The Astros Fire Manager for Failing?

Why fire someone who was bound to fail?

Why fire someone who was bound to fail?

The Houston Astros have been historically bad since the start of the 2011 season, losing 100 games in each of the last three seasons. This season, the squad is 59-79, needing just four wins over the next 24 games to avoid a fourth such disastrous season, but it wasn’t enough to save the job of the Astros’ manager, Bo Porter. Porter was, ironically, relieved of his managerial duties on the day that we all celebrate the hard work and efforts of those in the labor force.

Porter’s squads have not been good, going 110-190 over the last season-plus (.367 winning percentage), but it didn’t have a lot to do with what Porter was doing on the bench. Ken Rosenthal recently reported tension between Porter and General Manager Jeff Luhnow stemming from Mark Appel making an appearance in Houston for a bullpen session for Astros’ pitching coach Brent Strom that Porter had to explain to players on his roster, who were upset over the struggling prospect’s possible special treatment from the organization. Beyond that issue, there appeared to be some separation from the analytical team at the top of the organization and what was being done from the bench by Porter, which was creating relationship woes within the organization.

The Rosenthal piece details those woes at greater lengths, but the firing of Porter clearly wasn’t for what he was doing on the field, as he can’t be held accountable for the recent failures of the franchise.

Jeff Luhnow, GM, Houston Astros

Jeff Luhnow, GM, Houston Astros

Luhnow, hired away from the St. Louis Cardinals in December of 2011, developed an awkward approach to rebuilding the Astros’, essentially gutting the entire roster and eliminating as much payroll as possible to field a horrific team that would be capable of landing high-upside talent through the draft, while building the farm system and promoting talent from that pool to compete for championships within a window. Upon taking the position and immediately producing horrific seasons, the team was able to “earn” the No.1 overall pick in back-to-back seasons (after having the No.1 overall pick in 2011, which Luhnow used on Carlos Correa), Luhnow’s plan was becoming somewhat relevant, as the Astros will, likely, finish ahead of the Texas Rangers in the AL West in 2014, barring some kind of sudden change from the injury woes to the Rangers’ 2014 season.

Porter, though, had done well with what he had. He and his coaching staff had guided a very young, inexperienced squad to some very high peaks among the very low valleys, watching Jose Altuve become a star, while handling the franchise’s quick rising future stars, as Jon Singleton, George Springer, and Jake Marisnick had arrived to showcase their talents at the Major League level. He had very little control over the day-to-day roster, watching Jarred Cosart, one of his top pitchers, get dealt at the deadline (which brought Marisnick but didn’t help the pitching staff), while having limited options in the rotation and a horrific group to run out of the bullpen.

Of course, Porter was bound to be limited in his roster, as the club wasn’t going to call-up a player sooner than necessary and risk service-time becoming an issue, especially as the team continued to try to limit their expenditures.

Perhaps the complete breakdown of the roster was too bold, and perhaps the club had a manager with too much emotional attachment and fire to sit back and wait for the Astros to build a team that he could truly manage successfully. Regardless, what looked like an intelligent move in guiding the Astros to become what Sports Illustrated called the 2017 World Series Champions, suddenly became much more complicated, and whether Bo Porter was actually part of the long-term plan or not, his firing has created a lot of questions about the long-term goal of the Astros’ organization, as well as the ability for Jeff Luhnow, who was so quickly admired for his plans, to work well enough with those around him for his ideas and visions to become a reality.

Bo Porter didn’t fail as a manager of a horrible team, he failed at working with an ego that had grown beyond repair. Jeff Luhnow must now build this winner from the front office and the field, as he has no one else to blame for the team’s future struggles but his own actions and decisions.

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How the Reds Are Setting Up Votto to Fail

Joey Votto hasn’t played a game for the Cincinnati Reds since July 5. Battling a quad injury in his left leg, the four-time All-Star has watched his team fall out of contention, as the Reds have gone 12-25 since the All-Star break and 19-28 since he last suited up. His teammates picked him up early on, winning seven of nine games heading into the break, immediately following Votto being placed on the disabled list, as the club was just 1.5 games out in the NL Central before the break.

