Archive for January, 2009

1/30/09: Baby One More Time

Friday, January 30th, 2009

Guest column courtesy of poster Austin Swafford (unedited by me – well, except for a couple of typos.)

Like a sucker playing Blackjack at a high-stakes casino where they are grossly overmatched, the Astros have sweated out the last few seasons, choosing not to sit with their hand that adds up to 17, but saying “hit me baby, one more time.” I just knew you were looking for a mangled gambling/Britney Spears cross-reference, and you’re welcome. They have busted time and again as they dip into the free agent scrap heap, building an overloaded team (or hand, if you will) made up of players too untalented to win, but too old to develop.

Since their improbable run to the World Series in 2005, the Astros have just missed the playoffs twice, compiling a 241-244 record that (trust me) is even worse than it looks. They barely missed the playoffs in 2006 with an 82-80 record only because the Cardinals nearly suffered a monumental collapse before their unlikely run to World Series victory. They just stunk in 2007, leading to Phil Garner’s firing not even two years after he went to the World Series. And they barely missed the playoffs last year, despite only putting together three months with winning records. Their record going into August was 50-56. In typical Astros fashion, they put together a few weeks where they looked unbeatable (until the Hurricane Ike scheduling debacle), but all told, it was really a pretty bad season.

So, how did they get here? How did they go from postseason Cinderallas to having a team AND minor league system stocked full of old, has-beens-if-they-even-ever-weres? It started in 2001…

2001 – In an attempt to recover from a humiliating first season at Homerun Field, the Astros sign 35 year-old journeyman infielder Charlie Hayes. Not that he was expected to save the franchise or anything, but I like noting that in 31 games and 50 at-bats, he somehow managed to not hit a single homerun in one of the most hitter-friendly parks in baseball history. One who was supposed to significantly bolster the team was Kent Bottenfield. Too obese to be considered an athlete in my book, the mantra from the Astros front office was that he was an 18-game winner, conveniently noting the one good season he had and ignoring the 26-37 record he compiled in all of his other major league seasons. He went 2-5 with a 6.40 ERA for the ‘Stros before heading to the minor leagues for a “rehab assignment.” He got released after being shelled in a AA game at Round Rock. But here’s the point – it was the beginning of the era where the Astros would fail to cultivate their once very rich farm system. Sitting in the minors when Bottenfield and Hayes were on the opening day roster? A few names you might know. Carlos Hernandez, Brad Lidge, Roy Oswalt, Morgan Ensberg and Adam Everett.

2002 – In a year that was still not bad but an indicator of things to come, the Astros sign preseason contracts with washed up pitchers C.J. Nitkowski, T.J. Mathews and Hipolito Pichardo. Also begins the obsession with backup AAAA catchers with the signing of Gregg Zaun and Alan Zinter. Zaun was billed as a great offensive catcher even though he’d spent seven seasons as, at best, a platoon catcher with inconsistent offensive numbers. In those seven seasons he played in an average of only 61 games per season. Not starts, TOTAL GAMES, including subs and pinch hitting appearances. His OPS was all over the map, he never collected more than 7 homers in a single season and in his most productive year, he had only 33 RBIs. Well, of course, he wasn’t good on offense OR defense for the ‘Stros. They traded him in the middle of the 2003 after batting .220 with 4 homers, 37 RBIs and 50 Ks in 135 games. Zinter…what can you say about Zinter? He was a career minor leaguer who was 33 at the beginning of 2002 season. The real life Crash Davis, ladies and gentlemen. He somehow managed 39 games and 44 at-bats for the Astros that year, despite a .136 batting average (which was also his on-base percentage because he didn’t walk, no, not once).

2003 – Fairly quiet this off season. They held on to Daryle Ward for way too long, and a guy who at one time grabbed top-notch offers from other teams ended up only landing a minor league pitcher named Rudy Lugo. Ever heard of him? Yeah, me neither. The Astros also signed Bruce Chen as a free agent. I think you know Lisa’s well-founded worries about getting pitchers the Braves didn’t want anymore. He didn’t last long. 12 innings, 8 ER on 14 hits and 8 BBs for a 6.00 ERA.

2004 – After missing the playoffs for a second consecutive year in 2003, Billy Wagner made some critical comments about the Astros front office, basically saying that if they wanted to win, they needed to get real about it and get some starting pitching. The fact that he was right was cast to the side, and Drayton McGrocer no doubt ordered Gerry Hunsicker to trade Wagner ASAP as the Astros suddenly, it seems, didn’t have enough money to resign him. Right. They’d manage to find the money for Pettitte and Clemens, but they couldn’t afford Wagner. Okay. It resulted in Hunsicker, a 3-time GM of the year who was known for his astute trades, making the one truly horrific trade he made in his tenure with Houston. He gave Wagner to the Phillies for Brandon Duckworth, Taylor Buchholz and Ezequiel Astacio. Duckworth did nothing, Astacio was a homerun machine, and Buchholz was a very nice surprise (though Purpura would take care of that). Almost to spite Wagner, it would seem, the Astros signed Roger Clemens and Andy Pettitte. This off season was a crucial turning point for the Astros. As we’ll see, the excitement over these acquisitions and the team’s subsequent success seem to have contributed in great part to their current free agent blunders. They traded for Mike Lamb who, despite my early misgivings, ended up playing quite well for the Astros. And, in redemption for the Wagner trade, the Astros traded Jeriome Robertson (who somehow broke Oswalt’s rookie win record by going 15-9 with a 5.10 ERA) to the Indians. He posted a 12.21 ERA in 8 relief outings for the Indians and hasn’t seen the Majors since. Oh, and did I mention the Astros ROBBED THEM BLIND by getting Luke Scott and Willy Taveras? That’s the Gerry Hunsicker I know. Sadly, those two would be vilified and misused and ultimately traded away for nothing by subsequent GMs.

2005 – post-NLCS collapse. Sadness. Gerry Hunsicker gone. Start the parade of washed up old relievers. We lose Carlos Beltran and replace him with Turk Wendell, Dave Burba and John Franco. The Astros finally make the World Series. Begin the search for the one missing piece.

2006 – Astros sign a slew of old Tigers, career minor leaguers, washed up pitchers and lefty relievers they didn’t need. Dave Borkowski, Steve Sparks, Danny Klassen, Eric Munson, Trever Miller and Cody Ransom. Also, Alan Zinter’s back at the spry age of 37! Oh, and Preston Wilson’s on in left field. That oughtta do it. He got painted as a five-tool player despite the fact that he’d shown that kind of talent only sporadically. The strikeout king who was surprisingly slow (it looked like he took his first two steps in wet cement) played 102 games as an Astro, recording 94 whiffs against just 9 HRs and 6 SBs.

2007 – The search for the one missing piece continues. The Astros get Carlos Lee (nice) and Woody Williams (not). I can live with Lee costing them a first-round draft pick. That Williams cost them a second-round draft pick makes that acquisition too dumb for words. The Astros also make possibly the worst trade in club history, dealing top prospects Taylor Buchholz, Jason Hirsh and Willy Taveras to the Rockies for Jason Jennings. Quick side-by-side, just for fun. Buchholz has gone 12-11 with one save, 22 holds, 117 Ks and a 3.38 ERA. On top of that, he’s 28 and still in Colorado along with 26 year-old Jason Hirsh, and Willy Taveras was an important piece of their appearance in the World Series. Jason Jennings went 2-9 with 71 Ks and a 6.49 ERA and now plays for the Rangers. That one didn’t work out so well, and that’s a small understatement. The Astros also proceeded to get a lot older without getting any better (and doing that after getting rid of Clemens and Pettitte is really something). They sign Mark Loretta, Stephen Randolph, Richard Hidalgo (remember that guy!?), Brian Moehler, Rick White and Scott Sauerbeck. Suddenly the Astros aren’t good, their prospects are severely depleted and their minor leagues are stocked with 30 year-olds who didn’t make the cut out of spring training. Uh-oh.

