Wednesday, April 28, 2004

A rainout yesterday delayed Tim Redding's start. Roy Oswalt will start today and Andy Pettitte (finally!) will make his 2nd start as an Astro on Thursday, with Redding available to serve in long relief for either (probably Pettitte's) start. This got me to thinking - Redding's got great stuff...I wonder if he'd be better suited as a reliever?

The answer: NO.

Well, at least from the numbers that I'm looking at. For pitches 1-15, Tim has a 6.99 ERA and a 1.51 WHIP. For pitches 16-30, he's got a 6.29 ERA and a 1.56 WHIP. From then on, he's solid, especially pitches 46-90.

Again, sample size issues, but generally speaking, it looks it takes Redding a little while to 'get into' a game and settle down. Maybe he needs to prepare better, maybe he should warm up in the bullpen a little more...but whatever it is, he struggles in his first 30 pitches of his average start.

Most of my friends (except this guy) are done with school in the next week or two, which means it's been A WHOLE YEAR since I graduated from Vanderbilt. Man, that year went by fast. But apparently I can't get enough education, since I sent in my contract as a Graduate Teaching Assistant at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff, AZ yesterday. I'll be taking Statistics courses and teaching entry-level College Algebra, well on my way to becoming a major-league GM. Stat-heavy major league GMs: Beane, Ricciardi, Epstein, DePodesta...Wade? Gimme a few years...

It's all tennis all the time this week, as I've got lessons, matches, and a tournament this weekend. So if I'm not here, I'm probably at the WAC, teaching/playing/sleeping.

We need this series against the Pirates, especially with the way the Cubs have been playing without Prior. Well, at least until they ran into the buzzsaw that is the Arizona Diamondbacks. Thanks, Randy Johnson and Brandon Webb, for holding the Cubs to 1 run in their last 18 innings.

Monday, April 26, 2004

Tough losses for two Houston teams last night, as the Astros wasted a great pitching performance by Wade Miller in losing to the Rockies 4-1, and the Rockets let a 4 point lead slip away in OT against the Lakers.

The Astros just couldn't get much going against Joe Kennedy, a control lefty who was less than impressive as the Devil Rays' #1 starter last year. So of course he comes to Colorado and starts...dominating?? I don't think so. We just didn't have it yesterday, and there was a HUGE strike zone in effect (for both pitchers, to be fair.) Morgan Ensberg hit the ball hard 3 times; he missed a HR to right field by about 10 feet, then lined out sharply to RF with 2 runners on, then lined out to LF. He's coming around. Miller looked pretty darn good, throwing an easy 93-94 on the corners with an occasional NASTY curveball that breaks really, really hard. The only runs he gave up came on some cheap end-of-the-bat singles by Castilla and Burnitz and a solo HR by Mark Sweeney. Then Brad Lidge came on, gave up 2 runs, but Brandon Backe pitched well to not allow any more, but our offense just couldn't do anything today.

Ken Rosenthal's latest article mentions the Astros in several places. First:

"Astros 1B Jeff Bagwell can barely throw because of the condition of his right shoulder, leaving him vulnerable to bunts and to baserunners who invite pickoff throws and then take off for second, forcing Bagwell to handle the ball. Astros 2B Jeff Kent, meanwhile, is "worse than I've ever seen him defensively, no question," according to one scout. "He's never been great, but his reactions, his range . . . he's very unsure of himself."

I'm going to have to agree with both of these points. Bagwell really can't throw at all, and it's eventually going to cost us runs. Kent has never been good defensively, but he has looked truly scared out there a few times this year, like he doesn't know what he's doing. He's gotta get going, both offensively and defensively.

Second:

"The Astros can't count on help from Class AAA LHP Carlos Hernandez, who is recovering from shoulder surgery. "He's a shell of what he once was, throwing 82-86 mph," a scout says. "He's not ready at all." The same scout raves about Class AAA Taylor Buchholz, whom the Astros acquired in the Billy Wagner trade. "He could definitely contribute this year if somebody went down," the scout says. "He's like a big-league guy in waiting."

From everything I've heard about Hernandez, this is true. His velocity IS way down. And I don't know exactly how you re-learn an extra 5-10 mph on your fastball. He may not ever be the same pitcher he was. I'm glad this guy likes Bucholz, but some other guys (Chad Qualls, DJ Houlton, Ezequiel Astacio) have put up even better numbers in the minors so far this year. On the flip side, we have very few good position prospects. Todd Self, a 1B at AA Round Rock, has been going crazy, hitting 381/512/571 with 18 walks and 8 extra base hits in 63 AB. John Buck, C, has been solid offensively (321/379/453 in a pitcher's park) but has made 6 errors in 16 games, and Chris Burke, 2B, is cut from the Adam Everett mold - good defense, no power whatsoever. I'm all for youth, but an offense of

Buck
Bagwell
Burke
Everett
Ensberg
Lane
CF
Berkman

is asking for trouble next year. I really think we've gotta go for it all this year.

Oh, and the Red Sox SWEPT the Yankees at home. I love it.

Saturday, April 24, 2004

The Astros have won the first 2 games at Coors Field, 13-7 and 8-5.

I'll just give you a bunch of my impressions:

Brandon Duckworth could eventually be a decent major league pitcher, but it will NOT be in Coors Field (and, unfortunately, probably not Minute Maid Park either). He simply gives up too many fly balls, a fair amount of which turn into the home run variety. I could see him being an effective starting pitcher in Dodger Stadium or Safeco Field or Pac Bell Park, though.

Craig Biggio is locked in. His lack of a high leg kick really stops him from pulling off the ball, resulting in tons of line drives to LF. He looks quick, healthy, and happy. (Unfortunately, he'll never be an average defensive CF.)

Jeff Bagwell and Lance Berkman, although neither is hitting with consistent power, have unbelievable batting eyes. I just don't see either one of them having an extended slump - they simply do not chase bad pitches.

Richard Hidalgo crushes the ball often, but sometimes appears TOO patient. He'll let perfect pitches go by too often.

Similarly, Morgan Ensberg looks a little too patient. One of the main benefits of good patience at the plate is not only to draw walks but to force the pitcher to make a pitch that you can drive. Ensberg does that, and often lets the pitch go by.