Then…it all fell apart. The offense has the lowest OPS in baseball in the second half (.596, 13 points lower than the next worst team), while the starting pitching, formerly the club’s greatest strength, has fallen off, including having to battle the depth chart due to an injury to Homer Bailey.

At ten games back going into Wednesday night’s battle with the Chicago Cubs and just 30 games remaining, there isn’t much left to play for this season, and there isn’t much left for Joey Votto to prove.

The recent news of Votto returning to the field and completing “baseball activities” is great. He has been out for so long and the offense is suffering. A healthy Joey Votto makes the Reds worth watching. A healthy Joey Votto makes the ten years and $213 million look much less unreasonable, and his ability to produce at his 2010 MVP levels would make it a bargain…
But…we don’t know if that Votto is ever coming back. We don’t know just how bad this quad injury is, and whether rest is or was the correct solution. The Reds allowed Votto to sit on the disabled list for nearly two months to rest his injury, while setting him up for a September return. Over those two months, fans weren’t updated on his injury, his treatment, or his future outlook, but was it really the fan’s rights to know that?

Votto swings? Who knew!!

Votto swings? Who knew!!

Here is the problem with how the Reds have handled the Joey Votto situation:

1) No one knows the true extent of the injury. Is it the quad, the knee, a ligament, a tendon? What is wrong with him and can it heal with rest or would a surgery have been more appropriate? What if rest didn’t work and another surgery knocks him out of action for a third or half of the 2015 season?

2) The Reds didn’t communicate the status of their superstar, which has left fans and media alike wondering what is going on. When Votto finally made an appearance, the media nearly ripped his head off and this was his response:

“Let’s make it clear here. This is a real gray area and I feel like I’ve been the one in the crosshairs. I’ve been injured and this is something I’ve had hanging over me in the general population, with the fans. The question is whether it is toughness or playing through pain or playing hurt sort of thing. I’m injured. And I’ve played injured. I went on the disabled list because I’ve been injured.  I’m trying to be un-injured right now. So the second I’m capable of playing, and no longer injured, I will be back on the field. In the meantime, you can assume I’m injured. I shouldn’t get any sort of different treatment (from the fans). I’ve noticed little comments here and there, just a general perception that this is something I elected to do, that I elected to be hurt. I didn’t elect to get injured. I’m injured. What can I do?”

The organization left those who follow the team out to dry, but not nearly as much as they left the face of the franchise out to dry. Why do that to your top asset, whether you agree with the contract or not?

3) Votto is now coming back in September. He is going to prepare to return to the team WITH the team, as there isn’t going to be a minor league rehab assignment with the minor league season nearly over. With a game and an approach built on timing, the Reds are, once again, setting Votto up to fail. He has a .390 on-base percentage this season in 62 games, but the focus remains on the six home runs and .255 batting average that many still, unfortunately, consider the only valuable measurables when it comes to determining player value. If the fans and club weren’t happy with his production before the injury, how are they going to be satisfied with Votto returning to the lineup in September after 60 or more days away from live, Major League pitching?

Votto1It doesn’t make sense for Votto to return in 2014. He has nothing to prove and he is only going to hurt himself more by coming back. The expectations that he has to live up to in a “small-market” like Cincinnati seem quite outrageous, and it’s very unfortunate that a very good player with a very useful skill-set continues to be ripped apart for accepting a life-changing contract that the team was responsible for offering.

Joey Votto is a fantastic player. He needs to get himself right to truly help the Cincinnati Reds. Unfortunately, the rest of the team and management didn’t do their part in 2014. Replacing Shin-Soo Choo‘s production with a rookie speedster (Billy Hamilton) and veteran utility-man (Skip Schumaker) didn’t do the trick, especially when the club’s top player was unable to take the field. Joey Votto didn’t help the Reds in 2014, but neither did Walt Jocketty or Bob Castellini. It’s time to put the blame elsewhere and let Votto get himself right for 2015 and beyond. There is much more riding on his knee in 2015 than this wasted 2014 season.

