Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Actual headline on yahoo.com: "Poll finds men want Jessica Alba as girlfriend." Wow. What a shocker!

I played some disc golf (for the first time in a few weeks!!) today with fellow stat guy Dustin and Ultimate Frisbee coach Lawrence. On my first drive I felt a stomach muscle twinge, but I fought through the pain to finish at even par (3 birdies, 3 bogies). Lawrence also shot even par: 18 pars! An incredible round. And Dustin had a nice 1 over round - good considering he has no real backhand.

State of the Union address tonight. Gotta go watch.

Monday, January 30, 2006

Check out Will Carroll's perspective on the Jeff Bagwell situation here. I agree with most of his points.

New Year's Fest (a Phoenix-area ultimate frisbee tournament) was a ton of fun this past weekend. I played with the NAU men's team El Ponderoso, and while our overall record wasn't great (1-5), we played some great teams, had an awesome time, and got to watch the Open Men's final between two really really good club teams. And I bought a used Nalgene water bottle for one dollar. YES.

Friday, January 27, 2006

I don't want to talk about the Bagwell saga today - it's too depressing. In some good news, the Astros signed former top catching prospect J.R. House. He's coming off shoulder surgery, but he tore up the minors in the Pirates organization a few years back, and I'll take any catching prospect I can get. I think he and Quintero should be good to go in '08 when Brad Ausmus is done.

I've been playing a lot of Ultimate Frisbee lately. It took me a while to get into it, but Flagstaff is a great town for it (plenty of space, lots of good athletes, kind of quirky) and I live right by the coaches of the NAU men's and women's teams. We've got our first big tournament this weekend in Phoenix. I also have a full house for the first time in a while - 2 girls moved in during the last few weeks. They seem really cool - Nancy is 31, and has been a kindergarten teacher for the last 4 years; Becky is 23, and works full time at The Dollar Tree while going to school. So far, so good.

Monday, January 23, 2006

More Bagwell news: It looks like the Astros are going to try and collect on their 15.6 million dollar insurance policy on Jeff Bagwell. This could get messy - apparently if Bagwell tries to play at all in spring training, we might not be able to collect. And Jeff has said he wants the opportunity to play. I think this could get pretty ugly, which would be a shame. Unfortunately, I believe the Astros are doing the right thing here - I haven't heard anything about Bagwell being able to throw any better, so I don't see how he can field his position. It's a sad state of affairs, but I hope Jeff realizes his time might be up.

In other baseball news, the Indians reportedly will trade Coco Crisp to the Red Sox are Andy Marte and Guillermo Mota (note: there might be more players involved.) Then they'll turn around and trade Arthur Rhodes to the Phillies for Jason Michaels. I understand these trades for all teams involved, but I love them for the Indians. Crisp is a solid player; only 25, put up an .810 OPS last year, solid defensively - but he's replaceable, and Marte is a top 5 prospect, Mota is a solid set-up guy, and Jason Michaels has a career .380 OBP, and should be an upgrade on Crisp. Boston was pretty desperate for a CF, so they need a guy like Crisp. I've heard they'll also sign Alex Gonzalez to play SS, which I don't like. They should just go with a Cora / Pedroia platoon. I'm kinda surprised the Phillies couldn't get more than Rhodes for Jason Michaels. I wonder if the Red Sox would have just considered trading with the Phillies (Mota for Michaels?) - then they keep Marte.

Good job, Indians. Check out this list of young, cheap, good players: Hafner, Martinez, Peralta, Sizemore, Marte, Cliff Lee, Sabathia, and some good bullpen arms. Now that's a young team to build around.

Friday, January 20, 2006

After agreeing to contracts with Everett, Lidge and Wheeler this week, Ensberg's our only remaining arbiration case. From what I've heard, the numbers aren't too far off: Ensberg wants $4.2 million, $800K more than the Astros' offer.

Ensberg's already 30, but won't be a FA until after the 2008 season. A long-term deal would be nice: avoiding arbitration for the next three years if nothing else. At this point, I think we'd have to give him $18-$20 million for a three-year deal, which is right around what he'd make in arbitration if he keeps hitting well. Hopefully Mo has turned a corner in his career, and we'll be abe to count on a .900 OPS for the next couple years.

The whole arbitration system is really funky. It rewards playing time over good performance, so players who suck but have been in the majors a while will end up getting more money than better players with little experience. This is clearly a benefit to teams that draft well. Oakland's strategy has been to continually bring in younger and cheaper players while letting their more expensive veterans hit paydirt with other teams. If you always have decent replacements waiting in the wings, why risk a blockbuster deal with a guy who might get injured or just start to suck? I bet Beane's kicking himself for the Chavez deal a couple years ago.

