Taking a look at the Astros’ pitching future

If there is a complaint about the current Astros front office that does have a ring of truth to it – it has been the “failure” to develop major league pitching from scratch, starting or bullpen.  They have drafted and developed Lance McCullers Jr.as a starter and he has been very good except for the chunks of seasons he has spent in dry dock. Will Harris, Collin McHugh and Tony Sipp all were picked up after being released elsewhere. Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole, Brad Peacock, Chris Devenski, Joe Musgrove, Mike Fiers, Ken Giles, Roberto Osuna,  and Ryan Pressly were all obtained by trades. Luke Gregerson, Hector Rondon, Joe Smith and now Wade Miley were all signed as Free Agents. Dallas Keuchel? He was legacy from the previous administration. There have been some appearances of in-house developed talent like Francis Martes (out with TJ surgery) or Michael Feliz, but very sparse cameos mostly.

Some of the reasons for the sparseness was covered in this June 2018 post. Hard to turn pitchers into major leaguers when you are trading them for major leaguers.

However,  2018 brought possibly the first hint of a changing of the guard and it could not come too soon. Here is what the pitching free agent future looks like for the Astros:

  • After 2018 season, Keuchel and Morton leave (OK Keuchel is not officially gone yet)
  • After 2019 season, Verlander, Cole, McHugh, Wiley, Harris, Pressly, Rondon, and Smith are all FAs
  • After 2020 season, Peacock
  • After 2021, McCullers and Osuna

People can think the front office will extend a Verlander or Cole – probably not (JV more likely than Cole it seems). People can think the front office will re-sign a bunch of guys – not too likely for the guys they really want.

But what has to happen is that the Astros need to start filling in spots from within and luckily they are in better shape with that than in a long time. A look at mlb.com’s listing of the Astros top 30 prospects includes 14 of those 30 as pitchers, but more importantly, 10 of the top 14 are shown as pitchers, and those will be the focus of this post.

  • Forrest Whitley. He is shown as the #2 prospect behind Kyle Tucker on this list, however, most lists (and likely the Astros front office) have him as #1. He is the top-ranked pitching prospect in all of baseball according to mlb.com (Jonathan Mayo) and was a former 17th overall pick in 2016. He was set-back by his non-PED suspension and injuries in 2018 and with only about 80 innings between extended spring training, AA and Arizona Fall League it is hard to figure how many innings he will be allowed to pitch in 2019.

Prognosis. Likely late-season call-up from AAA but will he be put in the pen to keep his innings down?

  • Josh James. (#4 Prospect) A lot of times the 34th overall pick never makes it to the majors, but in this case, a 34th rounder in 2014 has already pitched and pitched well at the end of 2018 (2-0, 2.35 ERA, 11.3 K/9 IP). It helps that he was diagnosed with sleep apnea and suddenly his fastball hopped up to 100 mph in the minors. The Astros should be ordering CPAP machines by the gross.

Prognosis. After his jump from AA thru AAA to the majors last season he is the odds on favorite to start the season as the Astros #5 starter.

  • Cionel Perez. (#5 Prospect) The young lefty out of Cuba has pitched at all levels between A ball and the majors in his 2 seasons with the organization. He found a great groove at AA Corpus in 2018 with a 6-1 record, 1.98 ERA, and 10.9 K / 9 IP in 11 starts and 16 games. He had a decent cup of coffee with the Astros though his control was a bit of a question.

Prognosis. They may want him to get more than the 5 innings of pitching at AAA he had last year for seasoning. Or he could be battling #12 Prospect for a lefty spot in the Astros bullpen.

  • Corbin Martin. (#6 Prospect) – The local kid and 2nd round pick in 2017 has been a silver streak in racing from rookie ball to more than a half year at AA in just 1-1/2 seasons with the ‘Stros. So far in 154 minor league innings, he has a 9-3 record, 2.44 ERA, 0.983 WHIP and 9.6 K / 9 IP.

Prognosis. Similar numbers at AAA this season should earn him a call-up and have him lined up for a shot at the 2020 rotation.

  • J.B. Bukauskas. (#8 Prospect) – The overall #15 pick of the 2017 draft, he had a short stint in 2017 after signing, and then missed a big chunk of 2018 after a car accident and injury. He pitched best in 28 innings at A+ Buies Creek (3-0, 1.61 ERA) and then showed well in the Arizona Fall League.

Prognosis. Expect to see him at AAA Round Rock this season and from there he is just an injury call-up away from the majors.

  • Bryan Abreu. (#10 Prospect) – Signed as a teen out of the Dominican, he played mostly at rookie ball until rocking and rolling through A and A+ ball in 2018 right on to the 40 man roster (protected from the Rule 5 draft). In 2018 he was electric putting up a 6-1 record in 54 innings with a 1.49 ERA, 1.031 WHIP and 14.9 K/9 IP.

Prognosis. Obviously a little ways away, but if he continues to show his stuff at AA and AAA over the next two seasons he may be showing it at Minute Maid pretty soon.