2008 – Phillies rob the Astros again, this time by taking advantage of new GM Wade Philips who loves former Phillies like Purpura loved Texans who couldn’t play baseball. Phils get Brad Lidge and Eric Bruntlett (both of whom would be important in their World Series victory). Astros get Michael Bourn (Taveras clone except without the batting average), Mike Costanzo (projected lifetime minor leaguer) and reliever Geoff Geary (labeled a “veteran” because it’s not that nice to call a guy old and not that good). They get Oscar Villarreal from the Braves (RED FLAG) for Josh Anderson, because the Astros don’t like outfielders who hit singles, steal a lot of bases and field their positions well. Um…unless they’re former Phillies who hit .229 at the top of the order, I guess. The Astros signed Villarreal to a two-year contract before he pitched a game for them. And after he posted his 5.02 ERA this year, I couldn’t be happier with that decision. Astros get suspected roider Tejada who overperformed with the glove while underperforming with the bat. And all they had to give up was Luke Scott (erasing that great Jeriome Robertson trade), Matt Albers, Troy Patton, Dennis Sarfate and Mike Costanzo. So, anything even coming close to resembling a prospect is gone. BUT, they weren’t done signing old players, because they still have to get Darin Erstad, Lance Niekro and Jose Cruz, Jr. To say nothing of Shawn Chacon. Yes, Erstad played very well, but that’s not the point. As I keep saying, the Astros are getting older without getting better.

This is how they’ve gotten here. This is how the Astros are sitting here with an old team without that much talent and no prospects on the horizon. As the Royals and Pirates could have told them, this is a story of warning against thinking that you’re one piece away from winning at all. The Astros have been shortsighted, refusing to look beyond October to see what they need to win in the future. The best their fans can hope for now is that the front office gets wise, realizes that having a losing season isn’t the end of the world, and will concentrate for a while on restocking the minor leagues rather than having a team of veterans posting 77-win seasons.

1/29/09: How COULD I Have Forgotten Sergio Perez?

Thursday, January 29th, 2009

I guess I forgot him because everyone else seems to have forgotten him too.

Sergio Perez, RHP, age 24, was picked in the second round of the 06 draft. He threw 16 good innings at A ball that year, then, well, let’s say, wasn’t as good in high A in 07 – 25 GS over 128 IP – 4.00 ERA, 1.34 WHIP, 9 H/9 IP, 0.6 HR/9, 2.6 BB/9 and 6.5 K/9.

He was hurt most of last year, but threw 27 reasonable innings at AA, 2.30 ERA, 1.39 WHIP, 3 HR, 8 BB, 18 K.

He had a groin injury in April, came back in May, then fractured his little finger at the end of the month, then threw 9 innings in relief at the end of August.

He pitched in the AFL this winter, started 7 games, threw 23 innings with an ERA of 3.52 with a 1.61 WHIP: 26 H, 2 HR, 11 BB, 15 K and 6 HBP. Well, it IS an extreme hitters’ league…

(By the way, Bud Norris also pitched, relieved in 12 games over 19 IP – 14 H, 1 HR, 2 BB, 14 K – 1.89 ERA, 1.42 WHIP. And Brad James pitched as well, only not very well – started 1 game and relieved in 7 more over 11 IP – 19 H, 3 HR, 5 BB, 12 K: 10.64 ERA, 2.18 WHIP)

Needless to say, Sergio needs a leeeeetle bit more seasoning before talking about him helping the ML team this year. I would guess he’ll start the year in AA again, and hopefully, if he does well, he’ll be promoted to AAA, even if we have to DFA/release one of the myriad el-crappo AAA lifers we have hanging around. Because his arm/shoulder haven’t been injured, I have at least SOME hope that he will be able to do well this year.

And hopefully, he won’t be traded away for yet some more crappy middle relievers.

Astros 2009 Pitching Prospects

Wednesday, January 28th, 2009

At the request of Bruce, I am going to discuss minor league pitchers who Richard Justice said, and I quote (and, as Dave Barry says, I am not making this up) “In the end, the success of this season probably will depend on some of those kids from the minor league system–Norris, Paulino, Estrada, etc.–contributing at the major league level.”

Baseball Prospectus named 6 pitchers on their top 11 list (yeh, I bet they got that from Spinal Tap): #3, Jordan Lyles, RHP, age 19, 1st round 2008; #4, Bud Norris, RHP, 6th round, 06; #6, Ross Seaton, RHP, age 19, 3rd round 08; Sammy Gervacio, RHP, drafted from DR in 02; #9, Felipe Paulino, drafted from the DR in 01; #10, Chia-Jen Lo, RHP, signed as a FA from Taiwan this year.

Baseball America named 4 pitchers on their Astros Top 10 list: #2, Bud Norris, RHP; #3, Ross Seaton, RHP; #6, Jordan Lyles, RHP; #7, Felipe Paulino, RHP.

(Baseball America also has this to say about the Astros minor league system, the worst in ML AGAIN - “The immediate future hardly looks encouraging, however. Between the majors and the recent draft class, the farm system has been gutted in recent years by trades, the loss of draft picks and the unwillingness of owner Drayton McLane to pony up signing bonus money that might have cushioned the fall…Astros minor league affiliates combined for a disturbing .397 winning percentage in 2008, easily the worst mark in baseball. Scouts from other organizations say they have to search far and wide to find Houston prospects who might be big league contributors.”

Gee, where might could yall have heard this before, hmmmmmmm? And they might have added – the Astros also have a complete unwillingness to deal with any pitcher who is not, uh, well, not uppity (here and I never knew that White boys could be uppity – learn something new every day) such as Mitch Talbot, Jason Hirsh, Taylor Buchholz, Matt Albers, Jimmy Barthmaier and Chad Reineke.

But I digress…

Remembering that there could be some pitchers in the Astros minor league system who do not qualify as prospects bcause of their age (such as Chris Sampson in 2006), let’s take a look at the pitchers named by Justice, BP, BA and whoever else I can find in the minors who doesn’t look like dog meat. And, by the way, let’s be real here – we do NOT have anyone in the low minors who is a Max Scherzer 2008. Therefore, although a few guys in rookie or low A have been posted to the Top 10 list, I’m not bothering to evaluate them as possible contributors to the Astros 2009 ML team for the simple reason that they won’t be.

Here goes:

- Alberto Arias, RHP, age 25. Obtained from the Rockies last year. Has pitched only 29 innings on the majors, started 2 games and relieved in 19, but had a very difficult time adjusting to the fact that ML hitters don’t usually swing at junk. He has a 3.98 ERA, 1.33 WHIP, 6.6 K/9 and 2.9 BB/9 over 373 minor league innings. He started 2 games for the Astros last year – lasted 5 innings in the first, got creamed over 3 innings in the second. I can’t see this guy contributing much of anything, unless Burt Hooten manages to teach him to control his stuff. 

- Chris Blazek, age 24, LHP, picked in the 23rd round of the 05 draft, just finished AA. Appeared in 49 games in relief and threw 69 innings of 4.52 ERA/1.36 WHIP ball with 10.9 K/9 and 3.6 BB/9. Not noted for good control, and I can’t see him contributing to the ML club in 09 unless a miracle occurs.

