the line and the Astros look brilliant for drafting Bregman and handing him the third base spot.
  12. Signing Yuli Gurriel – At the time, this was the biggest cash and years commitment the team put on their books for a guy, who looked good in international venues but had not come close to playing 162 games a year. But….again this was picking up an asset without giving up a player or a draft pick. They grabbed him, moved him to 1B and have watched as he has been a line drive machine for the team.
  13. Trade for Evan Gattis – Luhnow took a big chance here, trading off a young pitcher, Mike Foltynewicz who was just sniffing around the majors, a 2013 second round pick in Andrew Thurman and a 2012 4th round pick in Rio Ruiz for a powerful backup catcher with knee and back problems in Gattis and a 28 y.o. reliever, James Hoyt. Gattis can be very cold or very hot, but he has done significant damage for the Astros including the 7th game homer that helped send them to the championship.
  14. Jed Lowrie/Fernando Rodriguez trade for Brad Peacock, Max Stassi and Chris Carter – This trade demonstrates the importance of allowing trades to simmer before total judgment. Back after the 2015 season, this looked like a meh trade. On the plus side, Lowrie had not stayed with the A’s very long and even re-signed with the Astros before being traded again. But it looked like the Astros had really only gotten Carter out of the trade, who was a two-trick pony of infrequent home runs mixed in with overly frequent strikeouts. Flash ahead to 2018 and Peacock has become a great pitcher for the Astros and Stassi has become a very solid catcher sharing time with McCann.
  15. Trade for Ken Giles – Just like one can’t deny that Giles pitched poorly in the playoffs last season, one also has to admit he was very good during the regular season where he converted 34 of 38 save opportunities. He has had some meltdowns along the way and currently is sharing the closer’s role with #26 below. The Astros gave up a lot of bodies for Giles, but with Appel retiring, Brett Oberholtzer doing little before leaving, Harold Arauz and Tom Eshelman never getting above the minors – this is basically Giles for Vince Velasquez. VV has had his moments, but overall he has reflected his below average 15-20 record and 4.55 ERA for the Phils.
  16. Will Harris waiver pick-up – This move could be tied entirely to tanking as the Astros had the first shot at Harris when he was released by Arizona and pounced on him. Even with some struggles here in 2018, he has been a great bullpen pick up with a 2.53 ERA over 211 appearances over the last 4 years with the Astros.
  17. Signing of Josh Reddick – Colby Rasmus unexpectedly accepted his qualifying offer for the 2016 season (the first player to do that) and so instead of looking for an OF in 2016, the Astros were looking for one in 2017. Reddick was signed to a four-year contract and turned in a career year in 2017. He has started 2018 slower with the bat, but his fielding has been sterling including 6 OF assists in53 games.
  18. Jarred Cosart / Enrique Hernandez / Austin Wates traded for Jake Marisnick / Francis Martes / Colin Moran / and the pick that became Daz Cameron – While Jake has not been good this year, he was a major contributor in the 2017 regular season until he was injured. Martes gave the Astros a few good spot starts along with poor relief work last year. Moran was a major piece in obtaining Gerrit Cole and Cameron was one of the pieces that brought Verlander to the Astros.
  19. Defensive Shifts – Once in awhile these backfire on the Astros, but anyone who watches a lot of games knows that the Astros use of this strategy has been a positive and has led to more shifting throughout the game.
  20. Front office additions Mike Elias and Sig Mejdal – Luhnow brought both of these guys from the Cardinals as special assistants to him. Elias a Yalie has been an important cog in the successful string of drafts. Mejdal has two engineering degrees (he must be a great guy says I) and was inspired by Moneyball to pursue this career and he helps out in all aspects of the game.
  21. International Emphasis – Look at the Astros top 30 prospects – player after player has arrived here out of a big emphasis of signing youngsters out of Latin America. This also reflects the additional investment Jim Crane put into the Astros’ prospects when he took over ownership of the team. This is a huge supplement to the annual drafts.
  22. Moving Joe Musgrove from the rotation to the bullpen rather than to the minors – Musgrove was stinking it up as a starter in 2017. Instead of sending him to the minors, they moved him to the bullpen where he became a late-inning weapon including winning the incredible Game 5 of the World Series. Musgrove was a big chip in the Cole trade.
  23. Jose Altuve extension – There were a lot of concerns about the Mighty Might leaving for the highest bidder after the 2019 season. Instead, the team reached out and locked him up through his prime thru 2024, while sending his teammates a positive message.
  24. Protecting the cream of the minors – There was a lot of pressure for the team to go get additional starting pitching help during the 2017 season. But they never let #29 and or #30 be part of the deal for Verlander or Chris Archer or Jose Qunitana.
  25. Trade for Gerrit Cole – The Astros had just won the World Series after picking up Verlander. They had a strong rotation even if they used McHugh or Peacock in the Mike Fiers spot. But they showed a killer instinct in going for Cole and he has been worth every asset they sent.
  26. Hector Rondon signing – The Astros saw their bullpen meltdown in the heat of the 2017 playoffs. They decided to go sign a veteran in Rondon who had been a closer and had been through the playoff crunch with the Cubs. He has been a valuable bullpen piece in 2018.
  27. Carlos Beltran – He had one of his worst seasons as a player in trying to fill the Astros DH black hole in 2017. But as intimated by many of the other hitters, he was a great mentor and unofficial coach and the team was still the top hitting team in the majors even with his lighter stats.
  28. Tony Sipp – Sipp came to the Astros as a waiver pickup like McHugh and Harris. He gave them two strong seasons and after faltering the last two seasons he has again become a relevant pitcher in the bullpen in 2018.
  29. The Kyle Tucker Pick – He was the last of the first round picks resulting from the Astros’ bad play – chosen as the 5th pick overall in the 2015 draft. Despite being 2 to 5 years younger than his competition at every level above rookie ball, he has been a shining star at a position of need at the major league level and his numbers at AAA this season make him a prime call-up later in the season.
  30. The Forrest Whitley Pick – He was the 8th pitcher chosen in the 2016 draft (17th overall) but is considered the top pitching prospect despite his non-PED drug suspension. He is more likely to get a call in 2019, but if he keeps up his minor league dominance he might be of assistance late in 2018.

