Monday, October 30, 2006

Ok, after spending most of the 2 hour drive from Flagstaff to Phoenix talking Astros baseball with Andy, I figured it's time for a nice big post.

First of all, I've decided I'm pretty much ambivalent about Carlos Lee. If we give him 5/65, I won't be ecstatic, but I won't be depressed. I will say that I'd rather we give Alou 2/10 and Piazza 1/7. There' s just no way you can convince me that Carlos Lee + Brad Ausmus is better than Moises Alou + Mike Piazza or even something like Luis Gonzalez + Johnny Estrada.

I was cruising around Baseball Prospectus and I found an old article than convincingly argues that it is generally not worth it to give free agent deals to mediocre-to-slightly-above-average free agents. They generally argue for giving big contracts to superstars and going from there. In mathematical terms, the relationship between x=VORP and y=Net Worth is not a linear one, but more of an exponential one. A guy like Albert Pujols with an 85.4 VORP is not worth 10 times more than a guy with an 8.5 VORP. He's worth a lot more than that. With that in mind, I'm psyched that we have Berkman and Oswalt locked up for 5 more years each! Here's a list of the National League leaders in VORP (Value Over Replacement Player):

1. Albert Pujols, 85.4
2. Ryan Howard, 81.5
3. Miguel Cabrera, 78.7
4. Roy Oswalt, 72.4
5. Lance Berkman, 70.1
6. Brandon Webb, 68.9
7. Carlos Beltran, 68.5
8. Chris Carpenter, 67.8
9. Chase Utley, 65.2
10. Garret Atkins, 62.7

VORP doesn't take defense into account, so Berkman falls a little bit (more on this later), but still, 2 of the top 5 players in the league? COUNT IT. Oh, and Garret Atkins?? Wow.

There's a neat article over at The Baseball Analysts that talks about 'net stolen bases'. Essentially it takes stolen bases, caught stealings, and pick-offs into account and lists the best basestealers based on that. Willy Taveras was the best for the Astros, with the following numbers:

33 SB
9 CS
2 PO

which gives a net SB value of 11 = 33-(2*9)-(2*2).

That's not too bad; for comparison, the league leaders were Ichiro Suzuki with 39 and Dave Roberts with 31. So Taveras isn't quite in their tier, but his speed helps the team.

Andy and I generally agree that our biggest hole this offseason is our starting pitching. Our #1 priority needs to be to re-sign Andy Pettitte. We NEED to do this. Pettitte struggled in the 1st half this past year, but in the last 2 years he's pitched 222.3 and 214.3 innings with ERA's of 2.39 and 4.20. He's 34 years old, his strikeout rate is still good, and his most similar pitchers are Mike Mussina and Dwight Gooden. If we don't re-sign him, we're looking at Oswalt and a lot of questions marks. He signed a 3 / 31 deal in 2004; perhaps we could give him that same deal? I think he'd be worth it. He's worth slightly overpaying for if you look at the free agent market for pitchers. I think he's better than Barry Zito and Jason Schmidt, personally.

If we sign Pettitte, we're looking at Oswalt / Pettitte / Hirsh / ? / ?. I personally like giving one of the question marks to Fernando Nieve, but there are many other options: Buchholz, Albers, Chris Sampson, etc. I'd be ok with just giving it to whichever of those guys looks the best in spring training. That leaves one more spot to fill. I've already argued that Woody Williams would make a decent fit (Option A). Here are two other guys that I'll endorse:

Option B: Brian Lawrence. This is Andy's idea, but I like it. He's coming off of surgery, but in 2003-2005 he pitched 210.7, 203.0, and 195.7 innings with ERA's of 4.19, 4.12, and 4.83. His walk rates are fairly low, he doesn't strike out too many guys, but with our excellent infield defense (more on this later), he could be a great fit. He's also very tough on righties (701 OPS allowed, 841 OPS for lefties), which is great for Minute Maid Park, which traditionally benefits right-handed hitters a lot. He'll be 31, and his most similar pitchers include Tomo Ohka and Bronson Arroyo.

Option C: Rodrigo Lopez. I've mentioned him before, but his walk / strikeout / HR rates are similar to Lawrence's, and he has to face the Yankees / Red Sox / Blue Jays lineups a ton. Compare that to the Brewers / Pirates / Cubs. Yum. He has no injury concers and is only 30 years old. I like him a lot. His most similar pitchers are John Thomson and Brett Tomko. Lefties and righties hit him equally well (779 OPS righties, 785 OPS lefties).

