Houston Astros show how to rebuild the right way

It’s been a long way down for the Houston Astros, and it’s still going to be a long road back up to the top, but the rebuilding process is being done properly, and that should be a silver lining to fans who prepare to suffer through what may be the most excruciating season yet.

Watching the Astros field a Triple-A team over the last two years while simultaneously losing draft picks to free agent signings and making poor choice with the picks they did retain left seemingly no hope of competing any time soon. As recently as two years ago, the Astros farm system not only ranked as the worst in major league baseball, but among the most barren in recent memory. There was simply no help on the way for a team that needed it badly.

They still need it badly, but thanks to a rebuilding process that was begun by former GM Ed Wade (one of the few things he did right) and continued by new GM Jeff Luhnow, there will be help coming this time.

The problem with many teams when they try to rebuild is that they don’t do it all the way. For a major league organization, a rebuilding process, should that prove to be the right decision, is not something that can be done halfway. The organization must be all-in.

This is what the Astros have done. The result is going to be a lean year in their first go-round in the American League West, but the hope is that the end result will be a competitive team.

Rebuilding, in this case (and most), means trading veteran assets as they get expensive for young, cheap talent in the form of prospects. Prospects, by nature, are unpredictable. We don’t know how any of them are going to turn out. But the fault here, if this rebuilding process doesn’t result in a competitive team, will be fall at the hands of the scouting department that gave the recommendations as to which prospects to acquire, not at the philosophy itself.

The Astros have broken things all the way down. The mistake many teams make is to trade some valuable assets, like the Astros did with Michael Bourn and Hunter Pence, but then hold onto other assets to keep from having to field a completely uncompetitive teams, like the Astros did not do when they traded Carlos Lee and Wandy Rodriguez this past season.

Things got pretty dicey toward the end of 2012 for the Astros, and holding onto a player like Rodriguez would have given them a reliable starter to lead a young rotation in the 2013 season, but they resisted temptation and traded the left-handed pitcher to the Pittsburgh Pirates for prospects Colton Cain, Robbie Grossman and Rudy Owens.

What good would Rodriguez do them this year? Perhaps his presence keeps them from being a 100-loss team, only to see them lose 98 games instead. I’d rather have Grossman, who could be a nice number two hitter to slide in behind Delino Deshields Jr. by the 2014 season. It will mean taking some heat during a rough season this year, but it was the right decision.

The biggest issue with the entire Astros organization just a few years ago was a complete lack of talent, from top to bottom. Even with players like Bourn, Pence and Rodriguez, they were not competitive, and there was nothing internally to add to them. The only choice was to blow the whole thing up and start over.

And that’s exactly what they’ve done.

The influx of talent that has entered the Astros farm system—both through trades and through better drafting—has given them one of the deepest farm systems in baseball. Not necessarily one of the best, especially in terms of major league-ready impact talent, but one of the deepest.

That depth has come primarily though trades. Jonathan Singleton, acquired in 2011 from the Phillies in the Hunter Pence trade, gives them a legitimate centerpiece around which they can build, even despite his 50-game suspension for marijuana. Owens and Brett Oberholtzer, acquired in separate trades, should be usable major league lefties. Jarred Cosart, who came over from the Phillies with Singleton, could be a mid-rotation starter or a late-inning reliever.

The real impact talent, however, has come from the draft. DeShields, a 2010 first-rounder had a great 2012 season, embracing his role as a leadoff hitter and doing a better job working counts and getting on base, and as a result stealing 101 bases between two levels. George Springer, the team’s 2011 first-rounder, should be the team’s center fielder of the future and took full advantage of the California League in his first full season. He swings and misses a little too much, but he’s got one of the best power/speed combinations in the minors.

Lastly, with the first overall pick in 2012, the Astros selected Carlos Correa out of Puerto Rico; he will have more to say about the Astros rebuilding process than any other player. A rebuilding organization can’t overcome a bust with the top overall pick, but all indications point towards Correa becoming the Astros shortstop of the future.

The Astros have also done a good job acquiring some interesting lower-tier prospects in smaller trades that could result in role players, key pieces, or even a potential starter or two:

—Sending third baseman Chris Johnson to the Arizona Diamondbacks brought back Bobby Borchering and Marc Krauss. Borchering is a former first rounder who had been pushed over to first base thanks to organizational crowding at third in the Diamondbacks system, but the Astros were willing to try him back at the hot corner after acquiring him last season. He has big time power but serious contact issues. Krauss is a 25-year-old corner outfielder who has put up good numbers in the minors but is generally underwhelming in terms of tools. Still, he has a good track record of production, takes a walk and hits for power. He should see time in the majors this season.

