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Monday, September 01, 2014

Nitkowski: Wanted: Major League manager…sort of.

Right after Bo Porter was hired [as Astros manager] I was told he was the only candidate who answered “yes”€™ to the question, “€œare you OK with influence from the front office in every day decisions like setting the lineup?”€ There was a reason he was the only one who said yes, no one wants to manage a major league team where they are told what to do by someone who has never played the game or even done the job.

There is balance here. Influences from front offices are part of the new equation in baseball and the game is smarter because of it. Clint Hurdle told me the Pirates utilize a sort of hybrid theory and it is working well in Pittsburgh. He is open to advanced metrics, he listens, he gets it and he and the front office work well together to implement the new school of thought.

There is one essential caveat though, he makes the final in game decisions, including lineups and he is never second guessed on those decisions…

The Astros need two managers. One right now who is not competitive and will do whatever the front office tells him while they’€™re still losing. Then they’€™ll need one when they get good who is ultra competitive and has the track record to tell the front office to back off. Of course that guy will go through the interview process and immediately withdraw his name.

Something has to change or this will be the beginning of a cycle that never ends in Houston.

The District Attorney Posted: September 01, 2014 at 03:10 PM | 12 comment(s)
  Beats: astros, bo porter, clint hurdle, managers, pirates

Astros Fire Bo Porter

The Astros have fired manager Bo Porter, according to a team press release.  Bench coach Dave Trembley has also been relieved of his duties.  Tom Lawless will be the club’s interim manager for the rest of the 2014 season.

The District Attorney Posted: September 01, 2014 at 12:19 PM | 62 comment(s)
  Beats: astros, bo porter, dave trembley, managers, tom lawless

Extreme Moneyball: The Houston Astros Go All In on Data Analysis

“The problem we’re trying to solve is that there are rich teams and there are poor teams. Then there’s fifty feet of crap, and then there’s us. It’s an unfair game. And now we’ve been gutted. We’re like organ donors for the rich. Boston’s taken our kidneys, Yankees have taken our heart. And you guys just sit around talking the same old “good body” nonsense like we’re selling jeans. Like we’re looking for Fabio. We’ve got to think differently. We are the last dog at the bowl. You see what happens to the runt of the litter? He dies.”

Luhnow’s appreciation of the predictive power of data grew out of his experience selling designer jeans. In the early 2000s, with a former president of Levi Strauss, he co-founded an online custom apparel company that made jeans for Lands’ End (LE) shoppers. “You’re taking self-reported inputs from a human being,” he says, “and then trying to figure out exactly what pair of pants to make them. Are they being honest with themselves? Is there vanity sizing involved? How do they perceive themselves relative to how they actually are?”

H/T to Jose Molina wants a nickname like “A-Rod”

Jim Furtado Posted: September 01, 2014 at 12:40 AM | 12 comment(s)
  Beats: astros, moneyball

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Sullivan: Why Mike Trout—and the rest of the league—is having trouble with the high stuff

Pitchers, by and large, are working lower. The called strike zone has followed them... Hitters are… swinging at more pitches in the lower third… Contact rates on pitches up have declined. Contact rates on pitches down have very slightly improved… here’s what this has led to: in 2008, hitters slugged 30 points better against high strikes than they did against low strikes. The next season, they slugged 51 points better. Fast-forward now to 2014, and you’ll observe that now hitters are slugging 10 points worse against those same high strikes…

Yet, pitchers continue to work down. It’s how they’ve long been instructed, and it’s where offspeed pitches are usually supposed to go… From a recent Business Week Astros profile:

advanced data yielded a useful insight: Major league hitters had become so adept at hitting low pitches that they were vulnerable to high ones. [Billy] Beane had discovered a particularly clever countermove. “€œBeane stayed ahead of the curve,”€ says [Astros pitching coach Brent] Strom, “€œby finding hitters with a steep upward swing path to counter the sinking action of pitchers trying to induce ground balls.”