If forced to pick between one of Williams / Lawrence / Lopez, I pick the one with the highest groundball rate. Here are each of our three guys GB / FB ratios (so a number >1 means more groundballs, and <1 means more flyballs). Why groundball rate as the tiebreaker? Read on.

Woody Williams - 0.93/0.83/0.90. Worst rates of the three, and he's WORSE against righties.
Rodrigo Lopez - 1.33/1.13/1.23. Pretty solid.
Brian Lawrence - 1.61/1.81/1.46. Your winner, Brian Lawrence!! Tough on righties, a lot of groundalls = SOLID #3 STARTER! Do it, Purpura!! Andy, well done.

Let's talk about defense. Baseball Think Factory has a nice article up about their choices for National League Gold Gloves, and includes defensive stats for every regular. Here are the Astros stats, measure by Runs Saved / 150 games:

Catcher: Brad Ausmus, 0
First Base: Lance Berkman, -5
Second Base: Craig Biggio, 6 (!)
Shorstop: Adam Everett, 28 (!!) - Easily leads all SS in the NL. I quote from the article:

If Ozzie Smith was as good as Adam Everett, he was incredible. Everett is on the verge of saving the most runs on defense over the last 20 years. He’s truly incredible at outpacing his peers.

Third Base: Morgan Ensberg, 12 (!) - Barely leads all 3B in the NL (Feliz, Rolen are close).
Left Field: Preston Wilson, -31 (!!!) - Partially caused by the tiny left field at Minute Maid, but YIKES.
Center Field: Willy Taveras, 6 - 7th in the NL
Right Field: Jason Lane, -16 (!) - Ugh. Outfield defense besides Taveras = BAD.

So in summary, infield defense = great, outfield defense except for Taveras = BAD. Hence my desire for groundball pitchers. And that's some pretty high praise for Adam Everett.

Ok, that ought to give you some Astros tidbits to mull over. There's more that I'd like to talk about, but it basically boils down to Brad Ausmus being the bane of my existence, hoping we look into trading for Johnny Estrada, and Phil Garner rating pretty highly on a study of managers who get the most out of their players. Later.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Well, the Astros sure made it interesting toward the end of September, but the 2006 season was simply a case of "too little, too late." After a hot 19-9 start, the team just seemed stuck in doldrums of summer, always waiting for the "big run" to take them back to the postseason.

In a way, it might be a good thing that we didn't make the playoffs this year. Lets face it: we didn't deserve it, and to make the playoffs would have sent the message that the organization is making the right moves. It's not.

Not to place all the blame on the front office. Much of the team's futility can be traced to underperformance by many players, specifially the "locks": that is, the guys we all KNEW would produce. We didn't have to worry about them because they had a history of solid production and seemed to be on track for solid years. I'm talking, of course, about Ensberg, Pettitte, Lidge, and to a lesser extent, Wilson. Coming into the year, these were the guys we said would have very good, if not spectacular, seasons. And while they each showed flashes of brilliance (Wilson and Ensberg in the first month, Lidge and Pettitte in the second half), they quite simply did not come through.

Almost everyone else performed as predicted: Oswalt, Berkman and Clemens absolutely dominated. Biggio kept up his ridiculous home/away splits and slumped horrifically in the second half. Taveras went through a sophomore slump and was benched before turning it up in the second half. Burke progressed nicely with more playing time, although he was prone to extended slumps. Wandy got run support but proved that he's nothing special. Our young pitchers Buchholz and Hirsh struggled but showed some promise for the future. Our bullpen started slow, but Wheeler, Qualls, Springer and Miller were all very good, particularly in the second half.

Ausmus and Everett... well, they combined for 950 mostly worthless at-bats. Everett was magnificent on defense and is likely in line for the Gold Glove award. He actually did improve at the plate in the second half, and I do recall seeing him hit singles to right field a few times. So that says something. I don't want to discuss Ausmus because there's really nothing positive to say.

Believe it or not, the offseason is very exciting to me. So much can happen... so many different ways to go. Everyone gets to act like a GM and criticize, complement or chastise every small move that's made.