A few questions:

  • Does this list convince you that Luhnow’s success is more than a product of tanking?
  • Do you agree with the 30 chosen?
  • Would you move the 30 around – up or down?

Seattle M’s: “Who are those guys?’

In the seminal buddies film (buddies who are 1970’s anti-heroes and – spoiler alert – headed for a sad ending) “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid”, Butch and the Kid are pursued incessantly by a mystery posse. They break away from the rest of their gang, try to lose the posse by walking in a creek, send one of their two horses in a different direction and finally try to lose them by fleeing on foot up a mountain. Through all this, the pursuers never falter, which brings Butch and Kid to continuously ask “Who are those guys”.

The 2018 Astros may be saying this exact quote about their closest pursuers (or at times division leaders), the Seattle Mariners. Here at this blog we reviewed the M’s earlier in the season and estimated they would finish the season at 81-81. https://chipalatta.com/2018/04/16/astros-division-rival-2018-seattle-mariners/  At the 64% pace the M’s are winning at, they would reach 81 wins about the third week in August.

So, who is this team that is keeping pace with the Astros despite losing one of their best players, Robinson Cano for taking a substance that masks PEDs? They are a team that has been terribly efficient or terribly lucky in winning as they have a 46-25 record through Saturday even though they are only +28 in runs scored vs. runs allowed. In comparison, the Astros were only 1/2 a game better at 47-25 despite having a major league-best +154 runs scored over allowed!! The biggest reason is Seattle’s great 23-10 record in one-run games, which is not only a great percentage but also a large number of one-run wins this early in the season. The Astros are a crummy 6-12 in one-run games so far in 2018.

