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A Tale of Two Fans

CRPerry13 interviews TCB reader AAAstros in a search to understand the perspectives of different types of baseball fans.

This photo has nothing to do with the article.  I just thought it was cool that Trevor Crowe can fly.
This photo has nothing to do with the article. I just thought it was cool that Trevor Crowe can fly.
Eric Christian Smith

The other day, I had an epiphany that can be boiled down to two universal truths:

  1. Not everybody agrees with me.
  2. There's nothing wrong with that.

Everybody probably should come pre-programmed at birth with this understanding. However, I am cynical enough to realize that most people unconsciously and sometimes violently disagree with those two statements. Perhaps I'm overstating the experience, as it's actually something I've known for a while, but I was reminded of it during a TCB comments conversation. Oddly enough, the topic of the article (Raul Valdes) was only slightly less mundane than my biopic of career backup catcher Craig Tatum. But isn't it always the simple things in life that teach us the greatest lessons?

Through that discourse, which is now filed in the anals of the Supreme Court under "AAAstros vs. the Staff of TCB" (and I'll leave it to you to determine if that typo was intentional), I realized that a large number of baseball fans truly don't share my perspective about the Astros or even baseball in general. Those fans have valid viewpoints - just as valid as mine - and I really do not have an understanding of how or why they enjoy baseball.

I asked if I could interview AAAstros and ask him fan-related baseball questions, and also answer them myself. My goal was not only to understand his passion and perspective, but also to give you the reader the opportunity to compare and contrast our different viewpoints. He also submitted questions he wanted me to answer, and I did not consider his responses in my answers, so that it would not turn into a debate.

So, without further blathering:

Q: In general, can you describe your perspective as an Astros and baseball fan?

AAAstros: As a baseball fan, I have enjoyed the game my whole life. My father was a coach, I was a member of 12-year-old little league team from North Houston that made it one step short of the Little League World Series in 1982. I attempted to walk on JUCO ball and realized that I had some holes in my swing that pitchers exploited.

With all that said, as a fan of the game, I do not statistically analyze players. I watch the game as more an observer of great talent than from an analytical view.

As an Astros fan, my ultimate concern is W-L record at the MLB level. I am well aware that only two teams make it to the World Series and only one wins. I myself would be happier with a team that is above .500 every year, versus a team that wins an AL pennant once and is below .500 two, three, or four years.

CRPerry13: I'm a baseball fan primarily, but the Astros are my team. I'm interested by the historical context, and I certainly want the Astros to be winners. Overriding all of that though is a fascination of the inner workings: player development, coaching decisions (defensive shifts, bullpen usage), contract and roster considerations, transactions, business info like the CSN negotiations, and finding a deeper understanding through sabermetrics.

While I do want to see the Astros win right now, the engineer (by degree) and project manager (by practice) in me are utterly fascinated by the process and are willing to sacrifice in the short term to benefit in the long term. I'm a believer in processes and plans and people who use them, and therefore I am much more interested (for now) in what's going on in the front office in 2014 than I am by Win/Loss record.

Q: On a scale from I-don't-give-a-crap to 10, what are your thoughts about the Astros' minor league affiliates, all the way from OKC to short-season ball?

AAAstros: Prior to the previous two years, I was not very aware of MiLB. (TCB has made me observe MiLB) I obviously knew the system existed. I recall when the New Orleans Zephyrs were in the organization, the Astros were considered to have a pretty decent minor league system.

I have never been very interested in "home grown talent" because I don't get to watch it grow. If I lived in an area that had a MiLB team, I would probably be much more invested in the minors.

If I have to place a numerical value, I would rate it "eight" and probably increasing at all levels. My biggest difficulty is with MiLB ball is the number of failures. Players that are rated high in a system fizzle and fail at MLB. (Let's say Towles or Tommy Manzella)

CRPerry13: You might be surprised by this, but I'm probably about a six. I'm interested in them only in the sense of identifying the Astros stars of tomorrow (and use of statistical analysis thereby). Like you, I'm a little turned off by the failure rate in the minors, and so I can't get worked up too much over "C" prospects the way some fans and writers do. That said, I am excited and encouraged by the upper level of talent in the Astros farm system. But even then, I unconsciously temper my expectations. For example, some fans see Carlos Correa as the next Alex Rodriguez. My brain has convinced me that his floor is J.J. Hardy, and anything beyond that will be a pleasant surprise. At least I won't be bummed if he's closer to Hardy than A-Rod.