The first move Purpura made was adding reliever Paul Estrada to the 40-man roster and sending down Eric Munson and J.R. House. Though he went hitless in nine major league at-bats this year (although Ryan Freel robbed him of an extra-base hit), House went NUTS in the minor leagues this year and could really do some good things at the plate for the Astros in the future. I hope we can hold onto him, although I think by sending him down, we are subjecting him to the Rule 5 draft. I don't know the rules on this... maybe Jack can clue me in.

Purpura will have a lot do this this winter. He'll resign Biggio (somewhere in the $3 million neighborhood), and he'll have to think long and hard about resigning Pettitte. Clemens is another story altogether. We'll have plenty of time to discuss free agents throughout the next few months (I've renewed my pledge to be more involved with The Juicebox), but here's a list of potential free agents I think we should consider:

Moises Alou
Rod Barajas
MIke Cameron*
Frank Catalanotto
David Dellucci
Jermaine Dye
Jim Edmonds*
Luis Gonzalez
Jose Guillen
Torii Hunter
Javy Lopez
Trot Nixon
Mike Piazza
Alfonso Soriano

Tony Armas Jr.
Pedro Astacio
Miguel Batista
Mark Buerhle
Brian Lawrence
Ted Lilly
Mike Mussina*
Tomo Ohka
Vicente Padilla
Chan Ho Park
Brad Radke
Jason Schmidt
John Thomson
Jeff Weaver
Woody Williams
Barry Zito

(* = option with current team)

Oh yeah, and there's also the issue that A-Rod might be traded from the Yankees. The Yanks are so funny... could any other team hate a guy who consistently puts up All-Star numbers? Did any other vaunted Yankee sluggers really do well against the Tigers' pitching? It's crazy.

So a big question is, should we pursue A-Rod? I say Yes. The Yanks need pitching, bullpen help... and a thirdbaseman if they trade A-Rod. I'd give up Ensberg, Lidge and a prospect for A-Rod and cash. While I'm at it, I'd sign Piazza to split time with Ausmus. Then sign Alou, who's put up a .900 OPS for three straight years!

For the rotation, I'd like to take a chance on some starters. Brian Lawrence particularly interests me. He put up three good years in San Diego (pre-Petco), throwing 200+ IP with an ERA hovering around 4.00. Not sure what his injury status is, but he could be a valuable pickup. Also on my mind are Batista and Williams. They;re old and they don't strike out anyone, but they seem like they'd fit well in the clubhouse, and with Ausmus half the time, they could put up some decent innings.

OK, enough rambling. Here's hoping good things are on the way this offseason.

