Wednesday Astros' Three Things...

Patrick McDermott

Talking about some recent Astros-related articles, prospects' walks, and the Astros' starting rotation.

Some musings while I sub for David Coleman and wonder if the Astros' offense can continue its break out...

1. The Astros' buffet includes some interesting articles to dine on today.

Richard Justice responds to the national sports media's bashing of the Astros' lineup and payroll, putting up a spirited defense of the Astros' long term plan. Of the bashers, Justice says, "These are the guys who won’t read Moneyball, think Billy Beane is anti-American and believe a ThinkPad is something used to cover a barstool." Justice believes that Astros' fans are more understanding of the Astros' game plan then the national media, most of whom ignore how the Astros got to this point. Justice gets it.

At the Houston Chronicle, Randy Harvey has interviews with Astros' prospects Delino DeShields, Jr. and Mike Foltynewicz. Both prospects were hoping to be assigned to AA to begin this season, but both recognize that the Astros have a plan for them, even if it means playing in A+ Lancaster right now. Broaching the sensitive topic that Altuve is the incumbent 2d baseman in Houston, Harvey said there was some speculation that DeShields was held back at Lancaster in order to change positions. But Lancaster manager Rodney Linares dashes that thought, saying that his instruction is to prepare DeShields to play 2d base in the major leagues.

Linares also makes an intriguing prediction. "I love Tropeano and some of the other great arms in the organization," but he says Folty has all the stuff to become a true No. 1 pitcher. (Check out both articles for more interesting quotes from the interviews.)

This all sounds good. Now we need to see Folty fight the Lancaster headwinds and pitch more deeply into his games.

2. Astros Prospects Get Off To Walking Start.

Most of you know how important walks are to the moneyball philosophy embraced by Luhnow & Co. Until last night's game, the Astros' major league offense had been woeful in the walks department.

But the deeper roots for the Astros' future growth are in the minor leagues, and some Astros' prospects have been outstanding in taking walks. Sure, we have the small sample size caveat, but its nice to see players get off to a good start in patiently working their plate appearances.

Robbie Grossman is an outfielder who may be closest to getting to The Show this year, and he has jumped out to No. 7 in walk rate (22%) in the PCL. Yes, the absolute percentages will regress, but Grossman has the reputation for drawing walks.

Looking at the AA Texas League walk rates, outfielder Austin Wates is 5th in walk percentage (22%), and his outfield mates Domingo Santana (16%) and George Springer (15.4%) are 11th and 12th. Yes, Santana and Springer still strike out a bunch, but the walks are welcome.

You probably already know about Lancaster shortstop Nolan Fontana's astro-nomical walk rates. He has a 25% walk rate and a .583 OBP so far in the early going. Just to give you an idea about the craziness of the California League offensive environment, Fontana isn't even leading the league. Fontana's walk rate is only 4th in the league, and his OBP is 2d in the league. Again, while the absolute rates will regress, Fontana's walking ways are consistent with his reputation.

In the Midwest League, first round draft pick Carlos Correa's walk rate of 21.9% is 9th in the league. It's early, and we should be cautious in reaching conclusions about his plate discipline. But what's exciting is that Correa is showing such patience at 18 years of age.

Why do I bring this up? As I discussed in a previous article, based upon research by Chris St. Johns, prospects' minor league walk rates begin to show predictive ability for hitters' major league success at A level, increasing in importance at successive minor league levels. A high walk rate increases a prospect's odds of major league success by 12% - 30% (depending on level), compared to the odds of low walk rate minor leaguers.

3. Astros Starting Pitchers

Will Erik Bedard become a free agent gem for the Astros? So far, he has pitched really well. It's hard to do much better than a 0 ERA. He pitches deliberately, with a low 90's fastball and a nice slow 77 mph curve ball. He retired early last night because he was on a strict pitch count, after pitching sparingly in the spring. And that's part of the rub. He was injured in the spring; and injuries have been his curse in recent years. One has to wonder if he will be confined to 5 or 6 inning starts this year in order to limit the potential for injury. (Cue the speculation about tandem pitching creeping into the major league level.)

Overall, the Astros starting pitching has produced fairly good results. The Astros starters' ERA is 8th in the AL. But we know that ERA may not tell the whole story. The peripherals should make us a bit more cautious. The FIP is more than a full run higher, putting the Astros' rank at 12th. The Astros' rotation has the second lowest BABIP (.252) in the AL, which suggests some room for upward regression in the ERA. Given the sample size this early in the season, we shouldn't draw any conclusions. But caution should be the watch word.

In addition, injuries continue to chip away at the Astros' starting pitcher depth. Subber10 tells me that John Ely was put on the DL for an elbow injury. I don't know the seriousness--keep an eye out for Subber10's updates. Remember when we had comments here at TCB that the Astros had compiled too much starting pitcher depth in AA and AAA? This shows you why teams can't have too much starting pitcher depth.

Are you worried about the depth of the Astros' rotation? Do you think that the recent injuries will make the front office more reluctant to trade a pitcher like Norris?

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