Monday, June 27, 2005

Little to no Astros news of late. Oswalt / Pettitte / Clemens continues to be a hell of a 1-2-3 punch:

Oswalt - 113.1 IP, 2.70 ERA
Pettitte - 99 IP, 3.25 ERA
Clemens - 101 IP, 1.51 ERA (!!!!!!!)

I don't think Clemens can allow a .182 batting average all year, but that's pretty damn impressive at the top of the rotation.

but we're still dead last in MLB in runs (we have 278...the next lowest team, the Washington Nationals, have 310, a difference of 32 runs), and we're hitting .243 / .310 / .383 as a team. Yep, that's a 693 OPS.

I still have a suspicion that the Astros are shopping Chris Burke for a left fielder (how great would Adam Dunn look in an Astros uniform?) or I suppose a first baseman if Lance doesn't mind moving back to LF (Ryan Howard of the Phillies is available and is crushing AAA) or even a 5th starter. Even if Burke put up close to the numbers he put up last year in AAA (.315 / .396 / .503), he's not a great offensive or defensive left fielder, he certainly hasn't looked great in the majors so far, and Biggio's going to go for 3,000 hits here in Houston at 2B.

If we do become sellers at the trade deadline, who should we look to trade?

I just don't see us trading Clemens. He's making too much money, and I think the Yankees are going to look everywhere. I still think trading Andy Pettitte, who is off to a great start this year but is due 17.5 million next year and still has an occasionally wonky elbow, is a better bet. Pettitte to the Orioles for Daniel Cabrera and Jorge Julio? Mike Lamb could also make good trade bait; other than that, I just don't know.

Hey, just found this Ken Rosenthal column with this:

"The Astros rejected the Mariners' offer of OF Randy Winn for RHP Brandon Backe. Winn, a switch hitter, doesn't offer enough power to be effective in a platoon with Chris Burke, a righthanded hitter. If the Mets' Mike Cameron remains unavailable, the Astros could zero in on the Tigers' Rondell White or Craig Monroe, both of whom are righthanded hitters. Backe probably would be available only in a larger deal. . . ."

Wow. That's pretty interesting. I still like Randy Winn a lot, but he really isn't hitting for power, even away from Safeco (.290 / .351 / .382 with 9 extra base hits in 131 AB in away games), and if we'd just be using him in a platoon with Chris Burke, I wouldn't give up Backe for him either. Backe still has a somewhat encouraging strikeout rate (61 on 95.0 innings this year; I actually thought it was better than that) and he is just 27 and he's only been pitching for a few years; I'd be inclined to keep him unless we get a solid player in exchange.

The bit about Mike Cameron remaining unavailable makes me think we're not sold on Taveras yet, which is good, because while I have admitted he's not doing that bad for a 23 year old who skipped AAA, he's still not walking (12 in 262 AB) or hitting for power (12 extra base hits in 262 AB). Cameron has been excellent since coming off the DL (.295 / .399 / .534 in 146 AB, including a ridiculous 1109 OPS away from Shea Stadium) - while he can't keep that up, he'd be a huge upgrade in CF.

So, Rondell White or Craig Monroe? Well, off the top of my head, I'd stay way the hell away from White. He's an injury prone 33 year old LF, and he's not all that great when he's healthy (795 OPS in '03, 790 OPS in '04, 796 OPS so far in '05). Monroe, on the other hand, is 28, has played some CF, has showed good power (.488 slugging last year) and an improved walk rate this year (23 BB in 248 AB. Hey, it's progress.) He's also much cheaper. He's not an All-Star, but he could be a decent fit. At the very least, please don't trade for Rondell White.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Win #334 for Clemens tonight, backed by a 3-run Ensberg HR (who now has 17!) and some assorted hits and errors by the Rockies. Always nice to get a sweep.

Have I mentioned how amazing is? I just finished reading "The Numbers Game" by Alan Schwarz, which goes into great detail about how difficult it has been to determine exact statistics for the early years of baseball, and how record-keeping didn't really become an exact science until recently (imagine playing fantasy baseball without constant stat updates. The creator of fantasy, or rotisserie, baseball, Daniel Okrent is featured in the book, and he has one thing to say to fantasy baseball fans: Shut up.) Anyway, what I'm trying to say is it has been a hell of a job collecting all the baseball statistics since the the turn of the century (and before), but has them all in easy to understand pages. It's still the best way to kill time that I know of. It's pretty fun to just jump from one link to another: Barry Bonds - most similar hitter: Ted Williams - teammate: Johnny Pesky - etc., etc. Really, check it out.

