“To the extent reliever performances get unequivocally awesome, it occurs only over time; but, excepting full-season or full-career stat lines, we don’t really have the infrastructure to easily put performances like Giles’ in context. … I don’t know how rare 23 Ks over nine innings is. If I had to guess, I’d say… it’s a record? If it is, it’s such a buried record that nobody has bothered to ask him about it.” —Me
Monday is turning into a great day for prospect debuts, but this one is the most great.
The Situation: Houston is right in the thick of the playoff chase again, and with A.J. Reed struggling to get on base or hit for power upon his promotion, the Astros will instead call on the best prospect in their system, Alex Bregman.
Background: Bregman was a potential second-round selection coming into the 2012 draft out of Albuquerque, but it was clear that he was set on attending LSU, and attend LSU he did. He quickly established himself as one of the best players in college baseball, posting a .963 OPS in his freshman year and quickly became a legit candidate to be the top player taken in the 2015 draft. A so-so sophomore season saw his stock slide ever so slightly, but he hit .323/.412/.535 and was taken second overall by Houston that June. After an impressive first professional season, Bregman destroyed pitching this spring/summer, posting a 1.016 OPS, earning a trip to the Futures Game (where he nearly hit for the cycle), and becoming one of the best prospects in baseball.
Notable starts this week from Stephen Strasburg, Dallas Keuchel and Anthony DeSclafani
It’s a short week in the sense of taking notes, as the extended All-Star break left me with just a couple of days that bookended the time off from regular baseball. There was still plenty of intrigue, from one man’s quest for hardware to another man’s attempts to justify hardware already won, as well as a staff ace who missed the first couple months of the season. Let’s get to the notes.
Early struggles gave way to a very hot stretch and now the Astros are serious contenders again.
I wrote an article that ran May 4, analyzing the Astros as possible surprise sellers on the summer trade market. Eight weeks later, that looks like an awfully silly article, because the Astros are now 41-37. Despite the Rangers leaning way out over their skis and building a 10-game lead in the AL West, Houston is a very legitimate playoff contender.
Let me defend myself, however lamely, by pointing this out: the Astros started this season 17-28. No playoff team last season had any 45-game stretch in which they lost 28 games. Since then, they’ve won 24 of 33, something only one team (the mid-May Twins) managed to do last season without making the playoffs. Highs this high and lows this low usually don’t fit into the same season, let alone the same half of one. Obviously, though, the Astros were always better than their early record showed. They caught some bad waves in the crashing surf of in-season variance, and they simply got aberrant, miserable starts from a few players who are better than that.
A year ago today, Francisco Lindor was recalled. Since (roughly) that day, the position has gone from a dead spot to historically great.
Eleven months ago Alcides Escobar was voted into the All-Star game as the AL’s starting shortstop. Escobar is an oft-praised defender with plus speed on a Royals team that was coming off a World Series loss and headed for a World Series win, but he also ended the first half with a modest .699 OPS and finished the season with a .614 OPS that nearly matched his .636 career mark through age 28. Alcides Escobar, All-Star starting shortstop just seemed a little lofty.
Royals fans stuffed the ballot box so much that second baseman Omar Infante and his .555 OPS nearly got voted into the game as well, but in Escobar’s case the story wasn’t so much about an undeserved selection as no other AL shortstops standing out as clearly deserving. In other words, don’t blame Escobar or Royals fans for his being in the starting lineup alongside the biggest stars in the league. None of the AL shortstops had an OPS above .750 at the All-Star break. The chosen backup was light-hitting Jose Iglesias, another glove-first player whose career OPS is .680.
Eleven months later, the AL’s shortstop landscape has changed so dramatically that the position as a whole has a higher collective OPS (.709) than Escobar had at the time of the All-Star break last year (.699) and Escobar has been the worst-hitting shortstop in the entire league. Xander Bogaerts is hitting .359/.405/.527 for the Red Sox. Manny Machado, who shifted from third base to shortstop following J.J. Hardy’s foot injury, is hitting .308/.376/.600 for the Orioles. Francisco Lindor, who made his debut exactly one year ago today, is hitting .304/.360/.450 for the Indians. Carlos Correa, the reigning Rookie of the Year, is hitting .256/.351/.423 for the Astros.
Which offensive stat is most important to a hitter’s value? Not the one you may think.
On Wednesday night, this image created a small Twitter sensation. Mind you, it was a small sensation. On a night that featured noteworthy pitching performances ranging from Yu Darvish’s injury to Jameson Taillon successful debut to James Shields to Snoop Dogg, there wasn’t room for a large sensation. But this screenshot during the Houston broadcast (in a game in which the Astros actually beat the Rangers in Arlington!) caused some of us to drop our slide rules in amazement: