April 2009

What Happened Was…

All good things must come to an end.  The Astros dropped their final game of April, 3-0, to the Cincinnati Reds.  This ends a streak of eleven straight games in Great American Ball Park that the Astros had won.

You could feel it building up – all the talk, all the hype surrounding the success of a sub-.500 team.  It was particularly frustrating for me, as I’d predicted the Astros to finish April at 10-12.  Instead, they’re 9-13.  So close, yet so far. 

We’ll begin a five game road series with three games in Atlanta starting tomorrow, then it’s off to Washington for a quick two games before coming back to Houston for two against the Cubs and three against the Padres.

Realistically, I think we can take two of three from the Braves, split with the Nationals and Cubs, and lose the Padres series 2-1.  That would be a straight .500 run, and our next off day, we’d be 14-18.  If we can steal a sweep in Atlanta or Washington, or the series against San Diego, we’d be at 15-17.

Round Rock Express (AAA) – The Express had the day off today.  They finish the month 7-13, last place in the PCL American South.

Corpus Christi Hooks (AA) – Corpus Christi got off to a hot start, scoring 5 runs in the top of the first inning, but Brian Moehler – on his rehab start – allowed five in the bottom of the frame.  Over 5.0 IP, Moehler allowed 8 runs on 11 hits and no walks.  Yet somehow, he didn’t earn the loss – that honor went to Christopher Salamida, who allowed the go-ahead run in the 16-9 loss to the Midland Rockhounds (OAK), who complete the sweep and continue their dominance over the Hooks.  1B James Van Ostrand was 3-for-5 with 2 home runs and 4 RBI.

Lancaster Jethawks (A+) – 2B Marcos Cabral hit a walk-off single in the bottom of the ninth.  He’s now hitting .356/.415/.576 so far in the young season.  The Jethawks won 4-3 over the San Jose Giants (SFG).  Jason Castro was 0-for-1 off the bench.

Lexington Legends (A) – C Federico Hernandez’s 2-run home run would prove to be the game-winner as the Legends beat the Rome Braves (ATL) 4-2.  Henry Villar struck out 8 Braves in just 3.2 IP, allowing no earned runs.  Jose Trinidad earned the save, striking out 4 over 3.0 scoreless innings and allowing just a single hit.

Great Astro Ball Park

Wandy 04-28-09.jpgPerhaps the most talked-about part of Wandy Rodriguez‘s career splits has been how much better he’s pitched at home, compared to on the road. 

Astros fans know the numbers, but for those of you not as intimately familiar, here’s the difference between Road Wandy and Home Wandy:

Home: 23-19, 3.94 ERA, 7.2 K/9, 1.308 WHIP, 2.15 K/BB

Road: 15-23, 5.59 ERA, 7.2 K.9, 1.513 WHIP, 2.06 K/BB

Now, it’s not terribly odd that a pitcher would pitch so much better at home than on the road, unless that pitcher’s home park happened to be hitter-friendly Minute Maid Park.  And though the strikeout rate is identical, every other peripheral favors his home numbers. 

If Wandy can put up numbers on the road anything near what he puts up at home, he could be a legitimate Cy Young candidate.  And that’s no joke.  Today, he did just that, going 7.0 innings against the Cincinnati Reds, allowing 1 run on 5 hits and 2 walks and striking out 5.

Astros Win Eleventh Straight

Sure, the Boston Red Sox had a streak of eleven straight wins coming into today’s action against the Cleveland Indians, but the Astros’ win today was their eleventh straight, also.

As in their eleventh straight win in Great American Ball Park – the longest active winning streak by any team in any other team’s home stadium.  The last time the Astros lost a game in the city of Cincinnati was May 10, 2007, when Matt Albers took the loss for the Astros in a 9-5 decision.

That had interrupted a streak of six straight wins in Cincinnati, on August 22, 2006, when rookie Jason Hirsh took the loss in just the third start of his career.

Thievery

Kazuo Matsui and Michael Bourn each stole two bases in today’s game.  It marked the first time that a team stole four or more bases against the Reds in a single game since July 25, 2008, when the Rockies stole five bases against Edinson Volquez and Paul Bako.  Willy Taveras, now with the Reds, stole three of them.

Home Sweet Home

It’s sometimes hard for me to watch games in Cincinnati, because it does give me a strong feeling of homesickness.  Of course, then I remember the scene from the last game I attended at GABP, and all is forgotten:

2007_07040050.jpgOf course, that’s not to say that I couldn’t go for a nice Skyline Chili coney right about now:

2007_07040047.jpg(I’m actually more of a Gold Star Chili guy, but I’m not going to be picky.)

Height Differential

Susan at Astros Fan in Exile asked me today how the Astros’ pitching staff stacked up against the other 29 pitching staffs in terms of…

…height.

Well, okay.  It doesn’t mean much, but I took a look at the heights of the pitchers on the active rosters of all thirty MLB teams.  What did I find?  Well, when looking at median height, 29 teams wind up with one of three results: 74″, 74.5″, or 75″.  The Astros are the one outlier – at 72.5″

When looking at mean, here is the breakdown:

Height.JPG

The penultimate bar – the one that stands like a wilting lily, far beneath all the other lines, is the average height of the Houston Astros’ pitching staff.  Doug Brocail, Jeff Fulchino, and LaTroy Hawkins are the tallest, at 6’5″; but Wesley Wright, Tim Byrdak, and Wandy Rodriguez are 5’11”, and Mike Hampton is 5’10” to bring down the average.

What that means, essentially, is that all of the left-handers on the Astros pitching staff are midgets. 

What does all of this mean?  Absolutely nothing.

And in the Twitterverse…

Richard Justice, who I’m pretty sure must pay absolutely no actual attention to the Houston Astros baseball team, Tweeted this earlier today:
Richard Justice Tweet.JPGJust so we’re clear, Richard Justice is wondering if an 8-6 streak is a sign that the “ship has been righted.” 

It’s not.  It’s not a sign of that, Richard.  It’s not.  Granted, if a team wins 8 out of every 14 games it plays, that team will go 92-70.  But if a team wins 9 out of ever 20 games?  Well that’s 73-89.  So which one is accurate?  The truth lies somewhere in the middle, Dickie J.

J-Valve Broke

Jose Valverde has been officially moved to the 15-day Disabled List.  Clearly, the last person to notice that Jose was injured was Cecil Cooper, who is reckless and irresponsible.  Any time someone asks you why Cecil Cooper doesn’t have the respect of the veteran players on this team, this one’s another arrow to have in your quiver. 

When a competitor like Jose Valverde admits he’s in some pain, you listen to him.  If given the option, he’ll go out and pitch.  He wants you to eliminate that option from him.

Speaking of Coop, MLB will be reviewing his post-ejection behavior.  He didn’t do anything wrong, as far as I can tell, but I’m still not-so-secretly hoping that MLB will recommend firing him and replacing him with Tim Bogar.  What?  It could happen, right?