Billy Beane put together a baseball team constructed to fight those low pitches… The Astros had Collin McHugh start to throw more elevated four-seam fastballs… McHugh is having an outstanding season out of nowhere…

So this is how we proceed in the league’s hunt for equilibrium. For years, pitchers worked to throw down more and more often… The league has started to respond… [and] now the league will eventually respond to the response, re-establishing the upper parts of the zone. McHugh is one example… And then, in time, there [will] just be a response to the response to the response. Look closely enough and there’s no such thing as equilibrium at all.


Friday, August 29, 2014

Robothal: Tension growing between Astros’ manager, GM

A great way to clarify your organizational chain of command: Give Nolan Ryan some vague “executive” job. History proves it!

General manager Jeff Luhnow and manager Bo Porter are at odds, according to multiple major-league sources.

Porter expressed his frustration with Luhnow to owner Jim Crane in a conversation earlier this month, sources said…

Porter’s frustration stems from a lack of input and from his belief that Luhnow engages in excessive second-guessing of his in-game management, sources said… Those critical of Luhnow say that he keeps a small circle, communicating mostly with director of decision sciences Sig Mejdal and others while rarely consulting the team’s on-field staff, executive advisor Nolan Ryan and special assistant to the GM Craig Biggio…

Crane could attempt to broker a peace between Luhnow and Porter, and Ryan’s son—Astros president of business operations Reid Ryan—also could play a role in such discussions, sources said…

An unannounced visit by [2013 #1 overall pick Mark] Appel to Houston prior to his promotion contributed to the friction between Luhnow and Porter, sources said; Luhnow initially did not make Porter aware that Appel would throw a bullpen session for pitching coach Brent Strom. Porter then had to explain the situation to his players, a number of whom were seething, believing that Appel did not warrant his promotion and was receiving special treatment… Rival executives say it is not unusual for a team to summon a prospect for a session with a major-league coach. Porter, though, grew upset because Luhnow did not inform him in advance that Appel would work with Strom.

The disagreement over Appel was just one flashpoint between Porter and Luhnow, sources said. The question now is whether their relationship can be salvaged – and whether Crane will want to replace one or both.

Crane might resist any change, not wanting to admit that he made a mistake with either hiring. But it’s difficult to imagine the Astros starting the 2015 season with the same management team.

The District Attorney Posted: August 29, 2014 at 01:20 PM | 43 comment(s)
  Beats: astros, bo porter, jeff luhnow, mark appel

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Business Week: Houston Astros’ Jeff Luhnow Lets Data Reign

We were selling jeans here!

when [current Astros GM] Jeff Luhnow showed up for his first day of work as the St. Louis Cardinals’ vice president for baseball development, he already had two strikes against him: He was a former management consultant at McKinsey, brought in to shake up the organization. And the sum total of his baseball experience was the McKinsey fantasy league and a business school paper he’d written on how the Chicago Cubs could win the World Series…

Luhnow’s appreciation of the predictive power of data grew out of his experience selling designer jeans. In the early 2000s, with a former president of Levi Strauss, he co-founded an online custom apparel company that made jeans for Lands’ End (LE) shoppers… if wishful thinking led customers to order jeans that didn’t fit, they would send them back. Over time the company amassed enough data to anticipate and correct for these tendencies…

Astros’ analysts noticed that [Collin] McHugh had a world-class curveball. Most curves spin at about 1,500 times per minute; McHugh’s spins 2,000 times… Houston snapped him up… After consulting with the analytics staff, pitching coach Brent Strom altered McHugh’s repertoire. Gone was the sinker… here again, advanced data yielded a useful insight: Major league hitters had become so adept at hitting low pitches that they were vulnerable to high ones. [Billy] Beane had discovered a particularly clever countermove. “Beane stayed ahead of the curve,” says Strom, “by finding hitters with a steep upward swing path to counter the sinking action of pitchers trying to induce ground balls.” It worked: The A’s hit the fewest ground balls and into the fewest double plays in the league. So the Astros began teaching their pitchers how to adapt…  McHugh won a spot in the Astros’ starting rotation and has gone on to lead the team in strikeouts and deliver a sterling 3.03 ERA…

The attacks on Luhnow and the Astros highlight a big difference between his old job and his new one: Turnarounds at McKinsey didn’t play out on as public a stage as baseball’s… Nevertheless, Luhnow insists the Astros’ project remains on track. “I learned at McKinsey how to have a thick skin,” he says, “and that’s carried over into baseball.”