Monday, October 02, 2006

> Here's a summary of what the Astros should do this offseason.  By the way, a
> good link towards 2007 free agents is here:
> Well, it was a fun last two weeks, but the 2006 season
> for the Astros is over. We finished at 82-80, which
> is about where we belong considering we scored 735
> runs (12th out of 16 teams in the NL) and allowed 719
> runs (2nd out of 16 teams). This offseason should be
> an interesting one - here's what I'm thinking,
> position by position:
> Catcher - Brad Ausmus / Humberto Quintero / J.R. House
> Ugh. Ausmus and Angel Berroa of the Royals had a long
> showdown to see which regular would end the year with
> the lowest OPS in baseball (Ausmus - 593, Berroa - ).
> He also only threw out 17 of 77 basestealers, a
> career-low 22%. Basically: he's terrible, and we're
> stuck with him for another year. We have to play him,
> but hopefully as little as possible. He did put up a
> .333 OBP against lefties, so hopefully platoon him
> with Quintero or House a little more. Long-term, look
> to sign a free-agent catcher after 2007. I wanted
> Ramon Hernandez (.275 / .343 / .479, 23 HR, 91 RBI) or
> Johnny Estrada (.302 / .328 / .444, 11 HR, 71 RBI)
> this past off-season. Damn.
> First Base - Lance Berkman
> That was easy. Lancey Lance had a huge year in '06,
> leading the team in virtually every important
> offensive category, and hitting .315 / .420 / .621
> with 45 HR and 98 walks. It's a great start to his 6
> year / 75 million dollar contract, and if he stays
> healthy he should be absolutely worth it. Note: He
> slugged .704 against righties this year; only .416
> against lefties.
> Second Base - Craig Biggio / Chris Burke
> Biggio has some really weird splits this year (his
> worst year in a LONG time, by the way). He hit a
> solid .298 / .346 / .522 at home, and a jaw-droppingly
> awful .178 / .253 / .288 on the road. Is that even
> possible? Once again, he collapsed after the All-Star
> Break (784 OPS before, 648 OPS after), as he has for
> quite a while. Hopefully this means he gets off to a
> good start in 2007, gets to 3000 hits (he's 70 away)
> by the ASB, at which point Burke (who had a good
> building block kind of year, hitting .276 / .347 /
> .418) takes over the 2nd base job for good, with
> Biggio getting occasional sentimental 'farewell'
> starts at home in front of the fans.
> Third Base - Morgan Ensberg
> This is my biggest offseason concern BY FAR. I am
> terrified that the Astros will make Mike Lamb or
> Aubrey Huff their 3rd baseman and let Ensberg walk,
> where he will get snapped up by some team like the
> Padres, where he will put up a .400 OBP and solid
> defense for cheap. Yes, Ensberg had a strange
> injury-filled year, and he hit only .235. But he put
> up a .396 OBP, HIGHER than his career year of 2005,
> and drew 101 walks despite missing a lot of time.
> He'll be 31 at the start of '07, but he has a career
> .270 / .372 / .486 line, which is exactly what we need
> batting in front of Berkman. PLEASE re-sign Ensberg.
> He won't even be that expensive (he made 3.8 million
> this year).
> Shortstop - Adam Everett
> Unlike Brad Ausmus, Everett really does live up to his
> fielding reputation. There have been several articles
> that have Everett conservatively listed as saving
> approximately 40 runs with his glove over the course
> of the season. He's that good. Yeah, his offense is
> bad: .239 / .290 / .352 but I think he's still worth
> it. He's cheap, too - $1.9 million this year. We
> don't have any better options anyway.
> Outfield - RF: Luke Scott / Jason Lane
> Luke Scott = Roy Hobbs, circa 2006? Scott came out of
> nowhere with a Pujols-like .336 / .426 / .622 line in
> the final few months. I don't think he's THAT good -
> first of all, no one is, and 2nd of all, he's a career
> .277 / .363 / .524 hitter in the minors. That's not
> too bad, but Jason Lane is a career .252 / .324 / .475
> hitter in the majors, and he needs more playing time.
> He actually hit lefties better this year, and is
> slightly better against them over his career (821 OPS
> to 788 OPS), so I like them platooning in RF and
> having the other as our 4th outfielder / PH
> specialist.
> CF: Willy Taveras
> Willy T is similar to Everett in that he really is
> good defensively, and although he's frustrating
> offensively he did put up a .333 OBP with decent SB
> rates (33/42). His 2nd half stats are particularly
> encouraging: .308 / .365 / .375 with 20 SB / 4 CS.
> Combine that with the fact that he'll be 25 in
> December and will be cheap, and he'll be fine.
> LF: Moises Alou / Hunter Pence
> Now, left field. Top prospect Hunter Pence might get
> a shot, but I'd rather give a short-term deal to a
> free agent. How about one lasthurrah for Moises Alou?
> He had his highest OPS in 4 years this past year,
> hitting .301 / .352 / .571. He's pretty bad
> defensively but he only has to cover the 4 square feet
> that comprise left field at Minute Maid. He'll also
> need plenty of rest, so Lane / Pence can fill in for
> him plenty. Alou was extremely popular in Houston,