The bust rate for minor leaguers is incredible, and I begin to think that predicting super-stardom for any 18-year old is statistically and scouting-ly near-impossible. I do like that Luhnow and Co. seem to be executing a consistent draft strategy (high-OBP hitters and low-OBP starters), because a consistent strategy is more likely to "get lucky" and produce stars than a haphazard one.

Q: What do you think about the modern use of statistical analysis in baseball? Too much? Too little?

AAAstros: This is difficult for me. First, I am not a numbers person. I took Probs and Stats in college because I thought it would be easier than college algebra. I was a Poli Sci major. My professor was pretty cool, he explained to me how stats were used in politics all the time. But he also explained how, based on the desired result the numbers could be manipulated based on the data input. That is my problem with the use in baseball, if one formula is not providing the desired result, someone will use a different "formula" to show a players value. Now, with all that said, I am sure that it is very valuable, but people like me don't really understand it, don't really care to learn it, and have a problem when someone like you tries to tell me that Carter has value when my eyes say he doesn't. I really like "old school scouting" when observing a player, I want to see with my eyes, not with my calculator. If that makes sense.

CRPerry13: When used by a front office or scouting department to supplement traditional scouting methods, I am hugely in favor of sabermetrics. Specifically, they are helpful for identifying players for whom traditional statistics don't tell the whole story. For example, Astros AA outfielder Preston Tucker was considered by scouts to be a "bad body" guy, and thus not much of a prospect prior to the draft. But despite this knock on him, statistics showed a guy with incredible plate discipline and above-average power who really wasn't shabby on defense. Since being drafted, Tucker has done nothing but hit, hit, hit.

But I do have a huge problem with sabermetrics, especially among the "sabermetrics crowd", and that's using them out of context. In my opinion, statistics have no relevance if they're not translatable to an actionable plan. I don't like when people say "His ERA was 7.00, but his xFIP was 3.50, so he was actually really good." Uh, no he wasn't. He actually posted an ERA of 7.00, which is very, very bad. His xFIP only tells me that the peripherals were influenced by outside effects, and that I can probably predict regression next season. That's useful, but it doesn't contradict the fact that actual results were terrible.

I could talk about this forever. Too many people on the interwebs love statistics for their own sake. Others take the statistical analysis way beyond the threshold of worthwhileness. What good is it to figure out which player has a .01% higher WAR than another? It's still only .01%, and not worth the time spent on the thought exercise. So I'm a fan of sabermetrics, but only when heavily dosed with common sense.

Q: What do you think of the Astros' stated long-term plan to build the club?

AAAstros: At the current time, I am all in on the stated long-term plan. But there is part of the plan that I disagree with (no, I don't have 10 million to give Crane my opinion). My problem is that you didn't have to completely ignore the MLB team while building a Minor League system. A few million here and there to make the team viewable during the rebuild would have been nice. Well, that time has passed now, so it is water under the bridge. But once again, if Crane does not pick up a decent RF, a few valuable bullpen pieces, and a few other pieces this off season to give us a few wins here and there, I think he will destroy the fan base for many years.

CRPerry13: I'm a big fan. It's painful right now, but I love the commitment and all-in approach. A halfhearted rebuilding effort while still signing expensive FA's is what doomed the Royals, Pirates, Blue Jays, and Padres to seemingly indefinite mediocrity for so long (kudos to the Pirates for recognizing this a few years ago and changing their strategy). Slash-and-burn is brutal, but effective. I think we'll see results for the Astros very soon.

Q: In hindsight, what would you have liked to see the Astros do differently during the past two seasons?

AAAstros: As stated above, I would have liked for the Astros to field a team that had the potential to win a game. Not a playoff game, just a regular season game.