The District Attorney Posted: August 28, 2014 at 07:46 PM | 7 comment(s)
  Beats: astros, brady aiken, collin mchugh, jeff luhnow, sig megdal

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Reports: The Astros may still be able to sign top pick Brady Aiken

All they really need is a time machine.

Then John Maffei of the San Diego Union-Tribune followed up with his:

  The July 18 deadline to sign draft picks has come and gone, with Aiken rejecting the Astros’ last-minute offer. But the team could still sign the No. 1 overall draft pick under a clause at Major League Baseball’s discretion.

  The other 29 major league clubs have signed off on that clause, industry sources said. The Aikens, however, would insist on a sign-and-trade deal before agreeing to terms with Houston.

If it’s a sign-and-trade deal, then, well, this is even more unusual.

Anyhow, now, in a brief interview with ABC 10 in San Diego, MLB commissioner Bud Selig has all but confirmed that an Astros’ after-deadline signing of Aiken is still in play. Here’s the key excerpt:

  10News asked him, “Can you confirm if (his offer) was able to go past the July 18 deadline?”

  Selig replied, “We’re working on that right now. There are a lot of things in movement there so it would be inappropriate for me to comment, but I would say we are working towards a hopeful solution.”

Needless to say, this would be a big coup for the Astros, whose 2014 draft, absent an Aiken signing, looks fairly disastrous.

 

RoyalsRetro (AG#1F) Posted: August 27, 2014 at 04:01 PM | 33 comment(s)
  Beats: astros, brady aiken, draft

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Looking past the stat line: Mark Appel

He still can’t be more of a disaster than The Apple...

Mark Appel’s 2014 Statistics

At High-A [Lancaster]: 44.1 IP, 9.74 ERA, 1.97 WHIP, 74 Hits, 11 BB, 40 K

At Double-A [Corpus Christi]: 26.1 IP, 4.10 ERA, 1.48 WHIP, 28 Hits, 9 BB, 24 K...

Ron Shah of Baseball Prospectus saw three of his starts with Lancaster this season and was very critical of the profile he displayed during those starts. Shah reported that Appel sat 92-93 with the fastball and touched 94, but “mostly just grooves the offering over the plate.” Shah is more optimistic about the changeup, noting its deception and grading it as a future 60 offering (on the 20-80 scale), but is down on the slider. He grades this offering as a present 45 with a future grade of 50… A MiLB.com report after Appel’s scoreless Double-A debut noted that he began the game throwing his fastball in the 96-97 range and recorded all four of his strikeouts on the slider. His velocity in that start dipped to around the 90 MPH range later in the outing, but it is still encouraging to see the highly touted righty regain some of the form that was absent earlier this season.

Appel is a tricky case, as his terrible numbers in High-A are largely due to a four-run difference between his ERA and FIP, a .414 BABIP, and one of the most hitter-friendly home parks in the Minor Leagues. However, even if we remove his fluke of an ERA, many questions about the profile remain… the realistic expectation at this time is that he will be a low three or high number four starter in the Major Leagues… I’d have a tough time ranking such a player as high as 34 and would probably bump him down to about the 45-55 range, depending on his performance in his final few starts this season.

The District Attorney Posted: August 23, 2014 at 10:26 AM | 35 comment(s)
  Beats: astros, mark appel, minor leagues

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Kepner (NYT): Astros’ Jose Altuve Doesn’t Let Height Be a Disadvantage

Yes, today is the 63rd anniversary of Eddie Gaedel’s appearance. WHAT ARE YOU IMPLYING.

The Houston Astros may be the most data-driven organization in baseball, or at least the one most willing to try new ideas. Yet there are no statistical models that would project the smallest player in the majors to be the game’s best hitter.

That is what Jose Altuve is, as measured by batting average. Before Tuesday’s game at Yankee Stadium, Altuve was leading the major leagues, at .339. He led the majors in hits with 173, and led the American League in stolen bases with 46.

Altuve is also 5 feet 6, matching San Diego’s Alexi Amarista as the game’s shortest player, according to Baseball-Reference.com…

Altuve, who could become the first Astro to win a batting crown, brings a set of extremes. Before Tuesday, he had seen only 3.17 pitches per plate appearance, the fewest in the majors. Yet he put the highest percentage of pitches in play (27.3 percent), and only Detroit’s Victor Martinez has been tougher to strike out.

Altuve could become the first player to lead his league in batting average, hits and steals since Ichiro Suzuki for Seattle in 2001. He was on pace for 224 hits and 59 steals before Tuesday’s game. Only one player in the last 100 years has reached totals that high in both categories in a single season: Willie Wilson for Kansas City in 1980.

 

The District Attorney Posted: August 19, 2014 at 10:52 PM | 35 comment(s)
  Beats: astros, jose altuve

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Gleeman: Domingo Santana is 0-for-17 with 14 strikeouts and “just panicked” defensively

No biggie; there’s this guy in San Francisco who’s Panik all the time.

Astros prospect Domingo Santana hit .292 with 14 homers and an .844 OPS in 104 games at Triple-A to earn his first call-up to the big leagues, but the 21-year-old outfielder has been an absolute mess so far in Houston.

Santana has begun his MLB career by going 0-for-17 with 14 strikeouts at the plate… Santana also made a bone-headed defensive play in left field last night, lackadaisically fielding Joe Mauer‘s go-ahead single in the ninth inning of what had been a 2-2 game to allow an extra run to come around to score.

Here’s how Santana explained the defensive miscue afterward to Howard Chen of CSNHouston.com:

I just panicked. I was just trying to throw the ball to the cut-off man, but I just panicked.

...Santana still projects to have a solid career, but watching him last night it was tough not to feel sorry for him and wonder how long it’ll take him to get comfortable in the big leagues. He seems totally, utterly lost.

The District Attorney Posted: August 12, 2014 at 01:53 PM | 18 comment(s)
  Beats: astros, domingo santana

Saturday, August 02, 2014

Orbit and Jose Bautista Play With Dolls — Wait, What?

That is really what happened before Saturday night’s Astros-Blue Jays game. Yes, the Astros won 8-2 in a game filled with insanity, home-run robbery, Altuve hustling home from first after two errors, home runs (by Castro and Carter), an inside-the-park home run for Jon Singleton and even an open roof in August (the roof was open in August for the first time since August 6, 2004). But one of the most entertaining highlights took place off the field before the game. When Orbit and Jose Bautista played with dolls. Really. Stay with me here as I bring you through the hilarious sequence of events.

Good cripple hitter Posted: August 02, 2014 at 11:47 PM | 8 comment(s)
  Beats: astros, blue jays, jose bautista, mascots

Thursday, July 31, 2014

The Dark Side of Booming Local TV Deals

But who wants to watch Astros games anyway?

It turns out that big local TV contracts aren’t always good news for teams either. That has turned Selig’s mood quite sour.

When a regional sports network agrees to pay millions of dollars to an MLB team, that RSN has two principal ways to recoup that investment: (1) sell ads during the game broadcasts; (2) charge a carriage fee to the cable and satellite operators in the region who want to carry the RSN. But what happens when the cable and satellite companies balk at the carriage fees?...

