Daily Astros News and Notes

Publicity stunt or baseball move? You decide...

I have talked about Bagwell a lot here and here. I've slept since the news broke and I think I have some more thoughts on the subject that don't involve a lit Molotov cocktail thrown at Drayton McLane's offices.

There seems to be two prevailing schools of thought on this move. First is that this is all a publicity stunt for the Astros as they try and distract from this terrible season. Second is that Sean Berry was unjustly fired from a job that no one could do well. Let's look at each of these.

On the side of publicity stunt, there's the fact that Bagwell openly admitted he's only taking the job for two and a half months at first. After that, he'll decide if he wants to stay in coaching or move back into a laid-back role that gives him time with his kids. Certainly, the Astros will benefit from Baggy's return, probably selling a few more tickets and having a special promotion night or something.

On the side of Berry's competence, there's the fact that the Astros are terrible hitters and no hitting coach will change that. Certainly, Berry nor Bagwell will be able to teach Hunter Pence to lay off the low pitches or teach Pedro Feliz and Carlos Lee how to take a walk every now and then. This isn't a well-constructed offense no matter how you slice it and Berry couldn't work miracles. Few hitting coaches do (see: Jaramillo, Rudy and the Cubs).

I don't buy that second one completely. The first? Yeah, this was a PR move pure and simple. That's why you do it right before the All-Star break. That's when Drayton fired Jimy Williams and brought in Scrap Iron. Did Justice rip Drayton then? (yeah, probably). This is just the time that you make moves like this. Berry can't teach guys to be more patient at the plate. That's baseball DNA that's set in stone long before a guy gets to the majors. But, there are things that can be improved by a coach. Things like a player's approach during the game. Adjustments made to specific pitchers. Things like that.

It's entirely possible that Brad Mills just decided he couldn't work with Berry any more. The organization still viewed him highly, as they didn't just kick him to the curb (a la Cecil Cooper), but he couldn't work with his new boss, after a few months on the job. That happens a lot. Remember, too, that Berry has said multiple times how he doesn't value the walk as much as we saberists might. Combine that with Mills coaching for Boston, one of the pitch-seeingest teams out there, and you can see why the General needed to make a move.

Also, remember when Justice compared the Astros to those sainted San Diego Padres? He must've forgotten that the Friars fired their own hitting coach last July, even though their team was basically a group of Triple-A hitters and David Eckstein (who may in fact be a Double-A hitter). In fact, as this article so eloquently points out, the Padres have gone through five hitting coaches in the past four years. Maybe Justice could have picked a better example, like the Cardinals. What? They picked up a new hitting coach in the offseason? Huh.

And I'm right!: When I wrote about Michael Bourn making the All-Star team, I wondered how Charlie Manuel would replace Jason Heyward in the starting lineup. Here's my last bit of speculation:

The other option Manuel has is to slide Andre Ethier over from right to center and start Matt Holliday in right.

What does he do? Slide Andre Ethier over to center field and start Corey Hart in right. So, I wasn't entirely right, but I was pretty darn close. It may have made more sense to start Marlon Byrd or even Chris Young (who's having a surprisingly good season).

Ethier is probably athletic enough to play the position, but why take this kind of defensive hit when you have a team capable of getting to the World Series? There's not enough of an offensive difference between Corey Hart and Marlon Byrd to justify the gap in defense between Ethier and Byrd.


More ASG talk: Aaron Gleeman tweeted that with the rosters bloated with injury replacements and the like, there are 2.8 players per team at the All-Star Game. That's ridiculous. Are people really criticizing baseball for forcing one player to be from each team? There isn't a better way to keep fans of bad teams interested in your exhibition game than to have one of their own there. When you have nearly three players per team named as All-Stars, I think that's a hit the rosters can take.

Another interesting question is brought up here. What happens when a team trades its only All-Star representative? Do they get another? More importantly, should they? I'm okay with this rule for deciding the rosters, but it feels unneccessary to make late additions because a team enters into a fire sale. Let the fans be excited about whatever prospects they got in the deal, but don't pick another mediocre player, just because they are the only option left.

Lastly, Billy Wagner didn't win the Final Vote contest, but he was still offered a final spot on the roster by Charlie Manuel. He turned it down, deciding to rest and relax instead. I applaud him for the move, even as I wish he gets the credit for a great career when he retires. Still, the point this illustrates is how pointless the Final Vote really is. Otherwise, Heath Bell doesn't get named to the team during the freaking vote. If this is an alternates list, say so. Don't try to drum up fan support and then blatantly just cherry pick whoever you want off that list. It cheapens an already artificial and forced process.