The Astros are on the other end of the spectrum. We tend to wait several years to call up good hitters. Ensberg and Lane were both ready for the majors years before they finally got their starting jobs. By the time those players are ready to test free agencym they'll be pretty old. Ensberg will be 33 after 2008, when he'll be a FA. Lane will also be 33 when he's a FA after 2009. If they continue to dominate, they'll cost teams gobs of money for what probably will be the decline of their careers. Problem is, that team could be us. We tend to "stick to our guns" and "reward our veterans" all the time, and I can see us doing this with these players. Of course, if they dominate in those years, I'll be happy. And this so-called "problem" won't really affect us for several years.

Back to the present: I really wonder if the Astros have any more plans in the mix. The FA list is running thin; only a handful of players even perk my interest: Durazo, Ward, Chris Stynes, Jose Hernandez, Wade Miller, Astacio, Fogg, Weaver, Kevin Brown, Ismael Valdez, Halama, Quantrill, Fox, Mecir, Urbina. Hard to believe there are still well over 100 FAs out there, nearly all of whom will sign with teams.

Like many others, I don't like the prospect of having Backe-Wandy-Zeke at the end of our rotation. I can already foresee a bunch of three-game sweeps going the wrong way. Zeke and Wandy have potential, but that doesn't always translate to actual performace, which is all that really matters. Zeke (5.67, 1.54) and Wandy (5.53, 1.46) were far from good last year. They're young (Wandy just celebrated his 27th birthday on Jan. 18; Zeke will turn 27 in November), but in no way are they solid, reliable pitchers yet.

Aside from Boras' Jeff Weaver, the remaining FA starters are either old, injury-prone or just plain bad. Still, there's some talent left in the pool, and we almost need to sign someone. Valdez and Halama are journeymen who can put up mediocre numbers (4.50 to 5.00 ERA, 1.40 to 1.50 WHIP) and eat innings. Kevin Brown's back may be broken, but he'd make a worthwhile risk if the price is right.

On the position player front, I think we're pretty much set. If we enter Spring Training with our current roster, it looks like Scott and Quintero would start the year at Round Rock. Bruntlett, who's not a very good hitter, seems to be a lock for the utility-man role.

Bagwell's shoulder is still a mystery, but there's no way he won't be on our Opening Day roster. If he says he can play first base, how about playing him there only three or four days a week? Give him an entire day off between starts. That way, Taveras still gets plenty of playing time. Or, take Bagwell out of the game at the seventh inning. Get Taveras in there for his defense and you rest Bagwell for a while.

OK, dinner time.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Go read this Baseball Prospectus article now - it's free, and it's about the Astros. They've done some neat things with analyzing not only which baseball parks are good for hitters and which parks are good for pitchers but separating that out into if parks that are good for hitters are especially good for right-handed hitters or lefties and the same for pitchers. They've found (as you would expect) that The Juice Box is incredibly good for righty hitters (check out Ensberg and Biggio's home / away splits sometime) but average for lefty hitters.

This makes the Preston Wilson signing even better, and it makes Jeff Weaver an interesting option - he dominates righties, but struggles against lefties. Read the article for more.
Arbitration Time

The Astros agreed to a bunch of deals with arbitration-eligible players today:

Adam Everett - Astros agreed to terms with shortstop Adam Everett on a one-year, $1.9 million contract.

I don't think much of Adam Everett, but this is a fairly cheap one-year deal, and we have no better options at SS unless we trade for one or we decide Chris Burke can play SS after all.

Brad Lidge - Astros agreed to terms with RHP Brad Lidge on a one-year, $3.975 million contract.

This is a sweet deal. Lidge has been unstoppable the last three years, and while he is an injury risk, his strikeout rate is unstoppable and he's still fairly young.

Dan Wheeler - Astros agreed to terms with RHP Dan Wheeler on a one-year, $930,000 contract. And this is the best contract of all. 930K for a guy that had a 2.21 ERA in 73 innings last year? Damn good!

So all in all, good job, Astros. Now if we can take care of business with Ensberg (a multi-year deal would be sweet), we're looking good.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Astros Notes

1) Well, this is ironic:

"Jeff Bagwell was supposed to have his surgically repaired right shoulder examined by Dr. James Andrews this week, but Andrews suffered a heart attack over the weekend."