So how are the M’s matching up with the AL?

Starting Pitching

Even though the M’s are trailing the Astros by a run in ERA for their starting rotation, they are still solidly 6th in the AL as nobody is close to the Astros starting five. The M’s are getting top-notch numbers from the expected (James Paxton 6-1, 3.44 ERA), the up and coming (Marco Gonzalez 7-3, 3.42 ERA) and the unexpected journeyman (Former Astro Wade LeBlanc 3-0, 2.63 ERA). Mike Leake (7-3, 4.26 ERA) and Felix Hernandez (6-6, 5.44 ERA) have both benefitted from good run support to hand the M’s 13 wins. The starters have been solid and have given the team a shot all year long.

Bullpen

The M’s bullpen has been just as solid as the starters with a 6th best 3.53 ERA. They are leading the league in saves with 28 (the Astros only have 17) which reflects how great they have been in one-run games. Edwin Diaz has been nails in the closer role, with 27 saves in 30 opportunities. He is on a pace for 60 saves, which really does not seem probable. They have had some injuries in the bullpen, but still have had good performances from Chasen Bradford (4-0, 2.30 ERA), lefty James Pazos (1-1, 1.48 ERA), and Dan Altavilla (3-2, 2.61 ERA and on the DL). Their pen has been solid and clutch in close games.

Offense

The Mariners love the number 6 as they are also 6th in runs scored in the AL (just like they are 6th in ERA for the SPs and RPs). The M’s lost 2B Cano to his suspension, but just so happened to have traded in the offseason for 2B Dee Gordon, who they used in CF until shifting him back to 2B after Cano’s suspension. Along with well known DH Nelson Cruz (16 HR and 39 RBIs), the M’s have developed some little known young players scattered throughout the lineup. SS Jean Segura is vying with Jose Altuve for the top BA with .343 BA / .856 OPS / 43 RBIs and 14 SBs. RF Mitch Haniger is probably their best hitter at this point with a .272 BA/.358 OBP/.872 OPS slash and 16 HRs and a team-leading 53 RBIs. They are getting decent numbers from Gordon and 1B Ryon Healy and 3B Kyle Seager is down at .227 BA, but still has 41 RBIs.

Overall, the Mariners are above average in all aspects of the game. They are in almost every game they play and they have been one of the best teams in baseball when the game is close. Teams that are this good at winning late tend to play with confidence throughout what they feel is a magical year. The Astros just have to hope that the M’s float back towards their real norm.

Where have all the flowers gone? A look at the Astros’ pitching prospects

A few questions keep coming up about the Houston Astros. Does the current front office of the Astros’ have a weakness relative to developing pitching talent? Does their minor league tandem method fail to nurture major league starters? Can they even develop bullpen parts?

Look at the pitchers who have pitched for them this season. For the pitchers who made their major league debuts as Astros, the list is only four pitchers long: Dallas Keuchel, Lance McCullers, Chris Devenski and James Hoyt. Dallas was developed under the previous regime, Hoyt is basically a AAAA pitcher received as the other chip in the Evan Gattis trade from Atlanta and Devenski was brought in from the White Sox by trade. Only McCullers was truly developed exclusively by this front office.

So where have all the flowers (pitching prospects) gone? My crack staff of researchers (OK cracked staff of one – me) has compiled a list of pitchers, who have appeared on Astro prospect lists between 2012 and 2017 (shown in chronological order to when they were on the list) and cover the question – Whatever happened to …..?