  • Jairo Solis. (#11 Prospect) – A youngster signed out of the Dominican, some may scoff at his 2-5 record, 3.55 ERA and 1.599 WHIP at A ball Quad Cities in 2018. But he was only 18 y.o. almost 4 years younger than the average player at that level.

Prognosis. Way too early to project this kid, but when you get placed above another prospect, who has already pitched in the majors that is saying something.

  • Framber Valdez. (#12 Prospect) – That other prospect was Valdez, another young man out of the Dominican. He has snaked his way slowly up the organization since 2015, sometimes helped by the fact he seemed to be the only lefty doing anything positive on the farm. He got a shot to help out late in the season and he showed a ball that has crazy movement, problems with control, but also the propensity to not give up hits.

Prognosis. If they want him to be a starter he will likely be working on his control issues at AAA. If they want him to be a lefty out of the ‘pen he may break camp with the big club.

  • Rogelio Armenteros. (#13 Prospect) – He is one of the most accomplished minor league pitchers in the system with a sterling 29-13 record and 3.18 ERA over 430 innings since being signed out of Cuba. He had bookmark 8-1 records at Fresno in 2017 and 2018, though a much higher ERA (3.74 up from 2.16), which likely signals he was working on another pitch in 2018.

Prognosis. He’s a hard one to figure. Is he one of those AAAA guys who will never quite climb over the top or will he be one of the pitchers they are hoping to help them reach a soft landing in 2020 from their free agent losses?

  • Cristian Javier. (#14 Prospect) – A 2015 signee out of the Dominican, he has been steady Eddie rising up the ranks with one good performance after another. At 21 he spent 2018 at A and A+ ball putting up good numbers (7-6, 2.70 ERA, 1.109 WHIP, 11.9 K / 9 IP).

Prognosis. Likely three years away, but another name to watch.

Others. #18 Prospect Dean Deetz may have a shot at a bullpen spot out of Spring Training. #19 Prospect Brandon Bielak has been terrific after getting drafted in the 11th round in 2017. #26 Prospect Tyler Ives struggled as a 3rd rounder in 2017, but picked up the pace with a strong 2018. #27 Prospect Peter Solomon – the 4th rounder only pitched one game in 2017, but made up for it with a very good 2018 at A and A+ ball.

And don’t forget former #1 prospect Francis Martes, who may need to ask for a mulligan after getting hurt in 2017 and having TJ surgery. He may be bypassed when he returns in 2019.

So whatcha think of the team’s pitching future?

 

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Why Keuchel and Marwin are still out there

There is always a risk in a headline like this. By the time this is posted one or both of these Astro free agents, Dallas Keuchel and Marwin Gonzalez, could be signed. So a good alternate headline is why are Keuchel and Marwin still unsigned on Feb. 12th at 6:52 AM?

One of the things that can get players like this in trouble is a false comparison which can lead to a false expectation. In Marwin’s case the name of fellow Swiss Army knife Ben Zobrist gets bandied about. For Dallas his agent rolled out Hall of Famer Tom Glavine as a comp. To paraphrase the late Lloyd Bentsen in a VP debate, after Dan Quayle compared himself at his age to JFK, “I know Ben Zobrist and Tom Glavine and you sirs are no Zobrist or Glavine”.  (By the way Quayle probably should have said, yes I’m no JFK – I go home to my own wife every night). Both players non-coincidentally have new representation with agent Scott Boras, who was the source of the Glavine comparison to DK and who undoubtedly has been planting the seed that a lucky team will be signing the next Zobrist in Marwin G.

First of all, despite mumblings and grumblings about both players at times during their stay in Houston, they are both Astro heroes, who played a big part in the team’s resurgence and eventual World Championship.

Keuchel’s 2015 Cy Young year (20-8, 2.48 ERA) carried the team to its first playoff spot in a decade and within a few outs of a berth in the ALCS. He also pitched excellently before facing an injury in the 2017 WS run (14-5, 2.90 ERA). His post season exploits (like many pitchers) was up and down, but his brilliant start to eliminate the Yanks in the  2015 Wild Card play-in game along with some strong starts against the Royals, Yanks and Red Sox in the 2015, 2017 and 2018 playoffs will be best remembered.

Marwin Gonzalez has been one of the most flexible players on the club both as a switch hitter and also filling in all around the infield and as a semi-regular in left field. His career year was the 2017 World Series year as he led a terrific lineup with 90 RBIs while putting up a very good .303 BA/.377 OBP/ .907 OPS slash line. He was terrible in the playoffs that season (much better in the 2018 playoffs) but hit a critical game tying HR in the 9th inning of the Game 2 WS classic against the Dodgers that helped the Astros bring home their first win in a WS game ever.

But enough with heroics, let’s look at why each of these guys are having problems selling themselves as the next Zobrist or Glavine.

MarGo vs. Ben Z

The case for Marwin includes the fact that he is 5 years younger than Ben was when he signed a 4 year $56 million contract. His 2017 was a better year than any year Zobrist has ever put up (except for a decade ago 2009 season).