Cecil Cooper.jpg

Cecil, point at whose fault it is.

Disappearance of Clay

Clay Round Rock.jpgThe Astros organization released Clay Hensley today, a day after he’d backed into his first win of the season.  They signed Brendan Donnelly in his place.  Clay went 1-0 for the Round Rock Express this season, striking out 5 and walking 7 in 10.0 IP.  He had a 7.20 ERA, and opposing hitters were batting .324 against
him.

Donnelly was an All-Star for the Angels in 2003, and last pitched for the Cleveland Indians in 2008, throwing just 13.2 innings, striking out 8 with an 8.56 ERA and a 2.195 WHIP.  He hasn’t thrown 21 innings or more since his last season with the Angels, 2006.

I’ll admit to being disappointed that things didn’t work out with Hensley, who I thought was poised to become the starter everyone had predicted him to be when he came up with the San Diego Padres.

Echo… Echo… Echo…

If you watched today’s game on television and wondered where all the people were, you weren’t alone.  The Reds and Astros drew just 9,878 to Great American Ball Park.  Down the road, the Louisville Bats – the Reds’ Triple-A affiliate – had drawn 7,834 earlier in the day.

What Happened Was…

Round Rock Express (AAA) – Bud Norris struck out seven Memphis Redbirds (STL) in as many innings, but walked 6 and gave up 5 hits and 2 ER to take the loss in today’s 3-1 decision.  Brendan “New Guy” Donnelly wasted no time getting his first playing time in, as he pitched a scoreless ninth inning, allowing just a hit and striking out 2.  Only three Express batters – the top three in the order (Brian Bogusevic, Matt Kata, and John Gall) managed hits, but Bogusevic’s was an RBI double, and he earned the only walk by a Round Rock hitter, giving him the edge as the offensive leader. The sole run was actually scored by Norris.

Corpus Christi Hooks (AA) – The Midland Rockhounds (OAK) got up on the Hooks early and continued to pile on, scoring in six of the eight innings they batted in before exerting their dominance over Corpus Christi once again with a 10-2 win.  No Hooks pitcher looked good in this one, but starter Casey Hudspeth looked particularly bad, giving up six hits and seven runs (six earned) in 4.0 IP.  He also walked four and struck out just three to earn the loss.  2B Drew Meyer was 3-for-5 with a double, salvaging some shred of dignity for the offense.

Lancaster Jethawks (A+) – I did a write-up not too long ago on the San Jose Giants (SFG) starter, Madison Bumgarner, who has been downright dominant so far in his professional career.  So it would have been understandable if the Jethawks had gotten rolled in this one.  And they did, losing 17-7, but not because of Bumgarner.  In fact, six of the seven runs Lancaster scored were against Bumgarner, though just two were earned, raising his season ERA to 1.40.  Seriously.  San Jose had two five-run innings, and though only two of the seven runs they put on David Duncan were earned, they knocked around every Jethawk pitcher unlucky enough to face them.  Your first-round pick, Jason Castro, was 0-for-2 with a sacrifice fly before being pulled in the second inning.  2B Christopher Minaker, filling in at first base today, was 3-for-5.  He led the team in hits (3) and errors (2). 

Lexington Legends (A) – Ross Seaton was in command today.  He pitched 7.0 shutout innings, scattering 4 hits and earning the win in the 4-2 victory over the Rome Braves (ATL).  He improves on the season to 2-1 with a 1.14 ERA.  Daniel Meszaros pitched a scoreless ninth to earn his seventh save of the season.  Two was the lucky number: 2B Albert Cartwright was an offensive force, going 2-for-2 with a homer, 2 RBI, and 2 SB (did I mention he hit second in the order?)

Dusting The Ficus – 04/28/09

Stephen A Smith.jpgESPN Mercifully Gets Rid of Stephen A. Smith

Stephen A. Smith, the always-bitter, always-confrontational sportscaster with an inexplicable chip on his shoulder, was told recently his contract would not be renewed by ESPN.  Though this doesn’t exactly make them relevant, it’s still good news.

I used to love college football as much – if not even more – than I loved baseball.  Call it the folly of youth, I guess, but at some point I just stopped watching.  I didn’t realize it until years later, when someone asked me why and I had to give it some thought.  My answer?  I don’t like college football anymore because all of the analysts feel the need to insert this bold, testosterone-fueled energy whenever they talk about any game.

I don’t want to get constantly shouted at by “provocative” sportscasters, and unfortunately, this is the direction ESPN has been going in for as far back as I can remember.  Chris Berman was the original blowhard, but Stuart Scott and Stephen A. Smith sum it up best for me – the “look at me” style of reporting where they’re more concerned about making stars out of the on-air personalities, rather than allowing the players’  performances stand on their own.  And no one exemplified that more than Smith and Skip Bayless, who have made a career out of bluster.

So I’m glad to see Smith leave, though it’s unlikely to get me back to ESPN, who have opened the floodgates on these types of personalities.

Speaking of the “Worldwide Leader”…

I don’t mean to keep piling on, but I’m glad to learn that I’m not the only one fed up with the design of ESPN.com.  It’s becoming next to impossible to find any kind of actual news story on the site, as they cram more and more advertising onto their page. 

On top of that, as the economy spirals downward and more and more web services become free, or at least greatly economical, ESPN.com seems to continue to make more and more of their content “Premium Insider” content, requiring users to pay for news.  The business model is broken.  I say boycott this Insider nonsense.

Racist Flyer Surfaces at Youth Athletic Association Tournament

This is a despicable story.  A man takes his 9-year-old son to a youth baseball tournament, and as he’s leaving, he finds a racist flyer on his car:

This is our sport and our town. We don’t need you — here taking
our children’s future. Get On Back To Memphis where you — belong!”

In the lower left hand corner of the flyer is a picture of a
baseball player with a racial slur written across his chest, and an X
through his face.

Every time we start to make some kind of progress in this country, some jack**s comes out of the woodwork to show us just how far we still have left to go.

Hinckley.jpgMajestic Hates The Natinals

As if the Washington Cincinnatinals didn’t have enough indignity in their lives, they had another uniform blunder last night when Mike Hinckley’s uniform had an upside-down 8 on it (notice the side that the beveling is on). 

On top of that, they recently announced that Garrett Mock and Joel Hanrahan would be removed from the setup and closer roles, respectively, and will be replaced by a closer-by-committee.  I don’t have anything against the c-by-c, per se, but I do when it consists of Kip Wells and Julian Tavarez. 

To be fair, Wells has pitched well so far for Washington, with a 1.154 WHIP and a 2.08 ERA, but he’s only thrown 4.1 innings, which is the epitome of “small sample size.”  He has pitched better as a reliever than as a starter in his career, no doubt in large part because matchups can be selected more judiciously out of the bullpen.