How Jake Arrieta Changed His Career

The 2014 season has been absolutely magnificent for Chicago Cubs’ right-hander Jake Arrieta. After four seasons in Baltimore, Arrieta was dealt to the Cubs (along with Pedro Strop) for Steve Clevenger and Scott Feldman. Feldman became a free agent after the 2013 before signing with the Houston Astros. It didn’t seem like a big deal on paper, as the Cubs were dumping what was left of Feldman’s one-year, $6 million deal on Baltimore, and the Cubs were getting a reliever and a starting pitcher who never lived up to expectations for the Orioles. Arrieta’s numbers for Baltimore were pretty atrocious:

2010 24 BAL AL 6 6 4.66 18 0 0 100.1 106 57 52 48 52 4.76 1.535 9.5 4.3 4.7
2011 25 BAL AL 10 8 5.05 22 0 0 119.1 115 70 67 59 93 5.34 1.458 8.7 4.4 7.0
2012 26 BAL AL 3 9 6.20 24 0 0 114.2 122 82 79 35 109 4.05 1.369 9.6 2.7 8.6
2013 27 BAL AL 1 2 7.23 5 0 0 23.2 25 19 19 17 23 4.61 1.775 9.5 6.5 8.7
BAL (4 yrs) 20 25 5.46 69 0 0 358.0 368 228 217 159 277 4.72 1.472 9.3 4.0 7.0
Provided by View Original Table
Generated 8/22/2014.

However, things changed for him quickly in Chicago. Arrieta made nine starts after the July 2nd deal, posting some pretty solid numbers in the “friendly confines” of the National League and Wrigley Field:

2013 27 CHC NL 4 2 .667 3.66 9 0 0 51.2 34 22 21 24 37 4.94 1.123 5.9 4.2 6.4
Provided by View Original Table
Generated 8/22/2014.

Arrieta was suddenly a little less hittable, though his FIP showed that some very unfriendly regression towards the mean could be coming.

It hasn’t.

Arrieta, at the age of 28, has become one of the top pitchers in baseball, ranking 15th in MLB (just ahead of Johnny Cueto) with a 3.5 WAR (FanGraphs). His numbers entering play on Friday were certainly impressive:

2014 28 CHC 6 4 2.61 19 0 0 117.1 89 35 34 31 122 2.31 1.023 6.8 2.4 9.4
Provided by View Original Table
Generated 8/22/2014.

Then, on Friday afternoon, he lowered his ERA to 2.53 when he earned win number seven against his former team, allowing just a Nelson Cruz solo bomb over seven innings.

While it’s easy for those who hate everything west of Washington, D.C. to say that Arrieta is better because he isn’t pitching in the American League East any longer, that likely isn’t the reason why he has looked like a different pitcher. Certainly, the AL East is a challenging division, but the NL Central also has some strong teams, with St. Louis, Pittsburgh, Milwaukee, and Cincinnati rotating atop the division in an “I don’t want it” type of division race. Still, there’s plenty of talent that Arrieta has had to battle with over his 20 starts and 124.1 innings this season. So…how has he won those battles?

Jake Arrieta is a different pitcher. Jake Arrieta has recreated himself thanks to a single pitch – the cutter.














The pitch is his new “baby”, as he goes to it with great confidence throughout the game:



Screenshot 2014-08-22 at 8.27.33 PM

Beyond the cutter usage and pitch values, however, there are additional changes to Arrieta’s game that have altered his future career outlook. The biggest change is that he’s keeping the ball in the yard this season. The Cruz home run on Friday afternoon was the fifth homer that Arrieta had allowed all season. That’s five home runs in 124.1 innings – or 0.36 home runs per start. Compare that to the rest of his career, when Arrieta allowed 55 home runs in 409.2 innings – or 1.21 home runs per start, and you can see part of the problem.

Cubs' RHP Jake  Arrieta

Cubs’ RHP Jake Arrieta

Additionally, Arrieta isn’t walking anyone this season. His 2.32 BB:9 is drastically lower than the 4.0 BB:9 that he had in 358 innings for Baltimore, and when you’re putting that many runners on base and allowing that many more home runs, you can see why Arrieta’s ERA was 5.46 for the Orioles. It doesn’t stop there, however. Arrieta has a career-best in ground ball rate (49.2 percent), a career-best in strand rate (75.6 percent), a career-low WHIP (1.01), and a career-best batting average allowed (.190).

Arrieta is simply harder to hit, harder to predict, and harder to score on because of a single pitch impacting the pace of the game and his ability to get the opposition to fail.

