It’s obvious that $100 million just doesn’t buy what it used to. That’s the approximate gap in respective payrolls for the 2013 season between the Los Angeles Angels and the Houston Astros, with the ‘Stros bringing up the rear in the major leagues…They’re not getting their money’s worth.
The Astros outscored the Angels 15-8 in the series and won their sixth straight game on the road for the first time since 2005, when they went to the World Series.
Somebody dig up McLean Stevenson…it’s been renewed!
Larry Dierker, who has been a part of Major League Baseball in Houston as a player, manager and broadcaster for almost a half-century, will rejoin the team as a special assistant to new Astros president of business operations Reid Ryan, the team announced today.
“I’ll be doing some writing and will be a right-hand man for Reid, mostly in the area of public relations,” Dierker said. “I get the feeling that I will gravitate to the area of need in terms of trying to put the best foot forward for fans while we rebuild.”
The Astros said Dierker met today with Ryan and Astros owner Jim Crane to discuss his new duties.
“Larry is a huge part of our history,” Ryan said in a team statement. “He has a great deal of knowledge and years of experience that we will utilize. We’re excited that he is back in the organization and we know the fans will be as well.”
Today’s announcement came almost two months to the day after a public rupture between the team and one of its most popular figures. Dierker, who had hoped to rejoin the team’s reshuffled broadcast lineup, refused to sign a contract with the team in March that would have called on him to make up to 180 appearances on the team’s behalf and said he was not interested in a role with the Astros that did not involve “meaningful work.”
Dierker’s disappointment over that offer, and his criticism of the Crane regime under club president George Postolos, led to Postolos describing his attitude as one of “sour grapes.” That, in turn, led to a subsequent meeting between Dierker and Crane in which Dierker explained his concerns to the owner and emerged to say “everything is fine” with Crane.
The Houston Astros announced Monday that their president and CEO, George Postolos, resigned from his position with the team. Postolos later told FOXSports.com in a telephone interview, “It’s a good time for me to step away because it’s a stable situation.”
In professional sports, partings never are quite that simple. There are multiple reasons Postolos stepped down, and not all of them were his own.
...During Postolos’ tenure with the club, fans have voiced their displeasure with TV carriage issues, poor wattage on the flagship radio station, and dynamic ticket pricing (i.e., higher for premium games) during a season in which the Astros have baseball’s worst record.
Astros games are shown on Comcast SportsNet Houston, which is available in only about 40 percent of homes in the Houston market. Comcast cable subscribers can watch the games, but not viewers who have Dish Network, DirecTV and AT&T U-verse because of an ongoing dispute over carriage fees.
Postolos was intimately involved in the carriage agreement negotiations. The lack of an agreement has resulted in lost revenue for Crane, since the Astros have the largest ownership share in CSN Houston. Postolos’ resignation could be a sign of Crane’s frustration at the state of the television talks and diminished attendance.
When asked if Crane asked him to resign, Postolos did not answer directly. “I’m very grateful for the opportunities I’ve had by working with Jim,” he said. “I have tremendous respect for what he’s accomplished – and what he’s going to accomplish. I won’t be here as president and CEO, but I’m still a huge fan of the team.”
Is that an Altuve in your pocket, or are you just happy to see me?
The Astros said that the fan who stood up and pretended to expose himself while inside Minute Maid Park’s exclusive Diamond Club is not a season ticket holder and that the team would work with “the proper authorities” to investigate.
Sitting in the section that became famous as the seats for former President George H.W. Bush and first lady Barbara Bush, a fan appearing to hold either a cigar or a hot dog weiner stood up and dangled it while Philip Humber pitched to Albert Pujols.
The fan appears to be right behind the prime two seats former Astros owner Drayton McLane and his wife Elizabeth used. Fans in those seats get plenty of air time on television, and the fan clearly timed his prank to appear on the telecast.
The Astros have monitored that section closely under new owner Jim Crane, but at this point the Astros say they don’t know the fan in question.
The Houston Astros have designated outfielders Rick Ankiel and Fernando Martinez for assignment and reinstated outfielder J.D. Martinez from the disabled list.
Houston also selected the contract of outfielder Trevor Crowe from Triple-A Oklahoma City on Monday and recalled infielder-outfielder Jimmy Paredes from their top minor league team. Infielder Brandon Laird was also optioned to Oklahoma City.
Not every day you see a team get rid of their leader in slugging percentage.
Is this the suckiest bunch of sucks who ever did suck?
The Houston Astros have five pseudo regulars in thelr lineup — FIVE — who are striking out more than once per game. This is a rather astounding achievement, possibly historic, and it leads to my prediction that this team will get no-hit before the year’s out, maybe twice. They have already flirted with no-nos — Yu Darvish took a perfect game into the ninth against them and Justin Verlander had them no-hit for six innings on Sunday. It will happen.
But what makes the Astros special is that their lineup is probably the best part of the team. Their pitching staff is obviously trying to become legendary. At the moment, their rotation includes Erik Bedard (7.36 ERA), Phillip Humber (8.82 ERA) and Brad Peacock (9.41 ERA). Each of these pitchers has been extraordinary in one way or another this year. Bedard has given up an eight home runs in 22 innings, which, honestly, would be tough to do if you were throwing batting practice. The league is slugging .681 against Peacock. And the league is hitting .349 against Humber. Your 3-4-5 pitchers, ladies and gentlemen.
It is hard not to feel sorry for second baseman Jose Altuve, a good young player perhaps breaking out into stardom. Nobody notices.
Right now, the Astros are 8-24, right at the the magical .250 winning percentage that the 1962 New York Mets nailed perfectly. Those Mets went 40-120, and they did it with a breathtaking consistency that, even 50 years later, fills the soul with joy.
When I was a kid, Barry Bonds’ dad Bobby was still playing. He spent the first seven years of his career with the Giants, but after that he was traded roughly every two minutes. The answer usually had something to do with how his team couldn’t abide all his strikeouts. He averaged 154 per 162 games played and set the single-season record of 189, since obliterated by Mark Reynolds, Adam Dunn, and five others. He also had tremendous power and speed and scored 110 runs a year, but the Ks were all anyone was ever willing to talk about. People got downright mono-focused on the whiffs. You could be having a very pleasant baseball conversation with the smartest people you knew and bringing up Bonds would provoke the onset of tunnel vision. You, Albert Einstein, and J. Robert Oppenheimer could be having a perfectly pleasant conversation about anything—lepidoptery, say, or the best Alfred Hitchcock musicals—but Bonds would drag the whole thing into the weeds.
You: That Bobby Bonds is pretty good.
Dr. Einstein: Och, those strikeouts.
You: But he hits 30 home runs and steals 30 bases pretty much every year.
Dr. Oppenheimer: Yeah, but he strikes out so much.
You: But he takes 80 or 90 walks every year and his batting averages aren’t terrible. He even hit .300 one year!
Dr. Einstein: Those strikeouts kill too many rallies. Ich werde jetzt etwas zitieren berühmten Goethe sagte, aber Sie werden es nicht verstehen, da Sie kein Deutsch sprechen.
Dr. Oppenheimer: Took the words right out of my mouth.
You: How about we drop it and go bowling instead?
Have you ever been out-bowled by a hundred-year-old German man of peace? Embarrassing.
I recently called Luhnow after I heard something in scouting circles that I found difficult to believe — that the Astros are instructing their minor leaguers not to swing at any 3-2 pitch.
“I don’t know where that came from,” Luhnow said, chuckling. “I heard that as well. That couldn’t be further from the truth.
“Our approach is the same top down. It’s driven by our hitting coach, John Mallee, and (assistant coach) Dan Radison. We want (hitters) to swing at pitches they can do damage on.
“Obviously, if you’re one ball away from getting a free pass, it’s a little different than being three balls away from getting a free pass. We’re not going to chastise a player for taking a borderline pitch that had they swung at, it probably would have been a weak groundball.
