It has been tough to think of what to write about – the team is not exactly overflowing with any news, let alone good news. Anderson Hernandez has been removed from the 40 man roster, but, like, honestly, so what? Yeah, he’s a lousy baseball player, and yeah, he has no business on a ML roster, but I sure don’t see anyone who is Mark Loretta V2 out there.
I watch the Rangers and get depressed. Not just because they have an overflowing stadium and because they just seized the entire mid-Texas TV market, but because they have the same problem that the Astros do, namely that they won’t be able to keep Cliff Lee (see Carlos Beltran) because the amount that they would have to over pay to keep him just isn’t worth it, unless they have an otherwise perfect team and they go to the World Series AND they go every year.
Cliff Lee won’t stay in Dallas because
1 – it’s a hitter’s park BIG time (yes, even more than Cincy/Philly) and for some reason, the ballpark was built without a retractable roof and guys who can get BIG money aren’t going to take even the same amount to pitch in that kind of heat
2 – Scott Boras always has his GOOD free agents sign with LA/Detroit/NY/Philly. Kevin Millwood/Chan Ho Park don’t count as good. Scott learned from the Alex Rodriguez debacle (well, not financially, I mean media-ly.)
Other reason I get depressed is because there really IS no way to generate any more interest in either the Rangers or the Astros because
1 – there is no way to grow the market and
2 – there is no way to get national press because no one from the national press wants to talk about Texas teams because no one from the national press is from Texas. A whole lot of sports fans are bandwagon fans – they have no ties to the city or team or even people on the team, they just want to be able to cheer for winning teams and media-hyped popular players (like Jeter, who has, for some reason, reached absolutely mythical status to the extent that some media people have declared him to be the greatest player who ever lived – and yes, including Babe Ruth.) And if the team and its players don’t receive endless hype, the bandwagoners just are not going to jump on (see the Rays – they can’t even get people from Tampa-St. Petersburg to go watch their winning team.) I know all yall gonna bring up the Dallas Cowboys, but I am gonna remind you that they had endless hype from the 60s to 70s BEFORE the “rule” was put in place about not hyping teams not from large northeast population centers and besides, football has STAHS!!!! in a way that baseball does not (besides Jeter, that is.)
There is no way for the Astros to grow their market because other large population centers in Texas have like zero connection to the Astros. Corpus Christi is not exactly a large population center. I know that the Rangers just signed this megabucks contracts with FoxSports, but unless FoxSports actually is available on regular cable (I mean the standard package) and unless they actually broadcast all the games, like, so what? It’s not exactly going to grow the market. Same, by the way, with any ordinary satellite package. No FoxSports, no watching unless and I mean UNLESS, you have someone so desperate to watch Rangers/Astros games that they will pay extra money and a LOT of extra money for a LOT of extra channels.
And you can’t watch the games on MLB.TV because of the silly blackout rules, even if you go and buy Extra Innings. I’ve never been clear how exactly this benefits the team, but hey, I’m no economist and I guess it really is designed for teams with their own cable channels such as YES and RSN – and other teams don’t matter, right?
Let’s look at other major population centers in this supposedly untapped baseball market, shall we?
Houston to McAllen/Brownsville: 350 miles; population 270K (around that)
Houston to El Paso: 730 miles; population 700K
Houston to Lubbock: 550 miles; population 260 K
Houston to Midland-Odessa: 550 miles; population 270K
Houston to Amarillo: 610 miles; population 240K
Houston to Tyler/Longview: 230 miles; population 400K
Houston to Abilene: 370 miles; population 120K
Of course, I left out San Antonio, and I know it, because I don’t know if FoxSports contract with the Rangers has a clause in the deal that only Rangers games will be broadcast in San Antonio as well as Austin. And as I have said before, San Antonio already HAS a minor league AA team, which is glued to the Padres.