Arrieta is eligible for arbitration for the first time this winter, and he is under team-control through the 2018 season. After trading Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel, the Cubs could use a top-of-the-rotation arm, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see Theo Epstein and Company lock up the late, blossoming arm of Arrieta prior to going before an arbitrator. With all of those amazing offensive prospects, Chicago could really use the stability that Arrieta can bring to the rotation.

Red Sox Finalizing Deal with Cuban OF Rusney Castillo

The Boston Red Sox are finalizing a seven-year, $72.5 million deal with Cuban free agent Rusney Castillo, which would give him the richest contract ever given to a Cuban player, surpassing the six-year, $68 million deal that the Chicago White Sox gave to Jose Abreu this past offseason. The deal starts immediately, making the deal run from 2014 through the 2020 season. The 5’9″, 27-year-old is represented by Roc Nation Sports and Jay-Z, who also represent Seattle Mariners’ second baseman Robinson Cano.

Castillo will join a somewhat crowded outfield for Boston, teaming up with fellow countryman Yoenis Cespedes, who was acquired from the Oakland A’s for Jon Lester and Jonny Gomes at the trade deadline. With Jackie Bradley, Mookie Betts, Daniel Nava, Allen Craig, and Brock Holt under team-control heading into 2015, Castillo’s signing could allow the Red Sox to make an additional deal this winter, possibly dealing from their outfield wealth and depth to acquire pitching in what could be a very weak free agent class outside of a reunion with Lester or a huge contract to Max Scherzer, James Shields, or Ervin Santana.

Castillo, however, provides a bit of position versatility, as he could possibly handle second base, though he’ll likely never play shortstop in MLB, even after having taken grounders there during his July 28th showcase. The presence of Dustin Pedroia and Mookie Betts make the keystone position one of little value for Castillo, and he is a natural center fielder. For what it’s worth, Ben Badler, of Baseball America, said that prior to gaining quite a bit of muscle prior to his showcase, Castillo was a similar player to Detroit outfielder Rajai Davis, a short, speedy outfielder; however, he could be capable of 15 home runs and plenty of speed at the major league level due to his newly developed physique.

Red Sox future OF Rusney Castillo

Red Sox future OF Rusney Castillo

Castillo will have quite a bit of pressure on him in Boston to succeed quickly, and receiving the type of money that he did prior to playing a game is certainly not going to alleviate any of those expectations. Worth mentioning is the fact that Castillo didn’t produce anywhere near the levels of Cespedes and Abreu in Cuba:

  • Cespedes hit .334/.420/.629 from 2009 to 2011.
  • Abreu hit .393/.537/.802  from 2011 to 2013.
  • Castillo hit .315/.383/.512 from 2011 to 2013.

Although Cepedes and Abreu never played a game in the minor leagues, it would be somewhat surprising to see Castillo join the Red Sox in 2014, despite their post-World Series title rebuild that they are in the middle of. He hasn’t played in a game in nearly two years, and with the minor league season nearly complete, we may not see him in Fenway until 2015, rich contract or not.

Castillo may not have the skills of Yasiel Puig, Cespedes, or Abreu, when comparing him to recent defected Cuban outfielders, but he has some tools that will make him a very intriguing player for the Boston Red Sox and fantasy baseball fans alike.

Orioles Could Be Without Machado?

Monday night in Baltimore, the Orioles season may have crumbled along with the right knee of third baseman Manny Machado. Down 3-1 in the bottom of the 3rd inning against the New York Yankees, Machado was up against left-hander Chris Capuano when this happened (VIDEO):

As of right now, it’s being called a right knee sprain, and the 22-year-old third baseman will be re-evaluated on Tuesday:

The Orioles entered play Monday night five games up on New York for first place in the AL East at 67-50. After losing Machado for the first 25 games of the 2014 season due to the medial patellofemoral ligament tear that cost him the final six games of the 2013 season, the team was once again thriving with their slick-fielding third baseman robbing would-be hits and producing offensively.

Baltimore is obviously a much different team with Machado at third base over Ryan Flaherty, having gone 46-35 since his return; however, it’s what Machado has done since his return from his little bat-tossing incident that is most impressive.

Over his last 27 games, the Orioles were 18-9, while Machado has led the club with a .348/.383/.536 triple-slash over 120 plate appearances including five home runs and 15 RBI.

