Archive for the ‘Houston Astros’ category

Steve Dalkowski Passes

April 25, 2020

News on mlbtraderumors.com is that Steve Dalkowski, aged 80, died today of the coronavirus.  Dalkowski is one of the most famous players in baseball history who never reached who never reached the majors.

Dalkowski was a smallish lefthander (5’11”, 175 lbs) who threw incredibly hard but had no idea where it was going.  Many players who played against him said he threw harder than anyone they’d ever faced.

In his first season in a 1957 Class D (rookie) league, he struck 121 batters in 62 innings pitched but also walked an incredible 129.  He was certainly the scariest pitcher many players ever faced because he just might kill you.

Three years later, he both struck out and walked 262 in 170 IP in what was then the Class C California League (an full season A league in today’s game).  He walked 196 and struck out 150 in 103 IP a step up the minor league ladder in 1961.

Dalkowski had his best minor league season in 1962 at age 23 for the Eastern League’s Elmira Pioneers, which played at what we’d call AA level today.  He only went 7-10 but had a 3.04 ERA and, while striking out 192 batters in 160 IP, he walked a modest for him 117 batters.

Earl Weaver, before his great Orioles days, was Dalkowski’s manager in 1962.  He told Dalkowski, a starter, to throw just the fastball and slider and to throw every pitch at the middle of the plate.  Even Weaver said Dalkowski threw harder than Nolan Ryan, and he saw plenty of both.

A 2013 article says, “On a $5 bet, Dalkowski threw a baseball through a wooden fence. On a $10 bet, he threw a ball from the center-field fence over the 40-foot high backstop screen behind home plate.”

The 2013 article says that “Nuke” LaLoosh from Bull Durham was based on Dalkowski, and Kevin Cosner’s “Crash” Davis was based on Dalkowski’s roommate and former SF Giants and  manager Joe Altobelli.  “Alto once quipped, ‘I didn’t room with Dalkowski, I roomed with his suitcase!'” which is an old, old baseball line.

However, Dalkowski’s control really hadn’t improved, it’s likely he blew out his elbow tendon in 1963, and he was a hard drinker, so he was out of organized baseball by the end of the 1965 season at age 26.  Aside from being small, Dalkowski had a compact delivery, but it didn’t improve his ability to throw strikes or diminish from his fastball speed, at least until after the injury when his fastball dropped to 90 mph.

In separate games in his career, Dalkowski struck out 21 and walked 21.  He is said to have thrown a pitch that tore of a batter’s ear, but he didn’t actually hit that many batters, a season high of nine in 170 IP in 1960.  Hitters were “loose” when they got into the box against “White Lightning,” meaning they were every bit ready to get out of the way.

Dalkowski had a hard life after baseball.  He still drank hard, which took his mind prematurely.  It says something about modern medicine that he lived long enough to be felled by the coronavirus.  He was 80 and had lived in a care home in New Britain, Connecticut for many years.


 

The Only Game in Town

April 18, 2020

Professional baseball is back — in Taiwan.

We are now six games into the 2020 CPBL season with the games being played in empty stadiums but broadcast on TV.  It is surely better than nothing for a baseball hungry world.

The best game pitched so far was former New York Yankee and half-season KBO ace Esmil Rogers‘ effort earlier today.  He allowed one run, earned, on six hits and a walk in seven innings pitched with 11 strikeouts.

I had questions about how Rogers would pitch in the extremely hitter friendly CPBL.  Despite the past KBO success, he’s now 34 and got hit pretty hard in the Mexican League in 2019, which was also an extreme hitters’ league.  CPBL teams love foreign pitchers with a history of success in the KBO and/or NPB, and so far so good for Rogers.

Former Seattle Mariner and SoftBank Hawk Ariel Miranda and former Toronto Blue Jay and KBO ace Ryan Feierabend both looked good on opening day, but neither reached the seventh inning nor got a decision.  Former San Francisco Giants farmhand, brief Houston Astro and former KBO ace Henry Sosa looked good in his first CPBL start of the young CPBL season, allowing one run in 7 IP on four hits and a walk while striking out five.

[Kudos to baseballreference.com — they are publishing CPBL stats for the first time this season — maybe my two emails over the last three or four years had some effect… but probably not, at least not by themselves.]