His career as a reliever is 88.1 IP, 1.392 WHIP, and 3.36 ERA, with 74 strikeouts to 49 BB.  Those aren’t terrible numbers, but they’re not really bullpen ace numbers, either.  And Tavarez, well, I don’t need to tell Astros fans about ol’ Julian, who broke two fingers on his hand punching a bullpen telephone during Game 4 in the 2004 NLCS after Carlos Beltran homered off of him.

What Happened Was…

Roy in GABP.jpgRoy Oswalt pitched well, as usual in Great American Ball Park, but earned a CCND* after scattering 6 hits over 7.0 innings and allowing a single run in the Astros’ 4-1 victory over the Cincinnati Reds. 

Lance Berkman also continued his excellence in the Reds’ new park, going 1-for-3 with a walk and a home run. 

In fact, the only starter who didn’t make it on-base was Ivan Rodriguez, who did make J.R. Towles‘ heart go pitter-patter when he fell to the ground after getting hit on the back of the leg by Brandon Phillips’ bat.

Even Jason Smith reached base, though he did it rather easily, as a pinch runner.


* CCND: Cecil Cooper No Decision, or what a pitcher earns when manager Cecil Cooper inexplicably pulls them in favor of an already-extended bullpen after throwing just 98 pitches.

Here in Los Angeles, on Fox-11, we are treated every night to the whitest man in America dancing on the evening news.  I have no reason to post this other than the sheer entertainment/schadenfreude value:

Round Rock Express (AAA) – Two good things happened in the 5-4 Express victory over the Memphis Redbirds (STL): First, Brandon Backe pitched 5.0 IP, allowing a single run on 2 hits and 2 walks in his first rehab start.   Second, Clay Hensley earned his first win of the year, though he did it after blowing a save by allowing one run on two hits in his sole inning of work.  Brian Bogusevic was 2-for-4 on the night with a home run and a triple, and C Lou Santangelo was 3-for-4.  As has been documented elsewhere, Chris Johnson is back on the disabled list for the hand injury he sustained over three weeks ago when he was hit in the hand by a pitch.

Andrew Locke.jpgCorpus Christi Hooks (AA) – The Midland Rockhounds (OAK) own the Corpus Christi Hooks.  Dating back to June 2008, they have taken 15 of the 17 meetings between the two clubs, and today was no different as they won 7-5.  OF Andrew Locke was 2-for-4 with a home run and 3 RBI, but there were few other highlights for the Hooks.  The Rockhounds pitchers combined for eleven strikeouts (three of them against 1B Mark Ori) and just two walks (3B Felix Molina and SS Drew Meyer deserve mention for being able to accomplish this apparently-rare feat).  Hooks pitcher Paul Estrada managed to walk three batters – more than the entire Midland staff allowed – in a single inning of work.

Lancaster Jethawks (A+) – Christopher Hicks allowed 4 runs on 12 hits in 6.1 IP, but was able to get the win in today’s 8-4 win over the San Jose Giants (SFG).  Chia-Jen Lo earned the save, striking out 4 and walking 2 in 2.2 scoreless innings.  Several Jethawks showed up at the plate today, including leadoff hitter OF Jack Shuck, who went 3-for-3 with a double and 2 walks.  Jason Castro was 2-for-5 with a home run. 

The Lexington Legends had the day off before beginning a four-game homestand against the Rome Braves (ATL).

Dusting The Ficus

Beaker2.jpg
I’ve decided that when I don’t have much to report, but want to tidy up a few things, I’m going to call it Dusting the Ficus.

Because I want to, and because it reminds me of John Turturro, who is pretty much the most amazing actor ever.

Long Beach Armada

This morning, I awoke to the news that the Long Beach Armada weren’t done after adding Jose Lima to their pitching staff.  They’ve followed that signing up by giving him a rotation mate in Hideki Irabu, the oft-maligned Japanese import who played for the Yankees, Expos, and Rangers en route to a career 34-35 record, 5.15 ERA, and 405:135 K:BB ratio in 514.0 IP. 

Admittedly, Irabu’s peripherals were not terrible when he was playing, but he hasn’t pitched in Major League Baseball since 2002, and will turn 40 years old in May, before the Golden League season begins.

More on Ellsbury’s Steal

Jacoby Ellsbury’s steal of home plate last night showed, among other things, that ESPN’s three-man booth is a travesty.  Jon Miller, already beleaguered by being stuck in a booth with professional blowhards Joe Morgan and Steve Phillips, had to use everything he had to interrupt the conversation long enough to shout, “There he goes!” when Ellsbury was already almost to the plate.

You could almost feel Morgan’s irritation at having been interrupted.

And readers everywhere weep for the loss of FJM

Miguel Tejada

Migiel Tejada shaved a full .062 off of his batting average by going hitless in 13 plate appearances against the Milwaukee Brewers.   The other thing that happened during this stretch is that he was dropped from the #2 spot in the lineup to the #5 spot.

Now, I’ve said many times that Tejada is best-suited to be a very good #6 hitter at this point in his career, and I believe that that’s true.  I definitely don’t think that moving a guy who has been in the top three in GIDP every year but once since 2002 into your two hole is the way to go. 

During that period, Tejada had 6 groundouts, 6 flyouts, and one strikeout.  For a player with a career 47.6 GB% according to FanGraphs, and who has been pretty consistent about it overall, I can’t help but think that this is just a fluke within a small sample size. 

No Hell’s Bells

The Houston Astros were able to get the Brewers out of their home without having to face the All-Time saves leader, Trevor Hoffman.  Which is just as well, because when I lived in San Diego and was a Padres season ticket holder, I really liked the guy, and I’d just as soon not have to root against him.

Though I know the time is coming.

Berkman Continues to Struggle

Lance Berkman has played in 1,389 Major League Baseball games; we have a pretty good idea who he is as a hitter.  He’s built up a solid-enough sample size that microtrends and patterns generally become just “noise.”

In other words, when Jordan Schafer homered in his first major league at-bat, and twice in his first three big league games, with no other experience to compare it to, an observer might think that here was a kid who was going to knock the stuffing out of the ball all season long.  Now, with 68 plate appearances, he hasn’t hit any since then.  Given 1,300 more plate appearances, if he hasn’t hit any, those numbers get put into a little better context.

With Berkman, we’re really at the point where things can be put into context.  And this is the context:

Berkman Graph.JPG

This is a month-by-month look at Berkman’s numbers throughout his career, and the thing that sticks out is at the far-right corner – September 2008 and April 2009, when his average and OBP have flatlined.  The previous low was April 2003, when he went .208/.337/.319; but April 2009 was his second-worst month ever in average (lowest was the month immediately prior – September 2008); his seventh-lowest OBP (Sep 08 was sixth-lowest); tenth-lowest SLG (Sep 08 was the lowest).