Jim DeShaies, Astros play-by-play-man, today: "There have been statistical studies done that suggest that 'protection' in a lineup really doesn't exist." WELL DONE! This is absolutely right. You would think that if you've got Barry Bonds hitting behind you instead of Brad Ausmus, you'll see better pitches, but in reality, this rarely comes into play. Lineup protection is largely a myth.

Lidge and Dotel are pitching about as well as they can right now. This means: DO NOT OVERWORK THEM, JIMY. Save them for when you need them.

Chad Harville is wild. We can't demote him, and if we release him we admit we traded Saarloos for basically nothing, so he needs to learn some control, and fast.

If you can't hit in Coors, you can't hit anywhere. Jose Vizcaino and Brad Ausmus will both post sub-650 OPS this year, and probably use up 700 plate appearances doing so.

WHY IS ORLANDO PALMEIRO THE 4TH OUTFIELDER INSTEAD OF JASON LANE???

C.B. Buckner is a terrible, inconsistent umpire.

Ok, enough random Astros tidbits.
It's been a good few games for the Astros, all in all, and it's been a good weekend for me, as I found out I got into U. of Hawaii for grad school, even though I'm probably not going to go there. Still, it's nice to get accepted.

Thursday, April 22, 2004

I'm really frustrated now.

Brad Ausmus went to Dartmouth. He's a smart guy, a nice guy, and I bet if I met at Kroger I would like him.

But if he can't even get a throw to 2nd base on a pitch out, why is he on the team? Why is he in the major leagues?

Oh, right, to ground into game-ending double plays.

It's not fair to put all the blame on Ausmus. The entire offense was pretty bad tonight. It was one of those make-an-average-pitcher-look-dominant nights that the offense seems to have a little too often.

Roy Oswalt is currently the best pitcher in baseball.
Brad Lidge and Octavio Dotel both looked awesome.

But our defense sucks, Morgan Ensberg looks like someone is using him as a hand puppet at the plate, we're swinging at everything...

And we have the worst catcher in baseball.

Wednesday, April 21, 2004

Why, oh why, do so many people want tennis lessons all of a sudden? Is it the emergence of Andy Roddick, the guy with a 150mph serve and a shoulder that can't last that much longer? Could it be the eventual decline of Zen Master Andre Agassi, who is saving himself for one last hurrah? Or perhaps Anna Kournikova might still win that elusive singles title?

Anyway, quit bugging me so much about tennis lessons.

So I promised to do a little story about a friend of a friend who's a great prospect for the Braves.

The friend is Derek, and the friend of a friend is Jeff Francoeur:

Says Baseball Prospectus:

2003: "Selected by the Braves with 23rd overall pick in 2002, Francoeur got a $2.2 million bonus, the biggest the Braves had ever given. He then went to the Appalachian League and tore it up, inspiring comparisons to Dale Murphy. We'll have to see more before we'll sign on to something like that, but he hasn't yet ruled it out."

2004: "Francoeur didn't overwhelm the league in his full-season debut at Rome, but for a guy who played mostly football in high school, it was an impressive start. His power and wheels are for real, and the scouting reports on his defesns are better than the DTs would suggest. He'll need to learn how to handle breaking pitches, and improve his approach at the plate in general, but he's got time. According to David Camerson, who studies these things extensively, Francoeur also has the hottest girlfriend in the entire minor leauges."

Derek could probably tell you more about this guy, but from what I remember, he's just a natural athlete. I think he played...cornerback? safety? in high school. Maybe Derek will correct me on that. But yeah, he's gonna be good. And he's 20 years old.

The Astros lost 5-3 last night; Miller only gave up 5 hits and a walk in 6 innings, but 2 HR's. Lance Berkman had all 3 RBIs but Hidalgo and Ensberg went a combined 0-for-7 and a late double switch by Jimy backfired as Jose Vizcaino booted a grounder to 3B which led to 2 runs.

Tonight: Tim Redding vs. Matt Morris

Tim needs a solid start. To his credit, he hasn't looked frustrated or angry yet this year, despite some defensive lapses behind him. There have been whispers of arm trouble surrounding Morris, and his velocity is down. We should do some damage.

Tomorrow I'm going to try and convince my brother to write up a little summary of his latest ultimate frisbee tournament, because it's incredible.

Tuesday, April 20, 2004

Jack's back. A lot happened while I was at a wedding (my first ever) in Florida - the Astros won the last 3 games of their series against the Brewers, with Roy and Roger dominating and the offense going crazy for one game. And we traded college pitcher and minor league pitcher extraordinaire Kirk Saarloos to the Oakland A's for Chad Harville.

Unfortunately for both Kirk and the Astros, it seemed like this was inevitable. I think people have forgotten how good this guy was in the minors:

18-3, 190 IP, 175 K, 41 BB, 7 HR, 1.99 ERA.

That is simply awesome. He hasn't been great in the majors, but he hasn't been painfully bad, either, and I can't see why a 25 year old with those minor league career stats can't eventually be a succesful major league pitcher.

As for Harville, Andy reminded me that we had seen him in the bullpen on our road trip, but I still don't remember him, so I'm going to have to break out the old copies of Baseball Prospectus Annuals. Here's what they have to say about Harville:

2002: He's a small right-hander who can flat-out bring heat...often called a right-handed Billy Wagner, but that's overstating the case...has the stuff to be a closer in the bigs.

2003: Once called "The Right-Handed Billy Wagner" because of his diminutive stature and vicious fastball, Harville's been struggling with injuries and mechanics.

2004: The whole right-handed Billy Wagner thing just hasn't worked out...He still throws very hard, but didn't look completely comfortable with his improving curveball...he's still a reasonable bet to be a good pitcher in some role.

