Why is there so much national interest in the Astros?
Seriously, how many times every week have we linked to a column or feature from someone at Grantland or Fox Sports or some other national outlet discussing the Astros. Why does everyone keep talking about them?
The easy answer is that they're really bad.
Lord, are they really bad.
They're so bad, they're inventing new ways to lose and running into each other in the process.
Bad teams draw the imagination like no other. How many national columnists talk about the '62 Mets, the gold standard of bad teams? How many bring up the 2003 Tigers? Bad teams draw rubbernecking columnists like flies to honey.
But it's more than just a bad team. Bad team's happen. The Twins have been bad for a couple of seasons. A couple of Twins writers confirmed for me that Minnesota still doesn't get a ton of national attention. Ditto for the Marlins, who caught a lot of national heat by gutting their roster, but haven't been any more than a throwaway punchline now.
Is it the front office?
Lord knows Houston has made some different choices there. Bringing in analytics guys like Sig Mejdal and Mike Fast along with velvety podcast voice Kevin Goldstein to run the Pro Scouting department. These are out-of-the-box ideas in a game that doesn't always cotton to "different."
That leads to plenty of stories about how this front office is just weird. They do things like "tandem starting" and forcing players to take on full counts.
It's different because Houston does it, right? Since tandem starting has been going on at many minor league levels for a long time, it's not truly that divergent for Houston to be using it the way they are. Oh, and it turns out that those full count claims are just specious. Players still have autonomy at the plate, but the organization is trying to stress plate discipline. Because, you know, they do have data that could help.
But, Houston is no different than the Rays, the A's or any number of national teams that have embraced analytics. Do we hear about the Rockies every other week? What about Cleveland? Where's the constant attention there?
The real answer is that the Astros are just a great story right now.
Writers constantly search for that one good story. Look at some of the best sportswriting in the country each year. Most of them aren't stories about Johnny Baseballer getting called up to the majors or hitting a home run to win a game.
They're stories like Roger Clemens winning when his mother passed away the day before. They're stories about a boy getting a scholarship to play wheelchair basketball or of the emotional impact after tornadoes ripped through Weir, Miss. for a star pitcher.
Great writers can elevate material, but a good writer can make a great story given the right raw material. Right now, the Astros provide great raw material in many ways, which may be why so much attention is drawn here. Smart baseball minds are drawn inward because of this dichotomy between a smart, competent front office and a terrible, terrible team.
Add in all the public relations gaffes lately, and this team is a whirlwind of possibilities for writers. How can a team be so bad and still be driving fans away? How can advanced metrics impact player development? How can Houston change the system of rebuilding on the fly based on baseball's new rules?
As frustrating as it can be to cover the Astros right now, with all the losses and miscues, it's also a great and exciting time for writers to cover this team.
Maybe what we should be asking is how there aren't more articles written about the Astros each week. Teams this bad with this bright a future don't come along very often. That makes for a great story, day after day, and that's a very cool place to be.