  1. Jarred Cosart. Made the majors with the Astros and then was sent to the Marlins in the trade that brought back Francis Martes, Jake Marisnick, Colin Moran and the pick that became Daz Cameron. Moran became a key piece in the Gerrit Cole trade and Cameron headed to the Tigers in the Justin Verlander trade.’
  2. Paul Clemens. Came here in the Michael Bourn trade with Atlanta, ended up pitching poorly with the big club, was released in 2014, bumped around other places since and lately has been seen in the Mexican and Independent leagues.
  3. Mike Foltynewicz. A 1st round draft choice by the Astros, pitched below average in one shot with the Astros and then was included in the Evan Gattis trade with Atlanta. He has pitched average to below average with the Braves, but this season at the age of 26 he has had a great start to the season.
  4. Brett Oberholtzer. Also came in the Bourn trade, pitched decently in three shots with the big club and then was sent to the Phillies in the Ken Giles trade. Pitched poorly for the Phillies and Dodgers and is now in the Rockies farm system.
  5. Kyle Weiland. Obtained with Jed Lowrie in a trade for Mark Melancon. Made a 3 game appearance with the Astros, bopped around the minors and never came back from the injury bug in 2014.
  6. Adrian Houser. Second round draft choice of the Astros included in the Carlos Gomez / Mike Fiers trade with Milwaukee. Has had a couple of cups of coffee with the Brewers and currently pitching for their AAA squad at 25 y.o.
  7. Tanner Bushue. Second-round pick of the Astros who made it as high as A ball and then was released in 2013.
  8. Juan Abreu. Third pitcher received in the Bourn deal, made a brief appearance with the Astros, released in 2012 and out of baseball since 2015.
  9. Ross Seaton. Third round pick of the Astros who topped out in AAA and was released in 2015. Has bumped around and down since.
  10. Jake Buchanan. Eighth round pick of the Astros, who had a couple short stints with the big club and was released in 2016. Currently with Arizona’s AAA club.
  11. Lance McCullers. Compensation pick who has been a critical part of the starting rotation the last 3 years.
  12. Kevin Comer. Obtained in the J.A. Happ trade with Toronto, released after the 2017 season and currently with Detroit AAA club at 25 y.o.
  13. Brad Peacock. Obtained in the first Jed Lowrie trade with Oakland, persevered through injuries and became a critical bullpen/ spot starter cog in the 2017 run to the World Series.
  14. Joe Musgrove. Also obtained in the J.A. Happ trade, worked his way to the majors and was an important bullpen presence in 2017, including winning the pivotal 5th game marathon in the WS. Included in the trade for Gerrit Cole. Has given the Pirates 4 strong starts after starting the season injured.
  15. Nick Tropeano. Fifth-round pick of the Astros, who made the majors for the Astros and then was included in a trade for Hank Conger. Currently 5th man in the Angels rotation.
  16. Asher Wojciechowski – Obtained in the J.A. Happ trade, battled injuries, had a cup of coffee with the Astros and released in 2016. Has bobbed around since, currently pitching AAA for the Orioles.
  17. Daniel Mengden. A fourth-round pick of the Astros was included in the 2015 trade to the A’s for Scott Kazmir. Despite what happened Tuesday night he has turned into a solid middle of the rotation pitcher for Oakland, And as Becky has said he has the best moustache since Rollie Fingers.
  18. Vince Velasquez. A second-round pick of the Astros – pitched a little for the Astros in 2015 and then included in the Ken Giles trade. Has been injured quite a bit and his production has been average or below when healthy in Philly.
  19. Josh Fields. Rule 5 pickup, who had steadily improving numbers in his three seasons with the Astros. Traded for Yordan Alvarez who has become top Astros prospect. Has pitched very well for the Dodgers in a set-up role (Don’t look at his relief appearance in Game 2 of the WS)
