Thursday's Three Astros Things

Touching bases on the Astros' upcoming managerial announcement, Bud Norris, and the implications of moving to the AL.

Waiting for the Astros' 10 am announcement of a new manager makes this article somewhat anti climatic. But let's start with the manager announcement.

1. Manager Announcement. David already posted an article last night about the rumor that Washington Nationals third base Bo Porter will be the new Astros' manager. The rumor seems likely, given that the Houston Chronicle later reported that Porter will be the manager. If Porter is named manager, I am guessing that it reflects the Astros' desire to hire someone who will be a good teacher for the young players. I found a couple of you tube videos which show Porter instructing Nationals' players: here he runs a drill in which outfielders have to carry a football while tracking and catching fly balls; and here he teaches base running. The former drill probably has something to do with the fact that Porter played college football at Iowa, and it is intended to ensure that the outfielders maintain form as they run and catch the fly ball.

David mentioned that it is unusual for an announced manager-in-waiting to finish out his season as a coach for another team. The Nationals will be in the playoffs and potentially could go deeply, perhaps to the World Series, which would mean that Porter could be unavailable to the Astros for a substantial part of October.

However, this is also an unusual situation for current Astros' manager Tony DeFrancesco, who is expected to manage the rest of the season, knowing that next year's manager is still coaching in Washington. Lame duck managers are not common in baseball, and one can imagine that there will be awkward moments. The end of Art Howe's managerial tenure with the Mets comes to mind as another lame duck manager situation. With two weeks left in the 2004 season, the Mets' GM fired Howe, but asked him to stay on as manager for the rest of the season. Howe agreed to manage out the string for the Mets, saying, "I'm not a quitter." Reportedly the Astros will make a position available for DeFrancesco next season. So, he will not be fired, which give him a more favorable status than Howe. Still, I think you have to give DeFrancesco some credit for his willingness to continue managing the Astros this season even after he knows that he was passed over for the manager job next year.

I wonder if we soon will be seeing Comcast-Houston Sports Network commercials telling us what cereal Bo Porter likes to eat and the type of cologne scent he prefers.

2. Bud Norris, Cardinals Killer. Bud Norris had a terrific final home start in the NL, pitching into the 8th inning, and sharing a shutout against the Cardinals with closer Wilton Lopez. Norris' 2-0 win Wednesday is ironic because he began his major league career as a starter in 2009 with a 2-0 win against the Cardinals. Norris is famous for his pitching success against St. Louis, and is called the Cardinals' "arch nemesis" by some fans. Norris has a career ERA of 2.54 against the Cardinals, and no other pitcher has more wins (8) against the Cardinals since 2009.

Wednesday's game allowed Norris to lower his ERA below 5. His ERA now stands at 4.82. Norris' expected fielding independent pitching, x-FIP, is a respectable 4.11. His SIERA is 3.94. Both of the latter stats provide an indication that he pitched better than his ERA, and that he has a good chance of rebounding next season. Not too long ago, Norris had a BABIP in the .320 range, which was quite high, suggesting that he had suffered some combination of poor defense and bad luck. But Wednesday's game represents a continued regression to mean, with his BABIP falling to .304.

Norris provides a nice illustration of the volatility of BABIP and the frequent disconnect between BABIP and how well the pitcher is performing. Monthly BABIP, prior to Wednesday game, is shown below.

Norris by Month, 2012

(BABIP, ERA, FIP)

Mar/April .330, 5.46, 4.48

May .315, 3.62, 3.23

June .297, 6.46, 6.82

July .277, 5.34, 4.03

August .352, 4.97, 4.49

September .267, 5.40, 5.03

Have fun figuring out a pattern. One thing I will note: August was the month with Norris' highest BABIP, and August also happened to be a low water mark for the Astros' defense. Several gif-worthy defensive plays--perhaps failures is the better word--by the Astros in August went viral and gave the team a notorious reputation in the field.

3. What does the bench look like on an Astros' AL club?

As the Astros shift the American League next year, I wonder what effect this will have on the types of bench players who make the Astros 2013 25 man roster. With a DH, AL teams use fewer defensive replacements and require less pinch hitting. Double switches become obsolete. Because bench players are used less, AL rosters often have more pitchers than the typical NL team.

Therefore, I'm thinking that the defense first type of position players will have a more difficult time making the Astros' AL roster. This might work to the disadvantage of a player like Brandon Barnes, who is a fine defender in CF but may not have the bat to earn a roster spot. A player like Scott Moore, who has shown a good bat, plays several positions (though without top caliber defense) and has particular value as a platoon hitter, might be favored by the Astros' move to the AL. Do you have any thoughts on how the shift to the AL might affect the odds of various players making the team?

And while we are talking defense in the AL, the current trend for sabermetric front offices is to use more extensive infield shifts. The Blue Jays and Rays have made the most extensive use of shifts, with the Rays taking the strategy to new extremes. The Rays' pitchers have sustained low BABIPs over the last few years, which many analysts credit to the defense, including the cutting edge use of infield shifts. In this fangraphs interview earlier in the summer, Bo Porter seems to favor the use of infield shifts---this may be something to look for next year.

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