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Friday's Astros Three Things...

Brett Myers, the closer. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-US PRESSWIRE
Brett Myers, the closer. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-US PRESSWIRE

1. Brett Myers...really?

Myers had a gruesome melt down Thursday that prevented the Astros from taking the Padres series. The gut wrenching loss reminds us that regression can reverse over-performance in what seems like a split second. Only a week or so ago, we were discussing the implications of Myers' unsustainably low BABIP and wondering how it would affect his trade value.

Two weeks ago Brett Myers had a .194 BABIP and a 95% LOB rate. Worry about unsustainable numbers no more. Today Brett Myers has a .302 BABIP and a 67% LOB rate. His BABIP and LOB have swung from big time over performing to slightly under rperforming. His gaudy 1.99 ERA of two weeks ago has regressed to 3.71, which is almost the same as his x-FIP (3.78). Reression has been fast and furious.

The Astros' front office has been awakened from their dreams of a huge haul from a Myers trade. Barring an injury, I don't foresee a "falling off a cliff" type failure. Myers probably will rebound to provide decent performance in future closing opportunities. But his trade value undoubtedly has taken a hit. I have to question whether trading teams will view Myers as a real closer (trademark pending). If a suitable trade for Myers can't be found, then the Astros may be looking at Myers as next year's closer too, given the liklihood that his $!0 Million option will vest. While that may be disappointng to some degree, the positive side is that Myers seems to provide some degree of veteran leadership in a young bullpen.

2. Six Man Rotation

Dallas Keuchel had another effective start yesterday, which should make the Astros feel like they made the right decision, moving to a six man rotation.

The Astros' decision to use a six man rotation for the next few weeks makes sense. Fans mostly notice that it allows the Astros to keep both Jordan Lyles and Dallas Keuchel in the rotation, which is true. But it could provide several collateral benefits. First, the additional time for resting the arm between starts may help avoid fatigue and injury. Second--and this is a good point that Timothy made--is that this enhances the competition in the rotation. Lyles and Keuchel have to be aware, at least in the back of their minds, that one of them could end up back in Oklahoma City if he falls behind the other's performance. A mid-rotation pitcher like J.A. Happ has to be looking over his shoulder if Lyles, Harrell, and Keuchel are all pitching well, and that may increase his motivation to perform well. Professional athletes are competitive by nature, and competition can bring out the best in them. Third, perhaps the added rest will help the rotation pitch more deeply into games, thereby saving the bullpen.

One of the knocks against the six man rotation is that it often means that the best pitcher is used less and the sixth best pitcher is used more. In other word, you want your best pitchers to pitch as much as possible. But I don't see this as a problem for the Astros. At this point, the difference between the Astros' 3d, 4th, 5th, and 6th starter isn't that large. Until we know more about how well Happ, Harrell, Lyles, and Keuchel can sustain their recent success, we don't really expect a big drop off as we move down the rotation pecking order. And if the six man rotation reduces usage of the bullpen, the result may be less usage of the 12th or 13th best pticher on the team.

While I realize that the Astros six man rotation is intended to be temporary--and may be temporary by necessity if Wandy is traded-- I also wonder if there could be some merit to using the six man rotation for the remainder of the year. Japanese professional baseball uses the six man rotation as the standard rest period for starting pitchers. Some would argue that the Japanese six man rotation provides the rest that enables their pitchers to throw more pitches than MLB pitchers in each start and pitch more deeply into games. And the six man rotation has been used occasionally in the MLB when the right circumstances arise.

The ideal circumstances involve young pitchers, who have strict annual innings limits, and, at the other extreme, fragile or oft-injured veteran pitchers. In 2011, the Tampa Bay Rays went to a six man rotation in order to avoid the possibility that the young pitchers (Hellickson, Price, and Shields) would break through their annual innings pitch limit. The White Sox used a six man rotation that same year, in order to accomodate a young pitcher (John Danks) and a veteran (Jake Peavy) with an injury history. The Yankees used a six man rotation for awhile last year in order to ease the pressure on Phil Hughes, who was returning from injury. These examples seem to bear some comparability to the Astros. The Astros have young pitchers who likely will face similar constraints on their annual workload. And Bud Norris, who has a history of DL visits for arm soreness, might see less of the DL if he gets the added rest between starts.

The Orioles moved to six man rotations for their minor league teams this year. The reason is two-fold: it increases the number of pitchers who can be evaluated; and they believe that the added rest period enables the young pitchers to work more on areas of improvement between starts. The Orioles think that two side sessions, instead of one, between starts will allow the young pitchers to work more effectively on their weaknesses. Again, I wonder if similar reasoning could be applied to the young pitchers in the Astros' rotation.

3. More examples of primacy effect

Last Friday, I mentioned Fangraphs' use of the "primacy effect." The concept refers to a cognitive bias in favor of the first data we associate with an event or person. In baseball terms, our mind may give undue weight to players' early season statistics. We are slow to recognize subsequent regression in the player's statistics.

Perceptions of two Astros minor leaguers may provide an example of the prmacy effect.

Jonathon Villar, the 21 year old AA shortstop prospect, had a good season in 2011. But he began this season struggling terribly on offense. Then the perception emerged that Villar's prospect stock has fallen---that he has taken a big step back.

But if you look at his month-by-month results, you see a player whose offensive performance has increased steadily since the bad start:

Villar (wOBA)

April .238

May .313

June .357

Mike Kvansnicka, who is not very popular on the TCB comment boards, is perhaps a better example. Kvansicka was a supplemental first round pick who was disappointing in his first season with the Lexington Legends. He also started off poorly in Lexington this season. Because a preconception of disappointing offense existed, the bad start reinforced the perception of prospect failure. So, in the minds of some Astros' fans, this narrative continues to be associated with his name, despite more recent improvement in his performance:

Kvansnicka (wOBA and SLG%)

April .164 / .191

May .302 / .422

June .349 / .506

Currently he is hitting very well in Lexington and showing good power. Given how bad--I mean really bad---his early season stats were, it's not surprising that the early season performance stands out in our mind. But the steep improvement also reminds us that watching prospects requires patience.

I'm not advocating any particular view of the K man or his future. But I think that the primacy effect may be more pronounced with prospects than major leaguers. Since a limited number of people actually watch their performance on a daily basis, changes in opinion can be slow. The prospect oriented web sites want to attract more eyeballs from prospectors, and they are quick to write up perceptions early in the season. Just a thought.