Domingo Santana was the player to be named later in the Pence trade, but has always had big upside. At the time of the trade, we had only seen glimpses of that on the field, but the California League sure cured that in a hurry. Santana hit .203/.385/.536 last season in Lexington, with 23 home runs. He’ll have to prove himself in a more neutral ballpark, but it’s a good start.

Matt Dominguez should be the Astros starting third baseman in 2013 after coming over in the Carlos Lee trade last season. He’s limited offensively, but one of the highlights of the Astros season could be getting to watch Dominguez play defense. His glove alone should provide decent value, especially for an aging veteran like Lee, who was doing the Astros no good whatsoever.

For the Astros, there’s a chance this could all fall flat. Singleton could continue to have off-the-field troubles and Correa could stall out developmentally, as just two potential examples. With prospects, anything can happen. But what’s important, at least at this point, is that they’ve gone about things the right way philosophically, and that the talent is there. The Astros started down the rebuilding path, and they took the path all the way to the bottom of the hill, which is where they are now.

The good news is that there’s no place to go but up.

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Comments

  1. Jim said...

    I wish Dan O’Dowd would listen to paragraph 4.  The Rockies are only half in and will be that way until 3 million people quit buying tickets.

    Oh well, good luck Astros!

  2. Atari said...

    People forget too about the salary relief. Do you want to pay Wandy Rodriguez 10M and Carlos Lee 18.5M for such a a bad team? Pocket that savings, reinvest in young talent, or when your team is competitive that money is there for the extra arm/bat that will push you into the playoffs and beyond.

    Plus, I trust Luhnow completely. This year will be rough again but in 2-3 years things will be much more promising.

  3. Paul G. said...

    Domingo Santana’s batting average was .302, not .203.  I’m not sure what I would make of the Adam Dunn of the California League….

  4. obsessivegiantscompulsive said...

    Rebuilding the right way would suggest rebuilding to win a world championship.  The only studies I’m aware of that covers this are by BP and THT.  Both found that offense does nothing to improve a team’s chances in the playoffs, it was all about defense (pitching and fielding) once you enter the playoffs. 

    Houston, per this article, has focused mostly on offense in their rebuild.  The only pitchers mentioned are ones who are either “usable” or “mid-rotation”.

    BP’s study goes further and found that high K/9 pitching staffs have been a key to going deeper into the playoffs.  I see no mention of any high strikeout pitchers above.

    My studies of the playoffs have shown that it is quality starts that gets you into good position to win a game in the playoffs.  And it is front line pitchers (typically high in strikeouts) who regularly throw quality starts (they usually have over 50% quality starts, the best have 70-80% quality starts, with very few disaster starts (which are the nearly sure way to lose starts).  Useful and mid-rotation starters do not usually compile high percentage of quality starts.

    Overall, I think sabermetrics have given pitching the short shrift.  Even Bill James, in his Win Shares, only credit pitching with, like, 80% of 50% (with offense the other 50% and fielding the other 20%).  Pitching is more like the quarterbacks for baseball, only because they can only pitch once or twice a week, they are viewed to be lesser citizens because they don’t play every day. 

    They control the action, or can if they are really good.  Many control with their velocity and striking out a lot.  Others control with their off-speed breaking pitches and striking out a lot or inducing weakly hit balls.  The best can toss quality starts (I used Shandler’s PQS methodology for my study) 80% of their starts.  You put together a full rotation of these pitchers and you improve your chances greatly in the playoffs (improve, not guarantee).

    I see none of this in Houston’s rebuild.  The last time they drafted a pitcher with their first round pick was in 2005, Brian Bogusevic.  Before that Deric Grigsby in 2002.  Before that, Robert Stihl in 2000.  Brad Lidge, in 1998, was their last significant pitcher drafted with their first round pick.  They are acting the opposite of what studies by prominent baseball analyst groups says should be done:  they have focused on offense while placing almost no attention to their pitching.

    Meanwhile, they have traded away almost all of their better players without obtaining any frontline pitching.  Their best strikeout pitchers are Norris and Happ, both already in their prime years.  Their top pitching prospects are 4th, 5th, 7th, 9th.  McCullers had a nice strikeout rate but is 18 and was in a rookie league.  Foltynewicz had to repeat low-A ball, and didn’t have much of a strikeout rate.  Cosart didn’t have much of a strikeout rate either.  Tropeano had a nice strikeout rate but was in A-ball. 