 - Micah Bowie, LHP, age 34, Houston Native Son, AAA lifer with some ML innings with the Braves, Cubs, A’s and Nats. Was picked by the Braves and traded away for Jose Hernandez. You know what I think about pitchers who are rejected by Schuerholz/Cox. Sigh. I s’pose you cain’t never have too many lefty middle relievers hanging around. Hunh, Ed? So I guess it is actually possible that this guy might could see action on the 09 ML team. He threw a career high 57 innings in the majors in 07 for the Nats with a 4.55 ERA (93 ERA+) and a 1.45 WHIP. Not sure if I would call that exactly a CONtribution…

- Chance Douglass, RHP, age 25 – 12th round 02 draft out of HS. In 07, he threw 80 very good innings at AA, then 65 putrid ones at AAA. He was sent back to AA, threw 123 lousy innings, then 25 excellent ones at AAA. Over 725 minor league innings, he has a 3.72 ERA and a 1.30 WHIP with 8.8 H/9, 0.8 HR/9, 3.1 BB/9 and 6.2 K/9. If he continues to pitch well at AAA, well, youneverknow, unless, like Mark Saccomanno, the Organization is determined to do their best to keep him out of the majors by instead using someone who has proven to be a lousy veteran.

- Paul Estrada, RH RP, age 26, drafted in 99 from Venezuela. I have NO idea why I keep hearing his name. At AAA in 07, as a reliever, he threw 70 innings of 5.21 ERA, 1.62 WHIP ball. He was hurt last year and threw 8 lousy innings at AA. Over 8 minor league seasons, he has a 4.75 ERA, 1.48 WHIP, 5 BB/9 and 9 K/9. He has NO business on a ML team. Of course, that doesn’t mean he won’t be called up, don’t ask me why, because he has been touted by too many for reasons that completely escape me. If he walks minor leaguers at the rate he does, he has NO chance in the majors.

- Sammy Gervacio, age 24, RH RP, drafted from the DR. Did extremely well from 05 to 07. He was promoted to AA at the end of the 07 season and threw 22 superb innings. He repeated AA in 08, hit a wall, threw 65 innings over 47 games with a 4,15 ERA and a 1.43 WHIP. He was promoted at the end of the year, and somehow in AAA, managed to throw 8 ace innings. He’ll need to show he can get AAA hitters out before he is promoted – I hear tell he’s being groomed for the closer’s role for next year, when Valverde will be too expensive. Over 278 minor league innings, he has a 2.75 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, 7.1 H/9, 0.6 HR/9, 2.1 BB/9 and 11.4 K/9. He might could get called up in September, but if he mows em down in AAA and we need another middle reliever, Sammy might could get the call. 

- Carlos Hines, RH RP, age 28. Picked by the Reds in the 24th round of the 99 draft. Has spent the last 4 years in AAA and he sure nuff ain’t no diamond in the rough. He’s thrown 403 minor league innings with a 4.29 ERA and a 1.50 WHIP. NOT major league material.

- Ryan Houston, RHP, age 29. Signed in the 31st round of the 98 draft by the Blue Jays. He signed as a minor league FA with Houston last year, went to AAA and was quite simply terrible, with a 7 something ERA and a 1.74 WHIP. No, thank you.

- Brad James, RH SP, age 24, picked in the 29th round of the 04 draft. He’s one of those groundball pitchers who doesn’t strike out many and relies heavily on defense. He wasn’t expected to be anything but minor league filler, but he had a 1.49 ERA in 06 in A ball and a 1.98 ERA in high A in 07 with a 1.11 WHIP and was promoted to AA at the end of the year, where he had, uh, a bit more trouble getting guys out. He repeated AA this year, threw 93 innings (was hurt for a while) and gave up 10.9 h/9, 0.9 HR/9 (double his previous rate) and walked 3/9 and Kd 4.4/9. Not sure how he’ll do, but he has to get AAA hitters out before I would agree that he’ll have success in the bigs. Then again, I hear tell that except for Tommy Manzella, the defensive prowess of the guys on last year’s AAA team were akin to Clank Lee… 

- Jordan Lyles, RHP, age 19, 1st round, 08. He will NOT be contributing to the 09 Astros. Touting 19 year olds, unless they are Scott Kazmir or Doc Gooden, which this kid is not, is a fool’s errand.

- Kyle Middleton, RHP, age 28. Picked in the 49th round of the 99 draft by the Royals (anyone else notice that we are starting to accumulate discarded Royals pitchers? WTF????) Gotta give the guy serious props for hanging on even in the minors for so long, seeing as how many first rounders are gone after only a couple years. He’s been in the Astros system for 2 years now, and let me be kind and say that he is not qualified to be a major league pitcher.

- Josh Miller, RHP, age 29. Picked in the 32nd round of the 01 draft by the Phillies. Spent04 and part of 05 in the indy leagues, then signed with Houston and assigned to AA. Let me be kind and commend him for sticking to the minors all these years and say that AAA seems to be a little advanced for him.

- Mark McLemore, LHP, age 28 - was injured and did not play in 2008. Was a 4th round pick in the 02 draft. He would be a 6th year minor league FA this year, and not sure if he is going to continue playing baseball. He would have been a VERY good starter had he not been injured so much and so often – had a mediocre 35 innings in relief for the Astros in 07 – 3.86 ERA, but a 1.60 WHIP dues to waaaay too many walks. We already have Wright and Byrdak for LH RP, but you know Fast Eddie – cain’t never have too many middle relievers, especially lefty middle relievers.

 - Josh Muecke, LHP, age 27, picked in the 5th round of the 03 draft. He spent 06 and 07 in AA and last year in AAA where he started 29 games, had a 4.89 ERA, 1.41 WHIP with 9.2 H/9, 1.1 HR/9, 3.5 BB/9 and 5.8 K/9. Looks bettern Felipe Paulino, but that’s called damning with faint praise. I can’t see him contributing to the ML club unless he suddenly learns a new pitch/strikes out a lot more guys/Russ Ortiz and every other deadbeat AAA recycled reject craps out.

- Fernando Nieve, RHP, age 26, signed out of Venezuela in 99 (basically at the end of the Astros good pipeline.) He had an OK year for the Astros in 06 as a 23 year old, but then injured his elbow and had to have TJ surgery in 07 and has, um, struggled (ahem) ever since returning. Last year, he struggled at AAA and threw BP in the majors. Not sure what exactly will happen with him, or if he’ll be able to regain any semblance of command this spring, but if not, he certainly won’t be helping THIS ML team. Wasn’t that long ago that there was all this talktalk about grooming him to close, but he was always a guy who seemed to need a LONG time to warm up and get into his rhythm, and I can’t see him being an effective middle relief guy. I have NO idea how he’ll do, and I just can’t predict it.

- Bud Norris, RHP, age 24, picked in the 6th round of the 06 draft. The Organization is really keen on this guy, not sure why, except that he has a high K rate. He just finished his first year at AA last year, threw 80 innings with a 4.05 ERA and a 1.50 WHIP. I sound like a broken record, but I do believe that the boy, with an  undistinguished minor league record of a 4.25 ERA/1.33 WHIP over 220 minor league innings, does need to first show that he can even get AAA hitters out before we start measuring him for an Astros uni.

- Felipe Paulino, RHP, age 25, drafted from the DR in 01. Was out all last year because of injuries. Over 6 undistinguished minor league seasons, he has a 4.28 ERA and a 1.38 WHIP, 8.1 H/9, 0.7 HR/9, 4.3 BB/9 and 8.5 K/9. Big deal. If any of those guys from BP or BA watched the guy, they’d know he wasn’t any good. I guess you could say that if he’s a top 10 Astros prospect, that tells you all you need to know about the Astros minor league system…

- Ross Seaton, RHP, age 18, 3rd round 2008. He ain’t Doc Gooden and he’ll be lucky to be in AA in 2009.