  20. Mark Appel. Overall #1 pick and huge fail in the minors. Packaged him for Giles and he went to Philly, struggled even more and then retired.
  21. Josh Hader. Obtained in the Bud Norris trade and then included in the Gomez/Fiers trade to Milwaukee. Currently is one of the best LH closers in the majors at 24 y.o.   Not that we could use one of those.
  22. Kyle Smith. Obtained in the Justin Maxwell trade. Was rising through the system, but has never pitched well after losing all of 2015 to injury. Has not pitched this season.
  23. Andrew Thurman. A second-round pick of the Astros, he was included in the Evan Gattis trade and has bounced around the minors for both the Braves and the Dodgers.
  24. Michael Feliz. Signed as free agent out of the Dominican, he worked his way up to the Astros bullpen, he was capable of big strikeout numbers and big ERAs. He was included in the Cole trade and continues to struggle with the Pirates.
  25. Francis Martes. Another FA out of the Dominican – he became the Astros top pitching prospect before Mr. Whitley appeared. His 2017 debut with the Astros was a mix of poor bullpen work and decent starting pitching. His 2018 return to the minors has been a combination of poor pitching and injury.
  26. Riley Farrell. A third round pick, after missing most of 2016 to injury, he worked his way to AA where he is sporting great K numbers and bad BB numbers.
  27. Reymin Guduan. Signed as an FA out of the Dominican – he was recently brought up for his second shot at the bigs when Joe Smith was put on the DL. His time in the minors, including this season includes some good numbers, but he struggles with control.
  28. Chris Devenski. The player to be named later in the trade-off of Brett Myers he has ridden his killer changeup to a position as one of the best relievers in the game.
  29. David Paulino. And yet another FA out of the Dominican, he rose quickly through the system and had enjoyed a couple call-up to the big club when a PED suspension in 2017 detoured his career. Can he come back and be a major league pitcher? He is stuck in the minors and shut down at the moment.
  30. Brady Rodgers. Third round pick – Had a rough cup of coffee with the Astros in 2016 – pitched well at AAA when he went down with TJ surgery and may come back in mid-2018
  31. Akeem Bostick. Picked up in exchange for Carlos Corporan, he has had some ups and downs climbing up from the minors and is currently a 24 y.o. pitching decently at Corpus AA
  32. Patrick Sandoval. Eleventh round pick, who is now pitching at A ball as a 21 y.o.
  33. Jandel Gustave. A free agent out of the Dominican, he worked his way up to a short stint in the majors, but is currently working his way back from TJ surgery.
  34. Brendan McCurry. The second time the Astros traded Jed Lowrie they received McCurry back from the A’s. Shortly after that he was hit with a 50 game drug suspension. He has had very good numbers in the lower minors and just so-so at AAA
  35. Forrest Whitley. First round choice who became one of the top rated pitching prospects in all of baseball. He was derailed for a time due to the use of a non-PED drug and has just returned from his 50 game suspension for a nice first start at AA Corpus.
  36. Franklin Perez. A FA signing out of Venezuela, he was a critical piece in the Justin Verlander trade. He currently is down with a lat injury.
  37. James Hoyt. As discussed above – a bullpen backup piece who moves from AAA to the big club as needed
  38. Cionel Perez. A FA signing out of Cuba, he is currently putting up strong numbers at AA Corpus
  39. Guadalupe Chavez – Received in the trade of Scott Feldman to Toronto this is the biggest mystery on this list. As an 18 y.o. at Astros rookie ball he put up a 4-1 record, 1.38 ERA, 1.01 WHIP in 45.2 IP and promptly disappeared. He is shown as voluntarily retired – he must have gotten a heck of a signing bonus to retire at like 19.

