Archive for the ‘Houston Astros’ category

How Small Was He?

June 9, 2017

Something got me thinking today about the smallest real players to play in major league baseball.  Of course, Bill Veeck‘s little person Eddie Gaedel, who walked in his only major league plate appearance, was the shortest at 3’7″ to play in MLB.

Veeck was able to meld crass exploitation with real baseball know-how (in 1951, when pitching staffs were only 9 or 10 men, you can’t entirely discount the fact that Veeck could have seen the value in a pinch-hitter would almost always walk — this was the guy who turned the Indians into World’s Champions, and the best single season attendance draw continuing through the next generation, in only about three seasons).  If filling the seats was the goal, and it was, it certainly worked for Veeck, at least until Disco Demolition Night in 1976.

Will Harridge, the AL President, voided Gaedel’s contract the next day.

This is the best post on-line I found to my question, and it’s relatively recent.  Herearesomeothers.  I not sure it any of these posts mention the 5’6″ Jose Altuve.

Wee Willy Keeler (“Hit ‘Em Where They Ain’t”) is the only Hall of Famer, and for that matter the only player of real consequence at 5’4.”  Nobody remembers Lee Viau today.  At 140 lbs, Keeler was 20 lbs lighter than Viau.

The first major league pitchers to develop major league curveballs were not big dudes.  Candy Cummings was 5’9″ and 120 lbs, and Bobby Mathews was 5’5″ and 140 lbs.  Candy is in the Hall of Fame for his reported discovery of the curveball.  An HOFer who got there purely on MLB performance is “Old Hoss” Radbourn listed at 5’9″ and 168 lbs.

People were a lot smaller in 19th century America.  Multiple subsequent generations of heavy meat and dairy eating has made the contemporary American male on average much larger than those whose diets were based mainly on starches.

Baseball Almanac says there were ten MLB players listed at 5’3″.  Unfortunately, it hasn’t identified, at least to the cheapskate public, the identities of those ten.  One of the posts linked above says that Mike McCormack (5’3″, 155 lbs) was the shortest player to qualify for a batting title.  However, he slashed .184/.278/.222 as the main 3Bman for the 1904 Brooklyn Superbas and was never heard of again outside of the minor league cities where he continued to play pro baseball.

“Doc” Gautreau was probably the 5’4″ that baseball reference lists him at.  Rumors of shorter height are probably a result of the fact that he was reported to weigh only 129 lbs.  He was a rangy 2Bman who made his share of errors.  He had no power, and his ability to get on base wasn’t appreciated during his three seasons as an MLB platoon player on second division Boston Braves teams in the late 1920’s.

Gautreau was a Massachusetts Canuck, like footballer Jack Kerouac a generation later.  When the Montreal Royals started play in the (now AAA) International League in 1928, they were on the look-out for a French Canadian ballplayer who would appeal to their fan base.

Gautreau, who spoke French, had left the majors in 1928, and the Royals acquired him for the 1929 season.  He gave the Royals five strong seasons and was almost certainly the team’s most popular player, since he also hustled like a guy who was 5’4″ and 129 pounds.

The subject of tiny MLBers is near and dear to my heart for reasons I will elaborate on in a later post.

Are Carlos Beltran and Adrien Beltre Future Hall of Famers?

May 12, 2017

Almost certainly.

Carlos Beltran has scored more than 1,500 runs and driven in more than 1,500.  The only qualifying players not in the Hall of Fame with that many runs scored and that many RBIs are the recent generation of nearly proven PEDers.

Beltran has some reports of chemically enhanced performance, but probably not enough to tar him as a PED cheat.

Adrian Beltre, who is currently injured, is current stuck at 2,999 career runs scored plus RBIs, one short of what is certainly a magic number for HOF purposes.  A cursory internet search has not turned up any compelling case for PED use by Beltre, so his HOF chances are indeed strong.

I’m convinced that the best of the PED guys (Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, maybe Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa) will eventually make the HOF on the grounds that when enough time passes, the voting sports writers will acknowledge that these guys would have made the HOF even if PEDs never existed.  As jaded as I am, I still have some faith that experienced sports writers will be able to evaluate the PED crop of players and one day decide which of them were so much better than everybody else that they deserve to be in the HOF.

