Baseball for the Thinking Fan

Login | Register | Feedback

btf_logo
You are here > Home > Baseball Newsstand > Baseball Primer Newsblog > Discussion
Baseball Primer Newsblog
— The Best News Links from the Baseball Newsstand

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) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: astros, sabermetrics

Reader Comments and Retorts

Go to end of page

Statements posted here are those of our readers and do not represent the BaseballThinkFactory. Names are provided by the poster and are not verified. We ask that posters follow our submission policy. Please report any inappropriate comments.

   1. Walt Davis Posted: June 27, 2014 at 08:24 PM (#4737740)
I'll note that before the win streak, they were 17-32; since the win streak 10-14. 10-14 isn't horrible but still just a 67.5 win pace.

Springer leads the league in Ks after only 61 games. Impressive.
   2. valuearbitrageur Posted: June 27, 2014 at 09:01 PM (#4737755)
It's pretty impressive when in season you have brought up only a couple guys from a loaded farm system, one for less than 2 months, the other for only a few weeks.

They will still lose more than 90 games, but it's an surprisingly quick start to a turnaround. If next year they built a 75-80 win team entirely out of their farm system, it would be amazing. They need 2 things to turn it around completely. Determine who their best contributors will be, and win back enough fans so they can increase payroll to fill in everywhere else.

Still a few years to go, but no longer being the absolute bottom of the league is a good start.
   3. kthejoker Posted: June 27, 2014 at 10:45 PM (#4737821)
Springer leads the league in Ks after only 61 games. Impressive.


And sports a 125 OPS+ in his first year in the bigs.

Not sure why you're so one-sided with the Astros, Walt, you seem pretty evenhanded on most other subjects.
   4. Walt Davis Posted: June 28, 2014 at 03:15 AM (#4737886)
1. I just noted he leads the league in Ks despite playing only about 2 monhts. That's a lot of strikeouts.

2. I've been pointing out the problems with high-K hitters for a decade. Other than the fact you folks are sick of it, why should I stop for the Astros?

2a. To wit, Springer is currently hitting 386/862 on-contact. That's not sustainable. If he doesn't get the Ks under control, there's no way he can maintain a 125 OPS+ over an extended period and certainly no way he can improve on it.

2b. To see what that might look like, check Singleton. Similar K-rate and he's hitting 333/750 on-contact ... that's a bit low on the BA side but a very impressive SLG ... and he's got a 91 OPS+.

3. I think I'm perfectly even-handed with the Astros. When I think teams have major flaws I point them out. When I think they are a bad team, I point that out. When I think the opposite, I point that out. I'm interested in them at the moment for the same reason everybody else is. I'm just one of the ones who think disaster capitalism is not a very good model.
   5. Joe Kehoskie Posted: June 28, 2014 at 04:12 AM (#4737889)
They will still lose more than 90 games, but it's an surprisingly quick start to a turnaround.

Quick start? The Astros have been putrid for four seasons now. The Crane/Luhnow regime is in Season 3, and every decent homegrown player on the roster was inherited from McLane/Wade. This is likely to remain true into Season 4, if not Season 5 (see below).

If next year they built a 75-80 win team entirely out of their farm system, it would be amazing.

Amazing, indeed, when you consider that the only two players the Astros are likely to graduate to the ML between now and late 2015 are Domingo Santana and Mike Foltyniewicz, who sure as hell aren't going to add ~12 to ~15 wins to the 2015 Astros.

The more this front office tries to convince everyone how brilliant they are — and make no mistake: that's the point of all these stories — the more I think it's all a sham. Some of the double-speak in this and other recent articles is laughable. If not spoken by some favorites of the saber crowd, this front office would be getting creamed online.
   6. base ball chick Posted: June 28, 2014 at 10:25 AM (#4737923)
joe and walt are spot on

every guy on that roster is from ed wade/whatshisname. the new Geek Room has quickly dumped every guy they could who they didn't like and lots of them have gone on to other teams and done at least decently, even the low paid ones.

and bud norris is dead right. good players didn't want to go to houston when the team was great, and they sure as heck don't want to go there now, unless they got nowheres else to go. the pretense that mclane lost money goes as gospel without a sound of protest. the mouths of FO and press pretend that it is a beautiful thing that the payroll is low, pretending that that (swear words) crane is putting it in a savings account to spend for The Last Piece Of The Puzzle. he is paying pennies for altuve, one of the best players in the DH league. if singleton manages to be even league average, which, so far he is not, and is not EVEN brett wallace, he'll be the most underpaid player in the league until he is old ( 10 mill for 8 years - really)

santana and foltynieciwc are ed wade's picks.

the astros LIKE players with high K rates (see the suckulous chris carter) - which means outs without GIDP, even though the players aren't exactly low on GIDP, and line drive rate. look how many guys on that team don't have even league average BA - or BA over .200. Yeah, i know - the WARs and all the other complicated formula numbers you need to be a Math Person to understand how they got them. which is clever, because then hardly anyone can argue about them or critique them

i think that lots of fans don't like the idea that players get paid, let alone ever get paid what they are worth - see all the people who are so in love with the NCAA not paying its "student" athletes ANYTHING and depriving them of even legal representation, so they can pretend that they players are "pure" and untouched by greed or money, the last of the true "amateurs" who play only for The Glory of Their Skool and have no interest in fame or that filthy filthy money.

- and the astros FO cashes in on that, with all the cheapo young players and the signing of FA like carlos pena - and then "blowing" 1/4 of the budget on feldman, who we ALL know is gonna be trade bait if he doesn't get hurt or suck next year.

they have even stopped pretending that they are "concerned" that 3/4 of the astros "territory" especially harris county, can't see their stupid tv channel, seeing as how they sell plenty of corporate tix, and don't mind the empty seats. attendance is usually about half of the reported attendance.

and somehow, the media - even the NATIONAL media, is uninterested in reporting what the astros actually take IN and how much PROFIT the owner rakes in every year. i know the chronicle is heavily invested in the astros, so who expects honesty from them. but espn doesn't recognize the existence of houston as a place on earth, let alone a team, and the other national reporters have zero interest in digging for the truth.

everything is rumors, twitting the gossip, and who spins things the best.

it is amazing how things have gone 180 from the time moneyball got pub. back then, it was all about how those icky nerdz who can't even CATCH a ball were trying to ruin The Game with their google boy using intarwebs
- 10 years later, it is exactly the opposite. those Geek Room Guys are gonna produce majick with their formulas, not insulting The Scouts this time, and produce endless cheap players who now are supposed to Go All The Way in 3 years. And everyone claps.

sigh

the players union has the strength of wet toilet paper, and has turned into the usual oligarchy that has interest only in the 1 percenters who get the vast majority of what money the players get. and the % the players get is lower every single year.
   7. KingKaufman Posted: June 28, 2014 at 11:29 AM (#4737939)
I don't see how the Astros can fail. Do you realize how smart Sig Mejdal is? He can drive 120 miles west from Davis and end up in Tahoe!
   8. base ball chick Posted: June 28, 2014 at 12:29 PM (#4737993)
king

have really missed you boy

being a blackjack dealer is the best way to understanding gambling, which is what picking ballplayers really is, right? you don't need to know which direction the wind is blowing. or east from west

besides
shtt don't happen. guys don't get hurt or not be able to duplicate ML results from one year to the next, or just suck when they were supposed to ROOL.

look at the nats and how they wisely held back on strasburg and didn't let him pitch in sept oct so as they could keep his arm like the numbers people all said because it was a given that they would win year after year after year now that they had The Yopung Core in place and The Final Pieces Of The Puzzle, too

now if you excuse me, i gots more lawn to mow
   9. valuearbitrageur Posted: June 28, 2014 at 02:24 PM (#4738207)




Quick start? The Astros have been putrid for four seasons now. The Crane/Luhnow regime is in Season 3, and every decent homegrown player on the roster was inherited from McLane/Wade. This is likely to remain true into Season 4, if not Season 5 (see below).

Amazing, indeed, when you consider that the only two players the Astros are likely to graduate to the ML between now and late 2015 are Domingo Santana and Mike Foltyniewicz, who sure as hell aren't going to add ~12 to ~15 wins to the 2015 Astros.