GM Gerry Hunsicker also said today in the paper that the team had considered drafting Harville in 1997 in the 1st round, but went with Lance Berkman instead (good choice!). I think maybe this is a case of seeing a guy as you would like to see him - yep, he was dominant in college, and occasionally great in the minors, but Harville has struggled in the majors. Sound like anyone? Although Harville and Saarloos pitch nothing alike (Harville brings the heat, Saarloos can't throw over 85mph), they've both had success at the collegiate/minor league level, but it hasn't translated well to the bigs. Harville has had more injury trouble, and is older than Saarloos (27 to 25). All in all, I gotta give this trade a thumbs up...for the A's. They were getting ready to have to drop Harville because they had a full 25-man roster and he had refused demotion. Saarloos could definitely be a solid back-of-the-rotation starter for the A's for a few years - maybe he was rushed to the majors, or maybe he just needs to be put in a role and left there for a whole year instead of being jerked around. Either way, although this trade might help us this year, I don't like it long-term. I think we could have gotten more (say, a C or OF prospect?) for Saarloos. Harville has immediately been placed on the 25-man roster, with Eric Bruntlett sent down to make room. Andy Pettitte's just about back from the DL, which means we have to send someone down to AAA. I'd recommend Duckworth, because I still think he fits in better as a future starter - he gives up a few too many HRs for a reliever. Put him in AAA for a year and maybe he'll make a great #5 starter next year. That would leave us with Dotel/Lidge/Miceli/Harville/Stone/Gallo/Backe, which I like. No spot-starter/long-relief guy, but with 7 relievers, I think it's all right. Just don't use Harville or Lidge for too long - both those guys have injury history.

Anyway, back to the team on the field. We're looking really good. Our offense can't keep this up, obviously, but if Biggio continues to drive the ball (10 extra-base hits!), Bagwell and Berkman keep drawing walks, Hidalgo keeps ripping up, and Ensberg finally gets it going (which he will - he's done it at every level, over time), we should have ourselves a very solid offense. Ausmus and Everett will almost certainly regress, but that's to be expected. Our bench has actually looked ok, at least from the Lane and Palmeiro point of view. Raul Chavez isn't going to hurt anybody, Mike Lamb is a butcher in the field but has some pop, and Jose Vizcaino is batting .077 / .143 / .154 with 3 K's in 11 AB's. Can't win 'em all...

Tonight: Wade Miller vs. Jeff Suppan.

Watch for a 'hangover' from Miller after throwing 121 pitches last start.

Tomorrow: An article about a friend of a friend who might just be the next great Braves outfielder.

Monday, April 19, 2004

Sorry for the delay, but a certain someone has been down in Florida at a wedding instead of up in Chicago visiting his little brother.

The big news from the weekend: Astros take 3 of 4 from the Brew Crew, with Oswalt and Clemens leading the charge with tremendous outings. Last night, Clemens threw 7 amazing innings (although he did give up his first run of the year) and even got his second career RBI.

The even bigger news of the weekend came courtesy of the Oakland Athletics: The Stros acquired fireballer Chad Harville for crafty control expert Kirk Saarloos. I'll leave the in-depth analysis to Jack, but I think this could be a huge trade for us right now.

Yes, Saarloos could end up being a terrific starting pitcher in a few years, but both the Astros and I ran out of patience for him. He's been in and out of the majors for 3 years now, and he has yet to impress. And he really hasn't looked good so far this Spring.

Jack and I saw Chad Harville during our baseball road trip through California last summer. I can't say he was incredible (in fact, I can't remember how he did), but I remember how excited everyone was to see him. Jack pointed him out to me when he started throwing in the bullpen, and said he was a tremendous prospect.

His numbers aren't great from last year, but I've heard good things about him. Plus he's got a new change-up to compliment his 95 mph fastball, his curve and his slider. I can definitely see him joining LIdge and Dotel as this year's big three. And I like how we got him on the 25-man roster immediately. Shows confidence in the man. Let's just hope his injuries are behind him.

Eric Bruntlett was sent down to make room, and he deserved it. When you aren't any better than Jose Vizcaino, there's something wrong.

Oh yeah, somehow we missed the move, but Jared Fernandez was sent down last Tuesday for Mike Gallo, who becomes our only lefty pitcher (until Pettitte comes back, that is). Sure, Jared has sorta sucked this year, but I don't think one bad outing should condemn his entire season. I hope we see Jared again real soon. Then again, Gallo got the job done last year and should be a good option.

Next up: a day off Monday to get fired up for our second series against the Redbirds in as many weeks. Last time we swept, outscoring the Cardinals 26-9. The matchups:

Miller v Suppan
Redding v Carpenter
Oswalt v Morris

Get pumped.

Friday, April 16, 2004

Oswalt's line: 9 IP, 3 H, 0 BB, 0 R, 10 K.

Damn good. And only 94 pitches! More importantly, he figured out how to get Junior Spivey out. That guy was owning us.

The offense was stagnant at times. We compiled 8 hits and 5 walks but could only manage 2 runs.

I hear Duckworth is starting tomorrow. He's been pitching better each outing, so maybe he can show his stuff here against a gritty but not overwhelming Brewers club.

I'm off to Purdue in the first stage of the spring college ultimate series. Illinois is going down.

Tuesday, April 13, 2004

What impressed me most from today's 10-5 win over St. Louis was our bullpen. Fernandez's knuckler just wasn't knuckling, and Jimy had to pull him after serving up 4 runs and only recording one out (which reminds me of a late season start by Mr. Robertson). Duckworth calmed the Cardinals' bats, and though he wasn't at all dominant, he was able to finesse his way through the fourth.

I can't figure out Duckworth. When I first heard about the Wagner trade, I thought Brandon was the prize jewel. After researching his stats, Jack discovered that he dominated when he was allowed to start. His ERA was about 2 runs higher out of the bullpen than as a starter. Obviously, there was little room for him to start for the Astros, but I kept hoping he'd fit into a long-relief-slash-spot-starter role.

Both Jack and I have been amazed at his drop in velocity this Spring. I was under the impression he could throw in the mid- to upper-90's. And his 167 K's in 163.0 IP back in 2002 as a starter for the Phils meant he is capable of good stuff. But he hasn't been reaching 90 in most of his fastballs, and until tonight, he really hadn't had good command of his off-speed pitches.

Miceli is another mystery to me. I can't figure out why in the world we have him in the first place. He's never had good numbers, and he's never been able to stick with a team. Yet he pitched well for us down the stretch last year, and has been decent so far this year. He gave us a couple solid innings tonight, but I'm still reluctant to use him in games when we need to hold onto the lead.