And, by the way, it is not just what happens to be on TV, even IF Fox Sports chooses to broadcast baseball games, it is also the long standing interests of the residents of the city – and at least in Texas, most coverage of sports is heavily centered on the local college. Professional sports get a couple of lines at best. You disbelieve me, check out. say, the Lubbock media and see how much time is given to Texas Tech vs any pro baseball team…
And, by the way, the numbers of humans in one city does not necessarily correlate precisely to the numbers of people who are watching TV. And those numbers don’t necessarily correlate to the numbers of people who actually are able to get Astros games every day with a standard cable package or a standard satellite package. AND that does not necessarily correlate to people who watch Astros games who have any money which they actually spend on the team. Purchase of Astros gear is split amoung 30 teams unless bought at the stadium. And how many people are actually going to buy plane tickets and hotel rooms to go to Houston and watch baseball games? Even IF the team is winning. (By the way, back when the team WAS popular/winning and I was going to a lot of games, I asked all kinds of people in Astros gear if they were from Houston or somewheres else and almost everyone came from close to Houston – and yes, Galveston/Beaumont/Port Arthur/Galveston/Alvin/College Station count as close to Houston. But most people were from Houston.)
Answer – not real too many, seeing as how a whole lot of baseball fans don’t have that kind of $$$ – the same reason I have to laugh when Bud Selig and gang talk about putting a ML team in San Antonio – they gots the live bodies, but those there live bodies who are into baseball don’t gots the money AND there is no corporate base from which to extract those lovely corporate sponsorships. (Should I mention that the San Antonio Ballpark seats 6200 + 3000 on the grass and draws around 4000 people/game and is on the West side, right off the Highway 90, so not hard to get to and it STILL doesn’t draw full crowds.)
MLB should have learned its lesson from its ill-fated expansion into Florida – 12,000 people came to the Ray’s stadium to watch the team’s last game of the season. And most people who bother to even go to the stadium are Yankee/Red Sox fans – bandwagoners and transplants. It ain’t the stadium – the popular excuse given by Buddy Boy and gang – it’s the POPULATION. They either aren’t interested in going to an actual baseball game, or they are from Up There and are fans of other teams.
And I bring this up because most top free agents not only want to go to a winning team, they want to go to a winning team which gets the most possible national publicity. Anyone think that CC Sabathia would have stayed in Milwaukee, Wisconsin even IF he had been offered more money/years than the Yankees AND their owner was the richest person in the world who would make George Steinbrenner look like a piker in the spending money department? Answer is no, because Milwaukee will never generate any sort of national interest with the media, even if the team went to the WS 10 years in a row and yes I know all about the Wisconsin Packers (they are around Milwaukee give or take a hundred miles) but the national media deals with football very differently than it does baseball.
Lance Berkman was one of the best players in the majors for 10 years, and nobody but fantasy league players even heard of him because he almost never was mentioned in the national news media. Bagwell and Biggio are almost unknown because they played for Houston and the national media never talked about them. The last non-ex-Yankee player I can remember who got ANY sort of significant national coverage at all, besides Roy Oswalt and his bulldozer (and that was all the – ain’t he a rednekk hickk – sort of coverage) was Mike Scott. And yes, my memory of him is significantly augmented by my Mama, seeing as how I was a small child in 86.
Where was I?
Oh yes, where will the Astros go next year? There sure nuff won’t be MORE fans, irrespective of the Rangers incursion into what was once Astros territory. No top free agent is going to come here regardless, and one player alone can not take the team to the WS and win (see Barry Bonds, Ted Williams, Billy Williams, etc.) and we will be stuck with Clank at 1B/LF, and at either position, he will be a huge negative, unless he somehow just had a bad year for no reason and he magically turns back into 2008 Clank, not that I’m holding my breath.
I know that Jeff Bagwell was magically supposed to have made this great difference, but fact is that the Astros offensive rankings at the ASB didn’t change and the team (including all players who even had 1 PA) ended up 29th in BA, SLG, OBP, LAST in walks and 5th in K.
Not sure I see much of any sort of change for next year, neither, no matter WHO they hire as a hitting coach. Very few guys actually acquire plate discipline, Sammy Sosa being a rare example (and yes, I know he has already been tried and convicted of using steroids based on the fact that he hit too many home runs, but I don’t really get how steroid use has any effect on a ballplayer’s ability to recognise pitches that will be out of the zone and to refrain from swinging at them.)
Neither Brett Wallace nor Chris Johnson took much of any walks as minor leaguers: Wallace, now age 24, walked roughly 50 times/162 game season and CJ, now age 26, walked roughly 34 times/162 games – and, even worse, he grounded into an average of 22 DPs/162 games. Unless he changes his approach significantly, learns somehow NOT to swing at everything that comes near the plate (especially changeups – he isn’t near as vulnerable to sliders off the plate, don’t ask me why) he is going to have some serious trouble next year, as pitchers will have a much better idea how to get him out (see Hunter Pence, year 2.)
And CJ best spend a lot of the winter taking fielding practice, too. Even Ozzie Smith made errors, but CJ makes waaaaayyy too many (you do not want to hear his fielding scores) and he doesn’t make enough spectacular plays to compensate. And gloves certainly DO lose games – see Brooks Conrad, poor guy. And gloves certainly DO win games (see, for example, any OF who has pulled back what would have been the game winning homer) and trouble is that third basemen/middle IF usually don’t get the spotlight for game ending fielding plays and they sure as HECK don’t get any spotlight for making difficult plays look routine (see Adam Everett) and too many fans care ONLY about batting average and don’t believe that runs saved makes one little bitty bit of difference. Although they sure as heck notice plays NOT made…
At least Wallace has a very VERY solid glove. AND if Clank plays 1B, Wallace is going to get sent to AAA to rot. He has exactly zero to learn there (like JR Towles) and I personally believe that in the vast majority of cases, it is harmful to a player’s development to keep him at AAA waaaaaaay to long. He simply does not learn to hit ML pitching and yes, there IS a vast difference. The Evan Longorias/Ryan Brauns are the RARE exceptions – guys who tear UP minor leaguers and come up and tear UP major leaguers year after year.
Wallace tore UP minor league pitching the minute he got there at every level. He was given only 159 PA scattered over 51 games at the ML level. I don’t have game logs for minor league games, so I have no idea whether or not Wallace took more than 150 PA to adjust to each minor league level, but he was playing every single DAY, most likely batting in the 3,4 or 5 hole, not the 7th or 8th. I don’t know and I can’t tell whether or not he can or will be able to hit ML pitching consistently and put up the numbers which are expected of a ML first baseman, but if he is going to be kept at AAA or turned into a bench player/platooned, we’ll never know, especially as he is one of the rare leftys who hits leftys as well as/better than rightys.
Tommy Manzella has an excellent glove – not Adam Everett level, but then again, that is not exactly a fair comparison because since 03, I haven’t seen ANY major league shortstop approach Adam Everett’s glove. Not that fans care, unless they do back flips on their way on the field. With respect to the bat – the good news is that Tommy alwsays struggled when he was promoted BUT he improved at that level every single year; first year at AAA, he had a .567 OPS over 247 PA. Next year, he posted a .756 OPS over 580 PA. Yeah, I know you are not impressed, as these are not exactly Tulo/Hanley type numbers, but they ARE respectable for a VERY good fielding SS. This year, he posted a .531 OPS over 285 PA. And he increased the OPS to .581 in 69 PA AFTER the ASB – and this is also with him only receiving sporadic playing time. But, unless he bats second, he is not really going to hit over ML average for a SS and he’ll be 28, so it is really do or die time for him.