CRPerry13: I think the new Astros' front office may have underestimated the importance of a good bullpen. I can't throw stones, because I did also. But one factor in the dismal 2013 season may have been the overall inexperience in the front office (Luhnow and a few others excluded) who have never worked in baseball before. But I have huge confidence in those people, and 2013 was probably a good learning experience for everybody. But yeah, in hindsight, I don't think the patchwork bullpen worked as they hoped.

Q: Fill in the blanks (be as wordy as you like):

Drayton McLane was __________

AAAstros: ...a great owner, that used his money to build a powerhouse over a 10 yr period that will only be remembered by the youngster fans for 2006-2011.

CRPerry13: ...a terrible owner. I've met him, and he's super friendly and upbeat. But he gets too much credit for Astros success in the late 90's and early 'aughts. Hunsicker built that team, and McLane drove him off. He ruined the Astros farm system by hamstringing the draft budget and by closing the Latin American baseball academies. He hired puppets as GM's after Hunsicker went on to build the Rays into a championship team, and I believe that a large number of Tim Purpura's and Ed Wade's most hated signings are a direct result of McLane dictating the budget. McLane committed the club to a horrible TV deal with CSN-H, seemingly only in the interest of increasing the sale value of the team, and the structure of that deal is entirely to blame for me not being able to watch the Astros this season. I wish McLane the best, but good riddance.

Jim Crane is ___________

AAAstros: ...arrogant. He should place a little more value on the paying customer.

CRPerry13: ...ballsy. The strip-mining off a club in the interest of long-term reward hasn't been done like this before, nor has hiring respected community members to positions of authority within the organization. It takes cajones to go against the conventions of a 150-year-old institution like MLB.

Jeff Luhnow is ___________

AAAstros: ...a wizard concerning draft and trades, (I am on record as not liking the Jed Lowrie trade) I am not sure yet if he will be able to turn his craft into wins at MLB level.

CRPerry13: ...promising. I haven't outright hated any of his moves yet, which is pretty unusual for any GM. I liked the Lowrie trade a lot. Three useful players for an older expensive shortstop and middle reliever? Yes, please.

Jose Altuve is ____________

AAAstros: ...a novelty. If he wasnt 5' 5" he probably doesn't get an All Star bid. I like him because he is an Astros but I don't think he is a cornerstone of a team.

CRPerry13: ...good, but overrated by a star-starved fanbase. He's young enough that he can improve, and he needs to.

Chris Carter is ____________

AAAstros: ...a Long HR hitting STRIKEOUT machine. I am not a fan of Adam Dunn, I always hated when the Astros front office was rumored to want Dunn, and the new front office has found Dunn Jr. in Carter.

CRPerry13: ...a Long HR hitting STRIKEOUT machine. It's hard to find cheap 30-HR hitters, so he definitely has value as a DH. But he needs to work on his plate discipline.

Q: How many pancakes does it take to cover a dog house?

AAAstros: Depends how big the dog house is and how big the pancakes are.

CRPerry13: Red, because snakes don't have eyelids.

Q: CSN Houston - do you think the Astros should just get a deal done ASAP for the fans, or continue to hold out for the best possible deal for the club?

AAAstros: I think the Astros picked a horrible time to attempt to sign a long term deal for a high value. As a result of the rebuild, I think the team should have instantly signed whatever 5-year deal the team could have gotten. The deal could have been inked in the last yr of the Fox contract. Over the 5 years, that should have put the Astros into competitive baseball, there would have been 35,000 fans at the park, and the Astros would have had leverage for a long-term deal.

CRPerry13: I'm torn. Though I want to see the Astros right now, the big-picture project manager in me says that the right move is to keep struggling to get the right deal in place. I'm not a fan of a deal that puts the Astros behind other clubs in terms of cash inflow that could be used to strengthen the on-field product. It also stinks that MLB basically forced the new Astros ownership group to inherit the hastily-thrown-together and untenable deal that McLane concocted just to entice buyers with the lure of a "modern TV deal". Blech.

Q: What do you think about the player acquisitions during the past two seasons? This can include draft, trades, FA signings, waiver claims, etc.