I'll be driving from Chicago to Flagstaff later this week. I don't think I'll make it to Omaha for the College World Series - we have to stop off in Calgary instead. Damn. I will, however, make it out to Vegas for the World Series of Poker. One of my brother's friends (who is close to selling his website,, for a boatload of money) is playing in the main event, and he's offered to let us stay in his hotel room. Count me in.

Monday, June 20, 2005

Thanks to dominant starting pitching by Clemens and Oswalt (Roy O had a 16 inning scoreless streak snapped by a Terrence Long RBI single in the 8th), the Astros took the first 2 games of their series against the Royals, only to be dominated by Runelvys Hernandez in the 3rd. The Rockies are next.

My brother is finally through with all his graduation ceremonies, he's got his diploma, so we'll be heading out of Evanston in a little while. At my grandmother's memorial service yesterday I met a man named Gregg Howard who is good friends with Jerome Holtzmann, a long-time baseball writer and statistician who lives in Evanston! He's going to put me in touch with him sometime in the next few days; maybe I can pick his brain for a little while.

'Interesting' stat of the day:

Brandon Backe, home, 2005: 36.2 IP, 2.95 ERA, 12 / 28 BB / K

Brandon Backe, away, 2005: 52.1 IP, 6.54 ERA, 24 / 26 BB / K.

I guess he really likes fan support.

BProspectus has a short note on the Astros recent moves in their "Transaction Analysis" column from a day or two ago. They say it looks like we're making some good 'small' moves, from releasing Raul Chavez (who has since returned, due to Quintero's appendectomy) to calling up Chris Burke and handing him a starting job. Unfortunately, they maintain it is absolutely the WRONG starting job, as Craig Biggio has been terrible defensively at 2nd base and has seen his hot start in April and May drop to his current .264 / .322 / .450 line, good for a 772 OPS, although that is still ahead of all his teammates except Ensberg (908) and Lane (777).

There is also a report on Ken Rosenthal's Inside Dish column that Biggio fully intends to go for 3,000 hits:

"Two, I owe it to the people in Houston and the community. They're on board. They're always saying, 'Keep going. Keep going." - Biggio

First of all, Biggio is still a productive player, should be a Hall-of-Famer, and has every right to try (and I believe that he will get to) 3,000 hits. But should it be with the Astros? He is no longer an asset defensively at any position - one way or another, he'll block Chris Burke, Jason Lane, Lance Berkman, Todd Self, or Mike Lamb. I'm not sure what the Astros should do. It's an unfortunate situation - do you hold on to past glory, and play Biggio until he gets to 3,000 hits (probably early in the 2007 season), or start the rebuilding right away? I honestly don't think a middle-ground approach will work. We need to go one way or another.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Whoa, the Pistons won a game...maybe it'll be a decent series after all. We played darts at a local bar while we watched the game, and I found out that I kind of suck at darts. Actually, I do well in team play, but individually, nope. I did nail a double bullseye when we had to have it, though. That was big.

The mighty Bruce Chen (actually, he has been pretty good this year) shut down the Astros bats yesterday, and we lost 6-1, giving Andy Pettitte another loss-in-which-he-actually-pitched-well. Jason Lane had a double and a single and we drew 6 walks, but couldn't get much going. Top prospect Chris Burke went 0-for-4 and is now at .179 / .216 / .253 in 95 at-bats. He's gotta be feeling some pressure. Other options aren't really that attractive, though (Berkman to LF / Lamb to 1B?), so he should get time to snap out of it.

We're doing a full tune-up on Andy's Frisbee Van today. It's got over 180K miles and has been through hell (West Texas) and back numerous times. I'm telling Andy to not spend more on fixing the van than the van itself is worth (maybe 2,000? maybe not), and he damn well better listen to me. But he does love this van.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

7 games of Beer Pong last night are taking their toll, but I've just got one word: undefeated. Go Team Go.

Ensberg and Lane continue to carry the offense, with 2 run HR's each, but it wasn't enough - Backe had a rough 2nd inning, giving up 6 runs, and we lose 8-5. Chris Burke went 0-for-5 in the #2 spot and is now batting a mighty .187. I was as vocal as anybody about giving him steady playing time this year, but...that's rough.

Andy and I are driving from Chicago to Flagstaff sometime next week, and we're trying to figure out which route to take. It doesn't have to be a direct one. Any recommendations?