So, there you have it. The Astros develop more major league level pitchers than you would think, but not all for their own team. Thirteen of these 39 pitchers listed as top prospects some time in the last 6 years were used in trades that picked up players as diverse in value as Justin Verlander and Hank Conger. Some bob around between the majors and the minors. Some have made it big time in the majors. Many have floated away to other minor league organizations or back to their homes. Some have been undone by injuries. Three have faced PED or non-PED drug suspensions.

What is your verdict? Does this team know how to develop pitchers or not?

Can fans accept Dallas Keuchel as Astros’ #5 starter?

Dallas Keuchel is not performing like the 2015 Cy Young DK or even the 2017 DK, where he was brilliant when healthy. After a particularly bumpy three starts in a row where his ERA has ballooned from a very good 3.39 to a below average 4.45, folks are wanting something done, but are unsure what it is they want done.

If he is hurt again, then a DL stint makes sense, but there has been no indication that the problems he is having are health-related. If he has changed from a control pitcher with a 91 mph fastball, who has turned into a control pitcher with an 89 mph fastball, there’s not much that can be done. If he is just a bit unlucky as a lot of the hits against him appear to be hard to semi-hard ground balls finding the right hole in the defense, it is possible that this will improve as a statistical swing back to the mean.

A DL stint could be the answer, but there is no way they would get away with putting the outspoken Keuchel on the DL, if he is not hurt. He would be out there pointing out the truth in a hurry and that could be quite embarrassing and would gain the attention of the league office. They could send him to the bullpen and bring one of his buddies, Collin McHugh or Brad Peacock into the rotation. But that could adversely affect the bullpen, which has been a bit iffy and overworked lately. And it would be putting someone in the pen who would not likely be as gracious as McHugh about the assignment. They could put together a trade for Keuchel, but they would be trading him at the lower end of his worth and they would be assuming that they would not need his arm to get through the rest of the season, which would be a stretch based on seeing Charlie Morton, Collin McHugh and Lance McCullers on the injury list last season.

So, let’s say for argument’s sake that the 4.45 ERA/1.318 WHIP is the new norm for DK. Can the fans accept that as what they would get out of the last slot in the rotation?

Let’s look at what the bottom end of the rotation of the Astros’ main AL competitors looks like.

  • Seattle. The M’s #4 and #5 starters are Mike Leake (4.46 ERA) and Felix Hernandez (5.70 ERA). So, the M’s would love to have DK as their 5th starter and he has been as good as their #4 starter.
  • Yanks. With Jordan Montgomery out for the season, the #3, 4 and 5 starters are Masahiro Tanaka (4.58 ERA and on the DL), Sonny Gray (4.81 ERA and thankfully not an Astro) and Domingo German (5.32 ERA). So DK would get snapped up by the Yanks in a quick minute.
  • Angels. The Halos #5 starter has been former Astro Nick Tropeano (4.83 ERA). Again, Keuchel would be an improvement.
  • Red Sox. The Sox #5 starter has been Drew Pomeranz (6.81 ERA and on the DL)
  • Indians. The Tribes #5 starter who has lost his spot was Josh Tomlin (7.23 ERA).

What the numbers show us is that Keuchel would be an acceptable #5 for all of the top teams in the AL and even higher on the Yanks. He has put up solid numbers – numbers that could have easily resulted in a win in 8 of his 14 starts and numbers that kept the team in the game in 3 of the other 6.

Now, if he spirals out of control towards a 5.00 ERA then it will be time for action. But for the time being, unless there is a hidden injury occurring, the Astros will continue to roll DK out in that spot in the rotation and hope that he finds a little of his magic from just last season.

Through the looking glass: What’s left is right, what’s right is left for Astros

Old school baseball fans recently have had to throw away ideas that had been carved in stone over many years of baseball watching, but blasted to bits by technological dynamite in this new nerd world order. Stealing bases? Not an efficient way of scoring runs. Bunting? Fuggeddaboutit. Placing extra fielders on one side of the field daring the opponent to hit against their trends? Now you are talking. There are tons of others….discuss among your selves.

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Astros debate: Kelvin Herrera vs. Brad Hand

On the brink of summer, the Astro fans are rightfully upset with a bullpen that had problems closing out games in the 2017 playoffs and recently has struggled mightily closing out games in the 2018 regular season. As of June 1, the Astros were 7th in the AL in save conversion at 65% and seem to bring drama to every situation even when they are successful….especially Ken Giles.

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