I will admit, though, that it hasn’t always happened.  The Veterans’ Committee has indeed over-valued the performance of hitters in hitters’ eras and pitchers’ in pitchers’ eras, and vice versa.  I’m hopeful that 75% of sports writers in the future will learn from past mistakes and someday figure out how to evaluate the PED-era players.  Wishful thinking?  We’ll see.

Ouchies

April 20, 2017

There is a great article on espn.com interviewing Brandon Guyer about his frequency of getting hit by pitches.  Guyer attributes it to his batting stride that leaves his front leg to get hit a lot because lefties in particular pitch him inside, and he doesn’t move once he’s stepped forward into the stride.

The article got me thinking about HBPs, so I naturally hit the baseball reference lists on single season and career HBP by batters.  That got me thinking about a number of things.

First, Tim Kirkjian’s final question states that some players got hit by a lot of pitches because they “can’t hit.”  I don’t see it.  Most of the career leaders in HBP were at least good hitters.  If anything, a lot of them appear to be guys who realized the value of getting on base a lot, but weren’t particularly good at working walks.

Second, I remember so much being made about Craig Biggio breaking the career hit by pitch record some years ago now, but I didn’t realize he actually finished two HBPs behind all time leader Hughie Jennings, who got plunked 287 times between 1891 and 1903.

The generation between 1885 and 1905 was certainly the golden age of hit batsmen for a number of reasons.  First, this was the generation in which pitchers were finally allowed to pitch overhand and the pitchers mound was gradually moved back from 50 feet to 60 feet six inches.  Pitchers had adjustments to make every so many seasons, so one would expect a learning curve in terms of HBP and wild pitches.

Also, that generation was the roughest era in baseball history, if not necessarily the toughest.  One would expect a lot of hit pitches because pitchers were trying to intimidate hitters (no batting helmets until 1941), and certain batters were willing and able to take advantage of it by getting on base a lot more than they would have otherwise.

This was the era in which MLB players were dominated by Northeast Irish Americans who came from poor backgrounds.  If fighting was part of the game, they fought, not unlike hockey players today.

However, the records don’t indicate that HBP were really much more frequent then than they are in the modern game.  Biggio came within two of Jennings’ career total; and Ron Hunt in 1971, when the game was much more like today than then, got hit 50 times, only once fewer than Jennings’ single season record set in 1894.

Seven of the top 21 in career terms played during the hit batsman’s Greatest Generation, as did a whopping 13 out of the top 22 single seasons.  However, those 13 single-seasons were recorded by only five different players, suggesting that it could have had as much to do with the fact that the 1885-1905 generation had an especially high number of batters with that specific skill (to get hit a lot and not get seriously hurt) in historic terms.

In fact, that’s what the records seem to show: that Brandon Guyer is one of those rare players with an extreme skill, similar to submarine or knuckleball pitchers.  In fact, it seems like there are relatively as many of these players who played or are playing in the present generation as there ever were (not bloody many), but that these guys don’t get hit quite as often per season now as during the 1885-1905 period.

This makes a certain amount of sense as the rise of sabrmetrics in the last generation has shown baseball people that HBPs are ultimately better for batters than pitchers, because a free base is a free base and leads to more runs scored.  More batters should be willing to be hit to get on base, and pitchers should be trying harder than ever to prevent the free base, except in those rare situations when a message needs to be sent.  Some pitchers, of course, still throw at hitters for intimidation purposes.

Anyway, although Brandon Guyer now has the highest HBP rate for players with at least 1,000 career plate appearances, he has only 68 career HBP shortly into his age 31 season, even with the 55 he collected in 2015-2016.  That’s only good enough for a four-way tie for 246th most all time.  Another season like the last two and he could make it into the top 100, but it remains to be seen whether he can keep hitting enough to get the plate appearances he’ll need to move up the career lists.

Remembering Dave Nicholson, A Man Before His Time

January 9, 2017

With each league’s leading home run hitter in 2016 (Mark Trumbo and Chris Carter) still waiting to receive a 2017 contract, it got me thinking about slugger Dave Nicholson.  If Nicholson is remembered at all today, it is for setting the single season strikeout record of 175 in 1963, which lasted until Bobby Bonds (187) set the new record in 1969.

Nicholson had a brief major league career, mainly because everything was stacked against him.  He was probably as good a player as today’s Mark Reynolds, a player who has earned more than $27 million in his major league career.