It is goddamn hot in Chicago. Like 90 degrees hot. That used to be a nice day in Houston for me, but now it's just hot. Times change.

Jason Lane in June: .364 / .382 / .909, with 4 doubles, 1 triple, and 4 home runs in 33 AB's. Sweet.

Monday, June 13, 2005

I'm in the Chicago area for the next two weeks for my younger brother's graduation. My whole family went to the Cubs / Red Sox game last night (Tim Wakefield vs. Glendon Rusch), which the Red Sox won easily thanks to the offensive force that is Kevin Youkilis. You might have heard of him as The Greek God of Walks, which he is called in "Moneyball" because of his extremely high OBP's in the minor leagues. Oh, and he was my brother's "player of the game" - we each pick a guy (usually an unknown - it's more interesting that way) that we think is going to have a good game. He picked Youkilis, who was 3-for-5 with a single, double, and HR - I picked Jason DuBois, who was 0-for-4 with an error. Yikes.

Roy Oswalt dominated the Blue Jays last night, allowing 2 hits and 0 walks in 9 shutout innings. I believe that lowered his season ERA to 2.85, which is damn, damn good. Jason Lane continued his recent extra-base-hit barrage with another HR, and Willy Taveras (who has raised his average 50 points in his last 10 games or so) was 3-for-4. I think I already said this, but I I've been a little harsh on Taveras - compared to a guy like Chris Burke, who is 25 and has already had a huge year in AAA, doing what Taveras is doing (hitting .297 / .336 / .392 with 17 SB / 3 CS)at the age of 23 while skipping AAA entirely is impressive.

Well, we're off to breakfast with the folks. The 'Stros start a 3-game set against the Orioles today - we'll see if we can keep that offense in check.

Friday, June 10, 2005

After taking 2 out of 3 from the Mets in NY (a road series win??), it is clear what the Astros need to do:


The former Baseball Prospectus cover boy has had a rough few years, and was released a few days ago by the Devil Rays (from great prospect to being released by the D-Rays....ouch). However, he was hitting .266 / .328 / .424, which isn't all that bad, and he has a career 857 OPS against lefties. My preference would be to move Berkman back to LF (his natural position), and platoon Todd Self and Phelps at 1B (their natural positions). This makes Chris Burke a backup again, but I'm sure Garner can give Berkman, Lane, Biggio, and our 1B platoon the occasional day off to play Burke. Heck, I wouldn't mind seeing a Burke / Lane / Berkman OF, though it would be rough defensively. It's looking more and more to me that Taveras is overmatched my major-league pitching.

Anyway, Phelps is only 27, he's cheap, and he can rake against lefties. What's not to like?

Sunday, June 05, 2005

The Astros lost yesterday's game 11-9, battling back after a 9-1 deficit through 3 innings. Rookie starter Wandy Rodriguez gave up all 9 of those earned runs. He seems to have the same problem as Ezequiel Astacio - good control, good strikeout potential...very, very hittable. They're both young, though. It was good to see our offense get going - Morgan Ensberg had a solo HR, Lance Berkman had a 2-run HR, Chris Burke had 2 doubles, etc.

Things looked bleak for the Astros about 15 minutes into the game today - Roger Clemens gave up 3 runs in the 1st, and we've scored a total of 18 runs in his 11 starts. But a 5-run 1st, highlighted by back-to-back HR's by Ensberg / Lane, gave us a lead we wouldn't relinquish. Willy Taveras left the game with an apparent hamstring injury, making an interesting question out of "Who's our CF tomorrow?" Palmeiro? Lane? Self? We'll see.

Friday, June 03, 2005

St. Louis 2, Houston 0 (Shutout #10)

Game Notes

- Willy Taveras missed a squeeze bunt with runners on the corners and 1 out, leaving Adam Everett (who went 3-for-3) stranded between 3rd and home. He pulled the bat back to bunt the ball, but then inexplicably decided not to bunt the ball. After a solid start to the season, Taveras has dropped down to a 640 OPS, and in my opinion would be best utilized as a pinch runner / defensive replacement. Unfortunately, we can't do that, unless we want to put Lane in CF and give up on defense. Look for a lot more Taveras and little offensive improvement.

- Andy Pettitte pitched out of trouble several times, and ended up with a very solid 7 IP / 5 H / 1 ER / 0 BB / 5 K line. He's pitched quite well lately, and he actually might be more attractive trade bait than the 18 million dollar man, Roger Clemens. Pettitte is also not likely to be part of the next contending Astros team, so while it would be nice to have him around, it might be a good idea to see what we could get for him.