There's still plenty of time left before spring training, but at this point it just doesn't seem like we're going to have a healthy Bagwell in '06. No one from the organization is saying positive things, Bagwell has been quiet, we signed a free agent outfielder which would allow Berkman to move to 1B...and when your doctors start having heart attacks, maybe it's just not your year. I'd love to be wrong, but at this point, I don't think Jeff Bagwell will be our starting 1B in 2006.

2) Like Andy, I'm not particularly impressed by Trever Miller either. When one of the best things you can say about a guy is that he's "better than Mike Gallo", look out. I guess Miller isn't terrible (career 4.66 ERA, although he's been better than that the last 3 years - check out his career numbers here). Someone on Astros Daily mentioned: Miller isn't a pure situational lefty, but he's moreso than Gallo... he carries a .724 lefty-on-lefty OPS over the last 3 years, whereas Gallo is at .790. Anyway, here are the contract specifics:

"Trever Miller's $1.3 million option for 2007 will vest if he makes 50 appearances this season
Miller, who is guaranteed $1.3 million in 2006 under the terms of the deal signed yesterday, has made at least 60 appearances each of the last three years, so all he needs to do is stay healthy in order to have the option kick in."

So make that a probable 2 year / 2.6 million dollar deal, which isn't so good. Just to recap, we've now spent 1.7+1.9+2.6+7.5=13.7 million combined on Mike Lamb, Orlando Palmeiro, Brad Ausmus, and Trever Miller, four average-to-below average-players who are all on the wrong side of 30 years old.

Here's what our GM had to say:

"He's a high character type of person, which is obviously something that's very important to us," Astros general manager Tim Purpura said of Miller. "But No. 1 is his ability on the mound. We've been looking for a lefty reliever to come in and help stabilize our bullpen and give us another option in the bullpen on the left side with Mike Gallo. It gives Phil a lot of versatility. I talked to Phil (Sunday) night. He was really pleased to have another lefty on board that can give him the ability to use maybe one lefty earlier in the game and another lefty later in the game. Really, since Phil and I started working together, this has been his goal. His goal is to get two lefties in the bullpen, and I think this accomplishes that. It gives us that versatility."

Ugh. Miller AND Gallo in the same bullpen, when we could have Nieve or Bucholz or some younger guy with potential? I don't care if they're both left-handed; they're both below-average. AND WHY IS CHARACTER SO IMPORTANT TO THE ASTROS?? Expect to see a lot of one-batter-faced outings for Gallo and Miller, a fair amount of which will end up badly for the Astros.

3) We'll end on a happy note:

The National League champion Astros were the team closest to landing Miguel Tejada, FOXSports.com has learned, offering closer Brad Lidge, shortstop Adam Everett and either outfielder Jason Lane or Willy Taveras.

That would have been a great trade, especially if Taveras was the 3rd player. Lidge is a dominant closer, but he is unlikely to stay healthy for much longer, and both Qualls and Wheeler should be able to close. Adam Everett should not be starting in the majors, and Taveras will never have higher trade value. To combine those three into four years of Miguel Tejada, who gives you excellent offense, solid defense, and no injury risk at a premium position, would have been incredible. I'm still hoping we could revisit those trade talks, because Tejada is a stud.

4) One more piece of good news:

The Astros offered a minor-league contract to former Pirates catching prospect J.R. House.

Anytime we try to sign a catching prospect, it's a good thing, but House was an offensive star in the minors (most recently, he put up an 852 OPS in AAA in 2004), and he's still only 26. Check out his career stats in the minors here. He probably wouldn't get much playing time for a few years, but House was one of the Pirates' top prospects, and it appears he's mostly recovered from shoulder surgery. I like this move.

I'm not excited about Trever Miller. Yes, he's a lefty, and yes, he's slightly better than Mike Gallo. But that doesn't make him good. I've heard Purpura bellyachin' about getting a lefty reliever since the week after the World Series, and this is the best he could come up with? Meanwhile, Mike Remlinger and Alan Embree are still available. Plus our short-term financial situation (i.e. signing Rocket in May) is now stretched even thinner. Not an ├╝ber-bad move, but not great.

I am excited about Preston Wilson. Like Richard Justice wrote in his blog, he's a good player. Don't try to analyze where he'll play and who will lose playing time, just take comfort in the fact that he's a good player who will hit lots of home runs and drive in plenty of runs. We needed that.

