Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Cinco de Roy O!

After slaughtering the Brewers 10-3 last night, my dad gave me a call and said that Jason Lane had hit a pinch-hit grand slam and that the Astros had scheduled a press conference after the game. I didn't really know what we'd announce - had we traded for someone? Then I remembered reading on Astros Daily (the best Astros site there is) that we had started contract talks with Roy Oswalt.

That was indeed what the press conference was about, as Tim Purpura announced that the Astros had signed Roy Oswalt to a 5 year / 73 million dollar contract on his 29th birthday. I'm excited about it - we've now locked up Lance Berkman and Roy Oswalt to long-term deals (6/85, starting 2006 and 5/73, starting 2007 respectively), and we're going to build the team around the two of them, apparently. They're two pretty good players to build around - by VORP, Berkman is the 14th most valuable position player in baseball (Travis Hafner is #1 by quite a bit) and Oswalt is the 6th most valuable pitcher in baseball (Santana / Halladay are virtually tied for 1st)

I admit that I would have been happier with something like a 3 year / 45 million dollar deal - pay a little bit more per year for a shorter contract. Oswalt is a great pitcher, but he has had slight injury issues in the past, his strikeout rate is decreasing, and he's 29. I immediately think of Tim Hudson's decline the past few years, and Oswalt and Hudson are similar pitchers with similar body types. Nevertheless, I'm happy with the deal - Oswalt is a popular player, it seems like McLane has been more willing to open his pocketbook lately (so we can still afford the occasional free agent while paying Berkman + Oswalt a combined 30 million a year),'s Roy O! (I just noticed the contract includes a no-trade clause, which makes it a little worse.)

Here are a few other thoughts:


Astros signed RHP Roy Oswalt to a five-year, $73 million contract extension through 2011 with a mutual option for 2012.
A whopper. Oswalt had one more year of arbtration remaining after making $11 million this year. He's now due to receive $13 million in each of the next two years, $14 million in 2009, $15 million in 2010 and $16 million in 2011. The amount of the option wasn't disclosed, but there's a $2 million buyout. He also gets a full no-trade clause. Assuming that Oswalt would have made about $13 million next year anyway, what the Astros are really doing is buying four free agency years for $60 million. It's a fair price given his talent, though committing to any pitcher for such a length of time is a big risk. Oswalt's strikeout rate has steadily dipped, his batting-average against has increased and he has had oblique issues. A decline over the next few years is a real possibility.

Baseball Primer comments on the signing are here.

I've gotta run, but you have to be happy about watching Lance Berkman and Roy Oswalt locked up as Astros for the next 5 years.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Willy Taveras has a 29-game hitting streak going, and he's hitting .340 / .383 / .407 for the 2nd half, which is actually pretty similar to his minor-league numbers. I still get frustrated watching his at-bats because it seems like his swing is way too long, but you can't argue with the recent results.

Chad Qualls has had a disappointing year (4.33 ERA), but some of that might be due to the fact that he's been pitching A TON. He had 79.2 IP in 77 appearances last year, and he's already up to 72.2 IP in 63 appearances this year. The reliever with the next-most innings pitched is Brad Lidge with 60.0.

Scott Barzilla has a cool article up at Astros Daily about a SABR meeting with Tim Purpura. In it Purpura says that finding a catcher to replace Ausmus after 2007 will define his legacy as GM. Pretty strong words.

Brad Lidge hasn't been scored upon in his last four outings and last night he struck out the side to get the save. Part of it might be due to his new two-seam fastball - I can't find the article now, but Lidge said he's been working on the new pitch a lot.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

The Astros made an interesting move yesterday, calling up catcher J.R. House yesterday and sending Eric Munson down. House has been tearing up minor-league pitching all year and was an excellent prospect for the Pirates a few years ago before injuries hit him hard. Munson doesn't have to accept the minor-league assignment, but it looks like he probably will:

Munson, who hit .204 (28-for-137) with five homers and 19 RBIs this season, expressed his interest in staying with the organization, too.

"[I'd like to stay with the Astros] unless something else comes up that seems like a better opportunity, but I can't imagine a better opportunity," Munson said. "They gave me a chance to catch again, which I love to do. I'm thankful that they did that. I like it here, so I really don't see any reason to go anywhere else."