Ricky Stone, meanwhile, looked awesome tonight. He worked a near-perfect 7th, giving up a hit on what should have been ruled an error by Ensberg. Stone had great control tonight, and I think he really has the experience to become a terrific finesse pitcher. Think Rheal Cormier. Or Brendan Donnelly. He's not gonna blow you away, but can paint every edge and change speeds on you. I think he should be the leading candidate to claim the seventh inning before Lidge and Dotel.

Speaking of whom, the firemen were lights out again tonight. Lidge was perfect, and Dotel fought some control issues but was able to close the door.

Is it just me, or do Biggio and Everett seem a lot more aggressive on the basepaths? Biggio stretched a single to short right-center into a double (with blinding speed!) and Everett stole his second base. Those two could wreak some havoc on the basepaths (maybe Bidge can teach AE a thing or two about running?). Everett is growing on me.

Also, Bags looked bad tonight. And I'm not talking about his batting (he went 1-for-5 with an RBI and a run). Edmonds hit a sharp single to right with runners on second and third in the second inning. Marlon Anderson scored easily, and Pujols held at third. Bags cut off the throw and had Edmonds caught in a rundown after he rounded first a bit too much. Bags ran after him towards second, but stopped to throw home. Pujols baited the throw by taking off toward home, but returned to third easily since Bags' throw was a loopy floater. Luckily Duckworth worked out of the jam by walking Renteria, but it still looked bad.

When are we going to see the cool trick Bagwell and Hidalgo have been working on? The one where Bags goes back for the pop-up, catches it and flips it to Hidalgo who rifles it to third or home? I've heard so much about it, but I have yet to see it.

Biggio looks good with no leg kick. I saw his new stance in Milwaukee, and he looks a lot more comfortable — especially against breaking balls.

Is Jason Lane an especially good defensive CF? So why is Jimy putting him in for defense but still refuses to let him bat? Today's scenario: Top 8th. Up by two. Bases loaded. One out. Pitcher's spot up. What's the easy call? Get a slugger up there who, if nothing else, can loft a sac fly! Jimy's decision: Jose Vizcaino. Batting right-handed. Viz lifts a weak pop out to shallow right. No insurance run. Good thing Biggio was up next. (Actually, good thing Ray Lankford got hurt. Marlon Anderson had a total of 29 innings at LF in his career, and a decent outfielder would have caught the third out. Anderson dropped Biggio's liner for a 3-run double.)

Tomorrow: Rocket vs. Jeff Suppan.

Sunday, April 11, 2004

Things looked a lot better today, especially from 6th row seats right at beautiful Miller Park. The stadium is eerily similar to Minute Maid (excuse me — The Juicebox), what with the retractable roof and trying-a-bit-too-hard gimmicks. We got a train, they got a slide. And you can't ride on either.

Oswalt settled down after giving up an early run. He seemed to be having some trouble planting his left foot at first, and even brought the umps out to investigate the mound. But he settled down after the first and pitched well enough although he allowed 10 baserunners in 6 innings. Oh, and that new change up he's been working on looks AWESOME. Seriously. Facing Brady Clark (whom you might recall made the most stupendous defenseive play in all of baseball last year), Oswalt threw a 3-2 change up. Clark ducks out of the way, falling to the ground in terror. Strike 3. End of inning.

Oswalt was hitting 94 consistently with his fastball, 84 with his curve and 69 with his change. Every time. He's got incredible command (although he walked 3 today) and incredible ability to change speeds. And he's confindent enough to throw his new change on full counts.

Oswalt dominated in the batter's box too, hitting a double and a single in three at-bats. He got the big rally started in the 3rd by looping a single over Spivey's head, but was thrown out when Biggio tried to bunt him over. First off, this was a terrible call by Jimy. Biggio can't bunt, Oswalt can't run, and it's the third inning with the big boppers waiting on deck! Why bunt? (Everett also tried to reach base by bunting a couple innings later, but was out by a hair — he looked really fast)

Anyway, after an Everett double, a Bagwell punch out and back to back walks to Kent and Doggy (Doug Davis intentionally walked Hidalgo after going 3-1 on him), Berkman smashes his first career grand slam — Right-handed! Maybe it's just me, but Lance just looks silly batting from the right side. He claims he has more power there, and perhaps he does. But he still has terrible form for an elite outfielder. I'm glad Berkman was able to break out of his slump. He hadn't looked good at the plate yet, and was even demoted to 6th in the lineup.

The new 5-hitter, meanwhile, has been tearing it up. Doggy went 2-3 with two walks on the day. He scared us all in his third at-bat when he glanced a pitch off his left hand. He took a few minutes with the trainer to make sure everything felt alright, and stayed in the game. Frightening scene.

Bagwell, Biggio and Ensberg all had bad days, going 0-for-14. Ensberg made his first error of the year, bobbling a easy grounder. For some reason (probably Jimy's inexplicable dislike for him), Lamb replaced Ensberg in what appeared to be a defensive replacement in the 8th. Lamb also made an error at third, leading to runs in the 9th inning for the Brew Crew.

Brandon Backe, called up after Pettitte's injury, was able to log his first innings as an Astro. Although he gave up a couple runs in the ninth, he looked decent. His curveball looks as good as they say, and he was hitting the high 90s with his gas.

Some other things of note: Biggio still looks lost in centerfield. Junior Spivey (who rocked us with 3 doubles), hit a sharp liner into center. Good defenders would have caught the ball, and decent ones would have at least cut it off. Biggio, however, broke in on the ball too sharply, going for the catch. Realizing he couldn't get to it, he broke back, only to have it skid past him to the wall. Not so good, Bidge.

Oh, and Raul Chavez. Not much to say here, except for his amazing bare-handed grab on a pop bunt from Doug Davis. He ran forward expecting the bunt, but saw it trailing back over his head. He probably had enough time to catch it with his glove, but he reached out and caught it with his right hand instead. Hope it made SportsCenter.

A quick note about the Brewers: they look alright. Considering their payroll, they've fielded a decent team. And how good was that Sexson trade? Overbay himself could hit 30 homers soon, and Spivey, Counsell and Moeller are all decent players.