“There is a philosophy that is probably a little more lenient toward taking on that 3-2 count. But no way are we mandating that people take on 3-2 counts. That’s ridiculous. That would be destroying value. We’re smarter than that.”
OK, let’s get to something that the Astros actually are doing — using a pair of starting pitchers in each minor league game, and a total of eight per club.
The first starter generally throws five innings or 75 pitches. The second then replaces him, sometimes followed by a closer.
Early in spring training, before the exhibition games started, the Houston Astros practiced victory celebrations. It was part of their daily schedule - nothing fancy, just handshake lines, game balls and smiles, and maybe the outfielders would bounce together on their way to the mound.
“I’m a firm believer that if you want to be it, you have to be it before you are it,” Bo Porter, the Astros’ new manager, said in the visitors’ dugout at Fenway Park on Friday. “You want to send a message of: get used to doing this, because this is what we prepare for each and every day.” [...]
The important thing, Luhnow said, is to figure out which players are long-term keepers. When outfielder Justin Maxwell broke a bone in his hand last week, the team promoted Robbie Grossman, 23, to replace him. Luhnow acquired Grossman from Pittsburgh last July for starter Wandy Rodriguez, the last remaining member of the Astros’ 2005 World Series team.
Grossman, who signed with Pittsburgh for $1 million as a sixth-round draft pick in 2008, is one of several young players once highly regarded who are receiving an extended look. Others include outfielder Fernando Martinez, 24, once a jewel of the Mets’ farm system, and third baseman Matt Dominguez, 23, a former first-round pick of the Marlins.
RIP, Grady Hatton…or as we used to call him The Creeper.
Grady Hatton Jr., a Beaumont-native, major league baseball player and manager of the Houston Astros, died Thursday morning from causes relating to cancer, his daughter-in-law said.
Hatton was born in Beaumont and played in the majors from 1946-60 after attending the University of Texas-Austin. He made his major league debut on April 16, 1946 as a 23-year-old second baseman with the Cincinnati Reds. In 1952, he was named a National League All-Star.
In 1966, Hatton began a three-year career managing the Astros, which concluded with a 164-221 record.
Even if Ashby is ignorant of Darvish’s linguistic agility, what he said was silly — and colleague Geoff Blum even said as much in the booth at the time. Here’s a transcript of the relevant part of the broadcast, via the Four DVRs blog in the Houston Chronicle:
Blum: Man. Gosh, that has got to be a tough pill to swallow.
Ashby: That’ll force a guy to learn some of the language here in America.
Blum: Some of the more inappropriate language. I’m loving it. They probably learn that instantly coming over here. But that was a fantastic performance.
Of course Japanese ballplayers playing in North America know how to swear in English. Profanity (can be) one of the first thing anyone learning a new language picks up. Ichiro’s famous (NSFW) “Two rats in a sock” quote is a good example of this.
The Astros must have heard people complaining about Ashby’s joke, because they made him apologize. Here’s his official statement, which reads like a monologue that hostages are encouraged to announce at gunpoint:
“I’d like to apologize if my comments last night were misinterpreted or construed as insensitive. I have the highest respect for Yu Darvish; he’s a great player and his performance last night was outstanding. He showed a great deal of poise in the face of a difficult moment last night, which speaks to the strength of his character.”
That’s a new low for the “I apologize if I offended anyone” brand of apology, and it probably won’t help Ashby with the crowd that will be mad at him no matter what.
Yu Darvish saw the ball skip between his shins, dashing his chance at perfection. Immediately, several Texas Rangers came to the mound to console him.
“I think my teammates were more disappointed than I was,” he said through a translator.
Darvish was one out from a perfect game when Marwin Gonzalez grounded a clean single through the pitcher’s legs, and Texas beat the Houston Astros 7-0 on Tuesday night.