Nicholson played at a time when players with great power, but low batting averages and high strikeout totals, were not valued for their actual contributions on offense.  Add to that the facts that the mid- and late 1960’s when Nicholson played were a terrible time for major league hitters and also that Nicholson played his prime years for two teams, the Chicago White Sox and the Houston Astros, that played in ballparks terrible for power hitters, and it’s easy to understand why Nicholson was drummed out of MLB after only seven seasons and 1,662 major league plate appearances.

Nicholson had only three seasons in which he managed more than 300 plate appearances, but he was better in each of those three seasons than anyone at the time realized.  For the 1963 and 1964 White Sox, teams that finished second each season behind the New York Yankees with records of 94-68 and 98-64, Nicholson’s .738 and .693 OPS numbers don’t seem too impressive.  However, this was good enough for 3rd out of eight White Sox players with at least 300 plate appearances in 1963 and 4th out of ten players with that many plate appearances in 1964.

In 1966 for the Houston Astros, a team that went 72-90, and, raw numbers to the contrary, had much better hitting than pitching, his .767 OPS was third best out of nine players with at least 300 plate appearances, behind Hall-of-Famer Joe Morgan and catcher John Bateman, but ahead of Jim Wynn, Rusty Staub and Lee Maye, the former two of whom were long recognized as major league stars.  Lee Maye had a much more successful major league career than Nicholson, as the kind of player (he hit for average but didn’t have much power or walk much) who was much more valued in his day than today.  Playing today, Nicholson’s and Maye’s career plate appearances would probably be reversed.

As the game and the popular understanding of the game change over time, different skills are more or less valued.  There are some players, most notably Gavvy Cravath, who would have been Hall of Famers if they had just been born a generation earlier or later than they actually were.

Colby Rasmus on a One-Year Deal?

December 31, 2016

There was an article today on mlbtraderumors.com about the San Francisco Giants’ remaining needs this off-season.  It has me thinking that Colby Rasmus could be an excellent sign for left field if the price is right.

I feel better about Giants’ current options at 3B (Eduardo Nunez and Connor Gallaspie as a platoon with Kelby Tomlinson and either Ehire Adrianza or Jimmy Rollins as the other back-up possibilities) than I do about the team’s third, fourth and fifth outfielders being Mac Williamson, Jarrett Parker and Gyorkis Hernandez.

I don’t hate any of these three — I’m confident that Jarrett Parker will be a major league back-up outfielder in 2017, and Hernandez could become the next Glegor Blanco or Andres Torres — but it’s hard for me to imagine that the Giants will go into the 2017 with three mostly LFers who have this little major league experience.  I also can’t see the Gints thinking that Michael Morse who will be 35 next season and hasn’t played since last April is a realistic veteran option.

Thus, Colby Rasmus, who might come very cheap off a season in which he hit only .206.  His 2016 OPS (.641) is more than 100 basis points lower than his career OPS (.744), so he’s a great bounce-back candidate at age 30, particularly given that he still runs pretty well.

Rasmus also plays good D in LF, which would be valuable with a CF in Denard Span who doesn’t cover a lot of ground anymore.

As for right-handed relievers, the Giants did sign one player this off-season which hasn’t received much attention, since it was a minor league deal.  However, this guy has up-side.

The Giants signed Neil Ramirez, who will be 28 next May.  He is a former 1st round draft pick who had a terrific 2014 season for the Cubs, when he had a 1.44 ERA in 50 relief appearances with a pitching line of 43.1 IP,  29 hits, two HRs and 17 walks allowed and 53 Ks.  He had shoulder and left abdominal injuries in 2015, and in brief stints with three different major league teams this past season he had trouble throwing strikes.  However, he was very effective in 16 appearances and 20.1 IP at AAA Rochester at the end of the 2016 season.

Ramirez definitely has up-side if he’s healthy in 2017, and he could be the next in a long line of effective (at least in the short term) right-handed relievers the Giants have signed  to minor league deals in the last two decades.

Former Cardinals Scouting Director Gets 46 months in Prison for Stealing Astros’ Data

July 19, 2016

I was a bit taken aback a few minutes ago when I read that former St. Louis Cardinal scouting director Chris Correa was just sentenced to 46 months in prison for breaking into the Houston Astros’ computer network and stealing the ‘Stros scouting reports.  I never expected it would result in criminal sentencing, as opposed to civil monetary damages.