CPBL teams decided to spend more money on the four foreign pitchers each of the league’s four franchises can sign (three on the major league squad and one in the minors, with the ability to promote and demote foreign players without having to release someone for the first time this season) this past off-season.  CPBL teams decided to do this in part to get more attention from the baseball world, but more because the Lamigo (now Rakuten) Monkeys have completely dominated the league the last few seasons because they have a disproportionate share of the best Taiwanese hitters.  The other three teams realized the only way they can compete is by spending more money to get better foreign pitchers.

Even though the CPBL is going to lose money this season because fans probably won’t be attending any games this year, as the only pro game in the world as I write this post, teams’ decisions to spend more money to put on a better product may well pay dividends when a coronavirus vaccine becomes widely available.

The best game pitched by a Taiwanese starter so far is the three earned run, six inning outing with seven Ks thrown by the Brothers’ Huang Enci (黃恩賜) — the translations provided by Google Translate for Chinese names are not necessarily the conventional ones.  He’s 24 this year and appears to be a work in progress.

33 year old former Cleveland Indian C.C. Lee has six Ks in 3.1 innings pitched in two relief appearances, but he’s also blown a save, which happens a lot in the CPBL.  21 year old rookie (he pitched 18.2 innings CPBL major league innings across 16 relief appearances last season) Wu Jun-wei (吳俊偉) has struck out seven in three scoreless relief innings

Former Detroit Tiger Ryan Carpenter and former Padre/Mariner/Cub Donn Roach got hit pretty hard in their first ever CPBL starts.  I had my doubts about the Roach signing after a rough 2019 AAA International League season, but one start doesn’t prove much.

The big story at the plate so far is last season’s home run champ Chu Yu-Hsien (朱育賢), who hit five home runs in his first two games this season and is currently batting .692 (9 for 13) with a 2.538 OPS.  Aside from his league leading 30 dingers last season, he batted .347 with a .605 slugging percentage, which were only good enough for fifth and fourth best respectively, in the hit-happy 4-team circuit.  Here’s video of two of his 2020 home runs.

It’s worth noting that the Monkeys have scored 9, 15 and 11 runs in their three 2020 games so far.  Not surprisingly, they are 3-0 in spite of having allowed 8 and 10 runs in two of the games.  You know what they say — the best defense is a good offense.

Mike Bolsinger Sues Astros for Sign-Stealing

February 11, 2020

Mike Bolsinger is suing the Astros for lost earnings as a result of getting hammered and knocked out of the majors by a bad outing against the ‘Stros, with the garbage can banging away in the dugout.  His lawyers certainly found the right plaintiff, a pitcher who got knocked out and immediately sent down with recorded audio proof of the cheating.  MLB Trade Rumors’ Jeff Todd has a good piece which mentions some of the hurdles Bolsinger will face in order to get to discovery, at which point the Astros will probably settle for some several million dollars paid to Bolsinger and his lawyers in order to prevent all of the Astros’ dirty secrets from getting a fuller public airing.

I think it’s likely that the Astros will try to get the case kicked into arbitration, although Bolsinger may have an argument that cheating of this type isn’t covered by the Collective Bargaining Agreement and thus not arbitrable.  However, disputes as to arbitrability are usually left to the arbitrators themselves to decide — courts love kicking cases off to arbitration in these circumstances, because labor arbitrators have more experience in resolving collectively bargained contracts and issues than state court judges.  Kicking cases into binding arbitration, where both sides are well represented by competent legal counsel also conserves state court judicial resources.

An argument I would expect the Astros’ lawyers to raise is whether a California State Court in Los Angeles has personal jurisdiction to hear this dispute.  As I understand it, most of the sign-stealing cheating took place in Houston, although wikipedia’s description of the methods used suggest they could also have been used on the road so long as the Astros could get a live video-feed of the game.  In any event, the day that Bolsinger got hammered happened in Houston.

Thus, it may be necessary for Bolsinger’s lawyers either to find a California-based pitcher to add as a plaintiff and/or to prove that the Astros were stealing signs in Anaheim, Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco or Oakland.  The lawyers picked L.A. because it has a more liberal judiciary.  Orange County is more conservative, but Alameda County, where the A’s play, would probably have been a better choice, because it would probably be easier to prove the Astros cheated at the Oakland Coliseum than at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles.

