Archive for the ‘Houston Astros’ Category

MLB: Los Angeles Angels at Houston Astros

There is no room for moral ambiguity when you’re the general manager of a Major League Baseball club. Your job is to improve the team, improve the product, and ostensibly build the bottom line by improving your club’s chances of winning.

Winning solves all ills, even though sometimes it takes a lot lot of losing to create an environment conducive to winning. When Jeff Luhnow took over as general manager of the Houston Astros, he inherited a club in transition.

After all the losing and the contract off-loading, the Astros just might be a team on the upswing. The goals in Houston have certainly changed. Luhnow has a different focus for his big league club — the youngest in baseball while also claiming one of the “most modest” payrolls — in 2014, compared to his first two years on the job.  The goal is simple – demonstrate improvement at the big league level and get fans excited for the future.

We’re realistic – we have the youngest team in baseball and a modest payroll. I do think that at the end of the season this team will be significantly better than the team we had out there last year and the fans will excited about what’s coming.”

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MLB: Houston Astros-Photo Day

The Houston Astros are on to something. They are not so much exploiting the current baseball systems as much as making the most of a bad situation. As must be qualified any time an article is written about the living lab in Houston, they hired smart people and seem innovative – it appears from the outside to be a club with a vision of how they intend to win.

That doesn’t make it right, however. The Astros operated with the lowest payroll in baseball last season. In their own division, the next lowest payroll was nearly double what the Astros pay their players. You don’t need to spend to win (the fourth-lowest payroll in the AL West is, of course, the Oakland A’s, the two-time division champs). But the Astros are not extracting a great deal of value from their roster. They’re getting what they pay for, which is surely by design.

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MLB: Tampa Bay Rays at Texas Rangers

At the conclusion of the 2013 MLB regular season, the Tampa Bay Rays and Texas Rangers both had 91-71 records, tied for the final American League Wild Card berth.

A one-game tiebreaker was required to solve the matter, but a more balanced schedule could have solved it long before. The Rays faced a more difficult schedule than the Rangers, an unfair reality of life in the AL East.

When Tampa Bay won the eventual tiebreaker, it seemed a matter of karmic justice.

After all, Texas went 53-23 against their own division, the AL West, which boasted a paltry .477 win percentage. The Rays, meanwhile, went 43-33 against AL East competition in a division with a .534 win percentage. Because teams play division opponents 19 times each, making up 46.9 percent of the schedule, division quality is a large determinant of record.

Tampa Bay played 97 games against teams with winning records to just 79 for the Rangers, and each was roughly a scratch team against winning opponents. Texas basically got 18 games against lesser opposition with which to gain a playoff edge and failed to do so.

This all seems terribly unfair, but an equalizing factor may have been at play, favoring teams in the East all along.

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Texas Rangers v Oakland Athletics

Roy Oswalt had a great career as a pitcher. Despite being undersized compared to most starting pitchers of his era, Oswalt posted great season after great season, first for the Houston Astros and then with the Philadelphia Phillies before unremarkable turns for the Texas Rangers and the Colorado Rockies.

History should smile fondly upon Oswalt because he certainly feels underappreciated during his time in the big leagues. Playing in Houston for the bulk of your time will certainly do that, as Jeff Bagwell can attest. Count Roy Oswalt as another overlook superstar from the Astros’ Golden Years.

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MLB: Boston Red Sox at Houston Astros

The Houston Astros will be a better team in 2014 than they were in 2013. In 2013, like 2012 and 2011 before, they were dreadful. Terrible. Embarrassing. They lost 111 games after losing 100 games in each of the two previous years. They’re on track to post the worst four year stretch in baseball history.

These loses all came in service of a greater good, of course. The Astros stripped their big league roster down of all viable talent, trading it to rebuild a crumbling farm system. This off-season, the Astros began changing gears, picking up legit big leaguers like Dexter Fowler and, to a lesser extent, Scott Feldman and a bunch of relievers. Upgrades for sure but their depth chart is still a ghost town.

More of their premium prospect talent is closer to the big leagues now. Better days are certainly ahead in Houston. Well, better days are probably ahead in Houston. Hopefully.

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MLB: Oakland Athletics at Seattle Mariners

There is more than one way to skin a cat, a famous sadist once told me. There is more than one way in which an also-ran ballclub can change its fortunes. Rarely does it happen overnight and if anybody knows a good shortcut, I’m sure 25 or so professional baseball teams would love to hear it.

In order to turn around a middling baseball club, it takes more just cashing a winning lottery ticket during the June amateur draft. Major League Baseball is not the NBA, where smaller rosters and the ability to funnel big moments to the best talent permit one player to remake a franchise overnight.

When the Tampa Bay Rays reversed their fortunes and reached the World Series in 2008, they were derided as a team that simply drafted high in the first round year after year, even though they owed their success to more than just high picks. (Reminder that Tampa Bay squandered a great many of their top picks aside from Evan Longoria.)

The Astros choice to strip their big league club to the wood and gun for the first pick in the draft four years in a row is unique only represents a small part of their total farm rebuild. Depth is the key and the Astros, for all their faults, have a clear plan in place. They will build their club from the inside out.

The Mariners and Rockies aren’t quite as enterprising. The Mariners struggles are well documented, becoming the first team in baseball history to lose 100 games with a $100MM payroll in 2008. After a promising 2009, the M’s promptly lost 100 games once again in 2010. All the while, Chuck Armstrong served as the team’s president, until now. On January 31st, Armstrong retires from his duties with the Mariners.

Now is the time for the Mariners to reshuffle the deck. Perhaps they can take a page from the Colorado Rockies book, as the Rox begin a new development system in which they throw out everything they ever knew about producing big league players.

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MLB: Boston Red Sox at Houston Astros

People love to talk about a young player having a “breakout season.” As a non-technical term, the notion of a breakout season is fine: a young player having his first big year. Sometimes, though, it is taken to mean something specific. A breakout in this case is taken to mean a season in which a player establishes a new level of performance such that previous performances need to be ignored (or at least weighted less heavily than usual).

The (contradictory) twin of the breakout season is the “outlier,” a season that is so much worse (or so much better in the case of bad player) that is should pretty much be ignored. Both of these concepts might have some merit, but I generally find them to be problematic and overused. Without getting into the details, they both usually end up being used as excuses for statistical cherry picking.

People also rarely talk about the opposite of a breakout; call it a “breakdown.” This is especially true right after a player has been celebrated for a breakout. As an example, take a look at 2012 Astros tiny second base sensation Jose Altuve. Specifically, check out his 2013 numbers. Wha’ happened?

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