AAAstros: Draft was pretty great I think in 2012. I am on record as wanting Buxton. I didn't even know who Correa was. Now, with the magic that Luhnow pulled with McCullers and Ruiz, I think we won the draft. Correa may end up being a better pick all by himself than Buxton at some point. 2013 draft, I don't know much about many of the guys beyond 1 and 2 rounds. I was a little concerned with the million unspent money. I don't know if they got someone signed cheaper than they expected (which is good) or if maybe we could have gotten a little better player later in the draft but didn't want to spend the money (which would be bad).

I think free agency sucked. Now, I understand that there were not many players that were willing to sign deals other than those trying to rebuild a career, but I would rather not sign anyone than look for that "Moneyball" approach of signing someone like Pena, Ankiel or several others. Waiver claims, you are not getting much more than a position filler most of the time with a claim.

Now, most of this all started over an insignificant waiver claim, I know nothing about Valdez but I thought it was a bad omen. I understand waiver claims are all that are available at this time. Valdez is a 35-year-old LHP with a diminishing fastball and a recent 7+ ERA. It is my understanding that we have a lot of fringe talent that will be eligible for Rule 5 consideration. I cant imagine why we would waste a 40 man spot for Valdez.

CRPerry13: I was a lot more excited about the 2012 draft than the 2013 draft, but both were solid. I'm actually a fan of the free agent moves, even the ones that didn't work out as hoped. When you're playing with a shoestring budget, you have to take reclamation projects like Pena and Ankiel and hope they stick. Most often they won't, but Erik Bedard was a solid rotation pitcher this season, and it's very easy to forget that success. Trades have been an A+ so far. Matt Dominguez for Carlos Lee? Robbie Grossman for Wandy Rodriguez? Carter, Max Stassi, and Brad Peacock for Lowrie? Well done.

I'm not worked up about the Valdez addition, mostly because I don't care about the Valdez addition. I'll be surprised if he makes the team, and if he does, it will likely be as a mop-up or middle reliever. That said, it's easy to overlook the effect a veteran presence can have on a bunch of young and inexperienced guys. that was something the Astros sorely lacked after they traded Jose Veras. There's more to baseball than numbers.

Q: Do you think the FO of the organization really believes that the typical Astros fan has a low baseball IQ as to not know what a 40 man roster is?

CRPerry13: Yes, and they're right. Crawfish Boxes and even, believe it or not, do not represent the common Astros fan. The common fan goes to a couple games a season and watches maybe a game a week on TV. There are probably a few hundred thousand people like that in Houston, and they add up. That's where the Astros' money comes from. I liken it to NFL fans. How many people who watch their Texans every week can explain the IR rule or explain to you how the practice squad works? The 40-man roster is the same way. To 95% of baseball fans, there are 25 men on a baseball team, period.

AAAstros: I think baseball fans are more intelligent than football fans. Example, very few football fans have a scorecard at a game. Many, baseball fans actually keep score in the stands. Maybe, it is just wishful thinking that baseball fans are smarter than football fans.

Q: If Valdes takes a roster spot from a fringe player that we lose in Rule 5, was it a good move? I acknowledge that this is prior to Valdes' success or failure out of the pen.

CRPerry13: I hate to waffle on this question, because it's a good one. It really depends on who the Rule 5 player is. If we lose a guy who projects to be a middle reliever type (think Wesley Wright, who we got in the Rule 5 draft), then it probably doesn't make any difference. Typically, those are the types of players chosen during Rule 5, and given the choice between Valdes and yet another untested rookie in the 2014 bullpen, I'll take Valdes.

AAAstros: Valdez is the least likely person I can think of to start a 177 comment thread. Maybe it is because the season is over and we still want more Astros baseball, no matter how brutal the season. I am just now learning minor league information, but at this point, I wouldn't want to lose any potential future player for a "has been or never gonna be."

* * *

Thanks to AAAstros for playing along with my whim. I chose not to include the obvious "who do you agree with?" poll to this post, but I hope you readers grab the spirit of it and either answer your favorite questions in the comments sections or explain why you agree or disagree with our viewpoints. Where the rubber hits the road, we're all Astros fans, and we all want the same thing: