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Archive for March, 2008

2008 Astros Game 1 – Oswalt vs Peavy

Monday, March 31st, 2008

Yes, I know it is “Opening Day” but seeing as how Bud and MLB decided to maximize money, “Opening Day” was actually held last week at a time and place where fans of the teams who were playing couldn’t see the actual game. More money for MLBAM, I suppose. And of course, “Opening Day” was yesterday, in Washington, DC – a nice low scoring, good pitching NL game minus the evil scourge of the DH.

But when the Astros first game of the year is not here at home, somehow, in spite of Bud, The Red Sox, ESPN, MLBAM, The New Stadium That Needed To Be Shown Off, it just doesn’t somehow FEEL like the Astros REAL Opening Day.

But the season is finally here after too long a winter and I’m just elated to be watching real Astros baseball every day now.

Will The 2008 Astros Be A Winning Team?

Sunday, March 30th, 2008

Evan Hochschild, a reader of this blog, wrote a comment several days back in which he disagreed with my belief that this year’s team is not particularly good as it is lacking in good pitching and and even league average defense and that the hitting most likely will not overcome the mostly not particularly good pitching. Evan was also not exactly sorry to bid goodbye to the players the Astros either traded away or did not re-sign.

“I guess you have this superior baseball knowledge so as to lambast this team at every turn. You (apparently by the grace of God) have a baseball blog. Regardless of your: sex, gender, socio-economic background- I am not impressed by your takes.

You seem to dislike every move this team has made. Perhaps they were risky, but ultimately, will it matter? We had no farm system to begin with. Estrada, Albers, Patton, etc: they weren’t true prospects! True, they were young, but they were not going to turn out to be anything of real value. You seem to be fixated with these farmhands of ours. Chris Burke! Oh, wow! A 28 year old positional vagabond! Be still my beating heart. I’ll concede he would’ve been more economical than Kaz, but what have you seen in him to justify any degree of faith in him. What tools does he have? His average at best defense? His average range? His less than average speed?

I appreciate your assertion that you will NEVER will unenthusiastic about your team. While I appreciate the sentiments, that claim on its face seems to be empty. I mean, you had to make that statement, right? Either way, I don’t come here for information, I come here more as a sadist- it’s entertaining for me to read your constant berating of this team.”

Funny, I thought that should have been “masochist” not “sadist,” but perhaps he means wannabe sadist, who knows? But anyway, I’m not closed-minded, perhaps I AM overly pessimistic, so I offered Evan opportunity to write a guest column rebuttal on this season’s Astros, explaining his optimism. You can see for yourselves if he has made his case. Here it is, unedited in any way by me.
——-
Time to get Acclimated

I feel dizzy. My head is spinnin’.how could yours not be after this past off-season and spring training? Regardless of whether we can keep ours, balance will be the name of the game for the 2008 Houston Astros. GM Ed Wade came, saw, and he dismantled. Let’s lay out a few the pertinent facts of 2007, to see what faced Mr. Wade after Craig was carried off on the city’s collective shoulders:

Team Runs Scored: 723, 13th in the NL

Team OPS: .742, 11th in the NL

Team ERA: 4.68, 12th in the NL

Saves/Save Opportunities: 35/55 = 63.6%

Use any stat lines you’d like, the fact of the matter is that this team’s performance was abysmal in 2007. The Astros tried living off of their successes in 2004 and 2005 for too long, and in doing so, were forced to come to grips with a 73-89 record that marked just their second losing season in the past eleven.

Without re-hashing old mistakes or assigning blame, change was in order, and time was of the essence. Simply bringing in Carlos Lee and Woody Williams would not suffice this off-season. The man who built the Philadelphia Phillies team that made the dramatic (and concededly lucky) division title push, would be confronted with the challenge.

Starting Pitching

Determined not to overspend, and seeing no viable options in the trade market, the Astros head into 2008 with familiar faces, Roy Oswalt, Wandy Rodriguez, Brandon Backe and Chris Sampson as starters.

Wait a minute- aren’t we missing a certain aged Houstonian?? As our luck would have it, no we are not. Woody Williams was released not but an hour before this column was written. Ed Wade convinced Drayton to eat the remaining 6 million dollar plus left on his contract. Going 0-3, with an 11 plus ERA in the spring did not do much to help assuage fears that his 2007 season was a late career bump in the road.

Nevertheless, Shawn Chacon was signed to a reasonable one year contract and will be inserted as our fourth starter for the time being. Felipe Paulino will miss the first month of the season with a pinched nerve, but will surely be counted on to become part of this rotation before the season in over.

Starting pitching clearly will not be a strength in 2008. With a farm system that’s barren, and a trade market that was unwelcoming, not a whole lot could have been done in the area. We need only look north to the Texas Rangers to see what overpaying for free agent starters (Chan Ho Park, Vicente Padilla, Adam Eaton, Kevin Millwood) can do to a team’s ability to play winning baseball. Ed Wade took note of this and instead sought to make change where he could.

The Bullpen

Ed Wade is known in baseball circles for his propensity to sign/trade for relief pitchers with the abandon of a Carlos Lee going after the last post game shrimp scampi. My attempts at humor aside, that tradition was not broken in his first off season in charge of the Astros. As touched on earlier, the 2007 Astros simply could not nail down games when push came to shove. A 64 percent conversion percentage by your team’s set-up men (in our case Mr. Qualls and Mr. Wheeler) and closer (Mr. Lidge) translates into inconsistent and ultimately losing baseball. Couple that with our less than stellar starting pitching, and a recipe for disaster was apparent.

If it’s consistency you desire in a set up man, then Doug Brocail is just what the doctor ordered. With a career ERA of 3.99, Brocail will be asked to preserve leads heading into the 9th inning. After having a rejuvenating year in the San Diego bullpen last year, Brocail enjoyed the expansive Petco parameters to the tune of a 3.05 ERA, while giving up only 66 hits in 76 and 2/3 of a inning.

Chad Qualls was and will probably remain a very good late inning pitcher. That cannot be debated. However, of his 82 hits given up last year 10 were home runs (the same number given up in 2006). Strikingly inconsistent at times, Qualls has the stuff to be among the best relief pitchers in baseball. His rate stats are impeccable (K/9 of above 8, and a K/BB ratio of above 3.0), but his mental makeup leaves more to be desired. Brocail himself gave up 8 long balls last year, but only a combined 13 in the last four.

The loss of Qualls was mitigated by the fact that, well, he was traded with positional vagabond Chris Burke for Jose Valverde. The NL saves leader this past season, Valverde was a catalyst for the Diamondbacks run to the top of the Western Division. His 47 saves (in 54 opportunities) mean that he blew less saves in twice the amount of opportunities than Brad Lidge. He is under contract with the Astros for at least the next two seasons.

The last major piece of bullpen change came about early in the off season. Josh “.650 OPS or bust” Anderson was shipped out to Atlanta for middle relief man Oscar Villareal. He was immediately signed to a multi year contract, and will be used as primarily a seventh inning pitcher, but has experience setting up the closer as well. Regardless of what happens with Villareal, Ed Wade turned a middling (that’s too kind.below replacement level? Yeah.that’s better) outfielder and came up with a reliever who can help solidify a part of this team that needs to be excellent in order to compete.

Relievers are not a dime a dozen, either in price or availability. There is nothing more frustrating than having a starter pitch well, only to have the lead given up by a guy who should be changing my coolant at Jiffy Lube. Brandon Backe, Chris Sampson and Shawn Chacon will not be expected or needed to pitch deeper into games than they are able to, either. The old baseball adage about making the game shorter with your bullpen is a proven method to winning, and hopefully it can be duplicated this season.

Geoff Geary (who came over in the Lidge trade), Dave Borkowski and Wesley Wright (Rule V draftee) have not been mentioned, but combine those three with the three new editions, and this bullpen should offer the flexibility and consistency that the team makeup demands in order to be a respectable 2008 squad.

What to expect at the plate

Like the bullpen, our everyday lineup has seen a near complete overhaul from 2007. Only Lance Berkman and Carlos Lee remain from last season’s opening day lineup. Fan favorites Luke Scott and Mike Lamb are no longer with the team. Opposing pitcher favorites Adam Everett (free agency), and Brad Ausmus (now a reserve) are either no longer with the team or can only hurt the offense in a limited capacity. Top to bottom, things should look like this:

(1) Homegrown outfielder Michael Bourn is set to take his career .340 OBP to the top of the lineup to serve as the main catalyst for the offense. After being a reserve/defensive replacement in Philadelphia, Bourn is here to get on base for the sluggers behind him. He will be able to use his speed (17 stolen bases in 18 chances in 2007) to put pressure on opposing pitchers as well. I am not a tremendous fan of the stolen base, but, with percentages like his, this is a high reward, low risk situation that is rarely seen in baseball. Although a majority of steals occurred while not being held on at first in late game scenarios, Bourn still stands to steal upwards of 40 bases this year. Additionally, he is fine defensive outfielder from most accounts, which is good, considering our leftfielder will never be confused with Barry Bonds circa 1993. Bottom line with this guy is that he’s 25, under our control for years to come and will only improve as he gets more experience. An OPS of around .720 is not out of the question. After two years of struggling to get men on base at the top of our lineup, Bourn will seek to prove himself ready and able.

(2) Due to circumstances beyond his control, presumptive number two hitter Kazuo Matsui will miss at least the first two weeks of the season after surgery for anal fissures? What? Did “The Onion” come up with this? Well, as it stands, Kazzy will be out for the count, letting Hunter Pence man the two spot. Arguably the lone on the field bright spot the Astros had last year, Pence smashed Astro rookie records for slugging percentage and extra base hits. He has everything lined up nicely for himself to surpass those numbers. As he begins his first full season as a major leaguer, Pence still has much to learn about how to be a big league hitter. This shouldn’t stop him from being a 25 HR/25 SB man. Couple that with 80-85 Runs and RBI, and Hunter stands as an unquestionable star in the making. Projected to max out in the OPS range of .890 in the next four to five years, his is a horse that this organization will hitch their wagon to for years to come.

(3) Ahhh, a familiar face. After all, is that what we as Astros fans like? Familiarity? Uncle Drayton (to borrow a phrase of Lisa’s) sure does. And from what we’ve learned this off-season, number three hitter Lance Berkman does as well.† He let it be known that he didn’t like having to acclimate himself to a new clubhouse. While Morgan Ensberg may have been a great gin rummy player, the fact remains that Lance’s new teammates in the lineup are improvements over the old stalwarts. I won’t go so far as to say that they will help “protect” him (a concept that contrary to Joe Morgan’s assertions, does not exist), but he should have more chances to knock in runs.† Lance cames off the most disappointing 30/100 season in recent memory. Unless it takes him two months to collect more than two doubles again this year, Lance will surpass his .880 OPS and be the super star performer that he has been in years past. An on base machine, Lance still has four good years left in him. Also, we wouldn’t have thought so after watching him flail about on Tal’s Hill in the past, but Lance is an above average defensive player. With fears of diminished range on the left side of the infield, Lance’s unsung talents at first base may be among his most important.

(4) Another familiar face, Carlos Lee is slated to bat cleanup for this year’s squad. Coming off another solid, if not spectacular year, Lee led the 2007 team in RBI, total plate appearances and hits. It is difficult to justify a 6 yr/$100 million dollar deal, but Lee did as much to approach that value as he could, given his career statistics. We all know the schtick against him: he is a poor (I’m being generous) defensive outfielder who also drew the ire of Craig Biggio after not always hustling to first base after hitting assumed ground ball outs. This is the man who will also see the largest regression in the next few years, as his “big man” skills will diminish more quickly than a more athletic player. So, yes, lambaste Drayton for overpaying for offense. But in the overall scheme of this team, like it or not, is to win now. I’m admittedly trying to shine the best light on Carlos, but as it stands, anything can and has happened. *(see: Cardinals, The St. Louis. 2006)

(5) How do you think the conversation went down? Maybe something like this:

The Scene: December 13th, 2007. A spacious office on Crawford Street, Houston, Texas. A content middle aged man surfs the internet while chatting on his cell phone. In walks an older associate with a grim look on his face.

Tal Smith: Hey, Ed. D’you get a chance to look at the Mitchell Report yet?

Ed Wade: Not yet. I haven’t done much yet today. After making the trade for Miggy yesterday, I’m pretty tuckered out.

T.S.: Yea speaking of Miguel- that’s sorta what I came in here for. You may want to check out the report.

E.W.: All right, all right. (Smith stands in the doorway as Wade sifts through the initial pages of the document. An exasperated look comes upon Wade’s face as he sees Miguel Tejada’s name mentioned more than forty times.)

E.W.: Do you remember where I put the receipt?

So, it may not have gone exactly like that, but the nature of the trade for SS Miguel Tejada had an odd element of timing to it. Tejada was traded for on December 12th, and was named the following day in the release of the Mitchell Report. Wade claims to have had no idea about the imminence of his outing, but no baseball fan worth his salt can truly believe him in this regard. As far back as 2003 when Rafael Palmiero attached his name to steroids, Tejada has been under a cloud of suspicion.

On the field, Tejada will be expected to improve on the Astros offense from the SS position (a house plant has a shot to nail this requirement down) and play well, just play defense. A still deadly pull hitter, the winner of the 2004 All Star Home Run Derby should again be able to find his stroke to the tune of a 25 HR season. On the books for the next years at nearly twenty million per, Mr. Tejada has much to prove. Adam Everett was a fan favorite. He was squeaky clean off the field, and a smooth defensive player on it. The fact that he couldn’t sniff a .700 OPS to save his life didn’t seem to matter. Perhaps his ineptitude was overshadowed by that of Brad Ausmus. Regardless, Miguel Tejada is still a thumper extraordinaire. We should be able to get another two near All Star caliber years out of him, and then send him on his way.

(6) Perhaps the least sexy Astros positional player, Ty Wigginton will begin 2008 as the Astros everyday third sacker. Gone are the days of the double headed attack of Mike Lamb and Morgan Ensberg. Lamb has moved on to greener pastures on the Astroturf of Minnesota, and Mo is dancing on the line between Yankee reserve and farmhand. Wigginton is a professional hitter, plain and simple. A man who’s splits (.287 against RHP and .269 against LHP) are much more reasonable than either of the aforementioned Astros, Wigginton will have the opportunity to play nearly everyday. Unspectacular yet efficient, a .800 plus OPS will be a treat from either the six or seven hole. Another pull hitter, the folks in the Crawford Boxes should expect more Landry’s gift cards courtesy of Ty.

(7) A breath of fresh air. The exuberance of youth. Whatever phrase you like, J.R. Towles is embodies that much and more. A September call up in 2007, Towles impressed with an 8 RBI performance against the Cardinals, while showing poise in his game calling. He still has a lot of room for growth defensively, but with Officer Ausmus showing him the ropes, he couldn’t have a better teacher. When it comes to hitting, it’s Ausmus who should have the notebook out. Towles has the stroke of a doubles hitter who should be able to find the gaps and use his superlative speed to take the extra base. Possibly the only catcher outside of Chavez Ravine who can hit double digit homers and swipe double digit bases, J.R.’s growth will be among the most important for the Astros in 2008. How he learns to handle the pitching staff, his ability to get on base at the bottom of the lineup and the leadership qualities he gleans from the veterans in front of him will be paramount in the future successes of this club. An OPS of .760 this year, with many years of over .800 in his future, Mr. Towles stands ready to take up the challenges of being a starting catcher in the bigs.

(8) We all know the story at second base. A man who needs no introduction. A standout at Seton Hall Unive -Sorry. Had to catch myself there. Taking the place of future Cooperstowner Craig Biggio are two familiar faces (Mark Loretta and Geoff Blum) and the aforementioned free agent addition Kazuo Matsui. Loretta and Blum are similar players both defensively (limited range) and offensively (will struggle to get on base). However much they may struggle to get on, it is very likely they will do so with greater propensity than Kaz Matsui. Kaz, he of the hyper-inflated home/road split, parlayed an excellent second half of 2007 into a big time free agent contract. Ed, I’ve defended you against the pack of wolves on this blog, but I cannot do so here. This was a move to attach the Astros to a bit of the magic that surrounded the Colorado Rockies’ run to the NL pennant. A simple search of his home batting average last season (.330) and road counterpart (.249) would indicate that the Coors Field affect is in full play with Kazzy. That being said, even Matt Holiday had a .780 OPS away from the park with the pine trees. Regardless, he’s here and he’s our second baseman. Matsui is a package that offers plus speed on the base-paths and range defensively. However, it’s difficult to deny the fact that Ed Wade overestimated his abilities, and this team will have to bite the financial bullet for this overestimation.