Comcast SportsNet Houston launched in October 2012 and, since then, has been seen only by Comcast cable customers. The new RSN – a joint venture among the Houston Astros, Houston Rockets and Comcast Sports Group — couldn’t come to agreement on carriage fees with any other cable or satellite company in the region. With the RSN bleeding cash, Comcast forced the venture into bankruptcy court last September, where the parties have been fighting ever since. Astros owner Jim Crane also sued Comcast and former team owner Drayton McLane for fraud in the sale of the team. That did not make Bud Selig happy at all.

That brings us to the Los Angeles Dodgers. As I explained before the season started:

SportsNet LA launched in February with around-the-clock Dodgers programming, but only customers with TWC or Bright House can view the network in their homes.Every other cable and satellite operator in the Los Angeles market has balked at the network’s carriage fee demand. And TWC hardly counts as an arms-length agreement, as it is the Dodgers’ broadcast partner in SportsNet LA. Indeed, TWC will essentially pay itself the carriage fee for SportsNet LA, and then pay the Dodgers their monthly rights fee as part of the 25-year, $8.3 billion megadeal.

No deal’s been reached. A vast majority of Dodgers fans in LA missed Josh Beckett’s no-hitter, Clayton Kershaw’s no-hitter and every Yasiel Puig bat flip — unless they watched with a friend or at a bar with TWC. Even Vin Scully is without Dodgers’ broadcasts when he’s at home during the team’s long road trips.

RoyalsRetro (AG#1F) Posted: July 31, 2014 at 07:50 PM | 12 comment(s)
  Beats: astros, dodgers, nationals, orioles, padres, television, tv contracts

Monday, July 28, 2014

Former OF Jason Lane takes loss in first start

At an age when most players are thinking retirement, Jason Lane is trying to get started on a new career.

He might be on to something.

The 37-year-old former outfielder threw six scoreless innings in his first big league start as a pitcher before surrendering a homer to Evan Gattis that carried the Atlanta Braves to a 2-0 victory over the San Diego Padres on Monday.

 

Barry`s_Lazy_Boy Posted: July 28, 2014 at 05:26 PM | 40 comment(s)
  Beats: astros, old timers' day, padres

Friday, July 25, 2014

BA Report: MLBPA Files Grievance Against Astros Over Aiken, Nix, Marshall

When the Astros found an irregularity in Aiken’s elbow during a physical, they backed out of their $6.5 million agreement and reduced their offer. The two sides could not complete a deal before Friday’s deadline, which meant the Astros no longer had the money to honor their agreement with Nix (who passed his physical) without forfeiting a pair of future first-round picks.

The MLB players’ union indicated Friday that it was concerned about the way the two players were treated by the Astros, and the filing of a grievance was one possible avenue to pursue.

The grievance could be aimed at either forcing Houston to honor its agreement with Aiken or to get him declared a free agent. The other options available to Aiken and Nix are to attend UCLA and re-enter the draft in three years; to enroll at a junior college and re-enter the draft next year; or to play in an independent league for a year. Mac Marshall is the third player and Astros draft pick involved, according to the report.

eddieot Posted: July 25, 2014 at 12:47 PM | 16 comment(s)
  Beats: astros, brady aiken, mlbpa

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

MLB: Astros telecasts catching on to advanced metrics

Meanwhile back in the media capital of the world…derisive “analyst” Paul O’Neill says: “Frank Thomas was a one dimensional player.”

The idea was bandied about last year by CSN Houston senior producer Carl Patterson, who discussed with his staff how to realistically work some of this into the telecasts. Because the Astros’ front office relies so much on advanced metrics, introducing some of it, independently, into the telecasts seemed like a logical next step. The question was, how to do it?

“Normally, the standard thing is RBIs, batting average, home runs,” Patterson said. “Last year, we talked about doing a whole game where we just talked about sabermetrics stuff. But we kind of realized that none of us understood it well enough to talk about it intelligently. So I spent the offseason just thinking about how to do it.”

...This is something Astros TV analyst Alan Ashby—who admittedly is not a huge sabermetrics fan—feels comfortable with, and often expounds on it when a WAR stat pops up on screen.