The celebrated right-hander from Japan struck out a career-high 14 and was in complete control before Gonzalez smacked the first pitch up the middle. Darvish was unable to get his glove down in time and the ball skittered into center field well beyond a desperate dive by shortstop Elvis Andrus….
Using his dizzying array of pitches, including a fastball that topped out at 97 mph, a slider, and 95 mph cutters, Darvish bedeviled the mostly inexperienced Houston hitters.
“When I tell you we threw everything, we threw everything,” said Rangers catcher A.J. Pierzynski, who caught Humber’s perfect game for the White Sox last season. “We threw the kitchen sink tonight, but Yu has the ability to do that and he’s special.”
As players, managers and front office executives embrace the esoteric statistics, teams increasingly want their radio announcers just as fluent in the language of WAR, VORP and B.A.B.I.P. (Those stand for wins above replacement, value over replacement player and batting average on balls in play, for those of you dusting off your radios as the season begins.)
“They wanted a broadcaster who is at least comfortable with exploring the idea of discussing advanced statistics and what they mean,” said Robert Ford, 33, who was hired by the Houston Astros in the off-season, along with Steve Sparks, 48, a former pitcher, to call the team’s games. The advent of advanced statistical analysis, Mr. Ford said, has “changed the way we think about baseball.”
Now, as the two settle into the Astros’ broadcast booth, they and their colleagues across the country face a balancing act. How much do listeners want to know about these advanced numbers? How much is informative? And how much would prompt the audience, a group that spans all generations, to tune out?
Listeners and announcers alike say that striking the right balance will be a challenge.
Anyway, on this one Sunday night, the Astros, this team no one expects anything from, played a perfect baseball game. They ran the bases aggressively and forced the Rangers into a couple of mistakes. They got great pitching from Bud Norris and Erik Bedard.
Ankiel hit a three-run pinch-homer, and Maxwell drove in two runs and made a couple of flashy plays in center field to back, and the Astros began their American League era with an 8-2 victory.
Afterward, the players talked about their manager, how he’d gotten them prepared mentally as well as physically, how he’d made them believe in themselves when almost no one else would.
“I think it starts with Bo—the tone he sets every day,” first baseman Brett Wallace said. “He’s got that energy and an aggressiveness about him. He’s really instilled that in us. Every day, whether we had drills or we had a game, we were attacking it and being aggressive. I think you can already see it in Game 1 today.”
...Porter got the job, in part, because of his energy and ideas. He also got the job because he convinced Luhnow he would be open to the volumes of data his front office will prepare.
There was a glimpse of that data in the top of the seventh inning when Astros shortstop Ronny Cedeno was positioned almost behind second base and fielded a Mitch Moreland grounder hit directly at him.
Upstairs in Luhnow’s box, Astros owner Jim Crane turned to Sig Mejdal, who has the title of “director of decision science,” and asked, “Did you move him there?”
They’re in far different places, the Rangers and Astros, these two franchises that will open the 2013 Major League Baseball season Sunday night at Minute Maid Park at 8:05 ET on ESPN. The Rangers are constructed for the short term, hoping to win now and knowing that anything short of another World Series would be a bitter disappointment. Life is really simple for the Rangers in that way.
Even after an offseason in which Josh Hamilton and others departed via free agency and Michael Young was traded, the Rangers believe they’re good enough to win. Their lineup has been solidified by the signings of Lance Berkman and A.J. Pierzynski, and if right-hander Yu Darvish has a breakout season, the Rangers probably are good enough to play deep into October.
There are questions about the quality of the rotation and the reliability of the bullpen in front of closer Joe Nathan. Young’s departure significantly shifts the clubhouse dynamics, and after last season’s late collapse, the Rangers could use a good start to change the conversation.
But they’re good, and with a very good farm system, they’re likely to hang with the A’s and Angels in an American League West race that’s expected to be extremely competitive.
For the Astros, this is a season of transition, beginning with their move to the American League, complete with new colors and a new logo. They’ve got a rookie manager in Bo Porter and see this Opening Day as the next step in the reconstruction of a franchise. They believe they’re doing it the right way, building from the ground up, predicting that once they’re back that they’re back for good.