3 seasons, they are a decent team now.. And what's your point about Wade? Should Luhnow have dumped the previous regimes draftees and started over? You make my points for me, Luhnow was handed had a great start in rebuilding a once awful farm system, and did the right thing by "doubling down" on rebuilding through the farm by adding a ton of depth to it through trades.

12-15 wins? They are on a 70 win pace this season with Singlton/Springer missing much of season.

With Singleton at first, the average age of their starting position players is a smidge under 25 years, they have 6 starters 24 years old or younger! Their most talented starters are 23 and 22 years old. It's very reasonable to expect significant improvement from this group, in all phases of the game, not just K rates.

The core of the rotation is 26 years old outside of Feldman, with Funkywitz/Appel destined to join it in next few years.

And LOL expecting them to only graduate 2 more players from the farm system in the next 12 months. The joy of a deep system is how often it produces pleasant surprises.
   10. valuearbitrageur Posted: June 28, 2014 at 02:41 PM (#4738271)
look at the nats and how they wisely held back on strasburg and didn't let him pitch in sept oct so as they could keep his arm like the numbers people all said because it was a given that they would win year after year after year now that they had The Yopung Core in place and The Final Pieces Of The Puzzle, too


Seems like a lot of people on this thread want to stand on 16 vs the dealers face card.

If you have to be results oriented, then you have to know the Nats go no farther in playoffs pitching Strasburg. If you aren't results oriented, you realize the answer is quite a bit more complicated.

Yes, there is variance in player results. But trusting your forecasts is a lot smarter than winging it.
   11. valuearbitrageur Posted: June 28, 2014 at 02:47 PM (#4738295)
- and the astros FO cashes in on that, with all the cheapo young players and the signing of FA like carlos pena - and then "blowing" 1/4 of the budget on feldman, who we ALL know is gonna be trade bait if he doesn't get hurt or suck next year.


You hope he's trade bait. When the Astros start making playoff runs in a couple years, your rotation will be full of studs in their Twenties and Feldman will be in his mid thirties. Why wouldn't you want to get value for him before then to ensure those teams are even better?

they have even stopped pretending that they are "concerned" that 3/4 of the astros "territory" especially harris county, can't see their stupid tv channel, seeing as how they sell plenty of corporate tix, and don't mind the empty seats. attendance is usually about half of the reported attendance.


Now they have a product worth watching makes this now their biggest problem. But now they have a product worth watching also gives them the solution to this problem.
   12. valuearbitrageur Posted: June 28, 2014 at 03:38 PM (#4738400)
Also, if you don't want to give Luhnow credit for any success the Astros have or will have and prefer to credit his predecessors, then you also shouldn't give Friedman much credit for turning Tampa Bay around. Upton, Crawford, Shields, Baldelli, Hellikson, Scott, Davis, Jaso, Gomes, Hammel, etc, etc, the list of useful Tampa Ray farm products drafted before Friedman arrived is very long.
   13. puck Posted: June 28, 2014 at 04:31 PM (#4738434)
They seem to be getting some surprising pitching results, right? Colin McHugh with an ERA+ of 143, Dallas Keuchel with an ERA+ of 147?
   14. Joe Kehoskie Posted: June 28, 2014 at 05:53 PM (#4738510)

Yikes. KT's Pot Arb needs to step away from the Kool-Aid.

The Astros aren't remotely a "decent team now." They have the fifth-worst winning percentage in MLB.

Also, a "pleasant surprise" from a farm system is a guy who steps in due to injury and puts up 1.0 to 2.0 WAR, not a guy who comes out of nowhere and puts up 5.0 WAR.
   15. greenback calls it soccer Posted: June 28, 2014 at 06:31 PM (#4738529)
Luhnow is not at all afraid of taking chances and looking foolish in the process. He seems to be guided by the Bill James observation about shitty teams remaining shitty because they try to do the same things everybody else does, only without the resources. Players will always whine about this, which just goes to show how much people love their institutionalized bureaucracies, even in an industry where recognition, especially compensation, is so clearly driven by individual talent and hard work.
   16. Joe Kehoskie Posted: June 28, 2014 at 07:00 PM (#4738542)