A 2017 U.S. Supreme Court case, Bristol-Myers Squibb, holds that to establish specific personal jurisdiction, the conduct complained of in the lawsuit must arise out of or relate to the defendant’s activities in the forum state such that the forum state’s court may only adjudicate issues deriving from or connected with the present controversy that establishes jurisdiction.  This is why I think Bolsingers’ lawyers need to present evidence that the Astros cheated in California and thus that a pitcher in California was negatively affected by the cheating to establish personal jurisdiction.

As I said, if the lawsuit gets past the pleading stage to discovery, I expect the case to settle.  If it did go to trial, Bolsinger would have a hard time proving damages.  While the outing at issue got him knocked out of the majors, he had a 5.49 ERA going into that game.  He’s also likely to find it nearly impossible to prove he would have made more after he was sent down by the Blue Jays, because he made more money in Japan the last two seasons than he would likely have made in the U.S. even if he’d been able to last a little longer in MLB.

I’m doubtful that any major league team will sign Bolsinger in the future.  They might if he was younger and better, but given where he is in his career, I expect him to be effectively black listed by MLB teams for committing the cardinal sin of suing them.

It’s Good to Be Gerrit Cole Today

December 10, 2019

With the Nationals re-signing Stephen Strasburg to a seven-year $245 million deal today, I can only say that it’s mighty good to be Gerrit Cole.

Yesterday, the Yankees were floating the idea of making a seven-year $245M offer to Cole, which sounded pretty good.  Yesterday.

Now Cole and his agent Scott Boras are thinking they have a good shot at topping $300M.  After Strasburg’s deal, you’d have to think that eight years at $290M is the least that Cole will get.

What we are seeing with the top starters this off-season strongly suggests that collusion is not going on.  Instead, we seem to be seeing a continuing trend where the top-tier free agents get bigger and bigger deals, while the second-tier free agents get more and more squeezed.

Yesterday, when I read that Madison Bumgarner was seeking a five season nine-figure guarantee, I thought it was a little wishful thinking.  Four years at $90M seemed more likely after Zack Wheeler‘s contract.  Today a nine-figure guarantee for MadBum seems at least as likely as not.

It’s going to be one of the really rich teams that signs Cole, which means that probably 25 teams realize they have no chance to sign him, or 23 if you eliminate the Phillies and Nationals, who won’t be spending $100M on another starter.  The Dodgers are interested in re-signing Hyun-Jin Ryu, and I think it’s likely they will do so, particularly because it seems like Ryu wants to remain a Dodger.  The Strasburg signing means that both the Dodgers and Ryu know the team can’t low-ball him.

Good to See MLB Teams Spending Some Money

December 5, 2019

The Phillies have reportedly reached a deal with Zack Wheeler that will pay the player $118 over five seasons; and the Braves have inked Cole Hamels to a one-year deal for a cool $18M.

Wheeler’s deal beats mlbtraderumors.com’s prediction by $18M and is good news for the other top-tier free agent pitchers.  Obviously, Stephen Strasburg and Geritt Cole are going to top $118M by a bunch, and it’s likely that Madison Bumgarner will do considerably better than the $72M guarantee mlbtraderumors predicted.  It’s also a big commitment from the Phils for a pitcher who has a reasonable shot of blowing out his elbow tendon a second time in the next five years.

While Hamels’ deal is only for one season, it’s still a big commitment for a player entering his age 36 season, who pitched less than 150 innings in 2019 and failed to reach 150 IP in two of the last three seasons.  Again, this deal can’t hurt other free agent starters going forward.  There are lot of free agent starters still on the market, but they have an advantage over position players in that every team could use at least one more good starter.

In completely unrelated news, the Doosan Bears have agreed to post outfielder Kim Jae-Hwan.  Kim was great from 2016 through 2018, but his .796 OPS was only 30th best in the KBO and he’s going into his age 31 season.  I doubt MLB teams will have much interest, but you never know.

I Probably Would Have Gone with Bregman or Semien

November 15, 2019

If I had an American League MVP vote, I probably would have gone with Alex Bregman on the theory that he was more “valuable.”  It’s hard to argue that Mike Trout isn’t the best player in baseball and the best, at least in an absolute sense, in the Junior Circuit in 2019.

However, the Angels went a pathetic 72-90, and Trout missed 28 games, while Bregman played in 157 and filled in at SS for the ‘Stros when Carlos Correa was out for sixty games with a broken rib (I kind of doubt the veracity of the claim that it happened during a massage — players often lie about stupid injuries of this sort).