“One of the reasons that I bring it up is some part of it is subjective on the defensive side,” Ashby said. “You’ve got Mike Trout from a couple of years ago that has so much WAR positive created on his defensive side. That’s the kind of stuff that makes it intriguing to me.”

Patterson limits the metrics-speak to five main concepts: WAR, BABIP (Batting Average on Balls In Play), wRC (Weighted Runs Created), FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching) and Z-Contact% (Inside-the-zone contact percentage).

“I feel like five is enough,” Patterson said. “Pick five that make sense to our guys, then talk about it fluently and passionately.”

Repoz Posted: July 22, 2014 at 09:15 AM | 12 comment(s)
  Beats: astros, media, sabermetrics

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Padres’ Offense May Go Down as Worst Ever

“Because of baseball’s long history, there is usually comfort in knowing that as bad as it gets for your team, there is almost always some other club that was worse. But the 2014 San Diego Padres might not have that consolation. At this point, their awful offense is about as bad as any in history, and there are still more than 60 games to be played.”

NattyBoh Posted: July 20, 2014 at 08:40 AM | 84 comment(s)
  Beats: astros, offense, padres, yankees

Friday, July 18, 2014

Calcaterra: The Astros didn’t sign #1 overall pick Brady Aiken

Aiken: “Not On My Way Here”

The signing deadline for players selected in this year’s Rule 4 draft came and went at 5PM Eastern. And the number one overall pick, Brady Aiken, did not sign with the Houston Astros, reports Jim Callis of MLB.com.

If you aren’t up to speed, the Astros selected Aiken with the first overall pick and the parties agreed to a $6.5 million bonus in early June. But following a physical on June 23, the Astros became concerned about something in his left elbow and subsequently offered Aiken $3,168,840. Aiken’s agent, Casey Close, lashed out at the Astros, saying there was nothing wrong with Aiken…

since [the Astros’] offer to Aiken was at least 40% of the his slot value (it was exactly that, actually) they will be given the number two overall pick in next year’s draft as compensation in addition to whatever pick they have…

The practical fallout for Aiken: he has to wait a year [if he goes to junior college or the independent leagues] or maybe three [if he goes to college] to cash in and when he does it’s unlikely that he’ll do as well as he was set to do this year. And many, depending on how much stock they put in the Astros’ word on Aiken’s health, may consider him damaged goods.

The practical fallout for the Astros, they will be without a top pick. This, a year after their 2013 top pick, Mark Appel, has struggled mightily. More significantly, may have their reputation among agents and future draft picks substantially damaged. Casey Close is not a bomb-thrower. That he was as angry with the team as he has been suggests some seriously toxic dealings between the parties.

The District Attorney Posted: July 18, 2014 at 05:43 PM | 71 comment(s)
  Beats: astros, brady aiken, craig calcaterra, draft

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Journal News: Recap of Derek Jeter Retirement Gifts

The big 2nd half issue at BBTF is likely to be the retirement gifts The Captain receives as he completes his Final Journey. To provide perspective, the LoHud Yankee Blog reviews the 1st half:

May 25 — White Sox
Once a powerful hitter for both the Yankees and White Sox, retired slugger Ron Kittle built Jeter’s U.S. Cellular Field retirement gift. Kittle created a bench made of baseball equipment with bases as the seat, bats as the back and arm rests, and baseballs used for decoration and spacing. Long time White Sox first baseman Paul Konerko also presented Jeter with clay removed from the shortstop position at U.S. Cellular, plus a $5,000 donation to Jeter’s Turn 2 Foundation.

Looks like it wouldn’t be difficult for Furtdao to top the Cubs effort on behalf of BBTF.


Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Rosenthal: Agent calls Foul on Astros, MLB in negotiations with No. 1 overall pick

“We are extremely disappointed that Major League Baseball is allowing the Astros to conduct business in this manner with a complete disregard for the rules governing the draft and the 29 other clubs who have followed those same rules,” said Close, who serves as a family advisor to Aiken.
The standoff could lead the Astros to lose their reported $6.5 million agreement with Aiken and $1.5 million deal with their fifth-round pick, high-school right-hander Jacob Nix, who also is advised by Close.
At issue: Whether the Astros are using a medical concern to pressure Aiken into accepting a lower bonus so that they can sign Nix and their 21st-round pick, high-school left-hander Mac Marshall.

kthejoker Posted: July 15, 2014 at 12:28 PM | 119 comment(s)
  Beats: astros, draft

Sunday, July 06, 2014

MLB.COM: Eight Run Seventh Catapults Angels to Comeback Win

I was resigned to a loss tonight as Hector Santiago gave up a grand slam early and the Angels were down 5-2 in the 7th.  Then…..

David Freese, Albert Pujols and C.J. Cron all homered in the (seventh) inning, with Freese’s two-run shot trimming the deficit to one, Pujols’ two-run dinger putting the Angels up by one and Cron’s three-run blast supplying insurance runs.

For the Angels, the eight runs were a season high in one inning.

This season is starting to resemble 2002 in the AL West.  The Angels get hot and go on a crazy streak (10 in a row at home and 18-3 in their last 21 at home) but they look up to see the A’s doing as well or better!

Jim (jimmuscomp) Posted: July 06, 2014 at 02:33 AM | 1 comment(s)
  Beats: angels, astros, comebacks

Tuesday, July 01, 2014

Techie’s website hits ‘cool’ factor out of the park - Houston Chronicle

Baseball cool or geek cool?

You don’t have to work for the Astros or any team to be baseball cool in this town, and Daren Willman is quintessential baseball cool.

Jim Furtado Posted: July 01, 2014 at 07:23 AM | 1 comment(s)
  Beats: astros, sabermetrics, technology

Monday, June 30, 2014

Leaked: 10 Months Of The Houston Astros’ Internal Trade Talks

Some of these asks were just foolish.

Two years ago, the Houston Astros constructed “Ground Control”—a built-from-scratch online database for the private use of the Astros front office. It is by all accounts a marvel, an easy-to-use interface giving executives instant access to player statistics, video, and communications with other front offices around baseball. All it needs, apparently, is a little better password protection.
....
7/26/2013
[Nationals GM Mike] Rizzo called [Luhnow] to inquire on Harrell. JL told him we would still need a headliner like Giolito because we still value Harrell highly. Rizzo did not respond immediately.

Jim Furtado Posted: June 30, 2014 at 02:04 PM | 51 comment(s)
  Beats: astros

Friday, June 27, 2014

Ben Reiter: Astro-Matic Baseball

A must read…

Other criticisms have surfaced more recently. In an article published in the Houston Chronicle on May 25—the day, as it turned out, the Astros began a seven-game winning streak—beat writer Evan Drellich detailed the ways in which, as the headline read, radical ways paint astros as ‘outcast.’ “They are definitely the outcast of major league baseball right now, and it’s kind of frustrating for everyone else to have to watch it,” Norris, who was traded to the Orioles last July 31, told Drellich. “When you talk to agents, when you talk to other players and you talk amongst the league, yeah, there’s going to be some opinions about it, and they’re not always pretty.”

The criticisms fell into two categories. The first was that the Astros’ analytics-based approach dehumanizes players. “It was a difficult thing for me to read, because I spend so much time personally getting to know our players, and so does our staff,” says Luhnow. “There is a perception that anybody who is doing analytics in a serious way is doing that at the expense of the human element. It’s just not true, in our case.”

Adds Mejdal, “We realize these are human beings, not widgets. As far as assigning a number to a person—well, I assume you get a salary? Do you feel dehumanized because your boss has put a number on you?”

The other criticism stemmed from the Astros’ use of new competitive tactics, such as a heavy reliance on extreme defensive shifts. The club’s proprietary database—christened Ground Control by Elias’s wife, Alexandra—contains not just projections of the future value of every player but also spray charts for every hitter on every count against every type of pitch thrown by every type of pitcher, as well as the probabilistically optimal way to position defenders in each scenario. This sometimes leads to shifts in which, say, the Astros’ second baseman plays well to the left of second base against a pull-happy righthanded hitter—a violation of traditional baseball norms, though one that’s becoming more common across the game.

Mejdal puts the Astros’ tactics into perspective. “A year ago, with the defensive positioning that was going on, we were in the top half dozen, and there was tremendous pushback,” he says. “Well, the rate at which we shifted last year, that would be below average in the major leagues now. Innovation, by definition, suggests change will be taking place. If there’s change taking place, it’s not likely going to feel right at first. If it felt right, it would have been done a long time ago.”

The Astros’ leadership bristles at the notion that it thinks it knows how to operate better than anyone else. All it knows is what it believes to represent best long-term practices, based on the information it has acquired and processed. “We’re far from perfect,” Mejdal says. Even what they believe to be optimal decisions often don’t work out. Sometimes a righthanded pull hitter goes the other way. Sometimes players they discard, or decline to draft, turn into stars. “Sometimes you hit on a 16,” Mejdal says, “and if you stayed, you would have won.”

Repoz Posted: June 27, 2014 at 06:03 PM | 27 comment(s)
  Beats: astros, sabermetrics

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Contextualizing The Jon Singleton Extension – MLB Trade Rumors

Here’s a great look at the Singleton extension.

If anything, perhaps, the Singleton extension really marks the latest instance of a general trend away from formulaic contractual models. His deal opens new doors, especially, for players who did not have the opportunity to capture downside protection at their point of entry into the professional ranks, at which time they immediately become subject to the limitations of the reserve clause (as expressed in the collectively bargained Basic Agreement). There are potentially other, yet more creative options as well, such as private insurance (assuming it could be had by a prospect at a reasonable rate) or even public investment. But all players and teams will not pursue such a path; indeed, several of Singleton’s teammates (and others) have declined the opportunity, while some (if not most) clubs will remain largely uninterested in making such early commitments.

History teaches us that, even at his relatively exalted place in the eyes of the game as a top-100 prospect, Singleton was not assured of cashing in on his talent until he decided to forego the chance of becoming the next Fielder. That he chose to do so should have relatively minimal impact on those other players who have the means and desire to bear the inherent risk of transitioning from top prospect to established major league player.

Jim Furtado Posted: June 17, 2014 at 06:44 AM | 7 comment(s)
  Beats: astros, contract extensions, contracts, economics, jon singleton

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Davidoff: Mets’ fear of tearing it all down puts them behind Astros

As we sit on Thursday, the Astros (30-37) are percentage points ahead of the Mets (29-36). From Opening Day 2009 through the present, the Astros are 342-535, a .390 winning percentage. In the same time period, the Mets are 403-472 (.461). Few would dispute the Astros possess a deeper base of young talent than do the Mets, with rookies Jon Singleton and George Springer joining the club this year and many more coming.

You know why the Astros’ future seems brighter than the Mets’? In my opinion, it’s because the Astros committed to an epic rebuild, while the Mets tried to sort of have it both ways, even as they slashed their payroll at an unconscionable rate.

Earlier this season, I was chatting with a talent evaluator from an American League team, and I asked him if he was as high on the Mets’ organizational pitching as everyone else seemed to be. Yes, the official said, he was.

But then he volunteered: “What I don’t get about the Mets is why they didn’t sell high on guys like Daniel Murphy and Lucas Duda.”

You could reasonably throw Dillon Gee, Jon Niese and Bobby Parnell into that conversation, and Ike Davis, too, back when he was a prized Mets piece rather than the human roller coaster he became.

Ironically, this is an instance in which you can fault Mets ownership for not being cheap enough. In neglecting to look at a bigger picture. And really, I’m not even sure how much we should fault them.

bobm Posted: June 12, 2014 at 06:25 PM | 50 comment(s)
  Beats: astros, mets

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