Happy Independence Day to everyone!
1) Jason Castro is on fire - Our favorite punching bag of a catcher is actually hitting .300 since June 1. That includes an on-base percentage right around .365 and OPS numbers over .800. In short, Jason Castro has been on fire at the plate for about a month now.
He was so bad to start the season, it's hard to see how good he's been lately. Just as encouragingly, Castro has similar strikeout and walk rates to what we saw from him back in 2010 in his half season with the team. Add in an increase in his isolated power average and it looks like Castro's improvement may be more sustainable.
If he keeps hitting at this pace for the next couple of months, he could finish with an average around .278 with about 23 or 24 doubles and around 40 walks. Those are really good totals for a guy who will struggle to get to 400 plate appearances this season.
I'm not saying Castro is completely back to being a player who should be a mainstay in the lineup, but his improvement at the plate has been nice to see.
I say that because, in his last three starts, Harrell has struck out 25 batters in 21 innings. That's good for a strikeout rate of 10.7 K/9. Along with that, he's got a walk rate of 3.00 BB/9 in those starts. His ground ball rate also hasn't suffered much from the 55 percent it's hovered at this season. So, what's going on?
It's tough to parse out anything in particular. Harrell hasn't changed his pitch selection much, looking at his numbers on FanGraphs and his pitch values aren't quite out of whack.
That's really the reason why I think Houston is okay with those K rates skyrocketing. Harrell's getting most of them with his fastball, which is also the pitch he gets most of his ground balls on. So, the pitch-to-contact mentality the Astros want out of Harrell is indirectly leading to more strikeouts. It may not stick, as Harrell has only posted a strikeout rate over 6 once in his career.
3) Ken Rosenthal talks Astros - In our only non-stat related news for the day, Ken Rosenthal once again talks about the Astros in his column today. In it, he speculates that Wandy Rodriguez and Brett Myers are likely to be traded but not Jed Lowrie, who is "untouchable."
Gee, you think?
The problem with national sportswriters is they don't necessarily believe the actual GMs of teams and instead rely on what rivals tell them. So, if a guy from the Tigers thinks that Lowrie is available (even if he's only available for MIguel Cabrera), then Rosenthal says he is. It annoys the crap out of me.
The other piece of news that Rosenthal drops is that Carlos Lee's decision on the Dodgers also had to do with the California income tax situation. I've always thought that made a ton of sense for free agents, since they should want to play in states without income tax. It's never really helped the Texas NBA teams like it should, and certainly didn't figure into Cliff Lee's decision on where to sign a couple of years ago.
It may suck that Lee torpedoed Houston's trade and he certainly did this franchise no favors, but I'd rather him have reasons like this than no reasons at all.