The Brew Crew actually outhit the Stros today, threatening often but never getting a hit when they needed it. Lyle Overbay struck out three times with a runner on third and fewer than 2 outs. That kills (especially for fantasy).

Hopefully Jimy will see how playing small ball pales in comparison to going for the big inning. We are not a bunting team. We are not fast. We don't have particularly great baserunners (save Bags). We shouldn't be playing small ball.

Most Important Thing: Oswalt. He was able to dominate on a day when he didn't have his best stuff. That's a good sign. He didn't show any ill effects from serving up Bonds' homer in the last pitch of his last start. And his groin didn't seem to bother him. Let's hope Pettitte's injury is the only one we see all year.

Oh, and for those who are wondering, the Polish won the Sausage race.
The Astros lost 6-1 to the Brewers yesterday, as Tim Redding was outpitched by Ben Sheets (who has 7 straight wins against the Astros). The offense didn't do much, but it was partially sabotaged by Jimy, who started Orlando Palmeiro, Jose Vizcaino, and Mike Lamb. So far Morgan Ensberg, he of the 907 OPS and 25 HRs last year, has started 3/5 of the games. The other thing that scares me is that the first time Biggio gets a day off his spot goes not to young power hitting Jason Lane but to Orlando Palmeiro, who is not a bad player but makes a better defensive replacement and pinch-hitter. Jimy needs to recognize that Lane is the 4th OF, NOT Palmeiro.

Here's my Jimy count so far for the year:

Vizcaino at-bats 6
Lamb starts 2

Baseball Prospectus finally got around to covering the Astros in their Team Health Report. It's premium content, which I paid for, so I think I can give you guys the basics of it, but if you want some great analysis every day, it's worth the 20 bucks a year or so. Anyway, the only position players to get warnings are Craig Biggio (red), and Bagwell/Kent/Berkman (all yellow). I was a little surprised that Biggio got such a high chance of injury, but he is 38, playing center field, and generally goes all-out. Again, an injury to Biggio, while a shame, wouldn't be the worst thing to happen to the club. The pitching staff looks a lot riskier, with Roy Oswalt, Pettitte, and Clemens all yellow lights and Wade Miller a red light. I'm surprised Miller got the red, but they suspect a lingering elbow injury. Oswalt gets the light because of last year's groin injury, and Clemens and Pettitte aren't getting any younger.

In fact, Andy Pettitte just went on the 15 day DL yesterday, apparently due to a slight elbow injury from a CHECK SWING while batting. That's not easy to do, and I hope he's all right. He said he was fine in the newspaper today, just that the doctors wanted to be sure, but of course he's going to say that...come back soon, Andy. We called up Brandon Backe to take his place - kind of a strange move. I would think we would call up Saarloos or Carlos Hernandez to make Pettitte's start, but instead Jared Fernandez is getting the nod. After a few games, I don't think Eric Bruntlett or Brandon Duckworth should be on the club right now - Bruntlett is another Vizcaino, and Duckworth doesn't look good and his numbers look worse.

We could call up Hernandez / Saarloos (probably Hernandez...we could use a lefty) and anyone that can play 2B / SS other than Bruntlett (Matranga, Chris Burke, Brooks Conrad). That's what I'd do.

Little Andy Wade is at the Astros - Brewers game today, which starts at 1:05. He's already declared he'll have a big write-up, so get ready for that later today.

Oh, and sorry for the delay the last few days - I was playing in a tennis tournament, and I got to the semifinals, where I lost to the 1 seed (and last year's champion) 6-4, 6-3. Damn.

Saturday, April 10, 2004

A terrible day for Houston fans.

We lost 6-1 to the Brewers. More importantly, though, the team placed Pettitte on the 15-day DL retroactive to Wednesday. Apparently he strained his elbow on a check swing during BP. Things don't look too serious, but this injury might have some lingering effects. He'll likely only miss 2 starts, meaning Hernandez, Fernandez, Saarloos or Buchholz will start in his stead.

In this afternoon's game, Ben Sheets did all the talking, striking out 10 in six incredible innings. Palmeiro, Lamb and Viz all started, going a combined 1-11.

Redding's first start was reminiscent of his 2003 campaign: decent, unspectacular, helpless. Redding escaped jams in nearly every inning, allowing 5 hits, 3 walks and 3 runs in 5 innings.

Ricky Stone was not good. The Brewers nibbled at him for 3 more runs in the sixth on a string of singles. Duckworth looked a little better than last night, pitching a perfect eighth inning.

As bad as the Houston pitchers were, our batters were worse. Brad Ausmus had the only decent day, which just about says it all. He had 3 hits, including a triple (!) in the eighth, later scoring on Ensberg's pinch hit sac fly. Bagwell had a pair of hits, Lamb singled, and that was all. Palmeiro, Vizcaino, Kent, Berkman and Hidalgo all put up oh-fers on the day.

Berkman's fourth inning at-bat epitomized Sheets' dominace. Lance worked the count full, then fouled off about 6 tough pitches from Sheets. Sheets never backed down, blowing Berkman away with a 97 mph fastball right down the middle on the 13th pitch of the at-bat. Lance watched the perfect pitch, and walked immediately back to the dugout. It was a bad day for Astros hitters.

Here's hoping Jimy's "experiment" with getting his bench involved doesn't last. I don't think Biggio, Everett or Ensberg are in any way tired or hurt, so there's no reason why they shouldn't be playing. And the 1-2 punch of Palmeiro and Vizcaino is... not good. Ensberg has not started 2 of the Astros' first 5 games, which is slightly alarming.

Thursday, April 08, 2004

I picked up a copy of Baseball Prospectus 2004 the other day, and it's pretty darn good. A little less creative than it's been in past years, and the article on the Astros is a little dry (they basically slam our farm system and our signings of Viz / Ausmus....well, thanks), but it's still the most entertaining baseball analysis book there is. And I love baseball books, after all.

