HOUSTON, TX - AUGUST 19: (L-R) Dan Radison, Ty Van Burkleo and Tony DeFranceso are introduced as interim first base coach, interim hitting coach and interim head coach respectively by Jeff Luhnow, right, during a press conference at Minute Maid Park on August 19, 2012 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)
Some things to talk about as we put to bed the rumors we fired Tim minutes after the podcast ended last night...
1) Ch-ch-ch-changes - Call it the first missteps for this new Astros administration. In the past few weeks, they have rolled out firings and hirings in droves, but haven't done it in the best way possible. We thought that the Tal Smith issue from last November was just a bump in the road with a long-time employee, but this has become a trend.
There are plenty of people, both inside and outside the organization, who feel things have not been handled the best lately. There's been a notable talent exodus this season, starting with Alyson Footer that's probably not done. Yes, this new front office needs time to set itself up like GM Jeff Luhnow wants. But, they haven't exactly handled it well.
Listen, give Drayton McLane credit. He obviously cared about his employees, and it hurt him to make changes by all accounts. This new team has taken a much more corporate attitude to things, severing relationships left and right as part of simple business changes. The scouts go, Bobby Heck goes, the manager and hitting coach and first base coach go, after the post-game press conference, so the new guys can get to Houston from Greeneville and in time to go on the road trip with the team.
It hasn't been an ideal situation, but let's go back and see what brought all this about. If Bud Selig and the owners approve Crane's ownership in July, he's able to hire Luhnow early and these changes get done much, much more quickly. There's still a dispassion with how they dispatch those people, but it's done soon enough after the change to be more understandable for those involved.
Should we care, as Astros fans? Yes and no. Like I said, these personnel issues appear to be the first misstep by the new administration, but it hasn't affected the product on the field yet. Give them this offseason and then we can talk about criticism.
But, let's get back to the changes on the field. We can talk about timing all we want, but there's one question I haven't heard a good answer to. As we talked about on the podcast, it's a very interesting move considering Subber had heard rumors that the OKC players were not too happy with DeFrancesco towards the end of this season. Read this quote from Jeff Luhnow and tell me if those two things match up:
"The times I went to Oklahoma City and spent a few days in the clubhouse there," Luhnow said. "Typically, in a Triple-A cluhouse, you have people who are really excited to be there and more often, you have people who don't want to be there, because they want to be here.
"The chemistry in the clubhouse, the culture there is mixed. I was very impressed with the culture in the Oklahoma City clubhouse. Everyone was positive, everyone was working on things They weren't unhappy they were there instead of here. They were taking advantage of every at-bat. I think a lot of that has to do with Tony's leadership style and the tone he set in that clubhouse."
If the clubhouse chemistry is important, but that chemistry eroded by the end of the season, what good will DeFrancesco do at changing the culture in Houston now?
For the record, I think DeFrancesco is back to Triple-A next year, with Radison as the first base coach and Van Burkleo back as minor league hitting coordinator. I'm sure Pettini will be the guy after the season, but I could see Trey Hillman, Dave Clark and some other candidates like Ryne Sandberg get interviews for the managerial role.
2) Harrell's slider/cutter - One of the many reasons why I pursued getting credentialed for Astros games this season is to provide a way to check the way we do things here at TCB. If one of us puts together a study on Lucas Harrell's pitches, why not talk to Harrell about them and see if there's anything to it.
That's exactly what I got to do before Sunday's game. Specifically, I asked him about the "slider" we talked about in this article. He said it's not really a slider, it's more of a cutter and that he has been using it a lot more. For him, he said he's been able to work it in against left-handers more to give him a pitch that tails in on them, like his two-seamer does against right-handers.
He also said that the pitch has become more of a go-to option for him, while his curve (which also saw an increase) has become less of a show-me pitch and more of a pitch he can throw for strikes.
It's all pretty fascinating stuff, especially after looking at his recent success and speculating on how he got there. Also, it shows that even though PItch F/X calls a pitch something, it doesn't mean that's actually what the guy is throwing. Or, at least, he's calling it something different.
3) Levine on Mike Elias - Lost in the shuffle Saturday night was this excellent, excellent piece on new scouting director Mike Elias from Zachary Levine over at the Chronicle. Some very quality stuff and you can tell that Zachary put some time into his chat with Elias.
I don't know what was more interesting, the talk about how Elias got interested in the scouting side of baseball or how he views the numbers interacting with the physical scouting. Here's my favorite quote:
"My interest in baseball was not in being a spreadsheet-based analyst — I knew I would be terrible at it," said Elias, who pitched at Yale from 2002-06 and majored in history rather than anything quantitative. "I was hopeful to be able to get involved in something on the field side of things."
We (meaning I) like to label these moves as being very reminiscent of the Moneyball Oakland A's, eschewing traditional scouting, focusing on OBP and solid pitching and all the rest of the concepts that have been beaten into the dirt. Doing that, though, is unfair to this group, who seem to be doing things their own way.
Elias is a very risky choice to fill that position, as Houston took a man who had success in the draft (Bobby Heck) and replaced him with a guy who's never run a draft before. There's a ton of risk there, but in reading about Elias here, I'm pretty confident he can succeed.