Both players are switch hitters. Both players play both the infield and outfield solidly, though Zobrist has played both RF and LF, while Gonzalez has been almost exclusively in LF.

But getting back to the 2017 season, while it is a season that Ben has not matched since his younger days, it is also a year that Marwin has never come close to matching. In fact, outside of that 2017 season, all of Gonzalez’s other seasons have been basically less than Zobrist’s 13 year (162 game) average of 87 runs/17 HRs/76 RBIs / .266 /.357/.785. One of the biggest differences between the players comes in the area of plate discipline. For his career, Zobrist has 809 walks vs 970 Ks, while Gonzalez has 179 walks vs. 541 Ks. In his last 4 seasons, Zobrist has exactly the same amount of walks as Ks and in two of those seasons had more walks than Ks. Marwin’s best season in this area was 2017 and even then he had only 49 walks vs 99 Ks. In 5 of his last 8 seasons, Zobrist has had an OPS over .800, while Gonzalez has only the 2017 season above the .800 mark.

Bottom line – if Marwin and his agent are looking for a Zobrist payout, they need to find someone who can’t look at basic stats. He still is a valuable player due to age and flexibility, but it looks like he should get something more in the range of 3 yrs – $36 million.

The Beard vs The Brave

The case for Dallas Keuchel includes a Cy Young under his belt, the fact that he is a lefty, the fact that he has been under 3.00 ERA three of his last five seasons and the big time fact that after Patrick Corbin signed he was really the top pitcher available out there in the free agent market. He has won some huge games for the Astros and is definitely a pitcher not a thrower.

Similar to Tom Glavine he is a guy who throws to contact (they are both just under 9 hits per ball game for their careers) and not a K guy – Keuchel has struck out 7.4 per game, while Glavine in a very different strikeout adverse era only struck out 5.3 per game.

So how does Keuchel, heading into his year 31 season compare to Glavine at the same age?

Glavine at that age had also won a Cy Young, but had been in the top 3 four times, while DK only had votes once. Glavine made 4 AS teams (Keuchel made two) and had ERAs of between 2.55 and 3.20 in 5 of his 6 seasons, with a 3.97 in his one outlier. Keuchel had the injury he suppressed during 2016 (4.55 ERA) and a 3.74 ERA last season along with 3 sub- 3.00 ERA seasons. Glavine had picked up MVP votes in 3 seasons, while Keuchel did in 2015 only. Glavine had at least 29 starts in 8 of his 9 seasons before turning 31 (the other season was a strike season) and Keuchel missed significant time in both 2016 and 2017. Wins/losses are not always a telling feature on pitchers, but Keuchel in his last five seasons is 67-45 while Glavine in his five seasons leading to age 31 was 86-40.  Keuchel is an excellent athlete and has been 4 time Gold Glove at pitcher, while Glavine’s hitting was recognized as he had been a 3 time Silver Slugger through age 30.

Remember that after reaching age 30, Glavine played 12 more seasons , won another Cy Young and came in second once, made 6 more All Star teams and won 176 more games out of his career total of 305.

Bottom line: Dallas Keuchel is a good pitcher who at times is a very good pitcher. He also is a very hittable pitcher (gave up the most hits in the AL last season), who may struggle as his 91 mph fast ball drops to 89.5. He will work hard for his next team and may bring value for 3 or 4 years, but not 6 or 7 years if that is what he wants. Best guess….he signs for 4 years/$84 million with an opt out along the way.

Astros 2019: 10 questions heading to spring training

Last spring most of the questions revolving around the Astros were concerning whether they could repeat as champions and not who was going to do the repeating. Their biggest loss was Carlos Beltran, who was also their worst everyday hitter. Of course, the loss of Beltran along with now World Champion manager Alex Cora may have had more of an effect on the offense than anyone following the club actually knew at the time.

The contrast is that this season there are major changes with this team. Three starters from the 2018 rotation will not be pitching for them this year. The injured Lance McCullers, the family man Charlie Morton, the disappointed (so far) Dallas Keuchel will all be out or likely elsewhere in 2018. Two of their three catchers, Brian McCann and Martin Maldonado are gone. Their main DH Evan Gattis is gone and the player they used all over the map and both sides of the plate, Marwin Gonzalez will sign elsewhere it appears and reliever Joe Smith will be sidelined for the second season of his two-year contract.

There are also coaching changes and front office changes, but those are not really areas that will get much attention during Spring Training.

There are a lot of moving pieces here, but here are 10 questions headed into this Spring Training:

1) Are the Astros done adding to their roster before the start of the season?

The answer is you never know. There could be injuries. There could be availability at a big discount of someone they never thought they could sign. But with GM Jeff Luhnow you never know in the best of circumstances and he seems to be clutching those cards very close to his chest. Will they chase another starter, big bat, or even catcher? Probably not, but…. you never know.

2) Will Carlos Correa be “back”?

Usually, injuries to younger players are not a huge concern. Players often come back from blown ACLs or Tommy John surgery as good or better than before. But backs can be another thing altogether – sometimes chronic and debilitating. Fans will be breathing easier if they see the “old” Correa in the spring.

3) Will Jose Altuve be all the way back from his knee surgery?

This is a lesser concern than Correa’s back, but this is the 2017 MVP. Altuve is a smaller player and the leverage of his swing, along with his second base pivot relies heavily on those knees.

4) Who will be the 5th starter and where do Josh James and Framber Valdez end up?

James, Valdez and Brad Peacock are probably the most likely candidates fighting for the final spot in the rotation behind Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole, Collin McHugh and Wade Miley. Peacock was terrific as a sub starter in 2017, but his ability to go multiple strong innings out of the ‘pen is valued. Valdez’s control problems might be less harmful in the rotation. James’ big-time fastball and change would seem to work in the rotation or out of the bullpen.

5) Is Tyler White the main DH in 2019?

He shoved Gattis out of the DH spot with strong (but a bit inconsistent) numbers in 2018. Will he get the full season shot folks believe he deserves? Will the front office pick up a bargain power hitter to challenge him? Does Michael Brantley get more time out of the field and more time as a DH?

6) Does Forrest Whitley have a shot at making the team out of spring training?

The answer is no unless there is an injury run on pitchers. Now if the question is whether he will make his MLB debut in 2019, then there is a much better chance of an affirmative answer.

7) Does Kyle Tucker have a shot at making the team out of spring training?

He has a better chance of it than Whitley, but barring an injury or an out of the blue trade of Josh Reddick it is not likely they will have him on the team as the 4th OF. He had an uninspiring start to his MLB career in a short cup of 2018 coffee, but so did Alex Bregman and George Springer in their first small samples of major league life.

8) What does Michael Brantley mean to this offense and where does he fit?

Traditionally, a professional lefty hitter like Brantley who has some (but not overwhelming power) and who is a very good base runner, should slot into the second spot in the lineup behind Altuve. But this is not a traditional lineup as Springer will probably stay at the top. What would make sense is that if Altuve is still in the third spot, then put Brantley in the fourth spot with Altuve getting on base and holding that 1B near the bag. No matter what, the Astros should figure out how to slide this lefty somewhere in between the all-righty top of the lineup of Springer, Bregman, Altuve and Correa.

9) What can the Astros expect out of likely #3 McHugh and #4 Miley in the rotation?

McHugh missed a huge chunk of 2017 with an injury and in 2018 pitched great out of the bullpen, so it has been 3 seasons since he was a regular out of the rotation. Miley pitched a strong 1/2 of 2018 (missing time with an injury) after pitching poorly in 2016 and 2017. They are both only assured of being Astros through 2019 and there are a lot of pitchers knocking on the door from the minors including James, Valdez, Whitley, J.B. Bukauskas, Rogelio Armenteros and others. Are they half season placeholders until the trade deadline?

10) Tyler White, Jake Marisnick and Tony Kemp are out of options and probably fighting for two spots on the team. Will one of them get traded or released?

Again, injuries or signings/trades between now and April can affect things. However. the gut feeling is that unless Marisnick shows a solid bat (after an off-season swing change) that has been missing for most of his career, he may be the odd man out of this trio.

Bonus question for you to answer – Will they extend any of their players and who would it be…Cole, Verlander, Springer, others……?

So…..what are your answers to these 10 questions? What questions do you want to be answered in the spring?

What I found on the Interwebs made me angry

While perusing the vast expanse that is the information superhighway (there’s a term you don’t hear anymore), I spotted two articles about baseball that will impact the Astros. One, I loved. Another made me want to cry.

First, the crying thing.

Apparently, MLB is considering some rules changes: the pitch clock, universal DH, a three-batter minimum for pitchers, and a study to lower the mound. There were some roster rules changes, too, including a longer DL, more time in the minors when optioned, and, drum roll, a 26-player roster.

The DL and the options things don’t bother me that much. The DL used to be longer. Time in the minors when optioned seems like it would hurt teams without deep farm systems, so I’m not overly upset about that.

But most of this is just nuts.

Let’s start with the worst ones: Lowering the pitcher’s mound and, Lord forbid, a three-batter minimum. I imagine the Players Association would veto a rule that would, essentially, put lefty-specialists out of a job. As for the pitcher’s mound, I thought the idea was to speed up the game? Lowering the mound would turn games into high-scoring track meets.

Also, if you lower the pitcher’s mound, do all stats from that point onward have an asterisk of some sort. “Well, Tony Kemp hit .390 and bashed 36 home runs, still wasn’t good enough to make the All-Star team because that was only league average in both categories.”

And I’m guessing all pitchers’ contracts would mental health provision added. “I feel so inadequate doctor. My curveball just hangs there, and I can’t get leverage with my legs. And now my wife AND MY DOG have left me.”

I’m not sure how I feel about the universal DH. If we’re going to go universal, I’d rather have a universal no-DH, but I’m not sure that toothpaste is ever going back in the tube.

And the pitch clock? I swear, I’ll find Rob Manfred and personally slap him across the face. Hard. A pitch clock will change the very nature of the game.