This includes 53 months during which he had a minimum of 40 plate appearances.

Between the end of 2008 and the beginning of 2009, something has happened to Lance Berkman’s numbers.  This is by far his longest sustained slump.  Whether there’s a hidden injury, a mental block, or something else entirely, I don’t know.  But this is quickly escalating from anomaly to trend. 

Andy Pettitte

There’s a very good chance you saw yesterday’s Red Sox-Yankees game, during which Jacoby Ellsbury stole home on former Astros pitcher Andy Pettitte.  Ellsbury’s show, while impressive, is at least a little understandable.  Though Pettitte has a great pickoff move, he’s not overly fast to the plate; for some reason, the Yankees were playing the shift despite having Ellsbury on third, and Pettitte (being a lefty) had his back turned. 

My point is that this was a good play, but not exactly as amazing as when Aaron Hill stole home against Pettitte — while Pettitte simply stood on the mound with the ball.  Now that was embarrassing.

Astros Fan.JPG

(These screen caps are starting to develop a theme)

The Pitch Count’s The Thing

Susan, the Astros Fan In Exile, asked me a question today that is so simple, I can’t believe I didn’t think of it.  How many pitches have the Astros thrown this season, and where do they rank among Major League Baseball in this regard?

After seeing our starters continuously exiting games with 100+ pitches in 6 and 7 innings this year, exposing our already-weakened bullpen even further, it’s a question that merits some investigation.

I ran the numbers, and it looks like little more than noise, at least at this point.  Astros pitchers have thrown an average of 151 pitches per game, tying them with the Reds for ninth-most.  Astros batters have seen 142 pitches, seventh fewest.  The -9 differential between the two is also seventh-lowest.  At either end of the spectrum, though, you have teams with varying amounts of success.

A more telling test might be the number of pitches thrown specifically by starters, but that survey will have to wait for another day, if at all.

Jason Smith

The good news is that the St. Louis Rams drafted Jason Smith.  The bad news is that it’s the wrong Jason Smith.  The Houston version, a small left-handed utility infielder, is now 0-for-18 to begin his Astro career.  He does have a SH and a SF, which accounts for his sole RBI, but he has yet to reach base this season.

Meanwhile, Edwin Maysonet, one of the players he beat out for a spot on the roster, was 2-for-3 with a pair of doubles and a walk today at Round Rock.  He’s now .367/.500/.500 on the season.

I Think Your J-Valve Is Busted

There’s something seriously wrong with Jose Valverde.  I mean physically; we all already knew there was something off mentally.

There isn’t a lot waiting in the minor leagues, and I suspect Valverde is hanging on as long as he can so as not to expose an expended bullpen, but something’s got to give.  The return of Brandon Backe and Brian Moehler will help (I seriously never thought I’d be desperate enough to say that), but barring a surge of arms from Round Rock, there isn’t a short-term answer. 

Pitchers on the 40-man roster include Alberto Arias, Samuel Gervacio, Brad James, Tyler Lumsden, and Polin Trinidad.  None of whom are having a very good season to this point.  Bud Norris is not on the 40-man roster, and would require an accompanying move to get called up.

Missing In Action

I wasn’t able to watch Saturday night’s game, so I didn’t see what prompted the ejection of Ivan Rodriguez and Cecil Cooper.  I also didn’t get to see J.R. Towles come up with a timely hit.  Good boy, Towlesy.

I suspect he’ll get some time in the Cincinnati trip.

The fact that Mike Cameron made it through that series without a fastball to the rib is a little disappointing, but it’s a long season and we’ll see the Brewers many, many times.

What Happened Was…

Houston Astros (MLB) – The Astros accidentally beat the Milwaukee Brewers 3-2.

Round Rock Express (AAA) – The Express had themselves a nice little game, downing the Memphis Redbirds (STL) 6-2.  Everyone knows I love me some Mark Saccomanno.  He may be the best hitter in the Astros system, and if his defense was even adequate, he’d be a big leaguer by now.  But it isn’t, and his throwing error today was his fourth in this young season.  Edwin Maysonet was 2-for-3 with two doubles and a walk to lead the offense; Alberto Arias finally had a good start, despite striking out just two in 5.0 IP, he allowed only one run on 3 hits and a walk.

Corpus Christi Hooks (AA) – The Hooks clawed their way back into this game, but couldn’t overcome a seven-run sixth inning by the Frisco Roughriders (TEX), and dropped the decision 9-5.  DH/OF Andrew Locke was 4-for-5 with a double.  Sergio Perez did not pitch well, allowing 6 runs in 5.0 IP.  You all know I have to give Justin Smoak’s line, and here it is: 3-for-4, with a double, a home run, 2 RBI, and a walk.

Lancaster Jethawks (A+) – This was a braw
l from start to finish.  The Rancho Cucamonga Quakes (LAA) put up 4 runs in the second; Lancaster tied it up at five with four runs of their own in the fourth.  The fifth inning had Rancho Cucamonga scoring 4 to Lancaster’s 3.  That run, plus two in the ninth, would be the deciders in Lancaster’s 12-9 loss.  You know it’s a high-scoring game when a guy (2B Craig Corrado) can go 0-for-6 and still have 2 RBI.  OF Brian Pellegrini was 3-for-5 with a double and 3 runs and had an outfield assist to top it off.  Jason Castro, now free of Koby Clemens after the latter’s promotion to Corpus Christi, was 2-for-5 with a home run in celebration.  Reid Kelly was handed the loss, despite being the least bad of the four Jethawk pitchers.

Lexington Legends (A) – The Legends had an early 3-0 lead, but ended up dropping this one to the Bowling Green Hot Rods (TBR) 7-6, despite a 2-run rally in the ninth.  SS Ronald Ramirez had a good day at the plate, going 1-for-3 with a home run, 2 RBI, and a walk.  But then he decided to commit an error to remind everyone why he’s 23 years old and still playing in the South Atlantic League.  Jordan Lyles had a rough outing, striking out 3 in 5.0 IP, and allowing 3 ER on 4 hits and 2 walks.  Daniel Meszaros pitched a scoreless 8th to keep the Legends in the game, keeping his season ERA at 0.00.  Last year’s #1 overall draft pick, Tim Beckham, was 1-for-5 for the Hot Rods.

KLx3

Berkman Line 04-24.JPG

I didn’t want to believe it.  I really didn’t.  I didn’t want to believe that Lance Berkman was really in a slump, despite all evidence to the contrary.  I wanted to think it was just a slow start, or whatever else one might call a slump without actually using the word slump.

Lance Berkman simply doesn’t go 0-for-4 with three strikeouts.  Ever.  Right?  He’s gone ofer with at least three strike outs only 18 times in his 1,388 games.  Before tonight, he hadn’t done it since… well, since April 13th of this year, when Zach Duke made the whole Astros lineup look ridiculous.