- Polin Trinidad, RHP, age 24, picked from the DR.  I don’t understand why cruddy guys like Felipe Paulino are getting press and this guy is un-noticed. He just finished his first year in AA last year, started 18 games over 107 innings with a 3.61 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 9.1 H/9, 1.1 HR/9, 1.8 BB/9, 6.3 K/9. Now THIS guy looks as if he got somethin good goin on. But, as usual, I’d sure like to see how he does in AAA before throwing him to the Pujols.

- Andy Van Hekken, LHP, age 29. Picked in the 3rd round of the 98 draft by the Mariners. The guy has bounced all over the place, appeared in 30 mediocre ML innings for the 02 Tigers, but never tasted the majors again. The Astros signed him out of the indy leagues last year and he threw 67 innings in AA as a starter – 3.19 ERA, 1.36 WHIP, 1.6 BB/9, 7.4 K/9. I actually remember reading something about this guy like 5 years ago, and if I remember rightly, he was hurt a lot. He has reasonable minor league numbers – 3.92 ERA, q.36 WHIP, 6.3 K/9, 2.2 BB/9, 9.5 H/9. I don’t know if he is going to be re-signed by the Astros, but I would guess that no matter how he does, he won’t get a chance because he’s so old.

There you go.

The only 2 guys who look as if they just might could be worth something are Polin Trinidad and Sammy Gervacio, neither mentioned on any Top 10. And I sure wouldn’t mind getting McLemore back.

The Hardball Times 2009 Season Preview Is Here!!!!!

Monday, January 26th, 2009

Click here to check it out.

Naturally, I know all yall incredibly eager to read the Astros forecast written by yours truly, so I will post part of it. Now mind, I had to submit this before the brilliant moves by Drayton McLane to form the Blum-Boone-no platoon at 3B and the swift move to sign Matt Kata to replace Mark Loretta as all-purpose backup infielder (1/4 the price, 1/4 the production) and the stealing of ace Russ Ortiz for pennies on the dollar, so this is why they weren’t included.

Check it out:

What Happened:

- The Astros had a better year than I expected, thanks to Lance Berkman carrying the team through the first half, and then Carlos Lee and Ty Wigginton picking up after the All-Star break. As usual, the Astros picked it up after the ASB, going 42-24, unfortunately encouraging the owner to believe that the team was better than it was.

As usual, the Astros ended April on a losing note, partly because Roy Oswalt was struggling, partly because Valverde was blowing saves and also because Bourn and Towles were significantly underperforming. The Astros had an outstanding May because Lance Berkman couldn’t be gotten out and Miguel Tejada and Hunter Pence had their only good months of the year. They lost and lost and lost in June and hit (hahaha) a low point when pitcher Shawn Chacon, uh, shall we say, expressed his displeasure with Ed Wade by punching him. The manager had clearly lost the team (dissing players to the media is generally not conducive to building a strong working relationship), the new catcher, J.R. Towles had lost his confidence, his swing and his job and the new CF, Michael Bourn, was catching balls but not getting on base.
After the All-Star break, as usual, the team started winning. Ed Wade stunned Astros fans by
1 – trading for failed, DFA’d Yankee reliever LaTroy Hawkins, who was promptly installed in the setup role after Doug Brocail ran out of gas, and promptly ran off a string of 22 scoreless appearances which lasted until the last game of the season
2 – trading for starting pitcher Randy Wolf, who actually pitched better than expected for the Astros, who won all but 3 of his 12 starts.
The Astros responded by winning, especially because Carlos Lee upped his game, hitting .371 in July. In August, he had already driven in 13 runs when he was knocked out for the year on August 9th when hit by a pitch that broke his pinky. And when Ty Wigginton was installed in left, HE responded by going on the hitting streak of his life, hitting .369, hitting 12 homers and driving in 27 runs until he also was hurt September 5.
In fact, the Astros appeared to be ready to compete for the Wild Card when disaster hit. A gigantic hurricane headed straight for Houston. The owner, even with a minimum of 5 days advance knowledge of the direction and scope of the storm, was unwilling to risk losing the gate from 3 sold out Cubs games, delayed rescheduling/relocating them until it was far too late. Bud Selig moved the games to Milwaukee (instead of more fan-friendly Arlington, which was available) and the shell shocked, exhausted, sleep deprived Astros promptly allowed the Cubs to pitch a no-hitter, then a 2 hitter. They lost the last game of the series before heading to Florida to lose 3 more, which effectively, permanently knocked them out of the Wild Card race.
Not that Drayton McLane was willing to shoulder any blame for his idiotic decision, not that he would allow himself to wonder what had he done to be a champion that year. The players should have just sucked it up, not worried about their families, none of whom were evacuated, and acted as if they were in their own stadium and just won.
I should mention that the Astros’ team defense was the 3rd best in the NL and that they made the fewest errors of any NL team. Both Tejada and Wigginton far outperformed expectations, Lance Berkman looked like J.T. Snow with the glove and Michael Bourn was excellent in center, as were Erstad and Abercrombie. Carlos Lee was, as usual, a cement statue in left, but Cecil Cooper had the sense to pull him for Erstad in the late innings if the Astros were ahead.
But sometimes, the whole actually IS better than the sum of its parts, and the 2008 Astros exemplified that.
Reasons to be Optimistic:

- every time I am POSITIVE the Astros are going nowhere, they make one of their patented second half runs and make it, at the very least, interesting.

Reasons to be Pessimistic:
The team will remain essentially the same and its weaknesses have not been addressed:

1 – The rotation consists of Oswalt, Hampton, Wandy Rodriguez, Brian Moehler and Ida Know-Hu. A rotation consisting of one ace, an acceptable 3rd starter when healthy, one 38 year old who had performed so poorly that he had been relegated to mopup duty before having a decent year last year, and a guy who had been on the DL with one surgery after another for 3 years doesn’t scream “CHAMPIONS” to me.
2 – Ty Wigginton, the third best hitter on the team, is gone and has been replaced by Geoff Blum, who is not good enough with either bat or glove to be a full time third baseman.
3 – Miguel Tejada, whose bat was already in severe decline, is even older, and will most likely decline more.
4 – Kaz Matsui will spent 1/3 of the year on the DL, as usual, and instead of Loretta/Newhan filling in, we will have some cheap replacement-level filler like Tomas Perez or Jose Castillo
5 – Humberto Quintero, a worse hitter than Brad Ausmus, can’t frame a pitch to save his life and will be the main catcher, and neither Roy Oswalt nor Wandy Rodriguez appear to like throwing to him.
6 – The players do not appear to like playing for the manager, who rips them to the media. And once again, the manager was not permitted to select his own bench coach. The pitchers do NOT like the pitching coach and he has not been replaced.
7 – The 4 most highly paid players can not be traded for prospects – 3 because they have no-trade clauses and one because his contract significantly exceeds his value.

8 – Every time I am pessimistic about the future of the team, they perform better than I expect.
Now I know you are anxious to buy the book, not just to finish MY chapter, but to read all the chapters on each team, the projections, the player comments, and the latest of stattiest stats. So click here to buy the book straight from the publisher.
Full Disclaimer: I get paid a few bucks for writing my chapter. Period. The rest of the money earned on this book goes to pay for the stats we buy from BIS and the cost of running the website. I sure do WISH i could say that this book will make me rich as Oprah, but no such luck…

1/21/09: Roger Clemens And The Mitchell Report

Wednesday, January 21st, 2009

The NY Times recently had a little article about Kirk Radomski’s book.

Yall remember Radomski – the guy who was nabbed for being a big time steroids dealer/distributor who was given NO prison time in exchange for helping George Mitchell get info to send Roger Clemens and (hopefully) Barry Bonds to prison for a long LONG time for USING drugs. And yeh, that IS a new thing – giving big time drug dealers/manufacturers/distributors no prison time in return for getting prison time for USERS.