    I will agree that Astros did what any good rebuilding team should do to rebuild fast:  burn it down.  Trade away any and all good talent, let the team suffer for a while, while picking up good Top 5 overall draft picks which are much more likely to turn out to be good players, then rebuild off of that new core of talent.  That’s how the Braves did it under Cox when he was GM, before he made himself manager.  That’s how the Nats did it, Rays as well once the GM knew what he was doing.  Even the Giants did that, though not to those three teams extent, they could not afford disastrous losing seasons and kept talent to prevent that, but with good drafts (Lincecum, Bumgarner, Posey, Belt), has been able to build on top of Cain.

  5. Marver said...

    What the Astros are doing beats the hell out of what the Padres are doing: pretending not to rebuild while always rebuilding.

  6. PLM said...

    @obsessive—Not sure what BP article you are referring to, but the one I know of (http://www.baseballprospectus.com/article.php?articleid=18414) says the opposite of what you claim: elite pitchers are not critically important to post-season success.  Or at least not as much as one would expect.  Also, you reference drafts from 5-15 years ago as evidence of lack of focus on pitching in the current rebuilding effort.  That was well before the current front office was in place and hence, not relevant.

    Finally, there is no real evidence that mediocre offensive teams win World Series.  Your Giants last year had the second best (park adjusted) offense in MLB.  The Cardinals in 2011 had the very best offense.  The 2009 Yankees: also #1 in offense.  The 2010 Giants are the only recent team with an average offense to win a title. 

    So I would lay off blasting the Astros’ strategy until you get your facts straight.

  7. TheHoustonian said...

    @obsessivegiantscompulsive “Their best strikeout pitchers are Norris and Happ, both already in their prime years.”

    Not only that, but Happ plays for Toronto! Whatever will the Astros do!?

    Also, are you seriously gauging their rebuilding effort by looking at K rates of their major league staff? You’re kidding, right? If so, good one. If not, bad one.

  8. rxbrgr said...

    Just a correction on your stats: Domingo Santana hit .302, not .203. Correcting this will help people have a lot better hope for him.

  9. obsessivegiantscompulsive said...

    Sorry, I forgot that not everyone has read this great book, but Baseball Prospectus wrote a great book a number of years ago titled, “Baseball Between the Numbers” and there is a chapter titled, “Why Billy Beane’s Sh*t Doesn’t Work in the Playoffs”.

    BP found in their study of dozens of metrics that there were three statistically significant metrics that helped teams go deep into the playoffs.  First was a high strikeout rate staff. 

    So if you want to call me an idiot for quoting and relying on BP’s analysis, that’s fine.  But if I’m rebuilding, I’m rebuilding to maximize my chances of going deep into the playoffs, getting there is not enough for me.  Hence my focus on high strikeout pitchers.  Please, call me an idiot.

    And I didn’t say that every one of the pitchers has to be that, my point is that they don’t even really have any high K/9 pitchers!

    The other two metrics are a dominant closer (per WRXL) and a great defense (per their defense metric).  I didn’t have any info on that for Astros so I didn’t bother to bring that up.

    They compiled this for all the teams, covering over 100 teams (I think in the mid-100’s), and for the teams who were among the Top across these three metrics, in terms of ranking among the playoff teams, I think 8 or 9 of 10 won the World Series, and I recall all making the World Series, and that one of the ones that did not win the World Series lost to another of the Top 10.

    The 2010 Giants, near as I could tell (unfortunately, BP’s free stats didn’t match up with the book, but I think I got the right numbers for the 2010 Giants) would have fallen into the Top 10.  My guess on the 2012 Giants is that they didn’t, because they did not have a closer who held the role the whole year, it moved around. 

    Having a great staff did not make the final cut for their key metrics, but they did note in that chapter that it did help teams.

    My main point there is that if a great pitcher is capable of controlling the action in a game, it would behoove a team to build up a rotation of such pitchers to maximize their chances of controlling the game and thereby winning it.  And thereby getting that much closer to winning a series and winning it all.  Again, I’m all about winning it all.

    I never said that mediocre offensive teams wins World Series – I had to re-read what I wrote a number of times, but it is clearly not in there – I said that both studies found that no matter what offense a team had, bad, good, or otherwise, it had no effect on a team going deep into the playoffs.  Home run hitting teams, nope. Good contact teams, nope.  High RS, low RS, didn’t matter.  Nada.  Offense don’t matter once you get into the playoffs.

    About the length of time I covered the Astros draft, if you didn’t notice, I noted that there hasn’t been a pitcher since 2005.  I assume that includes the period of time that this new regime has been running the draft. 

    Sure, I went overboard covering as far back as I sent, but I wanted to show that this has been an organizational issue for them for a long time.  Yes, pre-dating the current GM, but I would think that a lot of the scouts who advise the GM has been around during much of that period, and probably also the management above the GM, up to the owner.  There were so few pitchers selected over all those years (just like for the Giants, very few position players were selected with their first round picks) that there must have been some sort of organizational philosophy that has been driving their pick selections.