There seemed to be a lot of frustration today at the plate for Berkman, who seemed fairly convinced that he was getting the raw end of some bad calls.  But was he?  Here are his strikeouts, in order.  First the fourth inning:

Berkman KL1 4th Inn.JPGNow the sixth inning:
Berkman KL2 6th Inn.JPGAnd on to the ninth:
Berkman KL3 9th Inn.JPG
It’s important to note that these strike zones are not 100% accurate, but they’re close.  Though Lance argued the calls, as you can see, every strike was within the zone except for one – which was actually a foul.  If anything, he got a favorable call on a ball within the zone.

I know Berkman must be frustrated.  He’s batting .186, after all.  Prior to this season, he hadn’t had a lower average since April 1, 2008 – the second game of the season – when he’d started 1-for-7. 

He’s slumping.  But he’s a great hitter, and he’ll get through it. 


Work It

Once again, the Astros hitters seemed in an awful hurry.  Yovani Gallardo took just 106 pitches to throw a complete game. The only good news is that the Brewers seemed to be in an equal hurry – at least until the fifth inning.  It took Felipe Paulino 91 pitches to get through six innings.

Only three times did Astros hitters have a plate appearance of over five innings: Miguel Tejada‘s 4th inning at-bat (6); Lance Berkman‘s 4th inning at-bat (7); Michael Bourn‘s 6th inning at-bat (6).

Cameron Quintero.JPGYou Know What

The play at the plate.  Hunter Pence throws a perfect strike to the plate, which beats Mike Cameron by five steps.  Humberto Quintero is up the line, bracing for impact, when Cameron levels him.  Helmets go flying.  Cameron is out.  Quintero is… well, out.  As in out of the game.

Was it a clean play?  I guess.  That’s all I can say; I guess.  I just hate these plays.  If someone was running to first base, curled up, and unloaded on a waiting first baseman, everyone would call it dirty.  When it’s at the plate, it seems, it’s all fair game.

I’m not going to condemn Mike Cameron, though I didn’t like the play.  He was beaten by several steps and pretty far up the line.

Questions of morality aside, it leaves the Astros with a hole to fill.  Besides Quintero and Ivan Rodriguez, the only other catcher on the 40-man roster is J.R. Towles, who is still out after fouling a ball off of his own helmet during a game at Round Rock earlier this week. 

That begs the question: Who is the “emergency catcher?”  That is probably Jason Smith, who played 33 games at catcher when he was with the Toledo Mudhens (DET) in 2004.

Just don’t tell Coop that there’s another bizarre roster option.

Speaking of Coop…

Jeff Keppinger had an eight-game hitting streak going – his entire Astro career – when Cecil Cooper decided it would be a good idea to pull him off the bench as a pinch-hitter against righty Gallardo. 

Jason Smith and Jason Michaels were available – but Cooper decided to put Keppinger’s hitting streak on the line, which then promptly ended when Kepp predictably grounded out to the shortstop.

This is either due to Cooper’s belief in Keppinger, who has insane lefty-righty splits over his career; or his desire to stay away from putting Smith at the plate late in the game, for which he was rightly criticized not long ago.  Either way, I thought it a pretty weak move to sacrifice Kepp’s streak for an at-bat with two outs in the ninth inning; down by three runs.

Ausmus Wins, Ausmus Wins

…for the Dodgers.  A two-out single in the ninth to break a tie game and propel them to a 6-5 victory.  I’m a little annoyed that Joe Torre started Ausmus the day after the Houston series, but it’s his team, and I can’t argue with how he’s running it.

[Has anyone else noticed that Ausmus is wearing #12 for the Dodgers, which was previously worn by former Astro Jeff Kent?  Prior to that, it was worn by former Astro Steve Finley.  In fact, the last time the Dodgers had a #12 who wasn’t a former Astro was 1998, when Mike Devereaux and Jim Eisenreich wore the number for the Trolley Dodgers.]

DodgerBrad.jpg

Peanut Brittle

If Quintero is unable to go tomorrow, he joins Jose Valverde, Doug Brocail, and Brian Moehler as players from the Opening Day roster who are unavailable.  And depending on what’s going on with Carlos Lee, who left in the seventh inning, that could be 20% of the Opening Day roster who is now unavailable to the club.

Yordany Ramirez and Brian Bogusevic are the minor league outfielders on the 40-man roster. 

If it was just an early double-switch, that’s even worse.  If that’s the case, and Lee isn’t actually injured, Coop should be fired tomorrow.  Tomorrow
.

Very Cool

Most of my readers probably don’t know who Greg Rybarczyk, but he’s one of the best minds in baseball statistics, and the creator of HitTracker.  Tonight, Greg was on ESPN.  Good for them to recognize him. 

http://sports.espn.go.com/broadband/player.swf?mediaId=4094534

What Happened Was…

Houston Astros (MLB) – The Astros dropped a 5-2 decision to the Milwaukee Brewers.

Round Rock Express (AAA) – The first day of Brian Moehler‘s rehab assignment went pretty smoothly.  When he stepped off of the mound after the first inning against the New Orleans Zephyrs (FLA), he’d taken just eleven days to retire the side in order.  When he stepped onto the mound to begin the second inning, he had a six run lead.  Not bad.  He pitched four innings – not enough to earn the win – and allowed three hits, three walks, and one earned run.  Yorman Bazardo would get the win in the 7-4 victory.  Apparently Chris Johnson was winded after playing his first game in nearly three weeks yesterday, and Mark Saccomanno was at third base, error-free.  Every starter got at least one hit in this one; OF Brian Bogusevic was 1-for-2 with 3 walks.  2B Matt Kata, of all people, was 3-for-4 with a double and a home run.

Corpus Christi Hooks (AA) – Catcher Brian Esposito‘s solo home run to start off the ninth inning for the Hooks was the only score they had all night, falling to the Frisco Roughriders (TEX), 5-1.  Douglas Arguello got the hard-luck loss, allowing a single run in 5.0 IP; Christopher Salamida allowed four runs in two innings in relief to seal the deal for Corpus Christi.  And you know I’m going to fill you in on Justin Smoak, who went 2-for-4. 

Lancaster Jetjhawks (A+) – The Jethawks were out of this one early, completely buried.  They trailed 8-0 going into the bottom of the eight… and won 11-8 in extra innings.  One run in the bottom of the eighth, a seven-run rally in the ninth, and a three-run walk-off home run by Koby Clemens in the tenth to beat the Rancho Cucamonga Quakes (LAA).  OF Jonathan Gaston was 1-for-2 with his fifth home run of the season, and 2B Craig Corrado was 4-for-5 with a triple.  Clemens, who came off the bench as a pinch-hitter, was 2-for-2 with a double, the aforementioned home run, and 6 RBI.  Six.  That’s six RBI.  Jason Castro was 3-for-5.

