Tuesday's Three Astros Things

Talking about PEDs, the strength of the AL West and the meaning of spring stats...

Some things to talk about while things get super creepy since Mr. Met joined Twitter...

1) Player X on PEDs

David Laurila of FanGraphs has a collection of fascinating interviews with minor league players on the trials and tribulations of trying to make the majors. The most news-y piece to come out dealt with PEDs from a player who understandably wanted to stay anonymous:

"On Winstrol, I could long toss further and further every day. I could pitch back-to-back-to-back games with no fatigue whatsoever. My arm and shoulder grew stronger and stronger until I felt like I was myself again. A killer instinct came back and it was amazing. Yes, there was always the nauseous feeling of having the steroids in my system the fear of testing positive.

Again, this is a point that doesn't get brought up enough. Steroids are supposed to be the home of home run hitters and guys with blazing fastballs. But, if the real benefit is being able to pitch more frequently, or to take the ball reliably every fifth day, why don't guys like Tom Glavine or Greg Maddux get more suspicion thrown at them?

Oh, right. Because it's not as easy to understand the effect of these drugs on baseball players. Anyway, all the interviews are worth your time for the insights into minor league life.

2) Finding the toughest and weakest division

Another FanGraphs find, as they figure out the toughest divisions in baseball. Not surprisingly, the AL West came in third, behind the AL East and the NL West. Here's a part relevant to the Astros:

For example, the Orioles and the Mariners are projected for just about identical WAR totals. Yet we give the Orioles a 12% shot at the playoffs, while the Mariners come in at 41%. The Mariners also have higher playoff odds than the Blue Jays, despite projecting for a lower WAR. The Orioles and Phillies are tied in playoff odds, even though the Phillies project for a significantly lower WAR. While the Marlins project for one more WAR than the Astros, they also project for six more wins. Everybody take a breath, and the next paragraph will contain more examples.

In all our optimistic projections about this season (bullpen regression positively, no black hole in right field), this is the one thing I don't consider enough. To his credit, Sean has been banging this drum all winter on the podcast and on Twitter.

Right now, I'm thinking the Astros have a win spectrum from 59 to 70 wins. I will not be surprised if they fall anywhere in that range. I will be surprised if they beat 70 wins or if they fall under 59.

3) Spring training stats, revisited

Lastly, let's talk about spring training stats. One of the most obnoxious, oft repeated things baseball pundits (read: internet writers/bloggers) say during this time of year is that spring stats don't matter. We say it all the time. We've already said it at least five times since spring began.

It's correct in a way. There are some spring things that don't matter at all, like team records. There's other things that are misleading, like ERA and batting average when facing minor leaguers late in a game. Or, those stats could be skewed by a pitcher throwing only curves or working on specific pitches/locations. Teams don't do scouting reports in spring training, so they don't have the same game plans they might during the season.

That's why it's hard to get too worked up over either success or failure in the spring. For instance, take this article on Giants closer Sergio Romo. He's having a horrible spring, but he's also not using his best pitch. Should Giants fans overreact to his unlucky spring or wait until the slider makes a reappearance?

We oohed and ahhed over George Springer's four-walk game, but what does it mean?

Here's the distinction: spring statistics don't matter. Spring performance does. Most of the evaluations coaches are doing now is predicated on little things they see. What's a guy's swing look like? How smooth does he look in the field? How well is he throwing on the side?

All we have to evaluate is the stats. The coaches have a much better understanding of what's going on. What can we know, then? Well, we can put spring performance together with how long a guy stays in big league camp to determine better how the coaching staff views him. If Springer or Mike Foltynewicz stick it out after other minor leaguers are cut, that tells us more than if they have a scoreless outing on the mound or get two hits in a B squad game against the Mets.

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