- Todd Self went to 3-2 counts in his 3 plate apperances. Although he went 0-for-3, he made Carpenter throw a combined 25 pitches at least in those 3 AB's. Mike Lamb pinch-hit for Self in the 8th and flied to RF on the 1st pitch. If Self can keep battling pitchers like that, he's sure to put up a decent BA and OBP. He looks infinitely more comfortable than Chris Burke, who (to my untrained eye), appears to be flailing at every pitch he swings at. Maybe that's just his style, but it doesn't like an effective one.

- Brad Ausmus lined out hard to Pujols and So Taguchi in RBI situations. As overrated as Ausmus is, he's been swinging the bat better lately, and currently has a .325 OBP, better than Taveras, Everett, Viz, Lamb, and Lane.

- Russ Springer: 1 pitch, 1 450-foot blast to Albert Pujols. A 5-pitch walk to Reggie Sanders. A hard-hit GIDP from Grudzielanek on a 2-0 count. An Abe Nunez flyout. Springer had an 8.62 ERA coming into today's game; how much longer is he going to last?

- Bottom of the 9th inning: Berkman singles, Ensberg K's looking (sometimes, like when you're 3 outs away from a loss and you're down 2 strikes, you NEED to swing at anything close, Morgan), Chris Burke lines to 3B for a double play. It's fitting the game ends like that - we hit a number of balls hard but right at Cardinals.
This morning, I'll be watching the Roger Federer vs. Rafael Nadal match in the French Open semifinals. Should be a good one.

It's Carpenter vs. Pettitte tonight. Quintero's debut will have to wait, since Garner has said he's going to have Quintero catch Rodriguez and Oswalt. I'm really looking forward to seeing Quintero's bat and arm. It might be nice to get an occasional extra-base hit from our catcher. Hopefully Jason Lane gets some playing time, with either Self or Burke in LF.

There have been some Clemens-to-the-Rangers rumors lately. Texas certainly has more prospects to offer than the Yankees if we do decide to trade Clemens. I don't know what else to say about this, except it's just a rumor, so it's not that big a deal yet.

I agree with the comments from my previous post - it seems strange to play your top prospects at positions they're unfamiliar with (Burke in LF, Self in RF). I don't really understand it myself. Packaging Biggio with Clemens to NY makes sense on paper, but I just don't see Biggio getting traded. It would be a good move for us, freeing up space for Burke, Lane, and Self, but I just don't see it happening.

Although I haven't seen Wandy Rodriguez pitch yet, I'm impressed by his 1 / 11 walk-to-strikeout ratio through 2 starts. He's been hittable, but if he keeps that ratio solid, he should be all right. Of course, I said the same thing about Ezequiel Astacio, but it's hard to put up good numbers when you give up 10 HR in 19 IP.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Well, the Grand Canyon is still there, and still pretty grand. I'm back from my first river trip of the season; what did I miss?

Humberto Quintero has been called up to replace Raul Chavez, who is out of options and is likely to be released. Sweet! Quintero was hitting .299 with 7 HR and 28 RBI at Round Rock, he's just 25, and he's slated to keep catching Roy Oswalt and Wandy Rodriguez, who I guess is our 5th starter now? Is Astacio our long reliever out of the bullpen?

Our OF last night was Chris Burke / Willy Taveras / Todd Self. I like the idea of getting our rookies plenty of playing time, but it seems strange to have a 2B as our LF and a 1B as our RF. If we're going to play Berkman, why not let him play RF and Self play 1B. Actually, why not play Jason Lane? Yes, he's going through a slump, but does he really deserve to lose starts to two rookies who aren't OF's to begin with? Lane's still slugging .450, and he had a big pinch-hit 2 run double last night - let the man play.

I read something before I left that I forgot to talk about - Phil Garner says he doesn't want to 'wear the rookies out' too early in the season. Um, Phil...who's more likely to wear down: a 25 year old rookie or a 39 year old second baseman who has seen his offense drop after the All Star Break for 2 straight years? Give Biggio more days off, especially if Chris Burke is now on the team.

Good to see Lance Berkman is starting to get his swing back a little bit. Although he struck out looking with the bases loaded and 0 outs in the 1st inning, he had a walk and a HR in his next 2 AB's, and he was 2-3 with a walk in yesterday's game. Keep it up, Lance.

Well, that's all for now. Comment on stuff that I've missed these past 10 days, so I can catch up.