Lexington Legends (A) – Had the rain only started a little earlier, the Lexington Legends might have won this game.  But it didn’t; the game was called after six innings – one inning after the Hickory Crawdads (TEX) put three runs up to win it, 3-1.  Robert Bono had struck out 5 in his 5.0 innings, with no walks, but allowed three runs on just four hits to take the loss.  Just two hits for the Legends in this one, so that makes DH/3B Kyle Miller the leader almost by default with a 1-for-2 line, his lone hit a double. 

Tweet

The fine, fine specimens of man over at Red State Blue State have devoted plenty of time to Coco Crisp and Barry Zito, probably my two favorite people to follow at Twitter

Who they haven’t mentioned – and who I feel is worthy of some amount of attention – Zito’s teammate in San Francisco, Brian Wilson.

Specifically, I want to address something that has been puzzling me ever since he Tweeted it:
BrianWilson38.JPGNow, Brian Wilson is not some schlub saying this.  This is Mr. Wilson:
Brian Wilson.jpg

Not a small guy.  Could probably bruise a few people up.  But my thoughts immediately turned to people like 275-pounder Bobby Jenks from the White Sox, or Heath Bell of the Padres:
Bobby Jenks.jpg
Heath Bell.jpg
Now, these are not small men like Huston Street or Francisco Rodriguez.  They’re not old men like Mariano Rivera or Trevor Hoffman.  They’re not doughy little lunatics like Jose Valverde or Matt Capps.  They’re not even scrawny, wiry little white trash like Jonathan Papelbon or Kevin Gregg.

They’re two pretty big guys, but solid (well, Jenks is not solid anything, but he’s 275 pounds!)

But then, last night, I watched the Astros and the Dodgers.  And I saw him.  Jonathan Broxton.
Jonathan Broxton.jpg
Ladies and gentlemen, that massive chunk of humanity seated in the red cap is Mr. Broxton.  He stands 6’4″, 290 pounds, and not much of it came from Twinkies.  And the cap?  It’s not a duck hunting cap, friends.  That’s a bona fide Holden Caulfield people-huntin’ cap.  Because Jonathan Broxton eats other human beings.

Not because he likes the taste.  He just does it because he can.

Brian Wilson, I think you’d better be careful.  Because if Broxton could Tweet (he’s physically unable; when he touches a keyboard, the entire computer vaporizes into a puff of anodes and diodes), he might see what you’ve done.  And he might take you up on it.

And like your Beach Boy name sake, you might be calling Rhonda for some help.

[RR15: There is no Rhonda.  I just wanted to force a Beach Boys reference in there.]

You Take The Good, You Take The Bad, You Take Them Both And There You Have…

It’s important to remember, in the midst of the 2-0 shutout at the hands of Chad Billingsley and Jonathan Broxton, that the Astros just stole a series win from the hottest team in baseball coming into the series.  After losing three of four to the Reds, it was an important series for us.  We’ve got the Brewers on tap (see what I did there?), and if we can steal two of three from them, we’ll be in good shape going to Cincinnati.

There was some good news in this loss, and there was some bad news.  First, though, I have to say that for the most part, we just ran into some good pitching tonight by Billingsley.  I’m not terribly concerned.  Not terribly.

The Good


Magic Wandy
– So far this season, Wandy Rodriguez is every bit the pitcher we’d hoped he would be.  He may, in fact, be the best unknown pitcher in baseball right now.  His 1-2 record just goes to show why win-loss records don’t mean a whole heck of a lot, as he’s pitched well enough to win all four of his starts. 

Unfortunately for Rodriguez, it looks like he’ll need to throw shutouts if he wants to win, as the offense seems to take the night off when he’s on the mound

Imagine if we’d gotten a legitimate #2 starter in the offseason, and had Wandy in the three hole and Mike Hampton and Russ Ortiz throwing fourth and fifth.  Not that Felipe Paulino hasn’t looked pretty good so far this season, both in Round Rock and in Houston.

Rodriguez’s next start should be in Cincinnati, where we will get another look at Road Wandy, who has thus far been a different beast entirely than Home Wandy.

Rolling Blackouts – The roof was closed today, which may be part of the reason why everyone stayed in the yard tonight.  I mentioned before that Chad Billingsley had yet to give up a home run
this season.  What I intentionally omitted was that neither had
Rodriguez.

In fact, there were only three extra-base hits all night, each off of a different pitcher. 

Brandon Back…e?

Brandon Backe, the much-maligned starting pitcher of Astros teams past, will pitch on Monday in a rehab assignment with the Round Rock Express.  Which, I guess, is great.  But you have to wonder what will happen to him once he’s available.  If Felipe Paulino continues to pitch well, there certainly won’t be a place in the big league rotation for him.

Doug Brocail and Brian Moehler will be returning from injuries, as well.  Moehler will pitch for Round Rock on Saturday, and Brocail could be back in the Astros bullpen as early as Sunday, creating a logjam.

Geoff Geary pitched fairly well in relief tonight, despite allowing a run, but after earning the loss in two consecutive games, he’s understandably a question mark for some fans.  Jose Valverde is dinged up, and just generally looks like his offseason workout routine involved sangrias and donuts.

Beyond Valverde, the team doesn’t have another legitimate closer candidate until Bud Norris is ready, assuming he doesn’t become a legitimate starter candidate, which he will if he continues to pitch well (more on that later).  Valverde’s contract expires at the end of this season, and there isn’t really anyone in the system who can fill that role right now.

Or is there?  Backe has looked exceptional at times during his career, but seems to suffer from a severe lack of focus.  It’s rare for him to make a start where he doesn’t look completely lost at some point or another.  But when he’s locked in, he can be very good.  Which is why I am starting my official Brandon Back For Closer Campaign.  My solution?  Move Brandon to Round Rock and pitch him in late relief.  He doesn’t have to be a closer right now (especially since Round Rock rarely has save situations,) but he should be entering the game in high-leverage situations.

Put him out there and see what he can do.  Jonathan Papelbon and Brandon Morrow are #5 starters who have been moved to late relief, and Backe’s game is not terribly unlike either of theirs.  It’s at least worth a shot.

Feed Me, Seymour… – Kudos to MLBlogs for finally getting RSS feeds up and running!  You can follow me at http://mlblogshouston.files.wordpress.com/2009/04/girl201-thumb-327×268-1078941.jpgatom.xml.  The best thing, as those of you who read me regularly know, is that most RSS readers only show a small portion.  When posts are as long as mine, this is a necessity.

Girl 1.JPG

(Really? This is the only screen cap I took during the game?)

The Bad
Work, Work, Work Senora – I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that the Astros remain terribly impatient at the plate.  They shouldn’t really be expected to all turn into Brian Giles or Kevin Youkilis overnight.  But once again, our starting pitcher was knocked out of the game tonight after six innings, while the opposing pitcher worked late. 