You know those people who complain that baseball is too slow? Watch a football game. Between the non-stop replay looks and what George Will described as “Committee meetings punctuated by violence,” I’ll take baseball.

As for the NBA, it’s a nonstop game of one-on-one with some bystanders on the court. The league has managed to take the best athletes in the world and make them boring.

Leave baseball alone! And while you’re at it, get off my lawn!

We can all discuss the pitch clock down below, but I literally can think of no reasonable argument for a pitch clock besides “It’s annoying and might shave eight seconds off the average game at the cost of alienating more fans than the rest of these cockamamie ideas combined.”

Now, the good news. Well, the glass-half-full news.

Over at another Astros fan website (something about a mound in centerfield that sadly disappeared), they took an off-hand remark by Justin Verlander and a reply by Jeff Luhnow basically saying, “No comment other than, yes, I know how many starters will be free agents next winter. I’m not stupid,” and took those comments to mean the Astros are working on a deal to extend Verlander. Or Gerrit Cole.

The most encouraging thing about the whole article is the quote from Verlander, saying, “It’s something I wouldn’t be opposed to.”

I’ve been working under the assumption that Verlander – and, more likely, Mrs. Verlander – wants to move back to Michigan before too long. That would mean maybe going back for a swan song in the “Crumbling D.”

But Verlander would be a good get for Houston long-term. Just looking at innings pitched and WAR, he’s been good for 200 IP a season since his injury-shortened 2015, and he’s put up at least 6.2 WAR a season since 2016.

In fact, after a WAR of 4.3 in 2013, 0.9 WAR in 2014 and 2.3 WAR in 2015, he’s been consistent and ace-quality since.

So, fans of baseball and the Houston Astros, I ask:

  1. What do you think of these rules changes?
  2. Specifically, let’s talk pitch clock. Is it merely a bad idea or pretty much the worst idea since edible poison ivy?
  3. Do the Astros NEED to extend at least one of the current four (don’t forget Collin McHugh and Wade Miley) 2019 free agents right now? If so, which one?

By the way, pitchers and catchers report Wednesday. So …

  • Who is ready for our long winter’s nap to be done?

Real Moneyball and the forgotten parties

First of all I want to make something perfectly clear. I have no hope that anything recommended here has any more of a chance of occurring than this writer has of either playing for or owning a major league team. But the recent talk about how unfair the current agreement is with the MLB Players Association and the inevitability of a work stoppage when the five-year agreement runs its course has been the motivation for this post.

Major league baseball is a $10+ billion business.

Is there sympathy for the owners? Not much. Sure some owners are stuck in crappier baseball cities like Tampa that don’t care much about their teams and show paper losses. But their real books are never opened and when their teams are put up for sale they double, triple, quadruple their investment.

Is there sympathy for the players? Not much. Yes, they are the product. And, yes they apparently had a year when for no real financial reason they took home less of a piece of the pie. The fact that no team is willing to give the players what the Scott Borases of the world think they have earned is a reason for a future strike. The “minimum” MLB salary is $545,000 in a world where many folks wished they had the $45,000. In 2018, the average MLB player made approximately $4.5 million. It’s tough to get worked up about a guy being disrespected by being offered $300 million instead of $400 million or that Dallas Keuchel thinks he should get six years of insane money instead of four years.

Should the players get a bigger piece of a pie that is based on their talent? Probably. Do the fans really care? Not much.

When it comes to a battle between billionaire owners and millionaire players, us thousandaires don’t want to see how the sausage is made, we just want the sausage to keep being made.

Here are some thoughts about two forgotten parties in this money grab.

Minor Leaguers

Instead of giving a bigger piece of the pie to the top players – how about a small piece of the pie for the struggling minor league players. Ignore the very small percentage of players who get a big bonus. The top AAA players get paid a little more than $2000 a month and only for the 5 months of the season. Not even spring training. Most of them survive on the backs of spouses who have to keep the family’s finances afloat.

Let’s say the average major league team has eight minor league teams with approximately 25 players per team. If you paid an average of $50,000 to the players that would be about $10 million a year (actually about $8 million a year since you already have to pay them something). Man that does not seem much to share with those who work hard and ride buses around the country.

Fans

Many fans are priced out of going to games anymore. Between tickets, parking, food, drinks, and souvenirs – many people never make it to any games during the season. This is especially true for the elderly on fixed income.

Let’s do the same thing. Have each team set aside $10 million for the fans? If you made it $40 tickets that would be 250,000 free tickets a season. Have folks sign up for it, have some kind of financial criteria, but do it. It would be showing respect to those who have loved the team for many, many years.

So, there it is. Just asking that these two forgotten sets of folks be remembered going forward as the owners and players fight over more money than they all ever dreamed of when they were kids playing little league or the CEO equivalent of little league (Risk?).

What do you think?

Wait, what? The Astros signed Wade Miley?

Wade Miley?

Uh, OK. Welcome to Houston Wade “I Type Your Last Name and A Crazy Pop Singer’s Name Autofills” Miley.

