April 22, 2012; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Astros second baseman Jose Altuve (27) throws out a runner against the Los Angeles Dodgers during the ninth inning at Minute Maid Park. The Astros won 12-0. Mandatory Credit: Thomas Campbell-US PRESSWIRE
Let's talk about a weekend of baseball with three rhetorical questions that I then answer about our favorite ball club...
1) How is Wandy so good this season? - His fastball is up, his curve is hanging. If he were in the show, he'd have gotten killed.
Oh, he is in the show. And he hasn't really been hit all that hard all season. What's going on with Wandy Rodriguez? Is his recent run of success an abberation or a throwback to more successful times?
Well, his strikeout rate certainly suggests these last four starts may not hold up. Pitchers with strikeout rates under six usually have to be ground ball artists to thrive at the big league level. Wandy has never been much for inducing ground balls, so the fact he hasn't been hurt is more a product of not giving up home runs.
So, what's going on here? Digging through the FanGraphs data, we see that Wandy is not throwing his curve as often as in years past, instead leaning on his change pretty heavily. He's also mixing in a ton of two-seam fastballs, which may account for the spike in his ground ball rate.
Because he's throwing his curve less, it seems to be more effective through the early going. It's going to take some time for this data to level out, but maybe by using the curve as more of an out pitch instead of as his go-to weapon, Wandy can have some more success keeping hitters off-balance.
Whatever it is, it's working. Let's hope he can keep it up through July.
2) Nick Tropeano, stock heading up? - The 2011 draft pick is getting plenty of notice lately. He was featured on FanGraphs in a stock watch column for prospects. He's also been getting a lot of attention right here at TCB.
Despite not having great stuff, Tropeano is getting by on pinpoint control. At Lexington, that will result in a ton of strikeouts, like we saw with Jordan Lyles a couple years ago. The real test will be whether Tropeano can keep that up once he's promoted. I'm sure he will be, and would be thrilled to have a guy like this moving up the system.
The other nice thing about his emergence this year is it just adds to Houston's minor league pitching depth. Things had gotten kind of sparse before the Pence and Bourn trades last season. Now, things are looking up with Jarred Cosart, Obiehockey, Paul Clemens and guys like Ruben Alaniz and Tropeano pitching well.
3) Who's the Astros All-Star? - Another periodic look at who might be the Astros All-Star come July...
J.D. Martinez - No change here. Martinez is still hitting the crap out of the ball, though its been a while since his last home run. The average is still robust and J.D. is still driving in runs. Let's say he cruises into the ASG selections with 12 homers, 55 RBIs and a .290 batting average. Don't you think that gets him considered for a spot?
Jose Altuve - Again, the lack of solid second base candidates will get him noticed more than anything. A few more catches like he made on Sunday that get him on SportsCenter won't hurt. Also, hitting for the kind of power he's displayed won't hurt either. The home runs won't be there, but that's not necessarily a must-have at 2B. A nice sleeper candidate still.
Jordan Schafer - Let's play the projection game again with Schafer: what if he cruises into the break with six or seven home runs, 30-35 steals and an on-base percentage around .380. Add in top-notch defense in center field, and he quite possibly could get some recognition. Plus, unlike both Martinez and Altuve, Schafer's got some name recognition from his time as a top prospect in Atlanta. If the NL manager wants a defensive replacement on the bench?
Wandy Rodriguez - Our likeliest candidate is pitching exactly like he deserves to be on that team. The lefty has gaudy ERA numbers, but not the wins that would get him noticed. Still, bad teams like Houston usually have a pitcher go because there's more room there and it's not dictated by fan voting. The only question is whether Wandy would still be Houston's only representative if he's traded before the game...