In four plate appearances, Lance Berkman and Miguel Tejada each saw ten pitches.  Ten.  That’s two and a half pitches per plate appearance.  Not good.  The team’s two youngest (and, presumably, most impatient) hitters – Hunter Pence and Michael Bourn – are the only ones working the count.

As I’ve said before, until we work our way into other teams’ bullpens, we will lose a lot of close games.

Shaky PumaLance Berkman‘s throws to second base, like his throws to home plate, do not look good.  In fact, they look very bad.  I am seriously concerned about his shoulder.

Ornithophobia – 0-for-9 with runners in scoring position.  You like stats?  Here’s a stat: In the Astros’ 6 wins, they’ve gone 21-for-72 (.292) with RISP.  In their 10 losses, they’ve gone 5-for-57  (.088) with RISP.  Only once have they had at least two hits with RISP and not won the game.  They’ve never had fewer than two and won the game.

I don’t want to read too much into tonight’s failure to get it done, because Billingsley and Broxton were really just that good.  But it’s becoming a habit.

Record-Breaking PaceIvan Rodriguez has grounded into 3 DP in 15 games, which puts him on pace to ground into 33.  His career-high is 31.

All The Small Things – One of the things bad managers tend to do a lot of is “small ball.”  Now, I’m not saying that only bad managers do it, but it’s been my experience that most managers tend to think they won’t get criticized if they play “by the book” and their guys can’t execute.

That’s the only reason I can think of why Cecil Cooper would – once again – call for the sacrifice bunt with Jason Michaels on base.  What’s particularly strange is that the call was made for Kazuo Matsui, our leadoff hitter, to once again perform the honors.  Kaz now has two sacrifice hits on the season.  He’s never had more than three in an entire year.

Particularly questionable is that Cooper was doing this while down by two runs.  It doesn’t take a mathematician to realize that playing for one run when you’re down by two might not be the most effective strategy in the world.

The Other Jason – It’s easy to forget about Jason Smith, the utility infielder who earned the job solely out of Coop’s insanity.  But he’s played in 12 of the Astros’ 16 games, compiling 17 at-bats, none of which have resulted in him getting on-base.  Oddly, he has been used primarily as a pinch-runner lately, which he is not terribly well-suited for. 

A Quandary – With one out in the eighth inning, Dodgers manager Joe Torre brought in his closer, Jonathan Broxton.  The following half-inning, the pitcher spot was up ninth, but Torre did not pull a double-switch (Manny Ramirez had batted in the inning, which gave Juan Pierre  – a definite defensive upgrade – as an option; as had Russell Martin, which would have given Brad Ausmus his much-anticipated return to Minute Maid Park).  However, when the Dodgers came up to bat, Wesley Wright retired the side in order. 

My question is this: With a very good closer on the mound opposing you, who bats fourth, why not intentionally walk Casey Blake – who hit a monster homerun off of Union Station last night – to force Torre’s hand?  He’d either have to let Broxton hit or pinch-hit for him and be forced to run out a pitcher who wasn’t laying triple-digit heat at the knees on the black.

What Happened Was…

Houston Astros (MLB) – What happened was we lost, that’s what happened.

Round Rock Express (AAA) – Mark Saccomanno hit an impotent home run in the bottom of the ninth, but the Express fell to the New Orleans Zephyrs (FLA) 7-3.  Bud Norris gets mixed reviews – 7.0 IP, 8 K, 2 BB, 6 H, 2 ER.  Samuel Gervacio was horrible, giving up 4 runs in one inning on a three-run triple and a balk.  Very good news, though: 3B Chris Johnson was back in the lineup.  He went 0-for-3 with 2 K, but it’s nice to see him back in uniform.
Corpus Christi Hooks (AA) – A 6-2 lead over the Frisco Roughriders (TEX) fizzled away to a 9-6 deficit in the hands of the Hooks’ bullpen, but they rallied with 6 runs in the bottom of the eighth to pull out this barnburner, 12-9.  Three Hooks home runs: OF Collin DeLome (who was 3-for-5 with 3 RBI and a SB), OF Mitch Einertson (2-for-5, 3 RBI); and DH Andrew Locke (3-for-5 with 4 RBI).  No doubt if Richard Justice looked at the box score, he’d lament the fact that the Hooks only walked once.  (Oh, and Justin Smoak went 2-for-5 with 3 RBI, but who’s counting?)

Lancaster Jethawks (A+) – The Jethawks dropped the decision to the Rancho Cucamonga Quakes (LAA) today, 8-5.  Not a lot to speak of here – Koby Clemens was 0-for-4 and Jason Castro was 0-for-5.  Clemens was behind the plate and went 1-for-2 on SB attempts.  He was also involved in a 3-2 DP.  2B Marcos Cabral was 3-for-5 with a HR and 2 RBI.

Lexington Legends (A) – Brad Dydalewicz continues to impress.  5 strikeouts in 7 shutout innings gives him 17.0 IP this season without allowing an earned run.  Opposing batters are hitting .089 against him.  Oh, and he got the win, 3-0, over the Hickory Crawdads (TEX). OF  Jay Austin continues to heat up, going 2-for-5 with a double, and 1B Phil Disher was 3-for-4 with a HR and all 3 of the Legends’ RBI.

Quote of the Day
from Greg Rajan

“You walk through our clubhouse and the atmosphere with the club
this year is a lot different than last year,” Hooks manager Luis Pujols
said. “I believe (that came from parent club Houston) sending the
message during spring training that we’re going to develop and also win.

“I’m glad they changed the philosophy because we’ve got to teach
players how to win. In all the games we’ve played this year, I don’t
recall ever seeing the guys down if we’re (trailing). I like the way
they’re going about their business.”

[RR15: What exactly was the philosophy last year?  That we had to teach them to lose and to not develop?  Actually, that would explain a lot.]

Q&A

This morning, Mark of Dudley On The Astros asked me my thoughts on a subject near and dear to my heart:

Any ideas on what’s eating at Oswalt?

We all know by now that Roy Oswalt is a puzzle at times.  This is a guy who overcame a serious shoulder injury by working on his truck and getting zapped by the spark plug wires.  A guy who, when asked what his goal was, answered by saying he wanted a bulldozer, was awarded a bulldozer for clinching a pennant.  A guy who’s said he might want to retire after his current contract because he’s not motivated by the Hall of Fame which may well be within his grasp.  A guy who orders a ribeye and fries every day for lunch, and usually gets a soda when he buys gas.  A guy who’s building a restaurant in his hometown of Weir, Mississippi, that will only be open on weekends.