But what are the big chances Luhnow is taking? Defensive shifts? That wasn't an Astros innovation. Tandem starters in the minors? I believe that was done elsewhere first.
   17. base ball chick Posted: June 28, 2014 at 07:13 PM (#4738547)
KT

can't see how on earth you think this is an exciting team. only 3 guys have a WAR over zero. only 3 guys have an OPS+ over 100 and 3 regulars have a BA below mendoza. the only really good player is altuve. springer strikes out over 1/3 of ABs, but at least he has learned to play RF and has managed to comepnsate for the endless Ks with 15 home runs. fowler is ok. the rest are guys who would have been booed off the field just 6 years ago. young is not the same as exciting. 70 wins?

well, i never say impossible because it is baseball and youneverknow, but this is a terrible team/

luhnow has dumped as many of ed wade's guys and ALL pre-wade guys, as he dared to. the only one he has not, that i don't get, is jonathan villar, who is just horrible with bat and glove and i have no idea why on earth he's on a ML team.

i don't play poker. but i do know this - in baseball, there really is a part of being a winning team that is just flat out luck that is not there with something like poker which is just numbers. and i know that just because you got a good young team one year doesn't mean that you'll have the same good team the next year (see the 02 to 03 angels)

so if you got a chance NOW to get to the playoffs, you don't shrug it off and say - next year is another year. because too many times tomorrow never comes. which it has not for the nats, and it sure does not look like it's coming around again, at least for a while
   18. base ball chick Posted: June 28, 2014 at 07:14 PM (#4738548)
oh yeah

appel joining the ML team in 2 years? he hasn't made it out of rookie ball. and hopefully the broken ankle doesn't ruin correa, like it seems to have ruined manny machado
   19. greenback calls it soccer Posted: June 28, 2014 at 08:00 PM (#4738558)
But what are the big chances Luhnow is taking?

I don't think he's taking big chances - you're not finding a Mike Trout or Clayton Kershaw with this kind of tinkering, and those are the bets that matter. This is Michael Lewis's book all over again, spending chapters on Chad Bradford and Scott Hatteberg, and ignoring Miguel Tejada and Tim Hudson. But don't kid yourself about the resistance to dinky little things like tandem starters or defensive shifts (OK, maybe by now that is water under the bridge) or unique coverage arrangements for scouting. People will piss and moan about changes to their jobs, and many of them have access to sportswriters.
   20. vivaelpujols Posted: June 28, 2014 at 08:12 PM (#4738564)
I'll note that before the win streak, they were 17-32; since the win streak 10-14. 10-14 isn't horrible but still just a 67.5 win pace.


Astros have a third order W% of near .500
   21. greenback calls it soccer Posted: June 28, 2014 at 09:11 PM (#4738589)
Astros have a third order W% of near .500

And FG projects them to have the worst record (and worst run differential) in the second half.
   22. Bruce Markusen Posted: June 28, 2014 at 10:49 PM (#4738615)
So what's everyone's opinion of Baseball Prospectus alum Kevin Goldstein?
   23. kthejoker Posted: June 28, 2014 at 11:20 PM (#4738621)
It's ridiculous the underselling you do of the team, Lisa. First, your entire rant is invalid because you don't even mention the pitching staff, which has been great.

Secondly, you're wrong, 7 position players have WAR over zero, including 5 starters.

Thirdly, number of regulars with OPS+ of over 100:

Detroit - 4
KC - 4
Yankees - 4
Seattle - 4

So yeah, we've only got 3, that doesn't exactly scream awful.

   24. Justin T., Director of Somethin Posted: June 29, 2014 at 12:15 AM (#4738641)
BBC is beyond parody.
   25. PreservedFish Posted: June 29, 2014 at 12:35 AM (#4738646)
She decided that she'd hate the Astros, and she's hating the Astros. Sad to watch, but there it is.
   26. base ball chick Posted: June 29, 2014 at 02:12 PM (#4738993)
24. Justin T., Director of Somethin Posted: June 29, 2014 at 12:15 AM (#4738641)

BBC is beyond parody.