Speaking of baseball books, there's a new one coming out soon (April 27, to be exact): The Bad Guys Won, by Jeff Pearlman. It's a biography of the '86 Mets, who beat the Astros in an unbelievable playoff series. The book spends a lot of time on the '86 Astros, too, especially Mike Scott, who was the Series MVP (on the losing team!). There are tons of interviews, stats, trivia...don't take my word for it. Check it out.

Wednesday, April 07, 2004

ASTROS WIN, 10-1!! The first win of the year is always exciting, and we earned this one, with power hitting and awesome starting pitching.

The Good

Roger Clemens dominated. 7 IP, 1 H (a single by Ray Durham), 3 BB (1 intentional to Bonds), and 9 (!!)K's in an efficient 95 pitch performance. And he looked great, too, throwing an easy 94/95, with a nasty slider, and an absolute fearlessness to pitch inside. He's the greatest pitcher in the post-WWII era, and he showed why tonight.

Our Top 4 in the batting order (Biggio, Everett, Bagwell, Kent) went a combined 8-for-13 with 2 HR, 3 doubles, 3 walks , 8 RBI, and 7 runs scored. I like Biggio's new stance - without the high leg kick, it's a quieter stance, there's less going on, and allows him to make adjustments slightly easier. I think he should have a pretty solid year - maybe .270 / .375 / .425, for a solid 800 OPS.

Ricky Stone looked great, easily getting 3 straight batters in the 9th. A front 4 of Dotel / Lidge / Miceli / Stone is pretty darn effective, ESPECIALLY against righties.

Jason Lane got his first AB and flew out to the LF warning track. He didn't even hit it that well and almost took it out. He showed good patience, too, not chasing a few close pitches. He's ready.

Orlando Palmeiro had a great swing on a PH double. He's like Jose Vizcaino but a whole lot better, and his defense and throwing arm (Andy will remember seeing him make an INCREDIBLE catch in the ivy at Wrigley Field last year) are excellent. I think he's a pretty good addition, as long as Lane is the 1st PH option.

The Bad

Brad Ausmus looked lost. He swung as hard as he could at a fastball down the middle...and hit a weak grounder to 3rd. He also routinely whiffs on fastballs right down the middle of the plate, really cannot pull the ball, and doesn't run well. There's a reason he put up a 594 OPS in 450 ABs last year - he's not any good.

Lance Berkman is struggling. His timing is definitely off, although he still has a great eye. He's 0-for-9 on the year with 3 walks, and I still don't think I've seen him get a ball out of the infield. Pick it up, Lance.

Eric Bruntlett got a PH AB with the bases loaded and 2 outs and managed a first-pitch weak pop to 2B. And it looked as bad as it sounds.

We go to Milwaukee on Friday, where the matchups are:

Wade Miller (who is unstoppable at Miller Park) vs. Wes Obermueller
Tim Redding vs. Ben Sheets
Roy Oswalt vs. Doug Davis.

Let's get those first place Brewers.

Tuesday, April 06, 2004

The Astros lost Game #2 to the Giants, 7-5.

The Good News

We had 15 hits (all singles), and could have had a few more - we hit some line drives right at guys.
Dan Miceli looked great, getting two grounders back to the mound and two pop outs.
Brad Lidge looked almost untouchable again.

The Bad News

The Astros should have been charged with at least 6 errors. Jeff Kent made 3 by himself, overthrowing Pettitte at 1st base and bobbling two manageable ground balls. Adam Everett tripped and missed an easy pop fly. Mike Lamb threw a ball away. Lance Berkman got turned around and missed a catchable fly ball.

Andy Pettitte looked mediocre. He gave up some cheap hits and walked a few guys, but could have easily escaped trouble, except for that one Giants hitter that always gives you trouble. You guessed it - Frank Stallone. I mean, Neifi Perez. He ripped us up with 3 hits and 4 RBI's. That's painful.

Jimy Williams again did almost everything in his power to give the game away. First he starts Mike Lamb, an absolutely inferior player to Morgan Ensberg. This terrifies me - Brett Tomko, the Giants starting pitcher, is the definition of an average right-handed starter...and Ensberg didn't start.

Jimy then made a number of questionable pinch-hitting moves:

Bases loaded, 2 outs, down 4-3, Andy Pettitte up. He elects not to pinch hit. Pettitte strikes out on 3 pithces.

2 on, 2 out, down 6-3. He pitch hits with Jose Vizcaino. He grounds out to 2B.

Jimy doesn't pinch hit for Brad Ausmus OR Adam Everett in the 9th inning, so Jason Lane and Morgan Ensberg both end the game on the bench.

Lance Berkman had 3 walks (awesome) but showed little power - he seems late on everything and hit a couple of weak ground balls to 1B.

Brandon Duckworth looked pretty bad - he let the first 4 batters he faced reach base, although he then K'd two straight and retired Bonds on a fly. But his velocity was down (nothing above 90), he had trouble throwing his breaking pitches for strikes, and...he just didn't look great. I don't think he'll have a good year.

It was a really frustrating game again. I can handle losing - you've got to, if you're a baseball fan. But again I feel like we could have won this game with the right lineup and the right moves (and better defense.) The main things that bug me are the defense and Lamb starting. We got some hits, and our pitching wasn't terrible, but we are not a good defensive team, and Morgan Ensberg >>>>> Mike Lamb.

That's all for tonight. Better luck tomorrow: Roger Clemens vs. Jerome Williams.
We're down 4-3, bottom of the 5th, bases loaded, 2 outs. And we let ANDY PETTITTE BAT FOR HIMSELF??

Damn you, Jimy.
Ensberg is not starting at third base.

Mike Lamb is starting at third base.

Jimy Williams is on my kill list.
Thanks to Astro in Exile, I found this article about the Astros over at The Hardball Times. It's a good site they have going there - it's basically a bunch of really good baseball bloggers who decided to join forces and write really great articles together. So I'll be stopping by there a lot, and - what the heck - I'll link 'em at the bottom of the page.

The article is excellent - essentially optimisitc, although it recognizes the team's weaknesses. I didn't realize how poorly Pecota has Biggio projected compared to Jason Lane.