His competition is Angel Sanchez, a mediocre at best fielder. His AAA OPS over the past 3 years: .584, .791 (and that is at Las Vegas – think pre-humidor Coors) and .675. He isn’t exactly Tulo or Hanley. Question is – does the slightly better hitting outweigh the significantly inferior glove? Can’t tell from previous ML stats, mostly because he had only 30 PA. He doesn’t walk much (like Tommy) and he doesn’t hit for power much (like Tommy) and he is not fast on the basepaths (UNLIKE Tommy) and he doesn’t have baserunning smarts (UNLIKE Tommy.)
Most fans will prefer Sanchez ONLY because of the higher BA, because they don’t care how well a SS fields unless he makes lots of errors. Well, they don’t care about that neither – look at Miggy Tejada and his lead glove – as long as he hit over .280.
In either case, we aren’t getting any sort of good, solid bat. Downs was a utility guy in the minors, too, playing mostly second base. He was originally slotted at third, but guess he wasn’t real too particularly good there. Over his minor league career, he played 217 games at second, 131 at third, 33 at short and none at first. Which is not great, IF Clank is going to be your 1B because you need someone who actually CAN play the position (remember Loretta, Blum, Jose Vizcaino – shudder) and the other utility guy, Michaels, is strictly an OF. He has spent part of 08, all of 09 and part of 2010 at AAA and here are his numbers: 705 OPS over 94 PA; .834 over 467 PA; .764 OPS over 228 PA – all at Fresno. He had a .690 OPS at San Fran over 88 PA this year before being released. NOT Loretta. NOT even Blum.
And, by the way, I want to point out that Ed Wade’s record of picking out utility IF runs to Jason Smith, Anderson Hernandez, Matt Kata, Jose Castillo etc – his only non-dreadful pick has been Angel Sanchez. I doubt that Matt Downs is going to blossom into a good hitter/fielder either.
Jason Castro? The only thing I think I CAN judge is his glovework. Which is, uh, er, let’s say, a work in progress. He is absolutely terrible at blocking balls – I mean, terrible. He frames pitches well and has a very strong and accurate arm – I only saw him make a bad throw twice, which is awesome. As for his bat – well, let’s be real here – he was never projected to be a superstud like Buster Posey, who spent too much time in the minors, considering his abilities. Castro, on the other hand, spent too little time in the minors, considering his abilities. He didn’t even hit AAA pitching very well before being called up because Ed Wade’s little petsy-poo didn’t like Towles. Castro had 267 PA over 67 games for a whopping .573 OPS, AND he was platooned heavily (except for always catching Wandy) and had only 46 PA vs leftys – had 3 hits and 3 walks. He had only a .669 OPS vs rightys, not good either.
Not that Quintero was exactly much better – had a .570 OPS over 265 AB. He, like Castro, hit rightys much better (so much for platoon splits) and has a lifetime OPS of .593 in the bigs.
By the way – remember fans screaming about how terrible a bat Bradley Awesomeness was? The automatic out? The absolutely superlative defensive catcher? Let me post his OPS from 03 to 07: .594, .631, .682, .593, .641. Not Piazza, but incredibly better than anyone else who has caught – and yet, no one (but Towles) has caught any youknowwhat for lack of bat.
Castro could certainly improve with both glove and bat. I can’t predict anything because he had so little time in the minors. I know all the Guys Who Know Their Stats have somehow already divined his True Talent Level, but as for me, I would rather not because we have too little data and he is having to spend his minor league years in the majors. The Organization is desperate for him to succeed, so he is gonna stay, no matter what, so he’ll get at least 300 PA next year and who knows – maybe he’s practicing catching balls as hard as Chris Johnson is.
Jeff Keppinger – reasonable glove (at second – don’t even think about short) and solid bat for a second baseman. This year, slightly exceeded his career line of .281/.339/.391/.729. No Biggio/Kent, but at least he’s dependable and I don’t see why he would be removed from second, seeing as how we have no Ian Kinsler available to replace him.
Summary – I sure nuff don’t see anything that resembles even a league average hitting infield – AND if Angel Sanchez is the SS, it will be a waaaay below average fielding infield as well. Unless miracles happen, of course…
Part 2 soon – I hope…