Of course, it's up to Jack and me to discuss how this might affect the team in terms of playing time and possible trades. Right now, Luke Scott's the odd man out. With Wilson, Taveras, Lane, Berkman and Palmeiro as our outfielders and Bagwell, Biggio, Everett, Ensberg, Ausmus, Lamb, Burke, Chavez and Bruntlett as our infielders, there's just no room for the big lefty. He could use more time as a regular, even if it is in the minors.

Of course, as with everything in 2006, everything rests on Bagwell's shoulder. If he can't play first base, Berkman moves there, leaving Wilson, Taveras and Lane as our outfielders. Easy.

If Bagwell recovers to the point where he can play first base, Berkman moves back to left field. Lane's name should be etched in stone over in right field, which leaves centerfield as something of a quagmire. Wilson's not known as a great defensive centerfielder (and with the crazy nooks and crannnies of The Juicebox, his lack of speed may kill us), but I'll take his offensive skills over Taveras's in a heartbeat. Remember, despite his decent .291 average, Taveras's .666 OPS was worse than Ausmus's .682 and better only than Everett's .654 mark. While Taveras has tremendous base-stealing skills, defensive ability and speed, the flaws in his game — power — make him replaceable. (He still has potential at 24, but I can't see him putting up anything better than a .300 / .350 / .350 line anytime soon.)

Now then, keeping Taveras as a late-inning defensive replacement/pinch-runner would be a great idea. He could pinch-hit when leading off an inning, too. Willy would excel in that role. However, his apparent value might make him attractive to some clubs. I'm sure other teams know his flaws as well as his upsides (including five more years of club control at a cheap cost). Boston, Washington and Pittsburgh all seem like logical trading partners. None has an established centerfielder or leadoff hitter. And all those clubs could provide us with something valuable.

Boston has a plethora of starting pitchers in Schilling, Beckett, Wakefield, Arroyo, Clement and Wells. I've heard Wells and Arroyo among many trade rumors, and I think either would fit well as our 3rd starter. The Sox are still hoping for Seattle's Jeremy Reed, but we ought to offer Taveras for Arroyo, who doesn't come with Wells' hefty contract.

Pittsburgh has Burnitz, Bay, Wilson and Gerut in the outfield, but I don't think Bay is very well-suited to play centerfield, although I could be wrong about this. That kid is really good. Pittsburgh doesn't have a leadoff man (Jack Wilson probably won't cut it), and I've heard they're taking offers for Wilson. I'd trade Taveras for some young pitching talent like Zach Duke or Oliver Perez. Houston native Kip Wells hasn't been good since '03, but you never know.

The Nationals have Guillen, Church and Byrd, but the latter two would be more effective as platoon partners than starters. They may convince Soriano to move to left field, but that probably won't happen. And unless they plan on batting Soriano first, they will need a leadoff man. (Oh wait, they have Christian Guzman… nevermind). I doubt the Nats will be willing to give up a big name like John Patterson, but wouldn't that be something…

The Angels and Diamondbacks could also fit the bill for a Taveras deal, but they're not as likely. The Angels gave away Finley and cut DaVannon, so their only full-time outfielders are Anderson, Guerrero and Rivera. Figgins could start in center for them, and Taveras and Figgins on the same team would be overkill. Arizona signed Eric Byrnes, who's decent. They also have Counsell leading off, but they might want to upgrade. They won't give up their best prospect, Conor Jackson, but Brad Halsey is a low-walk, low-strikeout lefty who put up decent numbers as a 24-year-old. He's from Houston and went to UT, and could compete for a starting job.

Phew. Of all these deals, I'd pursue the Boston trade. It seems like they're striking out with Reed, and they are running out of options. Pretty soon, Taveras will become very attractive to them.

Again, I'm not saying we must trade Taveras. I think given our outfield situation, Taveras is most expendable and has the highest value right now. Of course, we don't really know about Bagwell's shoulder, but if he can play, we'll have a crowded outfield. Even if we trade Taveras and Bagwell gets hurt, a Scott/Burke/Lamb platoon would be productive, much more so than last year. (Keep in mind Scott and Burke can both play center). Yes, Biggio is losing his on-base skills, but I'd be satisfied with him leading off in 2006.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Astros GM Tim Purpura was on the radio today, and while I couldn't listen, a few other people did, and here's what they said that he said:

So far Purp has said..........1) P Wilson can play all OF positions, which is nice.---In fact just a second ago, Purp mentioned that fans were demanding, "when are we going to get a bat? when are we going to get a bat?"2) If Bagwell and Clemens both play, they could be considered our "big free agent acquisitions"3) Purp said that competition is healthy in Spring Training, and that there will be competition for the 5th starter slot, and possibly the 4th. The obvious----that he believes in player development and did not want to go after a Kevin Millwood type.