> and loves hitting at Minute Maid .337 / .405 / .591,
> 37 HR, 153 RBI in 606 AB. Put that into a 400 AB
> season and account for some aging (Alou will be 40,
> but he just put up the best OPS of his last 4 year),
> and you're looking at something like .300 / .370 /
> .520, 20 HR, 85 RBI. Just make sure you don't give
> him a multi-year deal! I don't hink he'll get one,
> anyway. One really important note - Alou is a dead
> pull hitter. In fact, this is one thing that I want
> to talk about: Minute Maid deserves to be treated as a
> unique ballpark because of the short fence. Righties
> hit MUCH better there, so it is to our advantage (all
> other things equal) to have righty pull hitters on
> offense (Biggio, Ensberg, Alou) and pitchers that are
> tough on right-handed batters.
> Bench: Humberto Quintero, Eric Bruntlett, Mike Lamb,
> Jason Lane, Orlando Palmeiro
> Starting Pitchers - Roy Oswalt, Andy Pettitte, Woody
> Williams, Fernando Nieve , Jason Hirsh
> Anyone realize that Oswalt was the only NL pitcher to
> finish with a sub-3.00 ERA? His 2.98 ERA is awesome,
> he only walked 38 in 220.2 IP, is tough on righties,
> doesn't give up many HR's...what's not to like? His 5
> year / 73 million dollar deal should be ok ASSUMING HE
> STAYS HEALTHY, just like Berkman. I think Oswalt is
> more of an injury risk because he is of slight build,
> has a fairly violent delivery, and he has to pitch,
> while Berkman plays 1B.
> I really think Andy Pettitte is going to want to come
> back (he'll be 34 in July), and it seems that he likes
> pitching in Houston. He got off to a rough start last
> year but then turned it on in the 2nd half: 5.28 ERA
> before, 2.80 ERA after. He's still got a nice
> strikeout rate (178 K / 214.1 IP) and is a nice fit
> for our infield defense (Ensberg / Everett / Burke) as
> a groundball pitcher.
> I read on RotoWorld that Woody Williams really,
> REALLY, wants to come pitch for the Astros. He's from
> the area and has always mentioned how much he likes
> the team. Do we want him? For the right price, I say
> yes. He had a solid year in 2006, putting up a 3.65
> ERA and a 2-to-1 K/BB ratio. He did give up 21 HR,
> and pitched significantly better at home in spacious
> Petco Park, so there is concern here. He'll be 40, so
> a 1 year / 5 million dollar deal would be fine.
> After that, it's pretty wide open. I really want to
> see Fernando Nieve get a look as a starter - we really
> don't need him in the bullpen (see below), and he had
> a much better BB/K ratio as a starter. Oh, and he's
> tough on righties.
> I'm guessing Jason Hirsh will be the 5th starter. He
> gave up 10 ER in 2.2 IP at Cincinnati in his 3rd
> start; take that away and his ERA was 4.27 and his
> WHIP was 1.33. He dominated at AAA last year (2.10
> ERA in 137.1 IP) and has nothing more to prove there.
> Bullpen - Brad Lidge, Chad Qualls, Dan Wheeler, Russ
> Springer, Trever Miller, Chris Sampson
> Lidge had issues with command last year, but he has
> too much potential to give up on. Qualls needs to
> throw fewer innings (168 the last 2 years). Wheeler
> had a 1.11 ERA in the 2nd half. Springer actually had
> a really good year last year, with a 3/1 BB/K ratio
> and a 1.04 WHIP, and Trever Miller was a good Purpura
> signing, pitching 50 innings with a 3.02 ERA. Note to
> Garner: Miller was just as good against righties last
> year. I like Chris Sampson as a spot starter /
> long-relief guy more than Matt Albers or Wandy
> Rodriguez or Taylor Buchholz. Albers isn't quite
> there yet, Wandy has a career 5.58 ERA in 264 IP in
> the majors, and Buchholz had a 5.89 ERA last year.
> Sampson is a groundball machine who doesn't walk
> anybody, kind of a mini-Qualls.
> Those are the mainstays, though there a few prospects
> that might break through:
> Brooks Conrad played mostly 2B last year and can't
> field that well, but he did lead the league in
> extra-base hits while slugging .534 at AAA. Not too
> bad. Paul Estrada struck out 134 guys in only 88
> innings as our AA closer.
> Well, that's that.
> My lineup:
> Taveras
> Ensberg
> Berkman
> Alou
> Scott / Lane
> Biggio / Burke
> Everett
> Ausmus / Quintero
> P
> My rotation:
> Oswalt
> Pettitte
> Williams
> Nieve
> Hirsh
> and a pen of
> Wheeler
> Qualls
> Lidge
> Miller
> Springer
> Sampson
> It's not a terrible team, and it's unlikely that we'd
> make the playoffs, but the NL Central is still weak,
> and it's got a good mix of breaking in the youngsters
> (Taveras, Scott, Burke, Pence, Nieve, Hirsh, Sampson)
> and signing a few popular veterans that should please
> the fans (Biggio, Alou, Pettitte, Williams).
> It wouldn't be a terribly expensive team, either - I
> don't think bringing in Carlos Lee would make a huge
> difference - the only 'name' signings would be Alou,
> Pettitte, and Williams.
> In a year or two, those three and Ausmus should be
> moving on, hopefully replaced by Hunter Pence or Adam
> Dunn, a few of our pitching prospects, and a 2008 free
> agent catcher (Johnny Estrada, Jorge Posada, etc.)
> That's enough. I guess I was pretty bored.
> -Jack
> Next time: 5 reasons why I don't want Carlos Lee.