He’s an eccentric.  If he played in a bigger market, or wasn’t quite so quiet (or at least not well-publicized,) he’d be known as a character

Because he’s an eccentric, it’s sometimes hard to determine whether his struggles are real or imagined.  But it doesn’t take a long look at his statistics to see that the concern is real this time.  It’s a small sample size, but comparing his early starts in 2009 to the rest of his career, we can see some problems emerging:

K/9: The lowest in his career. Despite a bump from 2007-2008, Roy’s K/9 has been decreasing ever since his rookie year, and thus far 2009 is no exception – it’s at an all-time low of 5.76.

BB/9: The second-highest of his career.  In 2001, Roy walked just 1.52 batters per nine innings.  So far in 2009, he’s at 2.29, which is only topped by the 2.55 he threw in 2007. 

K/BB: The worst of his career. In 2007, he struck out 2.57 batters for every one he walked. That had been the worst by a mile (the previous low had been 3.32 in 2004), and so far in 2009, he’s at 2.29. 

HR/9: It’s not even close. Before this year, the worst he’d ever done in this area is 1.06 in 2003.  Now, he’s at 2.16.  He’s allowed six home runs in his first four starts – in a slow start in 2008, he’d allowed just five through the same point, and gave up #6 and #7 in his fifth start.  He got torched in May 2008; he didn’t pitch a single game in that month where he didn’t give up at least one home run.

BAA: Highest of his career at .291; the previous high was .270 in 2007.

WHIP: Highest of his career at 1.44; the previous high was 1.33 in 2007.

And he’s doing all of this with a .297 BABIP, which is actually pretty good.

It should be noted, however, that this is a four-start period being compared to full seasons.  Throughout his career, Oswalt has consistently started slowly and gotten better.  Don’t believe me?  Here are his career splits:

Apr: 3.54 ERA / 2.72 K-BB / .310 OBPA / 6.7 K9 / 1.248 WHIP
May: 3.44 ERA / 2.93 K-BB / .315 OBPA / 6.9 K9 / 1.274 WHIP
Jun: 3.18 ERA / 4.28 K-BB / .308 OBPA / 7.8 K9 / 1.236 WHIP
Jul: 3.67 ERA / 4.49 K-BB / .306 OBPA / 7.9 K9 / 1.242 WHIP
Aug: 2.59 ERA / 3.53 K-BB / .281 OBPA / 7.4 K9 / 1.072 WHIP
Sep: 2.54 ERA / 4.23 K-BB / .294 OBPA / 7.8 K9 / 1.139 WHIP

Almost across the board, he gets stronger and stronger as he gets farther along into the year.  Here are his career lines after four starts:

Oswalt Starts.JPGAs you can see, with the exception of HR and HR/9 (and let’s face it, he’s never faced Albert Pujols and Manny Ramirez in his first four starts before), no one statistic is the worst of his career.  One the whole, it’s safe to say that the post-2006 Roy Oswalt isn’t as good as the pre-2007 Roy Oswalt, but this year isn’t so very terrible, now, is it?

The question is: Why isn’t he better?  If it’s a given that he’s going to eventually be just fine, why is that adjustment coming later, rather than sooner?  Is it the 2009 WBC, in which he struggled?  Is it something else entirely?  Maybe.  And I’ll discuss that in a moment.


What About His Mechanics?

It’s the first thing we wonder, naturally.  But a quick look at the numbers shows that his fastball velocity is actually up this year, is at the fastest (93.2) it’s been since 2004.  His slider velocity, however, is the lowest it’s ever been, and he’s throwing it more than he’s ever thrown it.  In fact, it’s interesting to note that only since the “bad” years, 2007 and beyond, has he thrown the slider into the double-digit percentages, no doubt at least in part to compensate for the cutter he no longer throws.

In fact, for the first time in his career, his changeup (84.4) is actually a little faster than his slider (83.1).  What does that mean?  Nothing in and of itself, but it does mean that if a hitter guesses fastball and misses, he has a little more time to regroup and still get the bat around.

Add to that the fact that his curveball, which he’s just started to really use, is coming out a little hot.  In fact, the average speed is a full 1.5mph higher than we’ve seen it in the past.  Historically, as he’s been able to rely on that curve, he’s been able to pitch more confidently and to get more strikeouts.

We’re not seeing marked differences in his GB% and FB%, but his LD% is, ahem, astronomical.  The balls he’s throwing are getting tattooed.  But why?  I suspect it’s largely because the slider, which as we’ve noted is coming out slower, is also coming out flatter – 2.2 on PitchFx, opposed to 2.5 last year.  It doesn’t take a particular genius to see that if your breaking stuff doesn’t break, it’s not going to be terribly effective.

Vertical Movement.JPG

(thanks to FanGraphs for this)

So what does all of this mean?  I don’t think it’s anything to panic about just yet.  The vertical movement actually looks favorable to 2007; the two-seamer is very tight, the slider and curve have bounced around a little, and he could probably stand to vary his four-seamer a bit.  But overall, nothing to be too terribly concerned about.

Psychology

Now, I like to shy away from any arguments regarding the psychology of a player.  To come up with a reason why Roy might not be pitching isn’t far from saying he’s intentionally tanking his performance, which a competitor like Oswalt isn’t likely to do.

That said, he’s made no secre
t of his frustration with management for not putting together a more-competitive team, particularly in the area of starting pitching.  In the offseason, he offered to re-structure his contract so that the Astros could sign a #2 pitcher.  Worse than being laughed at, he was pretty much entirely dismissed by management without so much as a conversation.

I do believe that he’s frustrated; that he feels like he has to carry the team on his slight shoulders, and if he’s not resentful, he’s at least a little bitter.  A free agent signing, like Pedro Martinez or Paul Byrd, might make all the difference in the world.  Roy has repeatedly said it’s not about individual accolades; he wants to compete, and he wants to win.

Watching management squander away the opportunity to do that, I think, he takes as a personal affront.  Not that I think he’s deliberately tanking his performance, but on some level, he has to wonder what the point is in playing the best he can when he’s not on a squad that is likely to make the playoffs.

Completely Unrelated

When I was a kid in Southwestern Ohio, the Cincinnati Reds made an audiocassette (remember those?) of an anti-drug rap called “Reds Hot.”  For years, the hook has gone through my head…

Say no to drugs
Say no to crack
Just hit the books
And the ball with the bat

But no one else ever seemed to remember it.  I was beginning to wonder if I’d made the whole thing up.  Today, however, I was vindicated – and it is every bit as bad as I remember.

Barry Larking as “B-Lark.”  Chris Sabo (one of my favorite players as a kid) as “Spuds McKenzie.”  Randy Myers, Rob Dibble, and Norm Charlton as “The Nasty Boys.”  Mariano Duncan rapping, “Like Hammer would say… You can’t touch this.”  Billy Hatcher as “Hatch.”

Incredible.  And you know what?  They really did win the World Series that year.

Yo, take us to the seventh inning stretch.

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