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Astros Spring Notebook

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Before we dive into another chock-full spring notebook, let's take a minute to talk about Bud Norris' fastball. We've spent a lot of time analyzing Young Master Norris, including all sorts of facts* and figures about his health and pitching repertoire.

*Norris caught the 'still hasn't landed' homer and used it to strike out 20 Cardinals. In one inning.

One thing that intrigued me about Norris was his fastball. The announcers on Monday were talking it up, how much late life it had. I, naturally, wondered if we could see that with Pitch F/X data.

I didn't want to do a whole writeup on this, because it's kind of a thin topic. Plus, as Harry Pavlidis pointed out in our last breakdown of Matt Lindstrom, basing this data on smaller sample sizes or more granular looks instead of the whole picture can be misleading.

In that spirit, let's look at the overhead view of Norris fastball:


Now to left-handers:


And finally to righties:


We're not dealing with many pitches, but if you look closely at the three pictures, you can tell the fastball is still moving in different directions close to the plate. Taken as a composite, it looks like his average fastball cuts towards the right-hand part of the plate as it gets closer, stopping its trajectory towards the left side. To lefties, there is a pronounces move to the right, with some tailing action just over the plate. To righties, you see the same thing, except the tailing action is less apparent and seems to break away from the hitter.

I had no other point than to see if we could visualize his late movement. After we get some data from his April starts, I'll try and look back at this to see if there is any difference. Onto more news and notes after the jump...

Health concerns: Not only did Alberto Arias strain his trapezius muscle against the Mets on Tuesday, Jason Castro and Yordany Ramirez both caught the flu that has been going around the bullpen guys. Castro was sent home yesterday along with Ramirez.

The moves didn't mess with the catching rotation, as it was Towles time to start anyway. It'll be interesting to see if Castro can go today and keep the 'every three days' thing work. With Ramirez being out, Mills send Cory Sullivan into center field for the first time this spring.

Brandon Lyon is progressing well, having thrown another 30-pitch session with no ill effects. Per Tag's Lines:

"[Lyon] threw outstanding today," Mills said. "He picked it up a notch. It was a very positive day, and he's happy about that, we're happy about that."

He should face live hitters in batting practice some time this weekend. That could mean he appears in a game early next week.

Paulino struggles: It was not a good outing for Felipe Paulino on Wednesday. Scheduled for three innings, Paulino threw 40 pitches in the fourth inning alone, prompting a visit from pitching coach Brad Arnsberg. It seemed like Paulino was struggling with control mostly, throwing 10 straight balls at one point.

At the same time, after walking the bases loaded with two outs, Paulino got a strike out to end the inning. He ended the day by giving up three hits, two runs and two walks with one strikeout. All in all, it's a disappointing first outing in the 'real' spring training games for Paulino.

How long will the Astros give Paulino to prove himself this spring? Will they start lengthening out guys like Fernando Abad and Wesley Wright just in case? Both have looked good in limited action this spring.

Sullivan's shot: As mentioned above, Cory Sullivan got his first start in center field on Wednesday and batted in the leadoff spot for Michael Bourn. Sullivan was 0 for 3 and now sports a .077 batting average through seven spring games.

Now, I'm not about to overreact about his stats yet. Spring stats are meaningless. I guess the positive here is that he had the versatility to play center field in a pinch. Does that, combined with his lefthandedness, give him an edge over Yordany Ramirez and Jason Bourgeois?

I mentioned this in a game thread earlier this week, but does it make sense for the Astros to cut a player who could be a better fit on the team for someone who's handedness gives the manager another option off the bench? Does the strategy aspect give him more weight than true talent would indicate?

Gripping news: Boy, did I like reading this note from Brian McTaggart. Not only does it show the immediate impact that Arnsberg is having on the staff, it also gets into what we saw with Lindstrom on Tuesday.

The 30-year old looked sharp on the mound, with an overpowering fastball and a slider that was fooling people. He looked every bit the late-inning reliever the Astros have coveted. If this is due to a grip change, all the better. The only thing that confused me with this note is about the slider grip helping his fastball command?

When we looked at Lindstrom, it didn't seem like he had too many control issues with his fastball, outside of his movement causing some problems. Can a different grip on one pitch that fits his arm angle better really affect another pitch? Where are our pitching experts?

Pitching still struggling: The Astros pitchers gave up a bunch of runs again on Wednesday. In four losses this spring, Houston has given up 46 runs and 63 hits. The smallest loss was a 4-1 defeat at the hands of the Blue Jays last Monday.

Should we be worried? Not yet. This is the first time through the rotation for many of these players. They're still not throwing a whole repertoire and aren't at full strength yet. Plus, some of the guys getting banged around (Gary Majewski, I'm looking at you) probably won't be around once the season rolls around. So, yes, it's troubling on some level but there's too much spring left to panic.

Did I mention it's been really, really windy in Florida? Of course, that's also like the guys in Major League saying the flyball couldn't be a home run because it was too high. Ahh, misplaced optimism...

Other positional battles: With Brian Moehler ostensibly in the lead for the fifth starter's job, where are we with other spring battles:

Fifth outfielder: Edwin Maysonet - Yes, you read that right. Maysonet gives the Astros a ton of versatility off the bench. Yes, he's right-handed and would have to show he can play in the outfield this spring. However, he can play a good shortstop when needed and has a little pop in his bat. The Astros would have just Blum on the bench as a left-handed bat, which could cause problems. At the same time, having Maysonet on the roster means Keppinger wouldn't have to play short. It's definitely something to watch.

Catcher: J. R. Towles - This has been the best battle so far. Both Towles and Castro are doing enough to win this. If Castro's flu sets him back too much, it could knock him out of the running. Plus, Towles seemed to cool off a little Wednesday, going 0 for 3 for the first time this spring. Still, it's been an encouraging competition.