For LA, Philly, Rays', or Boston fans, the baseball season is reaching a climax. As an Astros' fan, the baseball season seems to be fading behind me. At this time of year, it is even more important to satisfy my baseball withdrawal by finding interesting blogs and articles on the web. So I'll touch on a variety of topics I've read recently.
This article in Hardball Times' fantasy section rates the risk of acquiring Ben Sheets. Since Astros' fans have been eyeing Sheets for awhile now, the topic definitely gets my attention. The article rates Sheets "high yellow," and the author suggests that many people would have assumed he would be "red," based upon his injury history. His injury risk is rated high, but his skill level and age are superior risk factors. In other words, if he can stay healthy, you know what you're going to get...good performance. Setting aside whether the Astros will be interested in Sheets or not, it will be interesting to see how the league values Sheets when he hits the free agent market. I think he will have difficulty getting a long term contract.
While I'm looking at the Hardball Times, I have to point to the article about the "virtual 1972 Astros." This article creates a very plausible parallel universe in which the late 60's / early 70's Astros don't trade away players in an unprecedented series of disastrous player personnel moves. Some of you may not have lived through this period of Astros' history; however, this era of Larry Dierker and Don Wilson was my introduction to Astros' fandom as a young man. Because I recall very well all of these traded players who went on to great careers elsewhere, the article is painful. How is this for a conclusion about the parallel universe Astros:
The exceptionally deep and well-rounded offense, second in the league in batting average while leading the league by enormous margins in home runs and walks, on-base percentage and slugging average, would rout opponents. Indeed the team OPS+ of 127 would establish a National League record, surpassed in history only by the overwhelming performances of the Ruth-Gehrig New York Yankee teams of the 1920s and 1930s. (And not that this ball club would need to, but if it wanted to run wild on the basepaths, the Astros were loaded with speed as well: Morgan and Cedeño were two-three in the major leagues in steals in 1972, with 58 and 55.)
The pitching wouldn't be great, but it would be very good, finishing fourth in the 12-team league in ERA+.
Together the offense and defense would yield a won-lost record of 101-52 in the strike-shortened season, by far the best record in the majors. The winning percentage of .660 would be the highest by any National League team since the 1953 Dodgers.
The next time you want to blame GM Tim Pupura for the Astros' failings, think about how bad that Astros' GM was.
Jeff Sackman of Brew Crew Ball writes (also at HT) that the entire Brewers' team hit like Mike Cameron on a bad day. He suggests that this isn't surprising when a low OBP/high K rate team faces good pitching. This also makes me wonder if this particular offensive profile, high home run ranking and poor OBP and strike out rankings, is a recipe for early post season exit. Over the course of a long season, the home run ability may overpower the negatives associated with low walk rates and lack of contact. However, the offense may be erratic and more susceptible to a bad series. In the post-season, the offense faces high quality pitchers, and largely avoids bottom of the rotation pitchers, with the result that HRs become few and far between.
The Cubs have a $7 million option on Rich Harden, but they will have his shoulder examined before making a decision. The Chicago Tribune has this quote:
One advance scout told Toronto's Globe and Mail newspaper that he believed Harden had elbow or shoulder problems: "I've had him consistently down at least 5 miles per hour from what he used to throw. There's something in [his arm.]"