Some more info on House:

The Astros' desperate need for offense prompted this roster move. House split the season between Double-A Corpus Christi and Triple-A Round Rock, and since his promotion to the Express at the end of the July, he's hit .438 (36-for-82) with three homers, 12 doubles and 26 RBIs over 22 games.

Garner intends to use House as a catcher and pinch-hitter.

"If I can find another way to get him in the lineup, let him swing the bat," Garner said. "We're looking for offense, and he's swinging the bat well."

I think Garner is exactly right about finding a way to get House into the lineup. But every time I agree with him, he says something like this:

"Even with Wandy's loss yesterday, he's still 9-7," Garner said. "He's won 19 games over two years."

He also has a 5.45 ERA, 1.52 WHIP, and an unimpressive 109 / 152 walk to strikeout ratio. But he's won 19 games, so he must be good, just like Jeriome Robertson, right?

I also saw this little tidbit:

Fernando Nieve, who is viewed as a potential future closer...

I'm kinda bummed about this, actually - all their struggles this year aside, Lidge, Wheeler, and Qualls are still decent relievers. I don't think we need another righty closer in Nieve. He's actually been excellent this year for a rookie, especially in the 2nd half (0.71 ERA in 12.2 IP). I'd like to see him be the 4th or 5th starter next year, not a "future closer".

Thursday, August 17, 2006

In the spirit of re-jump-starting this blog (I've been away for a while, and I miss talking about the Astros), I decided to try a new design. It's a little simpler and it doesn't have that tan background. Maybe it's better, maybe it's worse, but it's different.

Let's jump right into Astros news:

- So we got swept by the Cubs at home, and we're now 4.5 games back in the wildcard and 7 back in the division. This is mostly the fault of the offense - we were shut out for the last 21 innings of this series and scored 6 runs total in 3 games. No good. Who are the main culprits? Here are a few of their starters and their OPS after the All Star Break:

Craig Biggio - 744 OPS
Morgan Ensberg - 734
Brad Ausmus - 532
Eric Munson - 429
Chris Burke - 710

But let's be honest - if your lineup is


do you really expect to score many runs?

- Richard Justice thinks that we shouldn't blame the lack of offense on Ausmus or Everett because they are there for their defense. I'm so sick of the point of view that I don't know what to say anymore. The only way Ausmus could make up for his lack of offense in the 2nd half is to play multiple positions at the same time, throw every runner out (instead of his current 20%) and distract every hitter with comments about their wife / sister / dog. Instead, he just sucks.

- We released Preston Wilson and handed the starting LF job to Luke Scott. Wilson has indeed been really bad, hitting only .269 / .309 / 405 on the year, with only 9 HR. Scott has been hot, hitting .419 / .481 / .656, but let's not get too optimistic - he's a .276 career hitter in the minors. I think Scott would make a fine 4th OF in the majors - the fact that he's starting for us is a sad indictment of the current state of our offense. I do like releasing Wilson, though - why waste his time or ours?

- Brad Lidge blew another save two nights ago, giving up a solo HR to Matt Murton. After the game Garner said he was going to try a closer-by-committee approach for a while. Lidge still has a great strikeout rate (77 K, 53.2 IP) but he's been wild often and simply cannot locate his fastball - like Andy said, he rarely pitches inside and all too often leaves hittable fastballs over the middle of the plate. I still have hope that Lidge can figure things out, but maybe he needs a little less pressure on him all the time.

That's it for now - I want to start making posts with a few important points rather than rambling on. Here's to a fresh start.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Still treading water... still alive. As of August 8, we are 53-58. That's five games under .500, with 6 teams ahead of us in the Wild-Card race. The good news? We're only 3.5 games out of the WC lead! The Reds and Dodgers are tied for the lead, but they're both only 57-55. How bad is the NL this year?!

So, we're coming home for a 9-game home stand. We've lost three straight series at home, but we face Pittsburgh, San Diego and Chicago — very beatable teams. The past two years, we've been absolutely unstoppable at home in the second half. Time to get that streak going again.

And to do it, we'll need to ride the young guns. I'm talking about Luke Scott, who has outplayed Preston Wilson and stolen his starting spot in left. He's only got two homers, but he pitchers cannot get him out. This year, in 62 ABs... marvel: .403/.456/.645. Yummy.