How do I feel about this? Well, a co-worker who is a Brewers fan was telling me the beer chuggers were in the mix for Dallas Keuchel, so it seems – if that’s true – we could be swapping left-handed starters via free agency.

That said, Houston gets Miley Cyrus, um, Wade Miley for $4.5 million and just one year while we allow B.J. Bukauskas, Forrest Whitley and Corbin Martin (and, probably either Framber Valdez or Cionel Perez) more time to marinate in the minors.

But this isn’t 2013, and the Astros must be built to win now, not win next year.

Here’s what signing Miley does for Houston.

The Rotation. Jeff Luhnow just filled out the rotation. Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole, Collin McHugh, Miley and Josh James. Anyone completely upset over this? Miley’s a former All-Star and a ROY runner up. Last year, after missing half the season due to injury, he recorded a 1.5 WAR (Baseball Reference), a 2.57 ERA, a 1.21 WHIP and a 5-2 record in 16 starts (16 games) and 80.2 IP.

By comparison, Dallas Keuchel, in 204.2 IP (34 games, 34 starts) went 12-11 with a 3.74 ERA, a 1.31 WHIP and a 2.6 WAR.

Yes, I trust Dallas Keuchel more than Wade Miley despite these numbers, but …

The Cutter. According to a Sept. 8 article by Nick Pollack for Fangraphs, Miley turned away from his fastballs and started to embrace a new and improved cutter that has changed who he is as a pitcher. Is this something Brent Strom can work with? I’m guessing yes.

The Postseason. Over four starts (four games) during Milwaukee’s playoff run last year, Miley pitched 14.2 innings and gave up just two earned runs. Yeah, I’ll take that.

The Bullpen. So, with Miley in the rotation, that means we’ll keep Brad Peacock and either Valdez or Perez in the bullpen until an injury throws the plan into disarray. What’s the bullpen look like with Miley in the rotation? How about this: Robert Osuna, Hector Rondon, Ryan Pressley and Will Harris at the back of the bullpen mixing and matching the seventh eighth and ninth innings. Chris Devenski and Brad Peacock as the innings eaters. Then, either Perez or Valdez as the lefty in the bullpen. Yes, I know everyone wants Valdez stretched out as a starter, but, really, if we’re going to commit Collin McHugh to the bullpen in 2018, I think we can sidetrack Valdez as a reliever for 2019.

The Future. I think Miley took a one-year deal to gamble that a good season will mean a big payday next winter. OK, whatever. He’s cheap and if he can stay mostly healthy, I’ll be happy.

Essentially, he bridges the rotation for a year until 2020, when Verlander, McHugh and Cole are all free agents. Houston needs to re-sign at least one of those guys, preferably Cole or Verlander, on a multi-year deal.

Say it’s Cole. Then the Astros have Cole, McCullers, James, Whitley (with a little 2019 experience) and an empty spot in the rotation for 2020.

So, did the Astros sign the right guy?

  • Does the cheap price tag mean Luhnow needs to keep shopping (Realmuto, a different DH than Tyler White)?
  • Is Miley a potential dud, or do you trust Strom enough to make him successful?
  • Is Miley the bridge to 2020 or just the bridge to Whitley in July?
  • Did anyone – ANYONE – see this coming?

Offseason view of AL Big 3: Red Sox, Yankees, Astros

Fans of the other 2018 playoff teams (Cleveland and Oakland) may disagree, but in most quarters the three best teams in the AL entering the off-season and likely entering the 2019 season are the 2018 World Champion Boston Red Sox, the 2017 World Champion Houston Astros and the many time champion New York Yankees. The Astros eliminated the Red Sox and the Yanks in 2017 and the Red Sox knocked off the other two in 2018.

These three teams had varying amounts of losses and have been involved in various numbers of offseason transactions. So, how do these teams stack up with Spring Training just around the corner?

Red Sox (108-54 and WS Champions in 2018)

Losses. Closer Craig Kimbrel (probably), RP Joe Kelly, IF Ian Kinsler, SP/RP Drew Pomeranz

Re-signed. SP Nathan Eovaldi, 1B Steve Pearce

Added. 2B Dustin Pedroia

The Red Sox were the best team in baseball in 2018. Like the Astros in 2017, they had an absolutely killer offense that carried a very good rotation and a solid bullpen to the crown. Like the Astros after their World Series run, they have mostly stayed with a pat hand. Their biggest additions this offseason have been the re-signing of Nathan Eovaldi and Yankee killer Steve Pearce. Potentially adding Dustin Pedroia back even as a part-timer sure can’t hurt their offense.

Offense. There is no reason to think this offense will fall off, but… that is what most folks thought about the Astros heading into 2018. But even if they fall some, it is hard to see them worse than a top 3 spot in the league. JD Martinez, Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts and Andrew Benintendi are a terrific quarter of hitters and are joined by playoff heroes Jackie Bradley Jr.and Rafael Devers in a stout lineup.