In fact, one could make a compelling argument that Marcus Semien was the “most valuable” AL player, as the A’s probably don’t make the post-season without his tremendous performance, while the Astros would have made the post-season even if Bregman had merely played as well as he did in 2018.

No complaints about the NL voting, though.  Bellinger, then Yelich seems just about right.

The Houston Astros Are Making a Mistake If They Start Justin Verlander in Game 2

October 20, 2019

Looking at the first two games of the 2019 World Series, I was surprised to see the Astros intend to start Justin Verlander in Game 2.  If I were managing the Astros, I would start Zack Greinke in Game 2 and start Verlander in Game 3.  It seems to me to be a case of a manager making the “safe” move, i.e., overworking his best players in the post-season.

Greinke last started on October 17 and Verlander on the 18th.  Verlander has already been worked hard this post-season and could use the extra two day’s rest, including the travel day to Washington.  The whole purpose of getting Greinke at the trade deadline was to have a third ace for the post-season.  Even if Verlander pitches Game 3, he’s still going to be available to make a second start in the Series at Game 7.

It’s a relatively small matter, but I’d rather have the best Verlander possible start Game 3 on October 25th than have a possibly tired Verlander start Game 2 on October 23rd.  I’m highly doubtful the Series is going to come down to Zack Greinke making the Game 6 start, rather than Justin Verlander.

The Nats’ three aces are going to be better rested for this series after the Nats’ four game sweep of the Cardinals.  The Astros are the heavy favorites in this series, but anything can happen in a short series, particularly when the Nats’ starters are better rested.

Yet Another Example That Short Rest in the Post Season Is Usually a Mistake

October 9, 2019

The Astros started Justin Verlander on (for him) historically short rest.  He gave up three runs in the 1st and allowed four in 3.2 IP total, after allowing the Rays one hit over 7 innings in Game 1.  I’d have gone with Wade Miley and everyone else in the Astros’ pitching staff except Verlander and Gerrit Cole, so those last two could be saved for proper rest at home in Houston for Game 5.

Now the Astros have to start Cole on short rest, when he might potentially have been a perfect two or three inning reliever, as and if necessary, in Game 5.

If Cole wins tomorrow, no harm done, except that the rotation will be screwed up in terms of when Verlander pitches in the series against the Yankees.

Managers start their aces on short rest because it’s the safe move to make.  You rely on your ace, and your ace lets you down.  Who can blame the manager.  It probably makes more sense to have your ace fully rested pitching at home in Game 5.

I’ll admit that it would have been braver for me to write this post before today’s game started, since I knew the Astros would be starting Verlander.  However, I wrote back on September 11th, that I expected Miley to get exactly one start in most of the Astros’ post-season series, because he was the obvious choice for a No. 4 starter needed to keep the team’s three aces fresh.

Now it’s all up to Gerrit Cole on short rest at home to make A.J. Hinch look like he knows what he’s doing.

A’s Show the Astros They Won’t Be Pushed Around

September 11, 2019

The Oakland A’s sent a message to the Houston Astros tonight — you need to bring it if you’re going to beat us.  Unfortunately, for the A’s, the Astros can bring a lot more starting pitching.

Yesterday, the Astros beat the A’s brains out — the ‘Stros scored 11 runs in the first two innings and cruised to a 15-0 win behind Zack Greinke.  Today, the A’s scored 17 runs in the first four innings and scored in each of the first six innings as they glided to a 21-7 victory.

The A’s sent a message tonight, but that’s about it, because the message was “you need to bring starting pitching to beat us.”  The Astros have starting pitching, and the A’s still need to win a wild card spot and win the wild card game, even to make the real play-off series.

Wade Miley, who got hammered tonight, will probably be in the Astros’ post-season rotation.  It’s certain he won’t get more than one start per post-season series.

Right now, the Astros have to be seen as the World Series favorites.  They have the starters and the line-up and the post-season experience to make them the odds-on favorite.  But that is, of course, why they actually play the games.  Anything can happen in a short series.

CC Sabathia Wins 250th Major League Game

June 20, 2019

CC Sabathia won his 250th major league game, which, if he wasn’t already assured a place in the Hall of Fame, has assured him a place in the Hall of Fame.  250 career wins is almost certainly the contemporary 300 career win standard that guaranteed any pitcher (major scandals excepted) a spot in the Hall of Fame.

Future pitchers will win 250 games.  Justin Verlander will likely do it in 2021 or 2022, but it is certainly debatable whether any pitcher will again win 300 games.