25. PreservedFish Posted: June 29, 2014 at 12:35 AM (#4738646)

She decided that she'd hate the Astros, and she's hating the Astros. Sad to watch, but there it is.


- i said, in very easy to understand words, that at the end of the 2012 season, the astros and i were through. that the divorce was very bitter, filled with a great deal of hate and resentment. i said all the reasons why. i also said that my decision was final, that absolutely nothing whatsoever could change my mind or my attitude. you ignored it, didn't listen, laughed it off - it's just the usual women talk and who can believe anything Those Creatures say, right?

parody? help your self.

about the team - about modern baseball - i understand that it is all, it is ONLY about more money for the already filthy rich. there is no interest whatsoever in anything else, except the spinning about why it is wonderful for the owners to not want to pay Those Greedy Players and/or various excuses why they shouldn't spend their profits on the team. this is the way of the world, unless religion is involved. but the only religion here is mo money. i know this is the way things are, but i don't have to LIKE it. or IGNORE it. or pretend things are different.

so anyhow, if you guys want to believe that the astros are this great team destined for the WS with the marvelous hoes, singleton, dominguez and the rest of the 0.1 - 0.6 WAR STAHS!!! they got out there, knock yourselves out. after all, gotta root for the guys who know that picking ballplayers is like being a poker dealer and knowing that in the end, the house always wins.

you want to believe the owner put all those profits in a savings account to pay for players in that magical future, with all those can't fail perfect STAH!!! prospects the astros are so neck deep in, knock your self out. that will happen about the same time some man respects some hookup in the morning.
   27. Joe Kehoskie Posted: June 30, 2014 at 03:14 PM (#4740030)

You must be Registered and Logged In to post comments.

 

 

<< Back to main

BBTF Partner

Support BBTF

donate

Thanks to
JE (Jason)
for his generous support.

Bookmarks

You must be logged in to view your Bookmarks.

Hot Topics

NewsblogKeidel: Don’t Be Fooled — The Yankees’ Season Is Over
(56 - 12:51am, Aug 20)
Last: Jolly Old St. Nick Still Gags in October

NewsblogOT: Monthly NBA Thread - August 2014
(271 - 12:40am, Aug 20)
Last: robinred

Newsblog[Ubaldo] Jimenez to the bullpen
(8 - 12:38am, Aug 20)
Last: Jolly Old St. Nick Still Gags in October

NewsblogIwakuma gives Mariners a second true ace
(1 - 12:38am, Aug 20)
Last: vortex of dissipation

NewsblogOMNICHATTER 8-19-2014
(63 - 12:35am, Aug 20)
Last: odds are meatwad is drunk

NewsblogMinor League manager undresses during epic home plate tirade
(7 - 12:32am, Aug 20)
Last: Jolly Old St. Nick Still Gags in October

NewsblogKepner (NYT): Astros’ Jose Altuve Doesn’t Let Height Be a Disadvantage
(1 - 12:15am, Aug 20)
Last: Jolly Old St. Nick Still Gags in October

NewsblogPirates activate Andrew McCutchen from the disabled list
(7 - 11:50pm, Aug 19)
Last: baxter

NewsblogMooney: Javier Baez, Kyle Hendricks aren’t showing any nerves with Cubs
(33 - 11:48pm, Aug 19)
Last: Spahn Insane

NewsblogPosnanski: The need – the need for speed
(3 - 11:30pm, Aug 19)
Last: PreservedFish

NewsblogRingolsby: Helton's numbers stack up against the best
(59 - 11:15pm, Aug 19)
Last: McCoy

NewsblogGammons Notes - 8/17/14
(53 - 11:11pm, Aug 19)
Last: theboyqueen

NewsblogRoth: The Mets' Matt Harvey problem is a Mets problem
(6 - 10:55pm, Aug 19)
Last: MNB

NewsblogOT August 2014:  Wrassle Mania I
(39 - 10:42pm, Aug 19)
Last: NJ in DC (Now with temporary employment!)

NewsblogOT: Politics, August 2014: DNC criticizes Christie’s economic record with baseball video
(4204 - 10:33pm, Aug 19)
Last: The Yankee Clapper

Page rendered in 0.2432 seconds
53 querie(s) executed