Starting Rotation. It is easy to picture a full season of starts from Eovaldi and Chris Sale (who only had 38 starts between them) amounting to more than 15 wins. It is also easy to picture that another season of a 4.28 from Rick Porcello not resulting in a 17-7 record. Astro killer David Price brings an extra solid presence to the rotation. The offense will help them all out, but a little fall-off overall would not be surprising.

Bullpen. This is the big question this off-season as the Sox have not (so far) done anything to replace Kimbrel and Kelly. It would not be surprising to see the Sox pick up some help before Spring Training or during the season. This is likely to be the focal point until/unless the Red Sox make another move.

Prognosis. Hard to not see this team winning at least 100 games again in 2019.

Yanks (100-62) Wildcard in 2018 and Lost to Boston in ALDS

Losses. RP David Robertson, IF Neil Walker, SP Lance Lynn, OF Andrew McCutchen, SP Sonny Gray, IF Ronald Torreyes

Re-sign. SP C.C. Sabathia, SP J.A. Happ, OF Brett Gardner, RP Zach Britton

Added. SP James Paxton, RP Adam Ottavino, SS Troy Tulowitzki, IF D.J. LeMahieu

The Yankees were one of the best teams in baseball in 2018, and would have led 4 of the 6 divisions in baseball, but ended up losing their division to the Red Sox. They have been busy in a slow off-season, even if the Yanks’ fans think they haven’t been busy enough. The addition of Paxton along with re-signing Sabathia and Happ helped really solidify their rotation while re-signing Britton and signing Ottavino turn a strength into a super-power.

Offense. The Yanks rode the top power lineup in the game to the 2nd best run-scoring team in the game. The biggest question here may be how well and how long Tulo has to replace Didi Gregorius while he recovers from Tommy John surgery. Will youngsters Gleyber Torres and Miguel Andujar continue to rake. Will the offense reach their potential that poorer performers like Greg Bird and Brett Gardner helped drag down? Some of that depends on Gary Sanchez being healed from off-season surgery and a full season from Aaron Judge. And they have some guy named Stanton who might be OK.

Starting Rotation. Luis Severino and Masahiro Tanaka were a strong 1-2 at the top of the rotation and Paxton will likely make this a tough top three. Happ was light’s out after coming to the team and Sabathia turned in another solid season. The biggest question with their rotation is whether the 35 y.o. Happ or the 37 y.o. Sabathia show signs of slowing down.

Bullpen. They did lose Robertson, who was a strong performer for them, but adding Ottavino and holding on to Britton on top of Aroldis Chapman, Dellin Betances, and Chad Green makes late innings against this team a tough assignment.

Prognosis. This Yankee team should give the Red Sox all they can handle in 2019 and is the type of team that could bring NY the parade they last saw 10 seasons ago.

Astros (103-59 AL West Champs, lost to Red Sox in the ALCS)

Losses. C Brian McCann, SP Dallas Keuchel, SP Charlie Morton, SP Lance McCullers Jr.(TJ surgery), RP Joe Smith (Ruptured Achilles), DH Evan Gattis, U Marwin Gonzalez

Added. OF Michael Brantley, U Aledmys Diaz, C Robinson Chirinos

The Astros set a club record for regular season wins and after sweeping the Indians in the ALDS and winning the first game of the ALCS against Boston looked like they might repeat their magical run to the World Series. Four hard fought losses later and they headed home.

In some ways, the most important additions to the Astros would be a healthy knee for Jose Altuve and healthy back for Carlos Correa. The Astros have sustained the most losses of the top three and sustained the biggest losses to the top rotation in the major leagues.

Offense. Adding Brantley is a terrific plus, adding an All-Star lefty bat to a right-centric offense. Diaz should fill the offense that the up and down Gonzalez takes with him, but it may take a number of players to fill the defensive flexibility Marwin brought to the team. Correa and Altuve hitting at 90% of 2017 would be a huge shot in the arm to an offense that was led by the so-solid Alex Bregman in 2018. WS MVP George Springer, Yuli Gurriel and new DH Tyler White could bring real depth to the lineup. Kyle Tucker is the wild card here. Is he the top prospect he has been rated or a not ready for prime time player?

Rotation. Even with losing Keuchel (not counting on his potential re-sign), Morton and McCullers the cupboard is not bare. Two guys named Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole are not bad (as in great) and former #2 starter Collin McHugh, who pitched brilliantly in the bullpen in 2018 will slip into the #3 spot. Potentially for the 4 and 5 spots are Swingman Brad Peacock, who was very good as a part-time starter in 2017 and youngsters Josh James and Framber Valdez, who turned some heads in 2018. And not far behind them are some big-time prospects in Forrest Whitley and J.B Bukauskas or perhaps Rogelio Armenteros. Still, it would not be surprising to see the Astros make a move in the Spring or at the trade deadline for one more starter.

Bullpen. The Astros had one of the best bullpens in 2018, though just like in 2017, it struggled a bit in the playoffs. Roberto Osuna, Ryan Pressly lead the bullpen with Hector Rondon (who had a bit of a hissy in being left off the playoff roster) and there is likely going to be a wave of youngsters helping out along with vets Chris Devenski and Will Harris.