Well, Mr. Rat Drug Dealer done just wrote himself a new book, he surely did. All about the drug dealin he done and his “experience” with the Mitchell Report people.

Get this (from the Times:)

“In a portion of the book that is likely to attract attention, Radomski states that he was asked by Mitchell about a handful of major leaguers who were not among his dozens of customers and who did not end up being named in the Mitchell report.

Radomski names this group of players in his book — several of them have been previously linked to performance-enhancing drugs in other books — and says that he told Mitchell that he had no firsthand knowledge about their possible use of drugs.

Mitchell, through a spokesman, disputed Radomski’s claim that he was asked about specific players who were not named in the report. “At no time did we raise the names of specific players who had not previously been identified to us by Mr. Radomski,” John Clarke, a spokesman for Mitchell, said in an e-mail message.”

Well, well, well.

Mr. Mitchell done just called his star witness a laaaar. Ain’t that sumpin!!!

Oh

And Radomski accused David Justice yet AGAIN of doing HGH because he heard tell from some former teammate. (How interestin that the media is not all down Justice’s neck DEMANDING that he confess and apologise because IF he been accused, THEN he must be guilty. Like Clemens.)

Here we got a big time drug dealer who is Mitchell’s star witness, who got out of what should have been hellacious prison time for ratting out USERS, who is being called a liar ON THE RECORD by that self same Mr. Mitchell.

(And let me also add that Chad Curtis, grilled by that self same Mr. Mitchell, agrees with Mr. Radomski – click here to check out Ken Davidoff’s article. As Ken puts it,

“So here, essentially, is what Mitchell’s office is saying now: “Please believe Kirk Radomski when he says something that makes us look good. But please don’t believe him when he says something that makes us look bad.”)

And we got us Brian McNamee, unconvicted rapist and big time drug dealer who got his little self out of prison time by ratting out USERS, insisting that for no reason at all, he kept the syringes he used to give the man he admired more than any other, steroid shots 10 years ago. Anyone just think it might could be possible that Mr. Mitchell and Mr. Nowitsky kind of, um, SUGGESTED to McNamee that Clemens just might could have been one of his user clients and cmon, McNamee doesn’t WANNA serve time, now, does he? Because who cares about Andy Pettitte/Chuck Knoblauch?

Yeh, I know we’ve ALL got Roger convicted of using drugs and measured for the federal pen, but personally, I think his lawyers gonna have themselves a good ol time with Radomski, Nowitsky and McNamee.

Sad thing is, even if Hardin goes all Perry Mason on McNamee’s ass and McNamee confesses he made the whole thing up to get in good with the govmint, won’t none of the public believe it anyhow. If Roger had confessed/false confessed and “apologised” for trying to heal his broken down muscle, it would have gone away. It’s STILL about Mr. Mitchell being a politician who has to be “right” in front of the media.

And last, but not least, we should ask ourselves why on earth we are so quick to IMMEDIATELY believe the unsubstantiated reports of a POLITICIAN whose main goal as an OWNER (yes, Mr. Mitchell is part owner of the Red Sox) is to throw bones to the media and protect the owners from any hint of responsibility in La Affair De Steroids. And we should also remember that we should have GOOD evidence before convicting someone, whether in a court of law or a court of public opinion.

1/20/09: Astros Sign Arbitration Eligible Players Backe, Byrdak And Quintero

Tuesday, January 20th, 2009

Quintero is getting a 610K contract as a 1st year arb eligible guy. Nobody better and cheaper was available from the trash bin and that is telling yall what kind of lousy lousy players are still hanging around. Remember, he’s a guy who hits worse than AUSMUS did his last 2 years.

But most guys don’t care about that because their females don’t look at Q with quiiiiiite the same, uh, feelings as we do at Bradley Hotness.

Byrdak, one of 2 lefty relievers, is one day short of a 3 year veteran. However, he signed a minor league FA contract in 07, and since he has already been a FA, albeit a minor league one, he became arb eligible the next year (I don’t get some of the arb rules, but what can I say…) He just signed a 1 mill contract – reasonable for a lefty reliever. He had a 109 ERA+ over 55.1 IP – 3.90 ERA, 1.32 WHIP. His great weakness is, as we all know, walks. When the slider doesn’t slide juuuust the right amount, guys trot to first. He was also a bit homeriffic last year, giving up 10 homers/55.1 IP – a little more than his ML average.

All in all, a reasonable deal.

Brandon Backe, a second year arb guy, signed for 1.55 mill + incentives for IP over 150 innings (as well as incentives in case he is turned into a reliever, like Sampson.) I can hear fans screaming, but seriously, seeing as how they refuse to let Sampson start, exactly who is gonna be the 5th guy? Russ Frickin Ortiz? Jose 1-inning Capellan? They apparently plan on wasting Bud Norris in the bullpen, like starters grow on trees, but hey, what can I say?

Backe is the only guy who didn’t miss a start last year. And yes, I know he should have been shut down in August when his arm was obviously dead. It isn’t impossible that he will improve in his second year off TJ surgery, and besides, he’s dirt cheap for a ML starter. He wasn’t THAT bad before his arm went limp in late August.

I know fans are screaming, but Drayton has made it MORE than clear that he won’t get Peavy or sign Ben Sheets or Randy Wolf, who will get more money than Backe, even if he only DOES get a 1 year deal again.

The point is that Backe is better than Russ Ortiz or Runs-elvys Hernandez or anyone else that Fast Eddie has fished out of the dumpster.

So it’s not saying much. Who do YALL think is better for the price? Besides, Backe can be used for trade bait – signed to a cheap 1 year deal. Hope Fast Eddie didn’t bad mouth him too much already.

Wandy and Geary still haven’t settled, but they and the Organization will most likely settle before their cases come up – Tal Smith has a big time winning record and they both know it. And I don’t want to hear how we shouldn’t have Wandy on the team neither. You want him gone, you find someone who is gonna throw 120 ERA+ ball as a STARTER for 2.2-3 mill a year. No he’s not an ace, but he’s a better starter than anyone on the team not named Roy Oswalt.

And speaking of Roy, yall notice I have so far not discussed his playing in the WBC (which I personally think is something that should be done only by lousy minor leaguers so that good prospects/players won’t get injured wasting their time.) If anyone wants to know why I am so opposed to Astros players playing, all I can say is go look at what happened to Brad Lidge and Dan Wheeler in 06 – and don’t bother bringing up Willy Taveras because all he did is sit on his dead ass and he managed not to get hit by a foul ball, so he did his job, far as I’m concerned.

And this year, Carlos Lee plans to play for Panama and THIS time, we have not good hitter like Wiggy with whom to replace him, so let’s just hope that Carlos doesn’t get injured ot the extra time get him too tired to play in September.

Yeah, September. Only thing the Astros gonna be playing in October is golf.

1/19/09: Astros Invite Closer Danny Graves To Spring Training

Monday, January 19th, 2009

No

I am dead serious. And here I was snickering at them signing Russ Ortiz. And snickering at the media guys who think signing Ortiz was this great idea. Believe it or not, I am secretly hoping they are right and I am wrong because even though a signing looks like flushing money down the toilet, it IS baseball and the one thing you can be sure of is youneverknow.

Danny Graves was an excellent relief pitcher for years, with the Reds, until they decided to make him a starter ala Braden Looper. He uck-sayed, went 4-15 and his ERA/WHIP went from excellent to obscene. He had a better year in 04 when he returned to the bullpen – his numbers look superficially good, as he finished 59 games, saved 41, lost 6 and blew 8 for a 3.95 ERA and a 1.32 WHIP. But he seriously stunk it up in 05, was traded to the Mets, stunk it up there too, Putrified 18 innings for Cleveland in 06, then went to the Indys in 07, then threw 84 innings in AAA for the Twins, with a 6.30 ERA and a 1.70 WHIP.