As for our reserves, Spring Training is basically the showcase for who will be a team’s bench contributors. Jose Cruz, Jr., Darrin Erstad and Brad Ausmus will be front and center in this regard. Cruz and Ausmus hit well in the Spring, and Erstad has a World Series victory to his credit.

3/29/08: Woody Williams Has Been Put On Waivers

Saturday, March 29th, 2008

Woody looked done, he really did. Of course, he usually looked done last year. I really wish that he could have played for us when he was really good. Woody has said that although he has formally been put on waivers for the purpose of giving him his unconditional release, that he will retire and not play for another team. I wonder if this means he will forego his 6 mill salary this year…

Also, Quintero is being sent to AAA – Wade preferred to have Tomas Perez on the roster – not surprised one little bit. He’s been a great favorite of Wade for years, not sure why. Anyway, Quintero has to pass waivers, and if he does, he has the right to declare free agency if he prefers.
Jose Cruz, Jr. made the club, which is a good thing because we could use a reserve outfielder who can actually hit.

The pitching staff has been set too, with Paronto being optioned to AAA:
Starters: Oswalt, Backe, Wandy, Chacon, Sampson
Bullpen: Valverde, Villareal, Moehler, Geary, Borkowski, Brocail, Wright

So we’ll just have to see how the guys do this year. Like they say, it’s why they play out a long season…
Yall want to know how the game went today, don’t you? Well, in between getting the kids water, answering the kids questions, taking the kids to the bathroom, buying the kids water, taking the kids to the bathroom, Chacon gave up 2 solo homers, no one made any errors, Bourn, in a 2fer 30 slump didn’t start, every starter except Towles had a hit and Hitter Pence and Wiggy hit homers into the Crawford Boxes. Oh yes, and long explanations of why even if foul balls are hit farther than home runs, why they aren’t good enough to be home runs anyway. So a good time was had by all.
And yall want to know if, when we got home, the puppies were still there.
Five guesses….

3/28/08: Astros Aggressive Against Tigers

Friday, March 28th, 2008

Well, except for the first inning, we certainly didn’t see Astros clogging up the bases, no indeedy. Yessiree. Bobby Seay got through his 3 hitters with 10 pitches; Miner through his 3 with just 9, Grilli mowed through 4 hitters with 11 pitches; Bautista needed only 6 pitches for his 3 hitters and Todd Jones and his 10 ERA needed 12 pitches.

Isn’t it WONderful how they just whacked away at the pitches? None of that waiting for something crap like Mo Ensberg – good riddance – used to do!!!!!

And you notice that now that the boys are back home, they didn’t make any errors? Which proves right there that the defense is just fine. No problem.

Wandy gave up 7 H (2 HR) and 3 BB, yielding 5 ER in 4 innings. No problem.

Woody gave up 5 hits (2 triples to Miguel slow as molasses Cabrera) and 5 ER in 3 IP. No problem.

Wesley Wright and Geoff Geary didn’t give up hits, walks or runs. See, the bullpen is great and we won’t miss old Chad whatshisname who gave up home runs, a rarity among relief pitchers, as we all know.

The team looks to be in wonderful shape and I am SOOOO excited about our team and the winning season we will have. In fact, I fully expect us, with our great lineup, to win the Central and beat the Mets, Braves and NL West for the pennant.

Opening Day tomorrow!!! Astros caps – check. Astros shirts – check. Me and brother and my friend and 7 kids between us – check. Kids stuffed FULL of pancakes/eggs/sausage/syrup/milk/water IMMEDIATELY before leaving for the park – check. Husband taking the puppies to the shelter – well, I’d best not be coming home with tired wired kids and find out he, um, uh, forgot/didn’t get around to it, uh, gonna do it tomorrow, uh, um, ….

3/28/08: Backe Loses Astros Final Florida ST Game

Friday, March 28th, 2008

Here and I thought it MUST be Woody Williams out there. Five very good innings, 1/3 of a disastrous inning with 2 doubles, a walk and 2 homers. Brandon had a VERY good 4 innings – only 4 hits and a walk and he managed to escape damage caused by yet another Wigginton error, yet ANOTHER Quintero error (I thought he was supposed to be a glove man) and an error by some kid who hadn’t appeared in any game all spring.

Why bring a guy to Spring Training when you have no intention of playing him? Send him to minor league camp, let the guy face live pitching and fielding. Good grief.

Anyway, seems that almost everyone has stopped hitting. Bourn is 3 for his last 27 with 2 walks and no runs scored. Amazing. When that happened to Burke last year, everyone screamed for his head. Bourn is getting a free pass because he didn’t take Willy Taveras’ job. Wigginton? Well, he never started hitting, so no change there. And I haven’t heard so much as a discouraging word. Mo Ensberg hit 280 something in ST with only 1 error last year and everyone was SCREAMING to get him off the team. But Wiggy is getting a free pass, errors and all because he isn’t Ensberg.

So here we are at the end of Spring Training – yeah, the two exhibition games at the Box, I know, and this team is NOT looking good.