    Yeah, sorry about the Happ.  That is why I hate articles written on a team by an author who does not follow the team closely.  I admit that I don’t follow Houston all that well, I just went through their 2012 team stats and plucked their names out.  I think team articles are best written by people who follow that team constantly, else the generalists always, always, misses some detail and says something stupid, like my mentioning Happ. 

    So thanks, I agree, I hate that and I’ve been seeing that here at THT and Fangraphs for years, in articles on the Giants team and prospects, they would miss details like that, and I’ve complained in those comments over and over, to no avail.  Maybe we can get others to agree.

  10. Andy S said...

    I think the finger of blame is far more on Tim Purpura than Ed Wade. Glad to see it’s finally being done right though!

  11. Ashitaka said...

    Uh, this sentence is misleading:

    “Watching the Astros field a Triple-A team over the last two years while simultaneously losing draft picks to free agent signings and making poor choice with the picks they did retain left seemingly no hope of competing any time soon.”

    The last TWO years? The last two years the Astros didn’t lose draft picks and certainly didn’t squander the ones they had. You’re thinking of the 2006-2007 period.

  12. Shorething said...

    The Astros have not been picking pitchers with there number one pick, but they have hardly missed out on picking up some outstanding pitching prospects. Also, pithcers have the least relieablity, as to making it to the majors. They are also more prone to injury.

    If you exclude the draft, players traded have brought on a lot of talent, and many left handed pitchers. IMHO, the Astros are doing superb in their rebuilding process, and should be competative within two or three years.

  13. Gary Nightwagon said...

    Haha. If you’re going to comment on the success/failure of a team’s rebuild, you might want to look at more than the team’s 2012 baseballreference page.

    Your suggestion that the Astros aren’t rebuilding “the right way” because they are focusing more on hitting than pitching implies that they are consciously neglecting pitching and there’s no evidence to definitely suggest that’s what they’re doing. Teams don’t give up front of the rotation arms for the spares the team was unloading and there aren’t Strasburgs in every draft. They’ve done nothing but take advantage of the opportunities they’ve been given with trades and the draft and the result is going from #30 to top ten in farm system rankings. That’s not 2 World Series in 3 years, but that’s unreal turnaround in two years.

    It kills me when some guy is convinced his team has THE way to win and every other method is wrong. Especially when he clearly doesn’t know the track record of the guy we have in charge. Your ebook or whatever sounds neat, but I’ll trust the guy that’s largely responsible for two of the top ten farm systems in baseball.

  14. kab21 said...

    I’m not sure that I can give the Astros any kudos for doing something that they should have done 5 years ago.

  15. chongo said...

    As a long suffering ‘Stros fan, I don’t wanna wait 3 more years to be competitive in the AL West.  Someone please explain why Oakland happened last year and why we can’t do that?

  16. Jason said...

    @obsessive…. I haven’t read “Baseball between the numbers”, but I agree in the idea that pitching/defense makes a WS caliber team. However, value is value and offensive prospects tend to be more stable than pitching prospects. Once the Astros get to a point that they have a surplus of major league talent, they can use that value to trade for arms in the upper minor leagues or majors. Not saying that they should avoid pitching in the draft, but I am of the grain of thought that they should always get the best player available and not go for organizational needs.

  17. obsessivegiantscompulsive said...

    Here’s one of my points that I want to emphasize here:  the draft is really really hard.  I know that’s obvious on the face of it, but people don’t really understand the magnitude of how hard it is.  As much as a slamdunk you would think the first pick is, the success rate of finding a franchise transforming player there is much lower than most would think, under a coin flip.  It just gets worse from there.

    My point here is that as much as they may think they know who is the best player available, they don’t really know, it is truly a guess, an educated guess yes, very educated, but still more likely to not be a good player.

    There are 25 players on a roster.  Roughly half of them are pitchers.  What are the odds that over a 15 year period that the vast majority of a team’s BPA picks are hitters?  That’s my point.

    Gary, I looked at their 2012 page to get a base of what they have at the MLB level.  You didn’t read my comment fully else you would also realize that I went through 15 (or so) years of their drafts. 

    You would have also realized that the basis of my comments comes from studies from BP and THT, NOT from my team affiliation. 

    Perhaps you should read the whole comment and comprehend it fully before you jump on the writer’s back.

    My team happens to be following it.  BP and THT wrote these studies long ago and at some point I noticed that my team was following it.  If they weren’t, I would be writing about why aren’t they.