David Barron’s article in the Houston Chronicle has most of the details.  What it apparently boils down to is that the judge treated this like any other serious cyber-crime.  Obviously, big corporations have long since made sure that Congress criminalized the stealing of their valuable proprietary information.

Further, the Court obviously wanted to send a message and set an example in this high-profile case, making a point to state during sentencing that cyber-theft basically costs everyone money by forcing them to buy increasingly costly systems designed to prevent hacking.  The judge has a point there.

Also, Correa accessed the Astros’ system 60 times in a 35 day period, far more than was originally reported.  Correa was also fined $279,000.

It remains to be seen what penalty MLB imposes on the Cardinals.  I would expect it to be steep in light of the punishment Correa received.  MLB would look bad giving the Cardinals a slap on the wrist after Correa received almost four years in the can.

My guess is that the Cardinals will be ordered to pay the Astros some seven or eight figure sum, and more importantly lose one or more future first round draft picks.

Houston Astros Sign Yulieski Gourriel

July 15, 2016

The Astros today announced their signing of 32 year old Cuban star Yulieski Gourriel to a five-year $47.5 million contract.  Gourriel is definitely a major league talent, but at age 32, he’s definitely something of a risk for this much money over this many years.

Gourriel comes from a family of Cuban ballplayers who have starred in the Serie Nacional for more than one generation, and for a long time they were loathe to defect to play for the big money in the United States.  Yulieski went to Japan’s NPB in 2014, as part of a deal with the Cuban government to limit defections by top stars like him and Alfredo Despaigne, by all0wing them to make some real money playing in the next best and best paid leagues after MLB.

In 62 games and 258 plate appearances for the Yokohama Bay Stars, Gourriel was outstanding, batting .305 with an .884 OPS and playing what was reported to be excellent defense (at least at 2B — the raw numbers suggest his 3B defense was poor in Japan, although his previous Serie Nacional numbers at the hot corner look good).  Yulieski was all set to return to Japan in 2015 and bring along his younger brother, an even better MLB prospect due to his age, Lourdes Gourriel, Jr.

However, a dispute arose regarding when the Gourriel brothers would arrive in Japan.  They wanted to finish out the 2014-2015 Serie Nacional season, and Yulieski wanted to take some time off after the Cuban season to rest and recuperate from injuries, which would have cost him the first month of the 2015 NPB season.  The Bay Stars, who were planning to pay him a reported $3 million, weren’t at all happy about Yulieski’s wishes.  As a result, their relationship broke down, and neither brother went to Japan in 2015.

It’s worth noting that Alfredo Despaigne did not play in Cuba last winter, probably because his NPB team, the Chiba Lotte Marines, insisted that he deliver his talents solely to NPB.  It is not an extremely difficult choice to make in terms of the finances: Despaigne makes about $2 million a year playing in Japan this year, as compared to probably something less than one or two hundred dollars a month playing in Cuba.

The half-season spent in Japan seems to have dramatically improved Gourriel’s Serie Nacional performance.  Although injuries and his later defection limited him to only 49 games played in the 2015-2016 season, he hit an even .500 with a 1.463 OPS.

Both Yulieski and Lourdes defected from Cuba this past February while playing an international tournament in the Dominican Republic.  When it happened, I wondered whether they tacitly had the approval of the Cuban government to do so, because they seemed so unlikely to defect up to that time.

If Yulieski is getting five-years and $47.5 million, I have to think Lourdes is going to get more than twice that.  Lourdes is still only 22 years old, and while his level of play in the Serie Nacional did not approach that of his older brother, his offensive performance improved dramatically in each of his last two Cuban seasons.

With what appear to be roughly five Serie Nacional seasons under his belt (he’s played in six different Serie Nacional seasons), Lourdes should be a true free agent, but according to mlbtraderumors.com he is currently subject to international bonus pool limits, because he is not yet 23 years old.

Most likely, Lourdes will elect to sign after October 19th of this year, his 23rd birthday, when he will become a true free agent.  My guess is an announcement of his signing will be made on that date, and he will immediately be sent to play in the Arizona Fall League.