Oh, and how bout Mr. Willy T? Check out what he's done since the All-Star Break: .369/.408 /.477. Ok, so that's only 65 ABs, but still... the kid is coming on strong, and definitely deserves the recent starts in center.

Chris Burke and Preston Wilson, meanwhile, are struggling. Since the break: Burke, .633 OPS. Wilson, .552. Ick. Bench 'em.

Lamb has slowed a little since the break, but he's still seeing the ball really well, as is Aubrey Huff. They're both making contact and generally hitting the ball hard. I don't know what to make of Ensberg, but we'll need him if we want to make a run in August and September.

Come to think of it, our offense has been producing rather well the past two weeks. Everyone, that is, except for Everett and Ausmus. But that's old news.

Point is, if go 7-2 in this homestand, we're back at .500. That's goal No. 1. After that, we'll see. We have 11 games on the road at Milwaukee, Cincinnati and Pittsburgh. Here are the matchups for the weekday series vs. the Pirates

Tuesday, Aug. 8: Backe vs. Maholm
Wednesday, Aug. 9: Oswalt vs. Chacon
Thursday, Aug. 10: Clemens vs. Gorzelanny

Get 'em.

Friday, August 04, 2006

I've got a few friends going to the Astros / Diamondbacks game in Phoenix tonight, so I'll be watching Roy Oswalt dominate. It looks like the Astros have basically treaded water since I was away; here are a few notes:

Astros Daily is giving up on the Astros playoff chances. I'm inclined to agree. Just because we've come back from the dead the last two years doesn't mean we can do it again, and we would have to leapfrog a TON of teams to get in. I just don't see it.

Craig Biggio, although he did have two home runs in Wednesday's game, is doing his usual 2nd-half collapse thing: .227 / .261 / .470 in the 2nd half

and he still can't hit away from Minute Maid: he has a 610 OPS on the road this year.

Willy Taveras has been getting starts at CF again, but he's still not getting on base (.313 OBP).

Morgan Ensberg is back, and has been starting at 3B with Aubrey Huff moving to RF. Lance should be back tonight, so we'll see what happens.

No big moves over the trading deadline, although we supposedly offered Roy Oswalt to different teams. I'm not sure why we would do that, and I hope we can sign Oswalt to a deal after the 2007 season.

Brad Ausmus really sucks again - since April his month-by-month OPS's are 664, 375, 477, 125.

Roger Clemens is 2-4 with a 2.09 ERA. Par for the course. You should have gone to a different team if you wanted to win, Rocket.

We have a lot of young pitching talent that is almost major league ready. Bucholz. Nieve. Albers. Hirsh. Chris Sampson. Ezequiel Astacio. Behind Roy Oswalt and maybe Brandon Backe, we could throw out an incredibly young, inexpensive, and pretty decent rotation next year. It should be a fierce spring training competition.

Speaking of minor league talent, here are a few updates

J.R. House, Catcher - After hitting .325 at AA, he's hitting .462 in 26 at-bats at AAA. Man, I hope he starts stealing some playing time from Ausmus / Munson next year.

Jason Hirsh - I'm not really sure how Matt Albers was called up instead of Hirsh, who has done nothing except put up a 2.13 ERA in 135 innings at AAA. His walk-to-strikeout ratio isn't great but he's only allowing a .195 batting average and only 5 homers all year! That's good.

Hunter Pence - The best hitting prospect in the organization has done well at AA, with a .291 / .354 / .563 line and 24 HR's in 416 AB's. He's still looking like a late 2007 callup at earliest though.

Jallen Peguero - I haven't heard of him before, but he's got a 0.70 ERA and 48 K's in only 38.2 IP at AA. Good relief prospect.

Matt Albers - He's not ready yet - the ERA is nice (2.17) but the BB/K ratio isn't great (47/95) and he's given up a lot of unearned runs. Needs more time.

Luke Scott and Jason Lane are back up; Taylor Bucholz is down. Bucholz just can't seem to stay away from the big inning - his secondary numbers are still ok. Luke Scott is swinging a hot bat and I still believe in Jason Lane, but he is 29 years old.