    I thought I would share these studies.  I think that they say something that most people don’t realize.  I understand the frustrations with GM’s and a losing team, and I do hope that all teams (well, except for the Yankees and Dodgers) get their time in the sun.

    I also feel some sympathy as well.  Honestly, I would be mad as hell getting pushed into the AL.  So that drove me to share my knowledge.

    Looking at the draft history, the Astros seems to have a preference for hitters, and I thought I did a good job of showing that.  No GM comes in with his own scouting crew, he works with what he got until he gets his guys in and the guys he don’t like, out.  That takes a while.  That scouting bias can be seen in the preponderance of hitters drafted over the recent past. 

    I explained my thoughts and shared studies that I’ve found before.  It’s fine to disagree, but I don’t see the need to throw names or just skim over a comment and attack at something you don’t fully understand. 

    I’m not saying the Astros need to copy the Giants and draft pitchers all the time.  In fact, the Giants agreed, bringing in a new scouting director who has a background in finding hitters in John Barr.  I agree that BPA should guide picks.  But I think it’s pretty clear that the Astro’s scouts evaluation of BPA is biased towards hitters.

    And value is value, but based on these studies, all it is going to lead is frustration as you get close to the prize but never quite win the championship when you don’t have the pitching. 

    I think the Royals are a good example of this bias for hitters.  They have a great amount of hitting talent, but not really any pitching.  They are then forced to trade for pitching.  You can see what happened with the Melky trade, and we’ll see if giving up Myers will pay off.

    For to the point made above, teams are not giving away these pitchers, thus it behooves teams to develop their own.  Given how the odds of finding such a player is exponentially low once you get beyond the first round, they need to make sure that their scouting is not biased, so that more pitchers are BPA when it is time for them to draft in the first round.  A few years I can accept that it is just random, but the organization clearly has a problem long-term identifying good pitching talent.

  18. obsessivegiantscompulsive said...

    Clearly I’m falling on deaf ears.  But what you don’t get is that while I’m a Giants fan, I’m also a baseball geek. 

    I’ll end with the example I’ve given to Giants fans (believe it or not, they reacted to me the same way people here have, I’ve been saying this for 4-5 years now, and there are still some of them calling Sabean a moron, even after two world championships; I’m still vilified at that board) to explain my logic.  I give it with good heart and maybe you’ll understand more fully what I’m getting at.

    Pitching is more flexible than hitters.  If you find three great 1B (cough, Teixeira, Hafner, A-Gon), you have to either move them to defensively inferior positions (Willie McCovey to LF or 3B, ruined his knees) or you trade them and hope that you get back a good player (I think we can agree that Texas didn’t get near the quality back for the three in total, and the Giants didn’t get back equal value for Cepeda). 

    As a study in THT Annual last year showed, teams know their prospects better than the other team and generally they don’t trade their better prospects (study analyzed prospects kept vs. traded, using WAR; teams generally know what they got and don’t trade away the good stuff).  So if you luck out and find three good position prospects, you generally will get lower value prospects back, because that is how the trade game is played, you can just bet on getting less back.  You need to be able to hold onto the good players you find and not be forced to trade them, trading just introduces additional risk into the rebuilding phase.

    However, if you find three great pitchers, you have a great rotation.  In pitching, the cream rises to the top.  In addition, failed starters often end up as good relievers or closers.  You can rebuild pitching much faster and with less trade risk than hitting, because of this.

    Sure, pitching is more volatile, injury prone, yada yada yada.  The sad truth is that no matter what, you still need 12 pitchers on your staff, you are going to have to deal with it. 

    And every team has their sad story in their history of a great group of pitchers coming up and blowing up (Mets and A’s Four Aces in early 90’s; Giants AFW in early 2000’s), but I realized that doesn’t mean you don’t stop trying.  While I love and believe in TINSTAAPP, I think that has scared away people from pitching when it is so crucial to winning, and especially when it is so crucial to winning it all.  And as a long frustrated Giants fan of over 40 years, that’s all I cared about in recent years.

    Here’s another neat thing about a great pitching rotation:  you don’t need a lot of offense to win a division with it.  Use Pythagorean on the best RA teams of any year (try 3rd best), calculate the RS to win 90 games with it, then look at the RS by team.  You can win a lot of games with a very subpar offense when you have one of the best RA in the majors.  With that pitching (and good fielding defense), an average offense can fuel a lot of wins, making you one of the best teams in the league.  So if you can build a great pitching staff, you can pick up scrapheap guys on the fly and get the offense you need to win with that staff (Giants got Burrell, Ross for 2010; Pence, Scutaro for 2012).  Plus take fliers on cheap free agents or players with questionable pasts (Huff for 2010, Pagan and Melky for 2012). 

    It’s a strategy I think that works for any team, not just the Giants.  I stumbled upon it because I would find a new study and analyze how the Giants are doing against that.  If anyone is interested, I created a business plan at my blog which explains everything in even more excruciating detail than the above.  And if not, no worries, good luck in 2013.

  19. obsessivegiantscompulsive said...

    Clarification on the above: the strategy works if not that many other teams are following it.  Obviously, there are only so many good pitchers to go around.  Obviously the key is to get them first before the other teams do.

  20. AstrosBill said...

    Just to address the comments about the Astros pitching depth. The Astros have done some good things to acquire pitching as well. This author focused far to much time to the offensive player acquired in the trades. Jarred Cosart is our top rated pitcher in the minors and is ranked #76 in the top 100 prospects in baseball. We have some other pitchers working their way through the system quickly like Lance McCullers and Asher Wojciechowski (Hope they have a uniform wide enough for his name). At the same time, we have some young arms at the NL level. With most teams these guys would be working their way up at AAA. The Astros don’t have the luxury. Lucas Harrell, Bud Norris, Jordan Lyles and Kyle Weiland showed some good signs last year and all of these guys are well under 30 so we have several years left. There are also some new names who have been brought in this off-season so we don’t know what we may have in them. It is also important to remember that the Astros have the #1 pick this draft and pitching should be a priority. There are a few other kids coming up who are just starting to produce and figure things out so, the Astros pitching situation is headed in the right direction as well.

  21. James Avery said...

    Could it be said that if you have excesses in offense, you can trade for defense?
    If pitchers are such an unknown and with their payroll so low, wouldn’t the best idea be to buy pitchers once the offense positions are complete, and use your excess draft stock as trade bait?

  22. obsessivegiantscompulsive said...

    Not to be a downer, AstrosBill, but look at any Top 100 list from the past 10 years, pick out some pitchers in the 70-80 range, and see how well they have turned out.  I’ve seen enough that I would bet that most of them fizzle out.  I can easily name a recent Giants prospect who fizzled out in that range, Tim Alderson.  Cosart will need to continue to develop and rise up the rankings.

    McCullers and Asher W. look like good prospects, so hopefully they rise higher in the rankings, but for now, they are not there.

    Hopefully there is a good pitcher available at #1 who is a clear #1, and not a muddied mix.  Pitching needs quality talent, and that is what the first round picks normally provide.  You just have to roll the dice and hope for the best.

    And I didn’t mean to suggest that things maybe are not going in the right direction, pitching-wise, but the emphasis appears to be more on hitting than pitching, that was what I was trying to draw attention to.  They need to focus more on getting pitching to go with their nice crop of hitters per the studies I cited above.

  23. AstrosBill said...

    I’m with you “O”. Cosart does have some work to do, but he has a lot of tools to work with. He’s a got a chance. The problem is that the Astros need him sooner than later. I’m hoping that they don’t rush him.

    I think the emphasis is on players and right now hitters are more prevelant. The Astros picked up several arms in the trades and then a lot of bats in the draft. It’s going to even out I think. I hope they go get the best pitcher they can in the draft this next year.

  24. CSN said...

    Personally, I think it’s bunk to suggest there is any real evidence of an emphasis on hitting over pitching in recent Astros drafts. In the last three years, there is a perfectly even split of hitters and pitchers taken in the first 3 rounds of the draft. Expanded to the first 5 rounds over the last three years, it’s still an even split between hitters and pitchers selected by the Astros.

    And while it is sadly true that the Astros have not developed a true ace in quite some time, for the forseeable future the Astros will certainly have plenty of money to tempt a frontline starter via free agency.

    Which is exactly what I expect they will do in a few years.

  25. CSN said...

    Oh, it’s also worth noting that even though the article did not mention much in the way of pitching acquired by the Astros during this rebuilding phase, they have in fact acquired, among others, Kevin Comer and Joe Musgrove. Both were first round supplemental picks out of high school in the 2011 draft.

  26. obsessivegiantscompulsive said...

    OK, CSN, here is where I’m coming from. 

    I did a study of the draft and came up with odds of finding a good player by where you are in the draft.  Roughly 45% chance of finding someone good in first five picks overall (best for 1st, natch).  Roughly 20% 6-20, 10% 21-30, 4% 31-90, and it is under 2% 91-100.