Prognosis. The Astros are not in the same boat as the Sox or the Yanks as it should not take nearly as many wins to clinch the AL West as the East. If they struggle Jeff Luhnow has shown he is not afraid to make big moves along the way. This team should be better offensively, worse with the rotation (but still good) and maybe a wash with the bullpen. This looks like a 98-100 win team.

Wrap. Injuries, bad performances, bad attitudes have deflated teams before and what’s on paper needs to make it on to the grass. But there is no reason to think that the road to the AL title and possibly the World Championship runs anywhere other than through these three teams in 2019.

A look at the Astros lineup

The other day, mlb.com ran a look-ahead at each of the teams and their probable lineup, if they started the season with current lineup.

They showed the Astros lineup as such……

BA OBP OPS Runs 2Bs HRs RBIs
1) CF – George Springer 2018 .265 .346 .780 102 26 22 71
162 gm avg .265 .356 .824 113 29 32 86
2) 3B – Alex Bregman 2018 .286 .394 .926 105 51 31 103
162 gm avg .282 .366 .866 101 46 26 93
3) 2B – Jose Altuve 2018 .316 .386 .837 84 29 13 61
162 gm avg .316 .365 .818 93 39 14 67
4) SS – Carlos Correa 2018 .239 .323 .728 60 20 15 65
162 gm avg .277 .356 .833 93 35 28 108
5) LF – Michael Brantley 2018 .309 .364 .832 89 36 17 76
162 gm avg .295 .351 .781 84 38 13 81
6) 1B Yuli Gurriel 2018 .291 .323 .751 70 33 13 85
162 gm avg .281 .323 .772 79 43 19 91
7) RF-Josh Reddick 2018 .242 .318 .718 63 13 17 47
162 gm avg .262 .323 .757 77 27 19 73
8) DH – Tyler White 2018 .276 .354 .888 27 12 12 42
162 gm avg .248 .319 .777 54 32 22 75
9) C- Robinson Chirinos 2018 .222 .338 .757 48 15 18 65
162 gm avg .233 .324 .761 67 26 24 72

Here at chipalatta, we have done two things. First we are showing how each of the players hit last season. Below it we show the player’s average career stats; what they would be expected to produce in any 162 game section of their career.

The second thing we have done is question the way the lineup is set-up.

The Top 3

We know the argument. We know the Astros won the World Series with George Springer in the leadoff spot. We know he won the WS MVP from the leadoff spot. And we say….so what? In 2016 and 2018 they also did not win the WS with him in the leadoff spot. You are putting a guy with good power stats with so-so on base percentage (5th among this set of players last season), who is a pretty bad base stealer by percentage in the top spot.

Bregman is your best OBP man, but he may also be your best hitter (power plus average) period so let’s hold off on him. Brantley is one of your best hitters with less power and he is a lefty. Jose Altuve? Now there is your leadoff hitter. Great batting average. Great on-base percentage, Very good base stealer. Inconsistent power. So here is a revised top 3 in the order.

1) Altuve – great table setter

2) Brantley – Break up the all-righty top of the lineup with a guy who should take advantage of Altuve being on base 40% of the time and the first baseman stuck holding him on first.

3) Bregman – He’s your best hitter. 51 doubles and 31 HRs looks pretty darned good with folks on base in front of him.

Middle 3

If Correa’s crappy 2018 was based on a bad back, which is likely and if he is healthy and if he is playing to get a much better pay day in 2nd season arbitration, he should be in the cleanup spot. He has shown good batting average, solid power and clutch hitting. He just needs to play more than 100-110 games in a season. Springer would be nice protection for Carlos and you could follow him up with either 1B Yuli Gurriel or DH Tyler White. Nice choices. We go with Gurriel, who was one of the best with runners in scoring position last season.

4) Correa – This should be the year that the 35 HR / 110 RBI SS shows up.

5) Springer – There should be a lot of ducks on the pond when George gets up to bat

6) Gurriel – His OBP keeps him from being higher in the lineup

Bottom 3

The Tyler White we saw in 2018 was the best of these three players. You could put him 7th or if he really shines flip him with Springer or Gurriel. The only reason Reddick gets the 7th spot is if you want another lefty sooner in a right-centric lineup. Chirinos or Max Stassi would be the weak link in this chain. If they did go out and pick up catcher J.T. Realmuto, he would need to come in as #6 or 7 in this lineup.

7) White – He could be one of the best #7 hitters in the league

8) Reddick – Josh along with Correa had a crummy 2018. If he continues, they may try to dump his salary at the deadline. Or he could get displaced by young Kyle Tucker or Yordan Alvarez (in the lineup). How that would work in the field is another question.

9) Chirinos / Stassi – Chirinos is not a big average guy, but has plenty of power and is a good RBI guy. Stassi needs to prove he is not a couple month flash-in-the-pan hitter.

Your turn – what would your version of the lineup look like?