“Clearly, when you’re moving from one league to another, that’s a monumental change,” Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow said. “To have the opportunity to showcase our new uniforms, our new manager, our new staff, a lot of our new players on the national stage like that against a powerhouse like the Rangers is a good thing for baseball and a good thing for the Astros. Hopefully, people will see something they like that night and decide they want to come down to the ballpark.”
This season’s success won’t be measured strictly in terms of the won-loss record. But there’s also a quiet confidence inside the organization that they’re going to be far better than people think and that they’re going to be competitive sooner rather than later.
For those of us so desperate for baseball we’ll even watch the
Rodriguez’s Yankees are on track to have the highest payroll on Opening Day for the 15th straight year, climbing above the Los Angeles Dodgers to a projected $228 million with this week’s acquisition of Vernon Wells.
So now we know why the Yankees wanted Vernon Wells. :p
Dierker said last week he would end his contractual relationship with the Astros after April 15 because of his disappointment about not being selected for a broadcast job and concerns about the team’s direction.
After meeting with Crane, he said that while he will not have a contract for the 2013 season, he is willing to make limited appearances on a voluntary basis as his schedule allows and will revisit his association with the team after the season.
“It was an unburdening to have the guy who makes the decisions sit with me so I could explain how I felt,” Dierker said. “I don’t want to horn in on what they are doing (for the 2013 season) and don’t mind waiting. Everything is fine.
“I’m willing to do some things for them. If they need some help and reach out to me and I’m going to be here, I’ll do it.”
Dierker said he explained to Crane that while he is not interested in studio work on Comcast SportsNet Houston, he would like a chance to return to game broadcasts if circumstances warrant.
“It was a great relief for me,” he said. “I don’t think anybody completely understood how I felt. Going forward I would still like to broadcast, but if they’re happy with the way things have turned out, I can live with that. If they want to make a change, they know I’m here and ready and willing and able.”
“To find the answer, the Houston Astros are boldly going where few teams have gone before. They have lost 213 games in the last two years alone, more than any other team. They’re moving from the National League Central, a relatively weak division, to the American League West, one of baseball’s toughest. If they lose 106 or more games, they’ll become the first team in half a century to do so in three consecutive seasons.
Nevertheless, the Astros have stripped their roster of recognizable players and slashed payroll to around $25 million, the lowest in the majors by a wide margin. In doing so, they’ve revitalized a moribund farm system, amassing one of baseball’s best crops of prospects. “We want to build a product that’s consistent, and the only way we can do that is the way we’re doing it,” Astros owner Jim Crane said. “If people want to complain about it, they have a right to complain about it. But we’re going to stick with the plan.”“
While fans will have to be patient, they don’t have to look too far into the horizon to see hope and excitement. While Springer, Cosart, Singleton and Villar are among those knocking at the door to reach Houston, another wave is coming.
“The most reliable estimate for all those guys to reach the big leagues is 2014,” Luhnow said. “Just because they’re good prospects doesn’t mean they’re going to have an immediate impact on the big league level. It’s a substantial step, and it takes very good players a year or two to get used to the big league level. Next year will be a good opportunity.”
The Houston Astros may be going to the American League, but they may not play America-League type ball. Former Cardinals star Vince Coleman, the first man to steal 100 bases or more in the big leagues in three consecutive seasons, is the baserunning instructor for all levels of the Astros’ system, and he is preaching aggressiveness.
Coleman, who will spend a lot of time at Class A Quad Cities, was recommended to Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow by former Houston infielder Enos Cabell, who is in the Astros’ front office.
“With a St. Louis connection (Luhnow ran the Cardinals’ player development area), how could you not hire me?” said Coleman, laughing.
“I’ve got a Ph.D in the stolen base and baserunning. Baserunning is very underrated, even though it’s the aspect which determines where you win or lose ballgames.”