    So from my perspective, the supplemental first round pick has roughly 4% chance of being a good player, whereas a first round pick (and the Astros get very good because of the losing) is either 45% or 20% (I don’t recall exactly the other years).  So picking a pitcher with a supplemental, to me, has one-tenth the odds of becoming a good player as the #1 pick overall.  So, no, I don’t find that getting pitchers in the first few rounds to be equivalent, and hence why I focused only on the first round picks in my comment.

    It’s like fishing in a barrel vs. fishing in a lake, the former is like having a pick in the first 5-10 picks (because good players sometimes fall), and the latter is what the end of the first round or supplemental first is.  The rest of the draft is like fishing in the ocean.

    Or another way to look at it is that first round picks are like getting a rook, while the picks after that are like having a pawns.  Maybe the pawn can be developed into a power piece, but generally not.  And having a couple of pawns don’t equal the rook.  The odds of winning the game (i.e. finding a good player) is more likely with the rook.

    And just acquiring pitchers aren’t going to make them good to great pitchers.  The Giants not only has drafted a lot of pitchers with their first round picks, but they pick more pitchers overall (roster composition would suggest 13:12 position, but the Giants have reversed that, selecting more pitchers).  And they haven’t been very successful with them though they have found very useful pieces (Wilson, Romo, Accardo, Nathan), but I view the draft after the first round to be more like lottery tickets, you hope they hit, and the more you buy, the more chance you hit on one.

    FYI, I would also direct you to The Hardball Times Baseball Annual 2012, Chapter “Down with Other People’s Players” by Matt Swartz.  Matt studied the various ways teams acquire players and he found some very basic truths, centered on this one core truth:  teams know what they got in their players.  He looked at free agents and re-signings, he looked at prospects (both traded and kept), and from every angle he looked, basically it was caveat emptor, “buyer beware”.  If a team is trading to you, there is a good reason (usually) for that.  If a team let go of a player through free agency, there is usually a good reason for it.  Teams generally keep the players they know to be good, let go the ones who are not.

    But to my example above, again, what if you know you got three great 1B?  But are forced to trade because you can’t play them anywhere else?  Or forced to trade because you need pitching?  Do you see where I’m going with this? 

    It is better to do your own home cooking, starting with pitching, because, as Matt discovered, teams pay a huge premium for pitching, unlike for hitting, in free agency and when you have to trade for it, teams generally keep the good ones. 

    Again, not to be a downer, but I’m trying to be realistic with what I know about the rebuilding, draft, and talent evaluation processes.  If you don’t believe the studies that BP and THT has done, or my draft, then you will think that what I wrote is bunk.  I would be telling Giants fans the same thing if it were true for our team, I was telling my friends that they were mediocre during the 70’s and 80’s.

    But frankly, your reaction here is much like the reaction I got from my fellow Giants fans when I told them that Sabean has us on the right path, back in 2007-8-9.  So I can’t win for losing.  :^)

    Take care.

  27. CSN said...

    OK, I think you may wish to look again at what I wrote, obsessivegiantscompulsive.

    While you may adhere, rightly or wrongly, to the notion the proper way to rebuild is to focus on pitching, I did not make a judgment about it nor was it the focus of my objection. What I called bunk was your claim there is some sort of emphasis on hitting over pitching in recent drafts and/or trades by the Astros and I still don’t believe you to have made your case regarding emphasis.

    I don’t think you a downer, I just disagreed with your claim.

  28. Ray said...

    Obsessivegiantscompulsive and all others,

    Thanks for the insight – loved reading the comments from you guys. I feel a little better about my Astros.

    Keep posting

  29. PLM said...

    obsessive—Please stop typing.  No one came here to read a novel.  You might want to start by educating yourself on what happened in Houston.  They got an entirely new front office with a new GM who could not be much different that the old one.  Dozens of articles have been written about it.  So how is their past drafting history an “organizational problem”?

    As for your claim that,

    “I never said that mediocre offensive teams wins World Series – I had to re-read what I wrote a number of times, but it is clearly not in there”

    Actually, you said something much more extreme and asinine:

    “Both found that offense does nothing to improve a team’s chances in the playoffs, it was all about defense (pitching and fielding) once you enter the playoffs.”

    Offense “does nothing” to help you win in the playoffs, yet mediocre offensive teams don’t win World Series?  Which is it?  Better yet, just go away.  You’re polluting this article with inane and incredibly wordy babble.  It’s been made very clear you don’t have a clue how to assimilate research into rational opinion.

  30. obsessivegiantscompulsive said...

    PLM, you need to re-read.  The studies found that it don’t matter whether you have a good offense or mediocre offense in the playoffs, it is pitching and fielding that wins championships.  I don’t know how much more plainer I can be.

    My point relates to your statement.  Here is what you wrote “Finally, there is no real evidence that mediocre offensive teams win World Series.”  Again, that is not anything I stated.  What I said is that it don’t matter what type of offense you have, you win regardless of the offense.  Quite different statements, which you then twisted around by tying my response to YOUR statement.

    If you believe that team offense does matter, that mediocre team offenses can’t win championships, take that up with BP and THT and their methodology, better yet, do your own study and prove them wrong.

    I write novels because if I put out a one sentence explanation, I end up writing a more disjointed reply as each answer brings another question.  Even so, I end up answering more questions anyway, as we see here.  Feel free to ignore if you don’t think I’m adding any value, that is your right as a reader.

    It don’t matter if you have a new front office if they are still advised by the same scouts who was informing the decisions before.  Garbage in, garbage out.  If you have good word that he has replaced all the scouts with his own people already, I’ll then admit that things have changed enough to satisfy me. 

    I will admit that I didn’t know that McCullers was ranked 13th by BA in their draft.  So I will concede that the Astros did well to get a draft pick like McCullers.

    But to my point, they went to Correa as their pick, when they could have went to Zimmer or Gaussman and probably still gotten Correa.  They were ranked higher than Correa and probably would have signed low enough to enable them to get McCullers too. 

    Not that Zimmer or Gaussman were necessarily better than Correa.  Honestly, I don’t know.  But frankly, neither do baseball teams.  They make very educated guesses, but they miss more often than not, even with the first pick overall.  Just look through history of the draft, see how many #1 picks overall actually had the most WAR produced in that draft.

    I’ll stop typing once people stop twisting my words around with asinine interpretations of what I wrote.

  31. obsessivegiantscompulsive said...

    CSN, understood, just wanted to put out my viewpoint.  Thanks for not being more civil in your response, greatly appreciated.

  32. obsessivegiantscompulsive said...

    Do me the favor of reading that chapter in BP’s BBTN on Billy Beane’s sh*t.  Kindle only $10.44, paperback, $12.66 Amazon.  You’ll thank me later.

    Once you read all that, and just ignore what I wrote above, if you still don’t understand why I’m making a big deal of this, that’s fine, at least I tried.  I just wanted to open some eyes to some great info and thought that this was a good place to try, as I sympathize with your situation, the Giants have been in it before.

    I doubt teams follow what fans say – if that were true, the Giants would be lousy today following the advice given at MCC – but at least if fans point out stuff like this, maybe, like a bottle with a note, the front office might learn something and change their strategy.  One can only hope when the team has been rudderless for years. 

    One reasons I point out the draft history for Houston is that Sabean didn’t have many good drafts either until he hired Tidrow to run the draft.  And initially even then, the drafts were not all that good either, but did get better over time.  And even with that, it took another leap up when we added John Barr to run the draft. 

    And this is the same guy, Sabean, who while running the player development with the Yankees acquired Jeter, Posada, Rivera, Williams, Pettite, core pieces of the Yankees domination over the years since. 

    So I posited that its GIGO, the poor scouting that led to the poor farm system when Sabean took over was still in place, until he could hire in guys and gals he trust, but that takes time, you can’t just fire everyone and start from nothing, and the guys you want might not be available.  That’s why I worry about the Astro’s poor history.  Hopefully I’m wrong and you are right, but that’s where my concern is coming from.

  33. obsessivegiantscompulsive said...

    OK, I decided to look into Luhnow since, as you rightly noted, I don’t know much of anything about him or the Astros. 

    I have to say that I’m very impressed with is background.  I’ve liked what the Cards have done with the drafting in recent years and he was the architect of that.  I also like that he was a former McKinsey consultant, they have a nice analytical bent that should prosper in a baseball team.  I also like that he personally established the Cards baseball academy in the DR and scouts Venezuela too.  That is a key thing to do in today’s baseball.

    Overall, I think that if I were an Astro’s fan, I would be very excited about having Luhnow as GM, even more so because his earliest baseball memories are of going to Astros games, I think that ache of being a fan can only be helpful.  I still think that he needs to focus more on pitching, and good pitching in particularly, not just any pitching, but I think he’ll eventually get there. 

    I feel confident that whatever he does for the Astros will at least put them on the path toward being competitive again, and, in his words, “I want to see Minute Maid Park filled to the rafters in an American League championship series,” Luhnow said. “I want to see this city get excited about the possibility of going to a World Series. And I would love to see Houston to win the World Series, and the team in Texas that gets talked about be the Houston Astros.  I’m all in.”  Not that having a former McKinsey consultant guarantees anything, but that combined with his success with the Cards is a very good combination.  I’m only glad that he’s no longer in the NL and no longer with the Cards (I don’t care much for the Cards).

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