Are we really REALLY that desperate?

sigh

Chad Paronto, RHP will be back -  he did quite well in AAA for Round Rock last year – 3.08 ERA, 1.42 WHIP, 9.7 K/9, 2.4 BB/9, 10.4 H/9 and 0.3 HR/9 (2 in 52.2 IP) No problem there as we have so few of our own guys we need SOMEone who can take a few relief innings.

We also invited Jose Capellan, RHP. Jose and Chad have one extremely important thing in common besides being RHP - they BOTH were drafted by the Braves and traded. Remember all the stuff I’ve said a gazillion times about the Braves and their incredible judgement about pitchers? And how I can count on ONE hand the number of pitchers they’ve released/traded since Schuerholz became GM in 91 who succeeded elsewhere (and I don’t mean pitched a few innings here and there with a suckulous record.) The boy was a tippy top prospect for the Braves, looked as he was gonna be an ace de la ace when he was traded to the Brewers in 04 for the Brewer’s ace closer Danny Kolb. I hafta kind of giggle about this one because John Schuerholz guessed wrong on this one – not about Capellan not being worth much, but about Danny continuing to be an ace closer, which he, to put it mildly, wasn’t.

But I digress…

Anyhow, The Brewers were dilirious with joy, thinking they’d just gotten their hands on an ace. But they hadn’t. They tried converting him to relief in 05, and he threw 81 league average relief innings with a 4.40 ERA and a 1.34 WHIP in 06.

The Brewers didn’t think real too much of him and in mid 07, they traded him to the desperate Tigers whose bullpen was almost completely depleted due to injuries, for a minor leaguer who, at age 25, just completed his second year at high A (did quite well this time.)

He so impressed the Tigers with his 6.43 ERA over 14 innings, that they traded him to the Rockies for Denny Bautista (who I am always confusing with DAnny Bautista, who is a HITTER, for some reason) and he threw all of 2 innings for them last year. He did throw another 16 in their minors before he was released and was picked up by the Royals, where he played for Omaha, throwing 37 innings of 4.10 ERA/1.31 WHIP ball.

Good rule of thumb – if the Braves don’t want him, you don’t either. And yes, I know they made a mistake about Jason Schmidt and Adam Wainwright, who are/were aces and Jason Marquis and Odalis Perez, who have had success.

They also invited 33 year old backup catcher Toby Hall, who hits like Ausmus, but isn’t NEAR as hot – his OPS+ over the last 5 years are: 77, 83, 76, 22, 61. But hey, that is bettern Quintero.

And they invited Brian Esposito, a 9 year minor league veteran whose line reads .214/.253/.305/.558.

And they prefer these guys to J.R. Towles now WHY?????

sigh

I should also note that Jack Cassel signed on with the Indians. Hope he gets a chance there, cuz he sure as heck wasn’t gonna get one with the Astros with Coop disliking him as much as he does.

And that Ty Wigginton has not yet been able to get ANY job.

I think the owners are going to get the media – especially the newspaper guys, whose jobs are teetering precariously these days, to help them paint the ballplayers are greedy scum, so that they will be forced to take lower salaries and the owners can keep their obscene profits.

Amazing how many papers are on the brink of ruin. The Dallas Morning News is ceding all of its baseball coverage to the Fort Worth paper. The San Francisco area papers’ baseball beat people are collborating. I guess we should be glad we still HAVE beat reporters for the Astros. No, they aren’t Peter Gammons, but thank GAWD they ain’t Corky Simpson (you know, the guy who voted for steroid user Matt Williams because he’s a good guy, but not Rickey Henderson because he’s “not a Rickey guy.”)

But some ballplayers are crazy, too. Ryan Madsen, Philly reliever (and no, not exactly an All-Star caliber one), just turned down a 3 year 12 mill deal while Cole Hamels agreed to be grossly underpaid at 3 years, 20.5 mill for years 4,5,6. 4 mill a year is excellent for a middle reliever and that guy is just plum loco. I guess he’s gambling he’ll get more in arb.

shrug

Meanwhile, the Astros STILL haven’t found anyone who can play SS if/when Miguel Tejada is put on trial/questioned/jailed/deported for the crime of lying to federal investigators about using drugs.

It is absolutely amazing that the feds have blown a minimum of 55 mill trying desperately to nail Barry Lamar Bonds for USING (not selling, not buying, not distributing) Schedule 3 controlled drugs while letting the manufacturers, distributors and dealers walk. Of course, they now can pat themselves on the back for ruining Roger Clemens, who wasn’t smart enough to confess/falsely confess to using, blubber some stupid apology like Andy Candy, and go on his merry way (you can’t eff with even former politicians or they will nail your butt.)

Which reminds me – we all know that Rafael Palmeiro’s life in baseball was ovah the day he tested positive for roids, BECAUSE he said the only thing that he had been injected with was the B-12 that Tejada had given him. He got plenty stones thrown at him and he went into exile, more reviled than a child rapist.

But here’s Tejada, a known roid purchaser (dumbass wrote checks to his dealer, for one – so much for guys hiding their drug doing), now in serious trouble for supposedly lying to the feds about roid use – and me, I wonder if I am the only one who wonders if Palmeiro actually DID tell the truth about getting a B-12 shot from Tejada, only it was one of his, uh, special (ahem) shots, and that by the time inspectors came along to check his stash out, it was filled with clean bottles (and getting hold of injectible Vitamin B-12 and insulin needles is piece of cake.)

I doubt if the feds really give a rat’s ass about Tejada, who can just stay in the D.R. if he doesn’t want to deal with the US Justice system – I seriously doubt he could be extradited for that, but I’m thinking that Novitsky is wondering if Tejada can be somehow used to nail that dirty rotten scoundrel Barry Lamar Bonds. Which has been his ONLY interest all along. Hey, he wanted to do it with Jason Grimsley…

What actually makes me maddest about Tejada is that it was DRAYTON MCLANE who wanted this guy, who told Ed Wade to throw away The Hated Luke Scott (one of these days, I swear I am gonna find out why the Organization hated him so much), Albers, Patton and Sarfate for his lying ass and limp bat. Who pretended he hadn’t nevah heard the talk about Tejada’s real age or his roid use (if I had heard it for 3 or 4 years, I KNOW that Tal Smith, who is NOT stupid, certainly had.)  And you know that it is Ed Wade who is gonna catch the heck from the fans.

And no, I know good-n-well that getting Tejada and getting rid of 3 guys the Astros didn’t want BEFORE he got here was most certainly NOT his idea. And Like I keep saying, I refuse to give credit/debit for any trade/signing that occurred that was clearly NOT Fast Eddie’s doing.

Personally, I hope Tommy Manzella, lousy bat and all, makes the team, for the simple reason that I hear tell he fields near as well as Adam Everett and I miss watching him. I miss watching Roy Oswalt not even bothering to look back before wandering off the field on an impossible ball up the middle that should have been a no doubter single.

PACR in 25 days.

1/14/09: The Astros Solve The 5th Starter Puzzle With Ace Russ Ortiz!!!

Wednesday, January 14th, 2009

Fortunately, it is to a minor league contract.

No, I’m not kidding. Yes, I’m talking the Russ Ortiz who signed a 4 year deal with the Diamondbacks in 04 and was so incredibly terrible (and also obese, out of shape, unwilling to work on mechanics or anything else) that they released him after 6 gawd awful starts (22.2 IP, 7.54 ERA, 2.162 WHIP) into the second year of his 4 year contract and ate the remaining 22 million. He went to Baltimore, as usual, desperate for any person who could so much as throw a baseball even a lil faster than BP, and he crapped out there too, 5 starts, 15 relief appearances, 8.48 ERA over 40 IP.

