Baseball is, it has been said repeatedly, the quasi–team game, the sport that is more than one-on-one and yet, in the conflict that lies at its essence, not. You don't need me to pontificate on that general subject. What you do need me to do is guide you on a stroll through one of the team-oriented aspects of the game, with a promise of some historical greatness at the end. (Don't skip there, though—it's more rewarding this way.)
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The Astros are bad, but they're not the worst ever, and they won't break the Mets' record for futility.
I’m legitimately excited to be going to Houston this weekend to attend the Baseball Prospectus event at Minute Maid Park. It won’t be my first BP event, but it’ll be my first event as a BP staff member. I hope no one asks me any tough questions about baseball, because I don’t really know anything about the game. Luckily Jason Collette and Jason Cole and lots of other smart people will be there to field the tough questions. What should I wear? I don’t have any golf shirts or polos, so I hope the attendees don’t mind hoodies and cutoff jean shorts.
I also hope the Astros have a better week this week than last. I mean, I don’t wanna necessarily hang around with a bunch of bummed-out front-office types and personnel. Let’s be frank here: Saying the Astros had a bad week is an understatement of the highest order. It started out with them beating Andy Pettitte, and went completely off the rails after that. They ended up losing six straight and suffered a four-game sweep, at home, at the hands of the Tigers.
News and notes from around the league for May 4, 2013.
Thanks to Jason Martinez and Clint Chisam of MLB Depth Charts, we'll now be bringing you daily news, notes, transactions, injury updates, and notable performances from the previous day's games...throughout the entire season! And if you like what you see here, don't forget to check out MLBDC's Insider subscription, which also includes starting pitcher rankings and matchups, top 25 batter vs. pitcher stat rankings, lineup tracker (includes lineups from past seven games), rotation report, stat tracker, and more!
This week's mailbag includes a question about trading for Stephen Strasburg, among many other topics.
Writing to you all the way from Ghana, and although I have to watch games on tape delay and have ABSOLUTELY no one to talk ball, with there are some perks. For instance, I just picked up Jose Valverde on waivers right after Leyland said that he would be the closer as the rest of my fantasy league mates drifted of to a West Coast sleep. Always give me half a day where I know the rest of my league will be sound asleep, and I can pick apart the waiver wire in peace.
I don’t know if you’re aware of this, but the 2013 Major League Baseball season is underway. It actually began on Sunday night in a contest that pitted the Texas Rangers against their newly minted division rivals, the Houston Astros. The game was broadcast on ESPN Sunday Night Baseball and logged a 1.5 Nielsen rating. That’s down pretty substantially from Opening Night 2012, when the Cardinals and the Marlins pulled a 1.8 rating. You can thank the Best Fans in Baseball for those extra .3 percent.
I saw quite a few people on Twitter and elsewhere complaining about Opening Night and claiming that only Opening Day is real. I call shenanigans on that. Highlighting one game on the night before Opening Day focuses national attention on a single matchup, making it feel special, like the single present your parents let you open on Christmas Eve.
Jesus Montero, Jose Altuve, and Jimmy Rollins lead off for this week's Keeper Reaper.
Jesus Montero| Seattle Mariners Shallow (30 Keepers): No Medium (60 Keepers): Yes Deep (90 Keepers): Yes AL-Only (60 Keepers): Yes Super Deep (200 Keepers): Yes
Some players are willing to accept a designated hitter role on a team, yet others see their production suffer (sometimes greatly) when they don't play the field. It's very early in Montero's career, but he appears to be in the latter camp. Montero received 321 plate appearances as a designated hitter and 230 plate appearances as a catcher last year, and the difference in his slash line was staggering. As a designated hitter, Montero hit a paltry .226/.265/.309 with five home runs. Conversely, he crushed the ball as a catcher, hitting .310/.343/.498 with 10 home runs.
No, the Astros aren't good. But if September was a salvage month, it has been a bit of a success. Here's why.
The Houston Astros topped at least one power-rankings list last week. The fact that it was my personal Power Rankings List that I keep in my journal is not germane; the once-lowly Disastros have gone 8-7 since the beginning of September. That’s better than .500 -- a winning record within these arbitrary endpoints! -- and the eight wins is as many games as Houston won in July and August combined (h/t @cantpredictball).
They also took three of four from the Phillies over this past weekend and all but ended that team’s Wild Card hopes. As this goes to press on Tuesday night, they open a three-game set against the Cardinals, and the Astros can play spoiler again against a St. Louis team that has lost seven of its last 10. If I were Mike Matheny, I’d be preparing for these games (and next week’s series in Houston) like each one was a one-game playoff. There’s nothing scarier than playing a team with nothing to lose, and the Astros are the nothing-to-losiest.
Tall players hit more home runs. Short players bunt more. But wait there's more!
There are 499 baseball players (non-pitchers) who have at least 50 plate appearances this year. I sorted them by height. What follow are the correlations between height and various offensive statistical measures. Of course, correlation does not equal causation etc etc et cetera.
The Astros aren't exactly a success, but they certainly aren't a failure. We bet you didn't see that coming.
Last season, the Twins won 63 games and were widely acknowledged to be a total disaster. But the Twins were baseball’s second-worst team. The Astros were on another level of awful. They won only 56 games, the lowest total of any team since the 2005 Royals. They were the NL’s worst pitching team and the NL’s worst defensive team, and they weren’t much good at offense, either.
That level of futility wasn’t foreseeable. In order to be as awful as they were last season, the Astros had to decline by a whopping 20 wins. In the 1982 Abstract, Bill James observed that a team that declines in one year is likely to improve the next. He called it the Plexiglas Principle.* In most cases, we’d expect a team that fell off by as much as the Astros to bounce back the following year. But the Astros weren’t most cases, and they weren’t supposed to bounce. They were supposed to break through the glass and fall even further.