More shameless self-promotion: I mentioned this morning that I don't feel too comfortable with self-promotion. That's when there's money involved. You can see my latest column up on SB Nation Houston for free! What can you expect? A run down of lots of different Astros records, including talk of what history Michael Bourn may make in Tuesday's game. Go read. It'll be worth your two minutes.


More trade silliness: Ahh, another reminder why I dislike this rumor-mongering that the mainstream media adopts at this time of year. It's not all MSM types, just the ones from New York, LA and Chicago, it seems. You know, the ones who are trying to impress execs at ESPN so they can have a job.

In that vein, Phil Rodgers seems to speculate that the Rays are targeting Corey Hart and are willing to trade Jeremy Hellickson to get him. That rumor is so ridiculous, it doesn't even deserve comment. I don't dislike rumors, because they do turn out to be true sometimes and I honestly can't get enough of them. However, when I hear them, I usually question the motives of the guy publishing them as much as I do the information. I'm preaching to the choir on here, I know, but I'm allowed a soap box moment every now and then.


The good from the Futures Game: So, apparently, this kid named Jordan Lyles pitched in the Futures game last night. Let's get some reactions from Bryan Smith over at FanGraphs:

Jordan Lyles’ Change Up. Dave Cameron and I talked after the game and struggled to remember a single plus breaking ball we’d seen all day. By my game notes, the only two I can say now were Jeremy Hellickson threw an okay one in the first, and Alex Torres trusted his a bit in the third. So in a game dominated by fastballs, a good offspeed pitch was bound to stick out. And Lyles, who wasn’t quite on par with his American crew in velocity, threw a couple fantastic, fantastic change-ups in striking out Carlos Peguero. If Astros fans want to know why Jordan Lyles is running a drastic reverse platoon split this year, it’s the change-up.

I couldn't be happier about this news. It also gibes exactly with what I've heard about Lyles for the past year. His changeup can be a plus-plus pitch, I think. Add that to a good fastball (that should gain velocity) and Lyles looks so much the part of front-line starter.

Then, there's this to think over. I read one report that Lyles delivery is very easy and hasn't maxed out his velocity yet (I believe it was Subber posting from Project Prospect's chat). That makes me believe the Astros may be deliberately holding back his velocity some to ease the burden on his shoulder. It's at least possible, right?


And the bad...: On the down side, there are comments from Ricky Bennett that suggest the prospect of seeing Lyles in the big leagues this season is in play. That made me sad immediately when I read it. Lyles threw 55 pro innings in 2007 and probably added another 60 in high school ball. He threw 144 last season and is on pace to throw around 180 this season. I'd be much happier if they shut him down closer to 170 innings and let him rest up for next spring. Heck, they can even give him a shot at the rotation if they keep those innings from piling up on his young, impressionable arm.

170 innings would be right in line with the jump Felix Hernandez had. In his Age 17 season, Hernandez threw 69 innings and 149 in his Age 18 season. He reached the majors at 19, but only threw 172 innings.

The reason I bring up Hernandez is that the Mariners have been remarkably careful with how he's been used and that's resulted in him logging four straight seasons of over 190 innings, without a significant injury. Every person is wired differently, but this seems like a pretty smart way to operate if I were the Astros.


Final random thought on Astros draft picks: Sunday, Monday and Tuesday are home of All-Star Weekend, filled with events like the Futures Game, the Home Run Derby and the All-Star Game itself. Guess which one I care the least about watching? Guess which night I'm actually off of work? If you guessed "ASG and Tuesday," you'd be correct!

Luckily, we have DVRs in 2010 and I was able to watch Lyles on tape-delay. While I was working this Texas Collegiate League game, I did notice that one of the players on the Brazos Valley Bombers was drafted by the Houston Astros in the 21st round of the 2008 draft.

Rodarrick "Ro" Jones plays outfield for the University of New Orleans after he failed to sign with Houston. I've seen him twice this year now, and I have somewhat of a scouting report on him. Jones fits the mold that Heck seems to like in his outfielders. He's built like a football player, with an obvious athleticism in his swing and fielding. He made some good plays in right field, but also judged a ball poorly as he dove for it that cost his team a triple. His swing wasn't the best either, as he had a lot of trouble with breaking pitches. Still, he showed good power potential and some good speed. Overall, he is exactly the kind of athlete I think the Astros want. Being drafted so early in Heck's Astros tenure, it's interesting to see that philosophy remained constant through the past two drafts.

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