Is it even possible for a center fielder to be 'unable' to play a corner outfield position? Good news, I guess. Bagwell cannot be considered a 'big free agent acquisition'. There are simply too many question marks. Clemens can, though, and it might work out to our benefit for him to take a month off - he wore down at the end of last year, and this should allow him to stay healthy and it will give our young guys (Zeke, Wandy, Carlos Hernandez) a chance to compete for that #5 spot.

He also said that the future is bright, because a lot of $$$$$$ will be freed next year to put a team together.

That's true - Pettitte, Bagwell, Oswalt, and Biggio come off the books. We're likely (at least I hope so) to re-sign Oswalt, and we'll have some money to go after a starting pitcher / sign Ensberg to a longer deal / etc. WHY did we have to give Ausmus a two-year deal? Argh.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

I'm back from my Texas / Oregon vacation, during which I learned how to ski, got pretty sick, and watched a lot of bowl games. The only real move the Astros made was the Preston Wilson signing. The signing specifics are still kind of confusing, but here's what I understand:

2006 - Preston Wilson makes 4 million.
2007 - The Astros either buy out his contract for 500K or we sign him for '07, '08, and '09 for 24 million dollars total.

It's an interesting deal. You could argue this gives Wilson more incentive to do well this year, since if he dominates we'll have to pay him big bucks for him to stay. However, if he doesn't, it's basically just a 1 year / 4.5 million dollar deal. Compare that to the 1 year / 6.7 million dollar deal Jeromy Burntiz got and I am one happy fan. You can argue that Wilson will have no where to play, but with Bagwell so iffy, the more options you have, the better. Remember our LF platoon of Scott / Burke / Lamb last year? Yuck.

I was looking at Wilson's stats, hoping that he might hit well with runners in scoring position, since he will likely bat after Berkman and Ensberg, our OBP guys. Unfortunately, he doesn't:

Career, bases empty: .269 / .335 / .495
Career, RISP: .250 / .335 / .453

Oh well, it was a nice thought.

We're in a similar situation to where we were last year - it certainly looks like Taveras, Ausmus, and Everett will all start, and combined with the pitcher, that gives us four lineup spots that will likely have an OPS below 700. No matter how good the rest of your lineup is (and ours ain't bad, with Biggio / Berkman / Ensberg / Wilson / Lane), you're going to have a below-average offense with those four spots.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Something to Talk About

Hey, we made a move! The Astros signed Preston Wilson to a 1 year / 4 million dollar deal today, with a CLUB option for a 3 year deal after this year. That's a weird option; I can't see us picking up a 3-year option unless Wilson goes insane.

I'm actually all right with this move. First of all, let's take a look at Wilson's numbers:

Career line - .264 / .333 / .478

Last year - .260 / .325 / .467 (half in Colorado, half in Washington, and he somehow managed to put up near-identical lines)

So basically he's a low-average, low-OBP, high-SLG guy. He'll be 31 years old, so he's not getting any better, but he shouldn't collapse either. Wilson has played most of his career in CF, but he had a knee injury last year, and most sources suggest that he will not be playing CF again anytime soon. He has 67 AB's at Minute Maid Park, and his numbers are pretty sweet: 940 OPS, 9 extra base hits, 7 walks (very small sample size, though).

It's a little misleading to judge Wilson by OPS alone: unfortunately, it overvalues him, because Wilson's OPS is more SLG-heavy than OBP-heavy, and OBP is more important.

It's probably best to compare this signing to similar deals given to comparable players this offseason:

Reggie Sanders - 2 years / 10 million
Jacque Jones - 3 / 16
Jeromy Burnitz - around 1 year / 6
Rondell White - 2 / 8.5

Wilson is younger than Sanders and Burnitz, healthier than White, and...well, I would have rather had Jones, but ours is only a 1-year deal.

I'm going to wait a day or two to put up some more analysis, but for now, I like it. It's hard to analyze this move until we see if it brings about another move (trade Taveras? Lane?) or if it means Bagwell is done. But for now, good job, Purpura.

I can't help but be amused by this quote:

In the press conference Purpura said that Preston Wilson called him and said he wanted to play for Houston. This is a good sign.

and this guy's response:

What this tells me is our GM is waiting for players to call him while he sits around eating donuts.