So let’s take a look at the hitters who will (most likely) make the ML team:
The hot hitters are…
- Hitter Pence – no surprise there. .385/.417/.689 – 30 hits, 7 doubles, 2 triples, 4 HR, 5 BB, 8 K in 78 AB; 4 SB/1CS
- Lance Berkman – and they say he’s off his stride??? .300/.400/.640 = 15/50 with 3 2B, 1 3B, 4 HR, 9 BB, 11 K and 1 SB
- Miguel Tejada (Finally started hitting 4 days ago) .362/.413/.621 = 21/58 with 9 2B, 2 HR, 5 BB, 9 K
- Jose Cruz Jr as the 5th OF – .355/.438/.661 – 22 H, 10 doubles, 3 HR, 10 BB, 15 K in 62 AB with 1 SB
- Darin Erstad as OF/1B – and I strongly disbelieve he’ll keep this up – .353/.389/.569 – 18 H, 6 2B, 1 3B, 1 HR, 3 BB, 8 K in 51 AB
- Tomas Perez as Ut IF (with a 10 year history of hitting worse than Neifi) .327/.375/.500 = 17 H, 6 2B, 1 HR, 3 BB, 5 K in 52 AB
- Humberto Quintero – 3rd catcher (and these numbers won’t last either) .350/.409/.475 = 14 H, 2 2B, 1 HR, 3 BB, 3 K in 40 AB
- Brad Ausmus (I think his ST average is way over .300 – one of the many reasons I take ST numbers with a grain of salt…) .314/.351/.371
AND
- Nick Gorneault – (although they’ll send him to AAA because he’s not as gritty as Erstad)  .458/.550/.667 = 11/24 with 2 2B and 1 HR, 2 BB, 5 K

And the rest?
- Michael Bourn – .234/.322/.338 = 18/77 with 10 BB, 2 doubles, 2 HR, 10 SB, 2 CS, 20 K, no GIDP and 12 RS (you can’t score iffn you ain’t on base.)
- Ty Wigginton – .200/.235/.354 = 13/65 with 7 2B, 1 HR, 2 BB, 9 K, 2 GIDP
- Mark Loretta – .255/.339/.364 = 14/55 with 1 2B, 1 3B, 1 HR, 5 BB, 5 K, 3 GIDP
- Geoff Blum (I’d bet he starts the season on the DL and Quintero is the last man on the roster) .240/.296/.400 = 12/50 = 5 doubles,1 HR,3 BB, 5 K
- Carlos Lee .245/.321/.467 = 11/45 = 1 double, 3 HR, 6 BB, 3 K

Now JR Towles started off smoking hot, but he’s been limited for the past few weeks because of a hamstring strain, so he only has 26 AB, but he has 10 H, 2 2B, 1 HR, 2 BB, 7 K for a line of 385/.448/.664
I guess I’d better also say that the RBI leader is Jose Cruz with 19 – and he’s the bench guy/PH.

Now, to pitching. It’s not pretty. I don’t know who will end up for sure on the roster, so I may have a few extra guys…
Roy Oswalt – 16 R/9 ER/23.2 IP – 30 H, 1 HR, 4 BB, 16 K; 3.42 ERA, 1.44 WHIP
Brandon Backe – 14R/12 ER in 19.1 IP – 25 H, 3 HR, 5 BB, 9 K; 5.59 ERA, 1.55 WHIP
Wandy Rodriguez – 5 R/ER in 8.1 IP (plus some mior league innings which don’t count) – 10 H, 3 BB, 8 K; 5.40 ERA, 1.56 WHIP
Shawn Chacon – 16 R/14 ER in 18 IP – 21 H, 1 HR, 5 BB, 9 K; 7.00 ERA, 1.44 WHIP
Woody Williams – 22 R/21 ER in 17.1 IP – 32 H, 5 HR, 5 BB, 7 K; 10.70 ERA,

3/26/08: Roy Oswalt Joins The (Get) Hit Parade

Wednesday, March 26th, 2008

We really didn’t need this – it’s not as if we don’t already have massive suckage in the pitching department. But whatever is going around, Roy seems to have caught. What an awful game – only made it through 3.2 IP – 9 hits – FOUR doubles and a triple, 1 BB, NO strikeouts and a 2 run error of his own and a 2 run error by Loretta.

Things are so bad at third base that now Cooper’s got 38 year old Brad Ausmus playing there. Yes, I know that catchers can be converted to third basemen – see Brandon Inge – heck, see Mike Lamb, but at age 38???

What I have seen of the fielding and what my friends who have watched the games live have said about it is – the fielding is incredibly terrible.
Duh.

Let me re-print a few quotes from Joseph Duarte from the Houston Chronicle (he’s the guy who is working Jose Ortiz’ beat at ST while Jose is off on secret assignment – most likely on Clemens):

From his blog yesterday:
“Cooper was particularly upset with a botched rundown during a four-run sixth inning, which began with a low throw from first baseman Lance Berkman to home plate and ended with third baseman Ty Wigginton tossing a ball over catcher J.R. Towles’ head.
The Astros have committed 32 errors this spring, an average of at least one per game. Wigginton has a team-leading eight errors.
“This isn’t young kids doing this stuff,” Cooper said. “This is ridiculous. It shouldn’t be happening now. I don’t care who it is, it shouldn’t be happening.”
Cooper can understand some of the issues happening during the first week of spring training in mid-February. Not with less than a week before the March 31 season opener against San Diego.
“It’s disappointing,” Cooper said. “It shouldn’t be happening this late in the spring. I don’t know what the problem is, but we’re going to get it straightened out.”
Cooper said the Astros may skip batting practice Wednesday “to work on fundamentals.”
“The fielding has been sloppy,” he said. “It hasn’t been good.”