I also agree with moving Hidalgo back to CF. For whatever reason, if you look at pictures from his monster 2000 year, he looked quicker, more agile, and had a quicker bat. He's certainly a better CF than Biggio, and while I understand the reasoning behind putting the guy with the best arm in RF to gun down guys advancing from 1st to 3rd on singles, that pales in comparison with the extra ground Hidalgo can cover out there. This might seem strange, since Biggio might be faster than Hidalgo, but Hidalgo reads balls better, gets better jumps, and seems way more comfortable out there. Of course, we won't change anything.

The author also likes our pitching staff, especially Pettitte with Everett vacuuming up tons of ground balls, rips on Ausmus, and loves the Wagner trade. I agree completely. He ends up being very optimistic with the Astros (95 wins seems a little high to me...I'd guess 90/91) and predicting we make it to the World Series, which I love. Anyway, read the article, it's a good one.

I'm really excited about seeing Andy Pettitte pitch tonight. We signed him for 3 years, so we better get used to him. I think he'll be fine, but I'll breathe easier when he has a good first outing. If I remember correctly, we hit Tomko pretty hard last year when he was with the Cardinals, so hopefully we can get to him. I'd like to see a big game from Berkman, who gets his first ABs as a lefty. I also want to see a little more of how the bullpen might work and if Jimy will let Jason Lane get an at-bat. Finally, I just want to beat the damn Giants - they always seem to be a tough matchup for us, and we need a win. Let's get one.

I hate Everett in the 2-spot as well. His OBP (last year's .320) just doesn't cut it for a top-of-the-order hitter. And just because he's effective at creating productive outs, they are still outs. Which means there's one less chance of getting a runner home.

Yes, he is speedy, but Jimy doesn't seem to use that effectively. Everett stole 8 of 9 bases last year and is 12 for 13 for his career. Not bad. But until he learns to be a bit more selective (40 career walks in 520 career plate appearances), he won't be effective as the 2-hitter.

And yes, Hidalgo will repeat as the Astros' offensive player of the year, although Berkman will give him some competition. As Jack mentioned, Doggy is looking healthy and speedy (!!). But what excites me the most is that he's not hitting ahead of Ausmus this year. That's huge. He should get plenty of RBI opportunities hitting behind Bags, Kent and Berkman, and pitchers are gonna have to pitch to him now that Ensberg is in the on deck circle. I'm even going to say Hidalgo will end up in the top 5 for the MVP ballot.

--Andy

Monday, April 05, 2004

Andy, you're right...Oswalt shouldn't have been pulled after he gave up the single to Tucker.

HE SHOULD'VE BEEN PULLED AFTER HE GAVE UP THE SINGLE TO DURHAM.

We've got a 3 run lead and one of the best 1-2 combos at the end of the game. You know Bonds is coming up and you need to prevent him from being able to win it. You bring in Lidge and hope you prevent any more hits before Bonds gets up. That way, if he goes yard, it's still a 4-3 game.

As many of you know, I despise Jimy. I didn't much care for his quick hook at times last year. And while I applaud him for showing some faith in his young starter, he's gotta know when's the right time to pull him. Oswalt had been giving up a few more hits in the later innings...not making great pitches w/ 0-2 counts specifically to a few hitters. Take him out, say thanks for a great game so far, and let your bullpen guys take care of business.

In my eye, Jimy will never please me.
Can't Jimy catch a break? Last year, he pulled his starters early and caught a TON of flak for being a quick hook. Now, he shows he has matured as a manager by adjusting his strategy, and we hate him again?

No, Jimy made the right choice by leaving Oswalt in.

1) Oswalt is the Astros' best pitcher. We don't have a lefty in the pen, and even if we did, Bonds obviously doesn't have a significant weakness there.

2) The two singles came on hard-fought at-bats, and were more a testament to good hitting than poor pitching. Tucker worked the count full and then connected with a high fastball to get on base.

3) Oswalt had only thrown 97 pitches or so, and his velocity was still up around 95 mph.

Besides that, I think Jimy made a statement by leaving Roy in. He already gave him Opening Day over Rocket and Pettitte, and wanted to show his faith in our young gun.

I hope Jimy doesn't go back to his old ways now. It was the smart choice to leave our best pitcher in to clean up for his own mistakes. I just wonder what Jimy said to Roy on the mound...
ARRRRGH.

Tough loss for the Astros; we were up 4-1 going into the 8th, Oswalt gives up a single to Ray Durham, strikes out JT Snow, and a single to Michael Tucker. Oswalt has thrown 97 pitches, and Barry Bonds is coming up. He's 2-for-2 with 2 doubles and a walk. What do you do?

Jimy Williams came out, talked to Oswalt, and left him in. He immediately gave up a 3 run HR, tying the game, and the Giants went on to win when Octavio Dotel hit a batter, who was bunted over to 2nd, threw a wild pitch (he couldn't throw any breaking pitches for strikes and didn't look good), and a sac fly drove him home.

I pull Oswalt there. He's thrown 97 pitches, he just gave up solid line drive hits to Durham and Tucker, and Bonds has ripped him twice. You've got Lidge and Dotel ready to go - what are you waiting for?

In Jimy's defense, I think he caught a lot of flak for pulling his starters too early last year, which I don't necessarily agree with - I thought he did a pretty good job handling the staff last year. But there's no doubt that most people thought he was too gentle. So I think he feels obligated to prove that he'll stick with his starters. But I think he made the wrong choice this time.

Random observations from Opening Day:

1. I really, really don't like Adam Everett in the 2 spot. In the 1st inning, Craig Biggio (who looked pretty good - he's gotten rid of the high leg kick and had 2 singles and a walk) singles, and Everett immediately sac bunts him over. I can see this happening time after time this year, and I'm going to hate it every time. You do not waste outs. You get 27 of them per game, and you have to score as many runs as you can in between 3-out allotments. YOU DO NOT WASTE OUTS. Sigh...

2. Richard Hidalgo is going to have a big year. He was 3-4 with a HR, but more than that, he: 1) legged out an infield single - he really moved fast down the line. It's good to see he's still got some speed. and 2) His HR was to opposite field. A few years ago Hidalgo tried to pull everything. No longer.

3. Ausmus looks better at the plate than last year. Of course, it wouldn't take much, and he still doesn't pull anything, but he showed good patience and a decent line drive swing. He could go .250 / .320 / .350, which would be almost a 100 point increase in OPS.

4. Oswalt looked pretty good. He works fast, switches between 95 and 70, has added a changeup, and pitches inside. I like him.

5. With 2 outs, tie game, Jimy pinch hits with....Jose Vizcaino?? Give Jason Lane a shot!

That's it for now. Andy's gonna argue with me, I think.
Opening Day, baby. Opening Damn Day.

Roy Oswalt vs. Kirk Rueter, 6:05 pm.

Roy O has looked great all spring, and he's said all the right things about his groin feeling great. (In case you were weirded out by that last sentence, he had a groin injury last year.) But I still haven't seen him pitch, and he still has the high leg kick, so I'll reserve judgment 'til after tonight's game.

Rueter is a soft-tossing lefty who should get his brains bashed in tonight. Here's our lineup and their respective OPS last year against righties, then lefties:

Biggio 759 / 775
Everett 648 / 912
Bagwell 870 / 1020
Kent 829 / 989
Berkman 950 / 847
Hidalgo 951 / 985
Ensberg 867 / 1020
Ausmus 560 / 751


...Tremble in fear, left-handed pitchers. Seriously. Look at that. The lowest OPS on the team among starting position players is Ausmus at 751. Then Biggio at 775. Then Berkman at 847. Then 5 (5!!!!) guys with OPS of 912 or better against lefties (Everett was probably a little lucky, but the other 4 NO). Too bad both the Cubs and the Cardinals have no lefties, 'cause we are built to destroy them.

Long story short, we should rip up on Rueter tonight. I mean, obviously, it's just one game, and anything can happen....but look at that lineup again. We're gonna bring the pain.

Oh, and Barry Bonds needs 2 HR's to catch Willie Mays, and he gets 3 games at The Juice Box to go for it. I hope we go after him - I remember when he was chasing 70 and Dierker made us intentionally walk him tons of times and Kent would always rip us up after that...I hate that. Go after Bonds.

I'll be watching the Astros game tonight, so someone else watch the NCAA Championship Game and tell me about it tomorrow. Thanks.

Sunday, April 04, 2004

All right, I'm back. And I've gotten a bunch of complaints that I didn't write enough about my Euro-trip. Well, fine. Be careful what you wish for. 'Cause here comes...

THE BEST OF JACK'S TRIP

Best Big Cities

Rome. Just wander around. The whole city is a museum.
Paris. Crepes and accordion players.
Prague. Smaller, cheaper, good beer.
Athens. Home cooking! And great sights / walks (better with your own tour guide.)
Amsterdam. Freeeeeedom. Coffeeshops. Friendly women.
Berlin. Spriechen sie Kebab? Good beer, HUGE city.

Best Small(er) Cities

Cesky Krumlov. Ping pong, small, intellectual, awesome.
Nice. Beaches. Great weather.
Eze-sur-Mer. 45-minute hike to a tiny town that time forgot.
Zaanse Schaans. Cheesemaker with free samples. 'Nuff said.

Best Advice

1. Bring a lot of underwear and socks. The other clothes don't really matter.
2. Public parks are incredible, and the best. They're fun to walk around in, beautiful, and they have public restrooms. And dogs.
3. Youth hostels are great. If you're young and not obsessed with cleanliness, anyway. And they are a great way to meet people. Sometimes you meet TOO many people, though.
4. Travel by train, preferably during the day. It's quick, cheap, and the scenery is amazing.
5. Used bookstores rule. You can buy a few cheap ones, read them, and trade them in for 'new' used books at the next city.

Anyway, it was an awesome trip. I can't tell you guys EVERYTHING - gotta keep a little bit for myself.

Astros Finalize 25-man roster

Holy crap! The Astros did what I said they should do, optioning Brandon Backe (who had a good spring, and should be back) and Mike Gallo (who had a crappy spring) to AAA, and making Eric Bruntlett a last backup infielder. So here's our team

C Brad Ausmus, Raul Chavez
1B Jeff Bagwell
2B Jeff Kent
SS Adam Everett
3B Morgan Ensberg
IF Jose Vizcaino, Mike Lamb, Eric Bruntlett
LF Lance Berkman
CF Craig Biggio
RF Richard Hidalgo
OF Jason Lane, Orlando Palmeiro

SP Roy Oswalt, Andy Pettitte, Roger Clemens, Wade Miller, Tim Redding
RP Octavio Dotel, Brad Lidge, Dan Miceli, Ricky Stone, Brandon Duckworth, Jared Fernandez

I like it. Let's rumble.


Tomorrow: San Francisco Giants matchup.

Thursday, April 01, 2004

It's always tough to get a lot in a trade involving a guy that everyone knows is eventually going to be traded. But, much like the Mike Lamb move, I think Gerry Hunsicker did pretty decently again this time. The Astros traded Jeriome Robertson to the Indians for two minor-leaguers: Luke Scott (stats) and Willy Taveras (stats). Here's the Yahoo story.

Listen to what the Indians did with Luke Scott: teach him patience. Thanks, Cleveland! By the way, that's a damn good idea. I hope the Astros are preaching plate discipline in the minors too.

Luke Scott was pretty tough in college, but then again, so is everyone. He had Tommy John surgery in 2001, so he might still be working his way back from that. He's definitely got some power and a little bit of patience. With all that said, he's not really a great prospect, but maybe he will be eventually. We certainly need all the OF prospects we can get.

Taveras is actually a pretty good OBP guy, although he has NO power. He's fast, too, so he is probably a fairly good defensive CF. But, like Scott, he's not really that much of a prospect.

Still, we really had to trade Robertson, and even two pretty average OF prospects isn't bad. Of course I wish we could have gotten Ryan Ludwick or Coco Crisp or Alex Escobar, but this is better than nothing. And way to go, Astros, for making Tim Redding the 5th starter, instead of rooke-15-game-winner Jeriome Robertson.

The next possible move probably involves Kirk Saarloos - there have been rumors that stat-heavy teams like the Blue Jays and Red Sox are interested.

I'm kind of sick today, but at least I didn't feel bad until my last full day in Europe. See you all soon.