My overwhelming Russ Ortiz memory is not one of the times the Astros faced him, but in Game 6 in the 02 WS. He was soundly beating the Angels 5-0, the Giants were leading in games 3-2, he’d given up only 2 hits when he came in to start the 7th. He gave up 2 singles, then with Scott Spiezio, slugger, striding to the plate, Dusty Baker trudged out to the mound, held out his hand for the ball, patted Ortiz, who looked a little unwilling to come out, he’d easily gotten Spiezio out twice, then Dusty gave Ortiz the ball – you know, a souveneir for the winning pitcher.

I remember looking at Husband and saying – oh, that was a BAD luck thing to do. And it was. Because Felix Rodriguez came in and promptly gave up a homer and then it was 5-3. And then Worrell let the other 3 runs score and yes I do remember that it was Barry Lamar’s error that allowed the winning (unearned) run.

Interesting - I can think of at least a few more times that a team’s unexpected victory in Game 6 led to the demoralizing of their opponent, who then laid down in Game 7 (remember the Denkinger? remember the Buckner?)

But I digressed there, didn’t I?

Back on Russ Ortiz -

he was picked in the 4th round of the 95 draft by the Giants and was called up in 98. He was a pretty good pitcher from 99-04, averaging 210 IP/yr over 33 games started, with ERA+ of 113, 85, 122, 107, 112, 104.) He always walked a lot of guys, around 4.6/9 IP, but kept the hits down, around 8.2/9 IP and kept the homers down to around .85/9 IP. Yes, I suppose it DID help pitching in the HR graveyard that is Pac Bell.

Anyway, after the 02 season, the Giants had to decide whether to keep Kirk Rueter or Russ Ortiz, and they decided to trade Russ to the Braves for Damian Moss and Merkin Valdez. Have you ever heard me say that only a dammfool will agree to take pitchers from Atlanta? In 03, Moss threw 89 innings of 89 ERA+ ball and then was released; Merkin Valdez threw 1.2 innings giving up 5 runs in 04 and 16 innings giving up 5 runs last year. Russ Ortiz gave the Braves 417 innings of 108 ERA+ ball.

Winner, Braves (as usual, when it comes to pitcher trades.)

And Rueter, who the Giants decided to keep instead of Ortiz? He threw 147 innings of 93 ERA+ ball in 2003, 190 innings of 92 ERA+ ball in 04 and gave up the ghose in 05, throwing 104 innings of 72 ERA+ ball before being released – as I remember it, 2 years into a 4 year contract. Or was it 3 years into a 5 year contract? Ah well.

Anyway, I have absolutely no idea why Ortiz decided to show up to Dbax camp grossly overweight and out of shape in the spring of 05, but he did. He threw 22 execrable games over 115 innings, then the Dbax “noticed” he seemed to be “injured” so they sent him down to try to work with him to get some weight off and fix his mechanics. They were, to put it mildly, unsuccessful. He was even worse the next year and apparently completely recalcitrant to all efforts to persuade him to lose weight or work on his mechanics and the Dbax decided they’d be better off without him than with him.

The next year, he went to work for the Giants again, threw 49 innings of 81 ERA+ ball before injuring his elbow. He then had TJ surgey and sat out all of 08.

Apparently, he can throw without pain, but I don’t know if he can pitch worth a darn or if he’ll resemble Dave Burba/Steve Sparks when we invited them to ST. Ortiz weighed 210 when he was first a major leaguer at age 25. When he was released from Arizona, he looked as if he weighed a GOOD 275 if he weighed an ounce and at 6’1″, he doesn’t need to weigh over 225 at the most.

Ah well. Maybe he can be a middle reliever. Cain’t never have too many of those, right Eddie?

A Few Thoughts About The 2008 Hall Of Fame Voting

Sunday, January 11th, 2009

A long time ago, this Supreme Court Justice was asked – how could he identify greatness in a ballplayer? He replied – I know it when I see it. (Anyhow, that’s how I remember the story….)

These days, non-statistical qualities are called “intangibles” (think Derek Jeter who is King of Intangibles), not just by stats hating reporters, but by the ballplayers themselves.

Intangible, at least to me, means that certain something about a player that makes him better than the sum of his parts.

And looks like Jim Ed Rice is going to win the intangibility contest of the year and be voted into the Hall of Fame, probably THE worst left fielder ever voted in (note that I am ignoring all the Veterans Committee of Frankie Frisch abominations) and he is going to be voted in, honestly, as a finger to the modern, supposedly roided up sluggers. Jim Ed was supposed to have been “feared” but seems that all this fear has been concentrated among modern sportswriters, dreaming about 1978. Jim Ed wasn’t much of a hitter outside of Fenway, an extreme RH hitter’s park when he was playing, and Yankee stadium. Just judging from some of the writing from 1976-1980, I think that as far as “feared” that Jim Ed fell so far behind Reggie Jackson and George Brett as to be virtually unnoticed.

Ah well, at least Jim Ed was FINE, even with that icky porn stache, an obvious great Hall worthy virtue somehow unmentioned by all the writers. And please, don’t tell me that HOT is unimportant – WHO is supposed to be my fantasy team rep from the Astros now that Bradley is retired? Hunh? Tell me that! Up and down the team is a pile of yawn.

But I digress.

Where was I? Oh yeah, Jim Ed. Back on intangibles. And also, he was a 1 team only guy, something valued by voters, don’t ask me why, as it had exactly zero to do with player “loyalty” prior to the advent of free agency. Don’t guess the media back then liked him real too much, but they sure do like those rose colored glasses they wearing these days.

As for me, I don’t think Jim Ed should be in the Hall for his stats, but rather for his intangibles – as I wrote a few years ago. (Check it out – it’s a good entry. Well, it IS.)

>A little more on the one team only guy who will be/might could be in the Hall in the FA era: The writers LOVE them. Players stay with the same team from beginning to end ONLY if it is in the best financial interest of BOTH the team and player to remain. No matter what the writers want to think, ML professional baseball is and always has been first and foremost a business.

I guess I was thinking about this in reference to John Smoltz, the long time Atlanta Brave, who just signed a last year contract with the Red Sox. He’s pretty darn close to a sure thing for the Hall – not Roger Clemens level excellence by any means, but an outstanding pitcher all the same, a guy who won’t reach 300 games because he spent 3 years as an elite closer and because he missed several years because of injuries.

Atlanta wanted him back a little, I guess, but not enough to make sure he didn’t leave. They offered him a contract with incentives which would be difficult to reach, such as 200 IP. I think they must have looked at what money John could make the team – I guess they didn’t think they could market him as a franchise icon havng a farewell tour, as the Astros did with Biggio in 07 – enough to recoup what they thought would be their losses if he couldn’t pitch 200 innings. Odd reasoning, especially as they don’t really have anyone ready to replace him. Unless, of course, Smoltz isn’t sure that this will be his last year in MLB, even at his age.

Of course, once he retires, he’ll undoubtedly be offered all sorts of liason contracts with the Braves, they’ll have Smoltz Remembrance Day, and he’ll continue to make the team money. And of course he’ll go into the Hall as a Brave along with his compatriots Glavine and Maddux.

But really, will it make any difference that he spent a year as a Red Sux? Who remembers Steve Carlton as anything but a Phillie? Who won’t remember Frank Thomas as a White Sox? Or even The Rickey as an A?