Working on fundamentals? The LAST week of ST? With a veteran infield? Let me see if I’ve got this right – he expects to teach fundamentals to chronic lead gloves Wigginton, Blum, Loretta, Tejada and Lee???!!! It isn’t Towles and Bourn screwing up out there. Good luck Coop. If you can make even league average fielders out of those guys, I will definitely do everything in my power to call the world’s attention to your genius.

And from Duarte’s blog this morning:
Cecil Cooper gave the team a refresher course in fielding Wednesday morning.
Cooper had the team take an abbreviated batting practice to work on fielding, which drew his ire during Tuesday’s sloppy 10-9 loss to the Detroit Tigers.
“We need to work on this stuff,” Cooper said. “It’s four games before showtime. We can’t go into showtime looking like this. We should be locked in and focused.”

There were three errors in today’s game. Of course, one was made by “third baseman” Brad Ausmus and another by Roy, usually a good fielder, but Wiggy managed not to boot a ball/overthrow in his 6 innings of work. Whoa.

Only a few more days left until Opening Day on Saturday. The kids are all excited, can’t stop talking about it. And that is simply awesome and should be what Opening Day should be all about. An afternoon game the kids can go to and see. Actually, I envy my kids – you see, they wear their Astros caps and their Astros shirts and their kid-sized gloves and they are just so happy to be going to see their team play. They don’t know that the team is lousy, and even if they did they don’t care. They just are happy to see them play.

Bud Selig was so happy about seeing that Opening Day for MLB was played at a time and place that no one in this country, let alone fans of the teams, got to see the games. He boasted to ESPN that in 10 years, we wouldn’t recognize MLB. (And people were soooooo worried about steroids???!!!) So as for me, I am going to try to enjoy baseball while we got it – The Way The Game Is Supposed To Be Played (as the sportswriters call it) before Bud manages to do whatever it is he wants to do to it.
I hate Bud. I’m too freaking young to be talking about The Good Old Days…

3/26/08: Sampson Outpitches Verlander

Wednesday, March 26th, 2008

Sampson went 3.1 innings, giving up 5 hits, no walks, 4 K and 4 runs. He had been hit on the hip by a line drive in the third and I guess it tightened up on him, so after getting an out in the 4th, he gave up 2 singles, then a triple, then came out. Runelvys promptly let his runner score.
Verlander threw 3 innings, gave up 8 H, 2 BB and 6R/5 ER.

heh

Still no word on what Cooper thinks about the 5th starter – won’t know until after Saturday’s game.

Ty Wigginton has 8 errors this spring and Miguel Cabrera, the worst fielding regular 3B in the the NL last year, has 4. Heck even Brad Freaking Ausmus managed to play 3B for 3 innings today and handled a play just fine. When Brad Ausmus outhits and outplays you at third, well, um, this is NOT good. In case all yall curious, Mike Lamb has 2 errors and 18 assists in 79 innings played. Also, in case yall curious, he’s hitting .371/.450/.514/.964. I would LOVE to know why the Organization was so eager to throw Lamb out on his butt… Ah well…

Oh, and Blum isn’t any better than Wiggy – he has 3 errors at third in 39 innings. And Mo Ensberg made the Yankees roster – don’t guess yall want to hear what he’s hitting, do you?

I suppose I should discuss pitching. It isn’t pretty. Guess who has the best ERA of guys left on the roster?

Borkowski – yeah. 2.70. Then comes Wright with 3.00. Then Roy with 3.60 and Backe with 3.86 and then Moehler with 4.30 and Jack Cassel at 4.85 (AND Cassel has been sent to AAA even though he has CLEARLY outpitched Woody Williams – 6 mill has a way of talking, doesn’t it???)

Our new bullpen (this is 3 bag ugly – WARNING!!!)
Geary – 4.76; Valverde – 5.00; Villareal – 7.45; Sampson – 9.71; Paronto – 12.38; set-up man Brocail – 14.63.
Runelvys Hernandez and his 8.31 ERA have been removed from consideration. Dude never regained any form after his TJ surgery, I guess.
I don’t guess yall wanna hear how Qualls is doing, do you? Didn’t think so.

What I DON’T have is the DER – that is, the number that tells the percent of batted balls turned into outs. I would bet it’s about the lowest in the majors with the lead gloves we have in the IF.
sigh….

2008 Batting Order: Kaz Matsui vs Hitter Pence

Tuesday, March 25th, 2008

Just as he did last year, Pence has been hitting like crazy in Spring Training. So far, he’s hitting .397/.417/.735/1.152 – the team best (with over 30 PA). He’s leading in XBH with 13, has 7 doubles, 2 triples, 4 homers, 3 BB, 7 K and 2 SB with no CS. I’m gonna go back to calling him Hitter Pence.

I’m going to quote him (his entry) from his blog, Inside The Ballpark (which is mostly written and edited by a GIRL!!!!!!)
“On another note, it’s been good to see Tejada these last couple days. Itís unbelievable how he flipped the switch right after our off-day. I’ll be honest I wasn’t sure about his swing until now, but he is playing a different game than before. That’s what is so amazing about the veterans, they know just how to get themselves right in spring training. Most of them work on things until the last week then amp it up to a new level whenever they want. Every at-bat early in spring he wasn’t in good rhythm and now all of a sudden, he hasn’t had a bad at-bat in three days. You could say that’s just the ups and downs of baseball, but he literally told us “Now itís time to get it going.” And that’s just what he has done.”

Fascinating – here and I wonder if Tejada (and the rest of the infielders) can manage to flip that “on switch” with regard to suckulous fielding. Oh – and if that “veteran” crap is true, then what is going on with Ty Wigginton and his .607 OPS, with Carlos Lee and his .256 BA (yes, his OPS is .859, but remember this is Houston and that is what Mo Ensberg had when the fans started calling for his head – gotta have a high BA around here…)

Anyway, the question is whether or not the Astros would be better off in the long run with Matsui or Pence in the #2 hole.

Let’s take a look at Matsui – as I wrote in December, in 2007, at Coors, he hit .411/.476/.500/.976 in 56 AB over 17 games. Away from Coors, he hit .225/.260/.320/.580 in 187 AB over 53 games. INteresting that all of a sudden, he had HUGE Coors/away from Coors splits. (And people are REALLY making a LOT out of that 56 AB at Coors. Darin Erstad has an .813 OPS in 50 AB for ST – does anyone REALLY think he’s gonna hit .313 or slug .500 for the rest of the year????)

Last year, away from Coors, Matsui hit .249/.304/.333/.638 in 213 AB over 55 games. And, mind you, he only started in 2/3 of all games played last year. Over his 4 years in the majors, his non-Coors line is .256/.305/.367/.672 in 1127 AB over 309 games (he has 66 more games played at Coors, where he hits like crazy) with 46 SB and 6 CS.
His lifetime OBP over 1522 PA (including Coors) is .325 and his SLG is .387. Now, we ARE talking about having this guy hit second. Yes, I KNOW that he runs very fast and steals bases 62 SB with 9 CS lifetime, and that he almost never GIDP – he has 7 lifetime (which is about the 8 week totals for Carlos Lee, Miguel Tejada and Ty Wigginton. EACH, that is.)

Now, let’s look at Hitter Pence: .322/.360/.539/.899 – 10 GIDP in 484 PA, 11 SB, 5 CS (and at LEAST 3 of those CS were pickoffs.)

So the question to me is, first, what is the job of a #2 hitter? Is it to be a second leadoff man? If so, then the #2 guy should have the leadoff man’s MOST important skill, getting to first base in the first place, by a hit, walk, error, HBP, whatever. Matsui’s non-Coors on-base is .305. Which is BAD. Even if you look at all his stats, his on-base is .325 – which is lousy. The GOOD thing about Matsui is that he almost never GIDP. However, he seldom drives in runs because he doesn’t hit for either average or power, so he has to move the runner for the next hitter, either by hitting or bunting. The situation would be similar to the one Jimy Williams arranged in 2004 with Biggio hitting leadoff and Everett hitting second. Even if Matsui bunted Bourn over, manager would seldom walk Berkman to get to Lee or Tejada (unless, of course, they were hoping for a double play) just as managers seldom walked Bagwell to get to Kent – at least, that’s the idea.

So, the question is, in the long run, is a team better off with 2 non-slugging .325 OBP “leadoff guys” hitting first and second to increase the stolen bases, or is it better to have one of them hit 8th and have a higher OBP/SLH hitter hitting second? So I think that the answer would be – who creates more runs, the guy with the .305 OBP/.387 SLG who steals bases with approximately an 80% success rate and doesn’t create 2 outs with a GIDP
or
selecting one of the fast guys to leadoff, then having a fast guy with a .360 OBP/539 SLG who GIDP 10 times last year, but who can also steal bases.

Well, last year, his supposedly “good” year, Matsui had (-)7 RCAA (runs created above average for second basemen in the ML last year, not park adjusted.) Pence, for most of the year batting behind Biggio and his .286 OBP, had 18 RCAA.

Remembering that the second hitter in the lineup gets approximately 60 more PA/year than the 6th hitter, wouldn’t it be more sensible to have the BETTER hitter hitting second?
I vote Pence.

Now, for rumors: I hear tell that Wade is looking for pitching (gee, what a shock). Patterson signed with the Rangers, but he’s a reclamation project who very well might not pan out. I ALSO hear tell that Wade is talking 3rd basemen – gee, could it be Wiggy’s .217 BA or his 8 errors or inability to catch popups that might could be worrying Wade?

Tonight is Chris Sampson’s last chance to make the rotation and he’s facing a great Tigers lineup and has terrible infielders to help him out. And he’s not a strikeout pitcher.

3/24/08: Fan Scouting Report From Kissimmee

Monday, March 24th, 2008

James, who lives in Corpus and has season tickets to the Hooks, and I have been talking Astros and Astros prospects for 3 years now. He posted the following comment, which I have re-posted in its entirety.

I respect numbers, as all yall know, but I also respect eyewitness accounts from people who are watching the game live because they see things that camers and numbers don’t necessarily pick up, for example, pitches that appear to be in the strike zone getting called balls, great movement on pitches, no movement on pitches despite velocity, the appearance of swings, etc.

Here we go:
Hi Lisa,
Just back from 4 days @ Kissimmee. Checking out the new Hooks and looking over the big boys.
Lisa, you are right about our gawd awful infield defense – bobbles and bad throws (Tejada nearly got Newhan killed on a routine DP toss us the line right into the runner), missed pop-ups (Wiggy and Loretta both missed pops to them in fair territory on the infield dirt – unreal), and we have no range up the middle It is downright ugly.