A major piece of the Orioles future and one of the many fresh, young faces of the league, there are many hoping that knee issues aren’t going to continue to interfere in Machado reaching his lofty career expectations going forward. While his overall numbers don’t quite rival those of Mike Trout, Machado is certainly an exciting young player with the potential to be a perennial All-Star.

There will be plenty of news available on the web tomorrow when the results of Machado’s MRI are publicized.

Cubs Begin the Baez Era


Cubs 2B/SS Javier Baez, who will make his debut in Colorado on Tuesday.

On Tuesday, Chicago Cubs prospect Javier Baez will officially become a major leaguer, likely making his debut at second base for the last place Cubs, the only team with a losing record in the NL Central, when they take on the Rockies in Denver. For the fans, the wait for their incredibly gifted, power-hitting middle infielder hasn’t been nearly as long as their World Series drought, and after Baez had completed his 40 game outburst on Sunday for Iowa, when he hit .322 with 12 home runs, 38 RBI, and a 1.046 OPS, the 21-year-old deemed himself ready.


Tigers Pay the Price and Win

Tigers LHP David Price

Tigers LHP David Price

The Detroit Tigers confused the world of baseball this winter when they traded right-hander Doug Fister to the Washington Nationals for Robbie Ray. Fister had three years of team control remaining, and he was coming off of two very good seasons (3.29 ERA, 1.19 WHIP) in Detroit. Ray was rated as the 97th best prospect prior to the 2014 season by, but after the Tampa Bay Rays were able to get the haul that they did (including Wil Myers) for two years of control of James Shields, it was assumed by many that Fister would bring much more than a single prospect, particularly one that had posted most of his solid 2013 numbers while repeating High-A.


Reds In on Alex Rios?

The Texas Rangers are 23.5 games out in the AL West, actually one game behind the Houston Astros. Needless to say, there could be some activity today as the deadline looms. The Cincinnati Reds are six games out in the NL Central, but just 4.5 games out of a Wild Card spot. With Brandon Phillips and Joey Votto out due to injuries and the Reds scuffling at the plate, they need a bat to improve upon their chances of catching up with just 55 games to go.

Enter, Rangers outfielder Alex Rios.

Rios, 33, will be due the remainder of his 2014 contract of $12.5 million (approximately $4.25 million) if the Rangers don’t kick in some cash in any potential deal, and with the Reds shopping Ryan Ludwick, the move and rumors make perfect sense.


Red Sox Deal Lester – Now What?

The Red Sox have traded left-handed pitcher Jon Lester and Jonny Gomes to the Oakland A’s for Yoenis Cespedes. They now have received an intriguing, powerful outfielder  to pair with Xander Bogaerts, Jackie Bradley, Mookie Betts, and the stars who have yet to arrive in Boston in preparation for the future, while Dustin Pedroia and David Ortiz hang around. Now…what happens next?

After the 2011 collapse and the 2012 fire-sale, what is really going to happen in Boston? Prior to the 2013 season, the money saved by moving Carl Crawford, Adrian Gonzalez, and Josh Beckett was used to sign veteran free agents Mike Napoli and Shane Victorino, and while the 2013 season resulted in a culmination of immeasurable good-guy-ness in the clubhouse and another World Series title, the investments in aging stars didn’t play out so well when injuries ravaged the 2014 season and young players proved incapable of stepping up.

Red Sox LHP Jon  Lester

Red Sox LHP Jon Lester

So, in a market that went so long without a title and now demands competitive rosters going forward, how will Boston management construct the Red Sox in 2015 and beyond?

The leadership and dedication to the city of Boston by Dustin Pedroia and David Ortiz is one thing, but with Lester saying he would return to Boston as a free agent, helping the Red Sox two times over by being traded for assets and returning next season, the first place to start is: Why? Why would Lester return?

Shouldn’t he and his agent remember “Lowball Gate“?


Eric Chavez Quietly Retires

On Wednesday, 36-year-old, part-time Arizona Diamondbacks infielder Eric Chavez announced his retirement. The news was largely overshadowed by the Justin Masterson deal between St. Louis and Cleveland, as well as the never-ending swirl of rumors with Thursday marking the non-waiver trade deadline for 2014. It’s quite unfortunate that Chavez will disappear from the game, pushed away by a knee injury that is just one of many, many ailments that derailed his once elite career.