And speaking of The Rickey, one writer from some minor paper in Arizona left Rickey off his ballot, saying that guys like Tommy John and roider Matt Williams were more deserving unlike that roider McGwire and unlike The Rickey, who might could make it in someday. Apparently, the paper was absolutely inundated by emails from outraged baseball fans, uh, making, uh, remarks about the mental status/capacity of the person who deliberately omitted The Rickey from his ballot. The writer/voter, Corky Simpson, was more than miffed that internet people were making such a big deal of him actually thinking that Rickey didn’t belong on his ballot. Guess we all should have written letters to the editor by snail mail cuz that would have made ALL the difference.

Thing is the Hall of Fame is not the Hall of Stats – you DO consider the intangible.

And the fact is that there simply is NO way that any intangible could possibly be bad enough to justify keeping The Rickey off a ballot.

Other baseball writers have asked Mr. Simpson why he didn’t vote for Rickey, and all he has said is that if he had known there would be this much fuss, he would have. But, of course, it doesn’t answer the actual question; Simpson didn’t use all 10 votes, so he can’t say that he thought 10 other guys were MORE worthy. He simply didn’t think that Rickey is worthy.

Amazing

But then again, there were 20 guys who didn’t vote for Ted Williams (HOW could they explain THAT?) and plenty of guys who didn’t vote for Hank Aaron, Willie Mays and Mickey Mantle. Seriously, WHO is their definition of a Hall of Famer, WHO is better than those men?

Ah well…

But speaking of intangibles, I come to Mark McGwire. There is a question of did he or didn’t he use roids – and mind, the writers aren’t forcing every other player on the ballot to PROVE he didn’t use roids – and there are 2 divergent thoughts on him:

1 – even IF he didn’t use/roids actually have no effect on performance, he was a one dimensional player who was not a good fielder or runner and either walked or hit home runs. He wouldn’t be a Hall Of Famer even if he could prove conclusively that he never used any steroid other than Andro (which was availble over the counter to anyone, including pregnant females, in 1998 and which has not been proven to have any effect whatsoever in terms of performance enhancement in healthy young male athletes.)

2 – steroid users are evil and we know that he wouldn’t have even hit as well as some crappy SS in the 60s facing Sandy Koufax if he hadn’t been shooting up because every guy who used roids hit like McGwire and everyone who hit like McGwire therefore HAD to have used roids (see Sammy Sosa because every single male continues to look exactly the way he did when he was 19 and lifting weights without roids does exactly zero for muscle development). Anyway, if he had been a real man, he would have told Congress about every drug he used, naming names of everyone else he KNOW who used and everyone he thought might could have used or anyone to whom he even mentioned the word – roids – and then he would have taken his prison sentence like a Real Man and accepted that he would never be allowed in baseball or near the Hall due to his being a convicted felon.

uh hunh

I am kind of undecided about the stats – he didn’t have a long period of sustained excellence, had a fairly short, almost unbelieveable peak, and was never any sort of threat on the basepaths, except maybe to mutilate any SS/2B he slid into trying to break up the DP. He did “earn” one Derek Jeter GG. And I do know that umpires gave him a strike zone the size of a postage stamp cuz anything above mid thigh to him was a ball.

BUT

I want him in because of “intangibles.” Yep. It is the Hall of FAME. And let’s be honest here, McGwire and his home runs really DID bring back an enormous amount of attention to baseball that had been gone since the strike, in spite of St. Cal and The Streak. Seligula and the rest of the owners WANTED all those homers, WANTED all the cartoon characters to promote and WANTED the Paul Bunyan-like “hero.” And no, I don’t consider steroid use to be “cheating” prior to its being banned, any more than I consider using dirty/deliberately scuffed baseballs or spitballs to be cheating.

McGwire should be in the Hall. Warts and All.

1/8/09: The Astros Should NOT Sign Andy Pettitte

Thursday, January 8th, 2009

You see, I remember 2006 . I remember it VERY well, thank you very much.

It was the last year of Andy Pettitte’s 3 year contract with his hometown team. You know, the team he grew up rooting for. Supposedly. You know, the year when Roger Dodjer the Prima Donna wanted to play in the WBC, but then was too tired to show up for the first part of the year because he didn’t KNOW if he wanted to play or just retire and oh, oh, whatever would he DOOOOOOO?

I remember Andy sucking like a black hole in the first half, carrying an ERA of over 5, giving up homers like he was pitching BP.

And, in fact, I remember that when his best bud Rodger Dodjer decided to re-up with the Astros, planning his first start on June 22 – you know, the 22 to match his pro-rated 22 mill salary, which matched his famous jersey #22, it didn’t seem to galvanize Andy Candy one little bit.

And, in fact, I remember that the ONLY reason that the Astros managed to end up with a record over .500 is that they FINALLY decided to bench the suckulous carcass of what had once been Preston Wilson and allow Luke Scott, hated by the Organisation, to be called up and play LF and he pretty much singlehandedly batted the Stros into the W column.

Because Rodger Dodjer had sore legs/pulled hammy /something that made him sit/suck in September, so he wasn’t exactly no help…

And, in fact, I remember that after the season Andy said stuff like – gee, Ida know if I wanna keep playing or retire or what. And with the Carlos the Jackal failure in painful memory, Drayton said to his employees – look, seeing as how Andy Candy don’t wanna tell us how he feels, we best go find SOMEbody to pitch. Get rid of Boras clients and young pitchers because they ain’t worth nothin if they don’t come right up and pitch like Oswalt.

And, in fact, I remember that SUDDENLY, Andy got his little self ALL indignant that the Astros weren’t sitting around waiting for him to make up his little mind and said he was gonna go back to his REAL luuuuuvvvv, the Yankees. And for more money. And for a player option because he was a gonna bring back that Yankee playoff magic they’d been missin since him-n Roger left (not that Andy exactly helped them win the 03 Series, but I digress…)

So now, this year, in spite of him sucking like Backe in the second half, he is demanding that the Yankees pay him 16 million – yes, you read that right, SIXTEEN million to be the #5 guy. And the Yankees, by the way, are REDUCING payroll just like bout everyone else. So they have offered him an extremely generous 10 mill, but Andy is pouting bout that. He, of course, has been saying he only wants his Yankees, but seems Cashman is gettin a lil tired of the Prima Donna.

Drayton, we all know, has told Ed Wade not to spend any more money – we’ve hired great character like Jason Michaels and Lou Palmissano and Aaron Boone to be Good Guys. And the cold hard facts are that Andy Pettitte is no Roger Clemens. Regaradless of how many adulterous afffairs he had, regardless of how many syringes he denied getting stuck with (wait – which pitcher am I talking about here?) Andy isn’t half the pitcher Roger is, nor is he the kind of Star – and make no mistake, Roger was a Star, matched or maybe barely exceeded by Barry Lamar Bonds, who more than pays for himself.

The truth is that it absolutely is NOT about the money – Andy wants his butt kissed and thinks he should get Roger treatment. Well, Andy should look around and see what kind of treatment Roger is getting – Giff Neilson won’t be associated with him, Memorial Hospital took his name off the Sports Medicine Center Roger had donated millions and time to, the media is demanding he apologise for denying accusations of felonious activities.

(The problem isn’t the commission of all the felonies, the problem is with not apologizing for committing them in the first place…)

Besides, fans and media, for the most part, only care if baseball players commit the felonies if they are any good at playing baseball.

but I digress

The point is that Andy Pettitte is no longer a #2 starter and he isn’t worth any 10 mill a year. And, frankly, I don’t like a player who acts like the Astros are what you get stuck with when the popular kid don’t wanna take you to the prom. You have to EARN the status of Prima Donna and Andy ain’t all that.

I like hometown boys as well as anyone else. But far as I’m concerned, Andy’s hometown is New York City (as he’s actually said) and he can stay there.