- sigh
OK, this is in accord with what I have seen on TV and with what Anne Onnamuss and Sam Boddie told me – and they have also been watching games live. I said for years that Adam Everett was a valuable baseball player because he saved more runs with his glove than he gave up with his bat. It will be interesting to see what happens with the 3 statues.
Sampson had a mediocre night against the Nats because he was always pitching behind in the count. Cassel was impressive, getting strikes and easy outs, albeit against the Nats’ scrubs.
- I wonder if Sampson is still having arm trouble and not saying anything. I’d rather keep Cassel than Woody and I LUUUUVVV the Wood-man.

I really like Wright. He seems to be in a good mind set, has a really good arm, and throws strikes. Looks like his cutter works well against righties. He is the most non-threatening figure you’ll ever see – must weight about 170 lbs and looks like a high school kid. But he sure sends em back to the bench in a hurry.

- smile. As the old saying goes, it ain’t the size of the dog in the fight, it’s the size of the fight in the dog. I don’t guess Greg Maddux was much bigger when he was the same age.

Pence is still all adrenaline and really stings the ball hard. Good, good player. Didn’t see much outta Bourn at the plate – only hit was a swinging bunt – man, he’s fast.

- which will endear him to the fans fer SHER. I hope he keeps up the hitting/OBP in the bigs this year.

Sampson threw a bullpen session Saturday morning under the scutiny of pitching coach Dewey Robinson. Half way through the workout Woody shows up, locates himself about 12 ft directly to the 3rd base side of the mound, stands quietly and watches Sampson throw. Woody then grabs a bat and stand in the batter’s box to simulate a live hitter, even tho plywood cutouts were available to do the same task. Gamemanship or just good teamwork on Woody’s part?

- I’ve always heard that Woody is a stand-up guy in every way.

Berkman is not yet in a groove and is taking lots of extra BP before and after games and practices. Just isn’t comfortable yet. Too much elevation from the left side and pulling the ball more than he wants.

- interesting. He has told Alyson Footer that he’s comfortable. Maybe he was then…

Quintero sure gets lots of chances in practice and the games – still don’t see what management sees in a catcher who hits .225 – yeah, he’s got a strong arm, but so what?

- I have NOT been impressed with what I have seen of his arm in the bigs. But interestingly enough, readers who watched him in Round Rock told me he looked like a different guy there, not sure why… I am guessing that they keep him on the roster at least until the season starts just because he has no options and they don’t want to get nothing for him.

Towles is coming around and is a dead pull hitter – won’t take long for the oppostion to find out.

- sigh. Which may be why they are keeping Quintero, too…

Cruz Jr was impressive at the plate over the 4 games I saw. Stings the ball hard and often as a switch hitter. Never saw any tough chances in the field for him.

- good!!!! We need someone as a 4th OF who is actually GOOD. Unlike Erstad who has sucked for 7 years straight.

I guess coaches aren’t allowed to actually instruct the major league players, at least not in public. I would arrive at 9 am and go straight to the practice fields. Players would stream out from the locker rooms and begin stretching and drills and such, but I never heard any of the coaches offer any type of instruction, just kept the team on schedule with certain drills and locations. Yeah, they are big-leaguers, but man, get with the program, especially the defensive side of things.

- I read Larry Dierker’s book, “This Ain’t Brain Surgery” in which he talked about just that. Not sure what is the point of having coaches if they can’t coach. And if those guys say they don’t NEED any work on their defense, then we need a team shrink IMMEDIATELY. It might could be that ML players don’t want the coaches saying anything to them in front of the public, or that the players have to approach the coach. Which, me, being female, thinks is stupid and wasteful.

I do this trip once every three / four years. Its a blast and Iím still a die-hard Astro fan, even with the lack of pitching and fielding weíve assembled. At least the AA picture is interesting – maybe weíve got some undeveloped talent in the pipeline – hope so.
James

- I really appreciate the input. Thank you VERY much.
- smile
I’ve been scolded for my, uh, non-excited (ahem) feelings about the team’s chances this year, but I am NOT unenthusiastic about my team, but about their CHANCES…

3/23/08: Woody Williams Staves Off Elimination

Sunday, March 23rd, 2008

Woody knew it was do or die time. He’s an old pro, and he somehow managed to only give up 6 hits – 4 singles, a double and a triple, 1 BB, and 3 ER over 6 IP, lowering his ERA to 10.70. Woody managed to get 13 GB outs – amazing considering the suckage of Loretta at second, Tejada at short and Wiggy at third. Certainly a mediocre showing, but unfortunately Chris Sampson is not having the great spring he did last year, which is making Cooper’s decision difficult to say the least.

Anyway, Woody will start on Friday at the Box, and if he doesn’t look sharp, he’ll be gone, 6 mill or not. Wandy, trying to recover from an oblique strain, is also scheduled to pitch a few innings.

I hear tell that the Dodgers wanted to trade for Mark Loretta and we said no. I wonder
1 – what they were offering
2 – what on EARTH they have against Andy LaRoche
3 – why on EARTH Wade didn’t agree to swap Loretta for LaRoche, seing as how for some odd reason, LA doesn’t like him…

But I am eagerly awaiting Opening Day on Saturday afternoon. Yes, I know Y’ALL don’t think it is Opening Day, but the kids do, so off we’ll go.

Hope all yall had a Happy Easter (or Happy Passover or Happy Sunday.) All I know is that kids eat ENTIRELY too much candy…