One part of the game that has bothered Coleman is the negativity associated with baserunning. “You’ve heard the terms, ‘Don’t get picked off. Don’t make the first out at third base. Don’t get doubled up on line drives.’ Those are the ‘how-not-tos.’
I’m the ‘how-to’ coach. We’re going to diffuse all the negatives,” said Coleman.
...Coleman said he was “on the couch” at his home in San Diego when the chance to help the Astros came up. He said that if he wasn’t doing this, he would be taking Michael Jordan’s money in golf.
Recently, Coleman said he dusted Jordan for three days in a row in the Jupiter, Fla., area. “I got fat,” said Coleman, meaning his wallet was bulging.
Breaking news: The Rockies, Astros, and Rangers are not interested in me either. Well, the Astros might be if I’m willing to play for less tha minimum wage.
A source has told CLNS Radio that 9-time All-Star Vladimir Guerrero is attempting to make a comeback to the major leagues, and is currently in the process of reaching out to many teams to see if they are interested in him.
Guerrero, 38, has sent a video of a recent workout to many teams, and will continue to reach out to teams throughout spring training. So far, the Colorado Rockies, Houston Astros, and Texas Rangers have indicated that they are not interested at the moment.
A team in China has also reached out to Guerrero and made him a well-paying offer, but he will not be accepting it and is looking for a job in the United States.
First, there’s the Google rule. To understand the men and women in charge of rebuilding the Houston Astros, indeed to understand the unique path the franchise has headed down, this is a good place to begin.
“We encourage our people to spend 10 percent of their time pursuing whatever project they want as long as it’s baseball-related,” Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow said.
Got that? One of Luhnow’s first hires—a guy with multiple advanced degrees in engineering, a guy who does not have a typical baseball background—stole the idea from, you guessed it, Google.
Luhnow has a lot of very smart people on his staff. Actually, they are people a lot like himself. They are creative and ambitious, and he believes they must constantly be challenged. But they must also be encouraged to think outside the box.
“Think about any harebrained idea you have, any research you’d like to do,” he said. “It’s free time to learn about the game and try and come up with new ideas.”
...There’s also a larger philosophy at play with the Google rule. It’s a way to empower employees, and it doesn’t stop with the front-office executives.
“One of the best ways of innovating—and again, this is another management-consultant strategy—is you talk to people inside your own organization,” Luhnow said. “You get ideas to bubble up from the bottom. People that are on the front line, whether it’s an automobile manufacturer line worker or the accounting guy that does the numbers, you actually communicate with them and you draw stuff out of them.
“For every five ideas you get, maybe only one is worth pursuing. But for every five that are worth pursuing, there’s one worth doing that adds value. If you sit in this office and
try to figure everything out, you might come up with some good ideas, but the good ideas are out there. It’s the hitting coach in Single-A. Oftentimes he’ll tell you, ‘Why are we practicing this instead of this? Why can’t we have equipment to help us do this better?’ Those are the types of things that can really help you. When you talk about an analytical-based approach, it’s really a logic-based approach. And it applies to every element of the game.”
Scratchin’ squeeks! Even liquitexified Colonel Bleep was in color!
When the Astrodome opened in 1965, it was quickly dubbed the “Eighth Wonder of the World.” The fully-enclosed stadium was the first of it’s kind: a domed, air-conditioned marvel that could handle baseball, football, and any other large event in all kinds of weather. With its bubble exterior and proximity to the fledgling space program, there was no better evidence of America’s quick march towards The Jetsons than the new Houston stadium.
Among it’s many futuristic innovations was the $2 million scoreboard, “the world’s largest, most versatile animated scoreboard.” Any gushing preview of the new ballpark was incomplete without a description of the device. A 1972 Houston Sports Association publication touting the wonders of the Astrodome and its surrounding area calls the scoreboard “an electronic marvel, costing $2 million, and longer than a football field, [giving] patrons of the Astrodome more information, faster, than any visual display ever before seen on any athletic field.”
So what was this space age visual display that could give “more information, faster” actually used for?