Since August of 1999, Chavez had been on the disabled list a whopping 12 times, having missed 385 games since the start of the 2009 season while on the DL. From concussions, knee issues, elbow problems, and an aching shoulder, it was just one thing after another. Chavez was basically just “hanging around” since 2007, playing in just 449 games over the last eight seasons (about 56 games per season), which was his age-29 season. However, it wasn’t always disappointment and injuries, as Chavez was dominant.

Courtesy: Fangraphs

The list above shows the top 20 position players in baseball (based on Fangraphs WAR) from 2000 to 2006. In those seven seasons, Chavez won six Gold Gloves and one Silver Slugger, but he never made an All-Star Game. ESPN reported that: “Chavez’s career .970 fielding percentage ties him for third best all-time with Ken Reitz among players with a minimum of 800 games played. Only Mike Lowell (.974) and Brooks Robinson (.971) are better.” Also, on the list above, you’ll notice several names of players who have been linked to performance-enhancing drugs, and, if they are taken out (as they have been by the BBWAA for the Hall of Fame), Chavez and his numbers would slide up at bit.

Eric Chavez

Eric Chavez

Speaking of the Hall of Fame, due to the brief period of production, Chavez certainly won’t earn a plaque in Cooperstown; however, there are a couple of things to mention regarding his career:

  • Chavez ranked 40th all-time among third basemen in WAR7, ahead of 4 Hall of Fame members (George Kell, Freddie Lindstrom, Deacon White, and Pie Traynor).
  • Chavez is 43rd all-time among third basemen in JAWS, ahead of 3 Hall of Famers (Kell, Traynor, and Lindstrom).

Jay Jaffe (@Jay_Jaffe on Twitter), of Sports Illustrated, created the JAWS system to compare players from different eras based on their greatest years of production. The statistic is available HERE, and this is a brief explanation from Baseball Reference:

A player’s JAWS is his career WAR averaged with his 7-year peak WAR (not necessarily consecutive years). For non-pitchers, all non-pitching WAR (offense, defense, baserunning) is included in determining the averages, but any pitching WAR they might have accrued is not; right fielders aren’t penalized by the additional value Babe Ruth accumulated on the mound, for example. The current Hall of Famers are then grouped by position and a position average JAWS is computed. For the purposes of comparison, a player is classified at the position where he accrued the most value, which may be different from the position where he played the most games, particularly as players tend to shift to positions of less defensive responsibility as they age.

I asked Jaffe about Chavez, knowing that Chavez’s argument for the Hall of Fame is a very weak one, but worth looking at. I asked:

Chavez2Chavez was never an All-Star and his injury history derailed his career, but based on his production, is there any case for him due to his tremendous defense? I’m very anti- Omar Vizquel for the HOF myself, but if he is going to get votes due to defense and production/numbers caused by longevity, is there any hope for Chavez?

Jaffe responded with:


Short answer: no. Career far too short; forget defense – nobody in the post-1960 expansion era gets in with less than 2,000 hits and he’s only at 1,477. Beyond that, 3B is pitifully under-served by HOF voters and the line ahead of him would include Ken Boyer, Graig Nettles, Darrell Evans, Buddy Bell, Ron Cey and others, with Beltre and Wright having stronger cases today and still active. as well.
Chavez may have been a HOF-caliber talent, but he just couldn’t stay healthy enough to get there. Still a good career but less than it might have been.
So, Chavez, temporarily great, heads off into the sunset having served the last several years in a part-time role, incapable of playing at the highest level of his career due to several injuries. Despite tremendous defensive and offensive skills, the longevity factor will keep Chavez out of Cooperstown, though there will be those lucky enough to remember him at his peak, as he became the cornerstone of the Moneyball Oakland A’s clubs, showing the defense, patience, and power necessary to be the era’s poster boy for sabermetric value. While he’ll never get into the Hall of Fame, he was, at one time, a very, very strong talent who was overshadowed by some of the greatest cheaters in the history of the game, Barry Bonds and Alex Rodriguez. With that being said, he will become just another very good third baseman who will didn’t do enough for enshrinement.

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